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How a Woman Who Paid Down Her $20,000 Debt Shops

Carly, 38, lives in Chicago and works at a financial literacy nonprofit.

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email

This week we talked to Carly, 38, a program manager for a nonprofit that provides tax assistance, financial literacy, and financial aid help for low-income families. She lives in Chicago with her fiancé and young son, makes $52,500 a year, and is the primary breadwinner in her household.

Rent: $1,025

Car payment: $300

Average money put toward savings: About $200 a month

Average money put toward clothing: About $100 a month

Most she’d spend on jeans: Between $50 and $75

Most she’d spend on a T-shirt: $25

Most she’d spend on a bag: $100-$150

Most she’d spend on a fancy outfit: $100-$200

Are you someone who budgets a lot, or do you just have rough outlines?

We try. We do the envelope system, and I do try to have an idea of my budget.

And is shopping something you budget for? Or do you tend to more shop when you feel like it?

I shop when I feel like it.

What’s the most expensive item(s) of clothing that you own?

Winter coats. I spend the most money on winter coats. It’s Chicago. I’ll spend about $200-$300 on a coat for myself. I try to thrift when it comes to my son, so I would say it’s probably between $50 and $100. We go to Village Discount a lot.

Where do you tend to find your clothes?

I was definitely a Banana Republic Outlet person for all my work stuff. And then I thrift. They’ll do 50% off for the entire store usually once or twice a month. For websites, Old Navy, Gap, Target. I definitely try to shop sales.

About how often would you say you go shopping?

I’d say two to three times a month — that’s just for myself. For my son, probably once a month. My fiancé shops for himself.

About how long does it typically take you to make a decision to buy something, especially a bigger-ticket item?

I’d say just a day, when I go shopping.

Has shopping ever gotten you into debt?

Yes. Definitely got into some credit trouble, just running up credit cards, especially store credit cards — I had Target and Macy’s and Express. I was just paying the minimum and then I got into so much credit problems, probably six or seven years ago, where I just stopped paying completely, which destroyed my credit. My parents helped me a lot, just negotiating with the creditors and paying them off, getting settlements. At the highest point, it was probably $20,000.

About how long did it take once you got help to work that all down?

Like, four or five years. I had a lot of help.

Did you guys have other debt, too? Like student debt?

My fiancé does, but I don’t.

Is there anything in your life that makes you feel pressured to shop?

I definitely have to have some nice pieces for work. I don’t know if I would call that pressure, but I do have to keep that in mind.

How does your approach to shopping compare to your family or your parents' approach to shopping?

I think my mom and I are pretty similar in that we’re definitely sale shoppers, but if we really like something we’d be willing to pay the full price. And I also think, just getting older, I’ve learned that it’s more about fit. Before, it was more trend-based or the price. And now I've just realized how it’s a waste to have something ill-fitting. It’s just terrible!

Do you feel like you have similar shopping habits as your friends or coworkers or people in your life?

I think mine is different in terms of I don’t care about labels or shopping in certain stores. It’s more just about price. So I think my friends are probably a little more fashion-forward and care about where they’re getting their stuff from. I don’t know about labels. I don’t follow magazine trends, and I think my friends are a little hipper, for sure. Most of my friends are single and don’t have kids.