I rented clothes instead of buying new, and saved $53 a month—here's the No. 1 reason I'll keep doing it

I started renting used clothes in January, saving me an average of $53 per month so far.
Courtney Malburg

It's dramatic and probably insensitive to say I have a shopping addiction, so let's call it what it is: I overspend on clothing.

The habit didn't really harm my finances until I moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, New York, last year. My monthly rent increased by $1,500, and I didn't exactly stop dining out, traveling or shopping online.

My nest egg dwindled. My walk-in closet ran out of hangers.

Balancing my vanity with an awareness that I needed to budget more effectively, I started renting clothes from Nuuly — a sister company to Urban Outfitters — in January. Now, I pay $88 to rent six pieces of clothing per month.

It hasn't curbed my shopping habits as much as I predicted, but it has saved me money: I spend $53 less per month, on average. I also like the ego boost I get from not indulging in fast fashion or everchanging TikTok trends, while still feeling cute.

But I didn't start renting clothes for my self-esteem. Here's how it saves me money, and why I plan to keep doing it through the rest of the year:

Renting clothes helps me save money and keep up with trends

Last year, from October through December, I spent $926 on 13 items of clothing.

My spending followed my usual pattern: I shell out money every few months when I get seasonal amnesia and conveniently forget I already have drawers full of sweaters. Then, I don't buy much for the next four-to-six weeks, perhaps from over-shopping shame.

I was set to replace that habit this year: By renting, I'd get to wear 18 trendy clothing items for only $264 over a similar three-month period. It didn't go exactly as planned, partially because self-control is hard, but mostly because I got a promotion at work and went on a 10-item shopping spree.

In total, I spent $765 in three months — still less than last year, but a lot more than I'd intended.

I like to rent multi-occasion clothes that I can wear to the office and out to dinner. (I also like to document them on BeReal.)
Megan Sauer

Buying also exposed me to everyone's favorite scapegoat: inflation. Since April 2021, apparel prices have risen by 9%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' consumer price index.

In a less inflationary world, mixing renting and buying might be a great personal finance compromise. But right now, buying is so expensive that even a small shopping spree can tip your spending scales significantly, says Fashion Institute of Technology professor Shawn Grain Carter.

Carter says she particularly sees this among her Gen Z fashion students, most of whom acquire wardrobes by thrifting, renting and hunting for gems in family members' closets.

"We're in an inflationary environment," she says. "[Renting means] you can stretch and increase your purchasing power, if you choose wisely."

Renting clothes is more environmentally sustainable, but not as much as I expected

Spurred largely by fast fashion's low prices and quality, people buy and throw away clothes more rapidly than they used to, as the Wall Street Journal reported back in 2019.

Jennifer Hyman, CEO of clothing rental service Rent the Runway, reportedly likes to say that the average American buys 68 garments annually. And on average, people only wear something up to eight times before donating or throwing it away, says a 2016 McKinsey & Company report.

If I keep my Nuuly subscription, I'll rent 72 garments this year. But I won't throw any of them away, meaning I can tell myself I'm not adding to the "desert junkyards" I read about in National Geographic last week.

But no good deed goes unpunished: Renting is only marginally more sustainable than buying, and far from perfect, Carter says.

Transportation is the biggest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Medium- to heavy-duty trucks, the kind that deliver my Nuuly and Amazon packages, eat up just over a quarter of that pie, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sending clothes back doubles their environmental impact, even with reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging. Plus, rental platforms typically only keep clothes in rotation for six wears before retiring them for looking overly worn and washed, Carter says.

My rental items come in reusable packaging each month. Most look hardly worn. Some are new, with tags still attached.
Megan Sauer

For their part, the platforms seem aware of their eco-conscious customers.

Both Nuuly and Rent the Runway dedicate staffers to clothing repairs, to keep garments in circulation longer, according to their websites. It's good for business, too: The companies benefit when they don't have to buy new items to replace older, more worn-out ones, Nuuly head of product Sky Pollard tells me.

Nuuly also has an upcycling program called Re_Nuuly, where jeans become cutoff shorts and stained T-shirts take on new tie-dyed and patchwork designs, Pollard notes.

In other words, renting isn't perfect. It's good enough for me — for now.

Why I'll keep renting clothes — but not forever

My takeaway from four-and-a-half months of renting is simple: Overall, I need fewer clothing items in my closet. I want to invest in durable clothing that'll last me years, rather than four weeks.

But those items can be incredibly expensive. Not everyone can afford them — myself included, unless rent and the price of cocktails in New York magically drop overnight.

So I'll keep using Nuuly through the year, to see if it has any longer-term effects on my spending. So far, my extra $53 per month has gone toward home décor. Maybe I'll start saving it instead, so I can invest in the wardrobe I want sooner.

After all, if restaurants can switch to eco-friendly paper straws — the ones that disintegrate as you drink — I can do my part, too.

DON'T MISS: Want to be smarter and more successful with your money, work & life? Sign up for our new newsletter!

Check out:

How a couple making $123,000 in North Bergen, NJ spends their money
How a couple making $123,000 in North Bergen, NJ spends their money