Wednesday, 20 December 2017

2017 in Review: How I Spent My Money

For the last couple of years I've written three posts at the end of the calendar year/start of the new year: one about money, one about the sewing I did and the state of my wardrobe, and one about what I want to do in the year ahead.

This is my first post about 2017, and is therefore about how I spent my sewing budget this year.  As my fabric buying habits and stash situation are interlinked, I've combined the two topics in this post. Here are my previous posts on the subject: 2014; 2015; 2016.

My goals in these areas for 2017 were:

1 (a) Stick to my 2017 budget;
   (b) Keep my envelope/PDF pattern spending at the same level as 2016.

2 (a) Reduce my stash to under 200m & keep it below 200m for the rest of the year
   (b) Use 2/3rds of my 2017 purchases during 2017
   (c) Use some of my older "favourite" fabrics

As it turned out, I actually ended up reducing my annual budget in September by 16% and I hit my revised, lower target dead on. (Well, I was £1.62 over. Close enough!). I transferred the extra money over to my RTW clothes/shoes/etc budget, so it's not like this was a "saving" -- more of a re-allocation of resources between RTW and hand-made this year.

Here is the breakdown of my spending:

(i) Major purchases: OK, so this is a bit of a cheat in a way. My "major purchases" don't appear on my spending pie chart or, indeed, in my budget generally because both of them were made with unexpected, non-budgeted "windfall" money, which in this case basically means some gifts people gave me this year. In general, my philosophy is that it is more satisfying to buy one or more specific things with windfalls, than to just put the money into my regular accounts. I always feel like if I do the latter, it will just get nibbled away to nothing by little purchases and I'll have nothing in particular to show for it when it's gone. Thus, big sewing purchases were the order of the day.
My two major purchases of 2017
I am extremely pleased with both of my two major purchases this year! I replaced my overlocker with an ex-display Janome model in July, and I bought a steam press at the beginning of December. It's a bit soon to have a proper feel for how the steam press has worked out, to be honest, though my early impressions are very positive. After 6 months of ownership, though, I can say that despite some teething troubles, I really love my new overlocker. It is a big improvement over my old one (bought second hand in 2012), which was very noisy and the tension disks didn't seem to work correctly. I can't imagine I'll upgrade again in the foreseeable future unless I win the lottery and can afford a self-threading Babylock. :D

At one point this year, I also did investigate replacing Flossie, the tailor's dummy I use that was originally purchased (and named) by my mum in the 1960s.  I use my dummy pretty much every time I sew, but I don't really use it for fitting at all. Mainly I use it when need to pin on a body shaped surface and as a place to hang things I am working on without risking them stretching out weirdly. I did think about whether I wanted to buy a dummy I could use for fitting, but the only ones that seemed to offer the ability to modify for particular figure issues I am most concerned about fitting -- low bust, shoulder height and width, etc -- are wildly expensive. Nothing in my price range really offers any advantage over continuing to use Flossie, and of course Flossie also has sentimental value. For now I have shelved that whole idea.

On the regular spending front:

Graph of my spending this year

(ii) Fabric (30%): As usual, the largest category of regular spending for me was fabric, at just about a third of my total spend. This year I bought 63.2m of fabric, which is just under half of what I bought last year. To be honest, though, my fabric buying in 2016 was completely out of control so pretty much anything was going to look good by comparison. However, 63m is also my second lowest purchase amount in a year since I started sewing, so I feel pleased with my relative restraint!

In the out-going column, I used 81.85m of fabric, 18.65m more than I bought. The good news is therefore that, admittedly right at the very end of the year, I did finally manage to just about squeak below the 200m-in-stash mark (as of today, my stash is 199.15m!). There isn't really any "rest of the year" for me to say I stayed under the 200m mark for, as long as I keep away from any fabric shops until the 1st! :D

I did a much less good job of using ~2/3rds of the fabric I bought in 2017. My figures were more like 40% used and 60% stashed. However, when I looked more closely at what was still in stash at the end of 2017 that I had bought during course of the year, I realized three things:

1. The numbers are heavily skewed by a few very large pieces of fabric. For example, in the spring I bought two pieces of African Wax/ankara fabric, which are sold in 5.5m packages. Both of these were purchased for immediate use in summer garments. However, those plans were scuppered by how very ill I was for most of the late spring and summer. So that's 11m of fabric -- 17% of my total purchases -- right there that I fully intended to use but couldn't.

2. I did a much better job in the second half of the year of not buying to stash than in the first half. If I can continue the trend of the last six months into 2018 I will be pleased with myself.

3. There aren't any "OK..... but why did I buy this?" fabrics left over from 2017. There are things that didn't get used, but all of them are good quality fabrics that I can definitely see myself using in the near future. So at least my excess fabric from 2017 isn't regrettable fabric!

This year I also intended to make a special effort to use some of the things I was keeping in stash because they were "too good to use". At the very beginning of the year I actually did do this a little, and I made silk/cotton blend PJs and used a favourite fabric for a maxi skirt. Somehow though, over the course of the year this plan morphed into finding uses for older fabrics I hadn't previously come up with a use for. Most of those fabrics dated back to when I first started sewing garments in 2012. I bought a LOT of fabric that year, and not all of those purchases were very sensible. This year, several of those fabrics ended up as PJs (because I don't really have any strong colour preferences in my pyjama wardrobe) and I used other pieces as muslin. Overall, about 30% of the fabric I used this year was from the oldest archaeological layers of my stash (mainly 2012 and early 2013). This was not quite what I intended at the start of the year, but I still think it's a positive outcome from a stash management point of view.

(iii) Pattern Magazines (21%):

My three subscriptions: Burda, Knipmode and Ottobre
My second largest expense category is pattern magazines. This year, there were no special issues released that I wanted and I didn't buy any back issues or other magazines, so my spending was restricted to just my regular subscriptions. I have three annual magazine subscriptions: Ottobre, Knipmode and Burda.

