- DH = Dear husband
- DD3 = Dear third daughter
Do you like those jeans featured in the photo up there? I hope so! “You’re not going to blog about it, are you?” DH asked me last night. I told him I was planning to. “All of your frugal people are going to shun you,” he said.
So I’m going to ask you in advance please not to shun me. I avoid sugar-coating the realities of facing my long entrenched bad money habits. DH and I have had great success in our journey out of debt, but we aren’t always exemplary – and that goes double for me. The good, the bad, and the ugly – I share it all.
Today, it’s ugly.
As a teacher and a mom, I’ve always loved the March Break. When our daughters were young, it was the week when I’d take them to the maple sugar bush, to play dates with their cousins, and to the museums in town. Now our two eldest are living away from home – one working and one in university – and our youngest is in her second-last year of high school. So my March-Breaks-with-offspring years are numbered, and more than ever, I want to make the most of them.
Plans for a mother-daughter day at the mall
I have never shopped less than I have in the years since DH and I started our journey out of debt in June of 2012. In part, it’s because I’m being intentional about spending money on “needs” and not “wants”. That’s noble, but it’s not the whole story. There are two other parts to my avoidance of shopping.
- I almost never have enough discretionary money to do it. (Managing my discretionary fund is my most stubborn money weakness.)
- I don’t trust myself to do it wisely.
As we approached the March Break this year, I made a plan to go to the mall with DD3. Because I so rarely shop, I really did have several “needs”. I had worn out the shoes I wear at work. (And let it be noted here that I wear the same pair every day. I do not have a closet full of shoes.) I’d had to throw out my winter boots because of a broken zipper. My socks, underwear, and jeans had also worn through. As a mini-splurge, I was finally going to buy the kind of makeup – just a bit of it – that my youngest had long wanted me to try. DD3 would buy a birthday gift for a friend and a few other things. We would have lunch at the mall’s food court. Nothing extravagant. Nothing out-of-control.
Some fun . . .
DD3 enjoyed taking charge when it came to the makeup. She offered helpful tips like, “You need to get nude lipstick,” and gentle explanations. “See – this works better for your wrinkly eye-lids.” We avoided cheap, while not breaking the bank. Mission accomplished in no time.
The purchase of underwear was a bit trickier. In this area too, DD3 had strong objections to my past choices – “Don’t get any that will give you panty lines!” – but I had equally strong objections to some of the options out there. In the end, I settled upon a set of 5 for $30 that met the approval of both mother and daughter. Not the cheapest, but again, cheap wasn’t my prime objective.
. . . Some false starts . . .
shoes & boots
I’m not a patient shopper, and that’s a problem. I wanted to buy good shoes and boots on sale – not cheap ones that would fall apart within a few weeks (been there) – and since almost all winter items were on sale, I thought it would be easy. But store after store had nothing at reduced prices in my size. So I started to look beyond the sales racks . . . And I found a pair of great black leather shoes – perfect for work – comfortable, attractive, good for both pants and skirts . . . With tax, $95.05. Ouch! A voice in my brain soothed me with, “That’s just what good shoes cost. Most people have way more pairs of shoes than you have. You’re buying one pair. You shouldn’t compromise. Well done. Good choice.”
Later in the day, when DD3 was at work and I was at another store, focused on boots that were both on sale AND my size, I heard the sales woman mention a 25% discount for the second item purchased – even for items on sale. I didn’t need anything besides the boots, but at that point, I looked around and saw . . . another perfect pair of shoes! They looked remarkably similar to the ones I had already purchased. Only they were on sale. Regularly $140 – now $40 – and I could get them at an additional 25% off. AND they were available in my size. I bought the boots for$60 (regularly $110), and the shoes for $30. I drove back to the mall where I had paid three times as much – and got a refund. I didn’t like doing that! But the point is, I did.
I had a similar false start with socks. I wanted good ones – too much bad experience with cheap socks that my toes stuck through in no time. As I made my purchase at an uncomfortable price – 2 sets of 2-for-$9.99, and 3 individual pairs for $6.00 each – that soothing voice came back from the recesses of my brain. “This isn’t an expensive store. These aren’t expensive socks. This is just what decent socks cost. Good choice.” Later, when I was picking up groceries at Costco, I looked at socks. 6 pairs for $9.99. Ugh! Yes, second refund for my drive back to the mall.
. . . And an utter fail.
We went shopping for jeans after lunch. Pleasantly full and a bit tired, I felt the pressure of time since DD3 had her shift at work to go to. Remember that at this point, I had not yet had any wake-up calls. I still had the too-pricey shoes and the too-pricey socks for which I would later drive back for refunds. Even so, when we walked into the unfamiliar store that clearly sold jeans, I felt an uneasy sense that I shouldn’t be there. So did DD3. “This is too young for you,” she said, tugging a bit on my sleeve. But the very pleasant sales woman thought differently. It was a store for all ages, she assured us with a warm smile, and she brought us to a display of jeans. Subtle influences in the store were working a seduction on me, and I knew it. The dark wood. The music. All of those sizes and shades of denim . . . And we were making such a nice new friend. I didn’t balk at the price tag. $109. “50% off for a second purchase.” I didn’t need a second purchase. But maybe DD3 would like a pair of jeans too . . . “Good jeans cost a lot,” came that voice again. I didn’t balk at the next price tag. $129. The fitting rooms were spacious. And look! The jeans fit so well. DD3 was happy. “That comes to a total of $209.03.”
A desperate “Noooooooo!” tried to fight its way to the surface of my brain, but that insidious“Good choice” won out.
Later, after waking up to the socks at Costco, I looked at the jeans. $21.99. “What have I done?!” Truly horrified at my outrageous purchase, I bought the jeans along with the socks. At home, in a state of urgency that caught DH off guard, I asked for his honest opinion. “I’m going to model two pairs of jeans, and I want you to tell me which ones you like best,” I said to him. Pair number 1. Pair number 2. “I can’t really tell the difference,” said DH, “but I’d say the first pair.” The Costco pair!
Back to the mall I went! Socks: refunded. Shoes: refunded. Jeans: “We don’t offer refunds,” said a sales woman. “I was here when you bought these today,” she continued, “and our policy was explained to you.” She pointed to a notice that looked vaguely familiar. I could get an exchange, but not a refund. And since the 50% off deal for the second pair of jeans wouldn’t apply anymore, the value of the exchange would be much less . . . My brain was calculating and weighing pros and cons in despair. I was stuck. With jeans that were over six times the price I needed to pay. And I’d have to return the bargain Costco pair.
I remember once reading a post by a pf “badass” – a young man who had paid off his home (in my city) and who was on the road to early retirement. I was put off by a reference he made to “the sort of Consumer Suckas that we detest.” (It took me a while to realize that “Sucka” was cool for “Sucker”.) I thought at the time that it was harsh. And it was harsh – not to mention alienating, defeating, and simplistic. Some of us are overcoming powerful synaptic connections in our brains that don’t make way for logic and good intention without a fight. And although we can at times demonstrate unbelievable lapses in judgement, we’re doing our best. And despite the failures, overall, we’re winning.
I felt pretty wretched last night, and DH tried to reassure me as I sat, resigned, in my new jeans. “They look good! Don’t feel too badly,” he said. “Just feel . . .” – he searched for the right words – “a bit stupid.”
And I do. Believe me. I do.
Have you ever had a financial “What have I done?!” moment? Your comments are welcome.