Overall, I'm convinced that annual Burda and Ottobre subscriptions are very much worth the money. Despite Burda's wackier months, and the fact that Burda reflects the catwalk and fast fashion very accurately and I genuinely dislike many current trends (we cannot move on from jumpsuits and off-the-shoulder looks soon enough for me) I still always find several things to like in Burda every month as it arrives. I also regularly come back to issues of Burda and especially Ottobre to use a pattern I totally overlooked the first time through. I therefore plan to renew my Ottobre subscription in January, and I have already renewed my Burda subscription for 12 months starting with 01/2018.

Knipmode is where my question marks are. I renewed in July for another year, but between the exchange rate and the postage costs, the magazines are quite expensive per issue. I don't necessarily feel like I am making the most of the subscription, and I am not really sure why that is. In part, I do still feel dubious about the fit/sizing choices, but that's a product of not having made up many of the patterns and I am sure I would get over it if I made more. The patterns I HAVE made were easy to trace, went together easily, and turned out pretty well. There is the problem of the Dutch instructions, which adds an extra step and complexity as I have to translate it. That said, Google translate isn't perfect but it gets you most of the way there and I am experienced enough now not to need hand-holding for every little thing, so this is really just laziness. I do feel that there just aren't as many attention getting patterns as in, say, Burda. In Burda there's always something I like from first glance. Knipmode doesn't always grab me the same way. I'm going to continue to think about this -- and maybe try to make up some more Knipmode patterns -- in the first half of 2018 before I decide whether to renew this summer.

(iv) Envelope and PDF patterns (13%)

I set myself a specific, limited pattern budget because, to be honest, I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to patterns. I absolutely want the shiny new thing all the time, and I only have to see someone's post about their latest garment to want to buy the pattern for myself. My pattern spending, like my fabric spending, has therefore gotten a bit out of control at various points, and this is how I have re-imposed some discipline.

A few of the envelope patterns I bought this year
The main limitations I put on purchasing patterns, other than overall budget are: that I need any new patterns to add something new and above all useful to my pattern collection; and that I purchase only in the (relatively infrequent) sales or otherwise at reduced cost. I've also done a series of culls of my patterns, making sure I only keep envelope patterns that I can genuinely imagine myself using (or re-using, in some cases).

A few of the PDF patterns I bought this year
This year I added 16 envelope patterns to my collection. I sold or otherwise disposed of 7 envelope patterns, for a total increase of 9 patterns. I also acquired 11 new PDF patterns, more than half of them from StyleArc. Money-wise, I went just a little bit over budget, though this was off-set by selling some of the envelope patterns that I no longer wanted.

One thing I've really noticed though is that even though I feel like I'm being careful about what I buy, and try to only buy things I think are really nice, suit my lifestyle, and would be useful, my pattern utilization is woefully low. I have SO MANY unused patterns, and every time I go through my pattern collection I think how great many of them are and how much I want to make them. So, I have been mulling over my 2018 pattern buying/using goals with this in mind. 

(v) Notions (16%), Knitting (4%), Books (5%), Other (11%)

The remaining categories are pretty stable year to year. This year, there's a lot more than usual in "Other" because I also bought a few cross-stitch kits and that is where I ended up recording those costs. Since I have thoroughly enjoyed my cross-stitch activities, I am not at all concerned about this increase. I will break cross-stitch and embroidery supplies out as a separate category next year.
Some of the cross-stitch kits I bought and used this year
Other than that, there's rather a lot in the notions category because I ran out of some things that I bulk buy this year. My notions spending tends to be quite lumpy -- just a few pounds some months because I'll only buy a bag of buttons, and then like, £60 the next because I bought a whole bolt of interfacing. Overall, however, I've no concerns about these minor categories.

In conclusion:

Major purchases aside, my spending was pretty restrained this year. This is especially pleasing to me because (a) my 2016 spending was the absolute opposite of restrained; and (b) all the factors that usually lead to me over-spending were present by the bucket load and I didn't give in to the temptation.

In particular, although there are ways in which my health has improved significantly over the last twelve months, I've spent long stretches of 2017 feeling violently unwell and unable to do very much. In previous years, I've definitely been sucked into online shopping as a way to cope with being bored and miserable. This year, I tried really hard not to do that, especially in the second half of the year, and this effort paid off to a large extent. It's hard to measure things you didn't do, but I definitely know there were several occasions when I closed tabs and emptied shopping carts and even physically walked away from my laptop because I decided I was buying things to try to make myself feel better rather than because I really needed them.

My next post, on what I sewed and the state of my wardrobe, will follow in a few days :D


  1. Impressed with your shopping restraint. I understand the desire to buy nice things because you feel unwell. I have been having problems with dizziness and I have bought lots of outdoor/hiking/travel clothing for when I get better. Hmmm.

    1. Comfort shopping! It's fine in small doses but it can definitely get out of hand. Hopefully you'll be able to get plenty of use out of your new clothes next year though.

  2. I always really enjoy your year end budget posts.

    Because, one, you have pie charts. I love pie charts. Two, I am apparently incapable of keeping track of money spent on sewing for longer than 1 or 2 months, and I am so impressed and jealous that you are able to do so.

    Having said that, I spent far less on sewing this year, partly because I have documented all the fabrics and patterns that I have on my iPhone. Nothing like seeing that you have 293 pieces of fabric and 342 paper patterns to stop you from buying more. I haven't done my PDF patterns or pattern magazines yet.

    Thank you again for inspiring me.

    1. I am glad you enjoy it and find it interesting!

      I definitely think that having a record of what you own really brings it home to you what you already have and could use.