Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cheapness as virtue or neurosis?

Thanks, Rita, for getting things started!

In terms of cheapness tips, I promise to refrain, whenever possible, from pointing out how much money can be saved through restricting your shopping to Uniqlo, Sahadi's, and a certain fruit stand on Court and Pacific in Cobble Hill. Even though that, plus 99-cent bags of Whole Foods pasta, more or less defines my own cheapness as it manifests itself on a day-to-day-basis.

I second all Rita's suggestions for what this blog should cover. Some other possibilities, in no particular order:

-Where Cheapness Studies meets Gender Studies: does male influence inhibit shopping? Think 'I Love Lucy' and the never-ending stream of new hats that must be hidden from Ricky. Do men spend as much, but on different things (flat-screens, steaks, whatever else stereotype would have it), or is it just easier to be cheap as a man?

-Does the stereotype of Jews being cheap push Jews towards ostentatious indifference to money/generosity in public settings/on dates, etc.? To add a gendered analysis: does the stereotype of Jewish women as spending heaps of (their father's/husband's) money on personal upkeep cause Jewish women who fancy themselves (ourselves) not JAPs to be particularly thrifty when it comes to beauty routines, not only eschewing professional manicures (and in some extreme cases, professional haircuts), but doing so, on some level, to make a point? Insert applicable comparable cases (immigrants, as Rita suggests; the Dutch) as needed.

-And finally, what do we think of Michael Pollan's suggestion that we ('we' as in slop-eating Americans) start spending a greater proportion of our incomes on food? Should we be like the French, who of course spend 1,000 euros a head per day on breakfast alone?

Rita's question, "what am I saving for?" is a tough one. I tend to think saving is basically like dieting - we should all watch what we eat and spend, but taken too far, whether what's counted are calories or pennies, things can get messy. Also, as with dieting, sometimes what matters is less the results (more money, less top-of-the-jeans bulge) and more the sense of virtuousness refusing whatever it is you want can provide. While I seem to have long since grown out of the calorie concern, I do tend to be a fan of not spending any money, ever (although I agree with Rita on the gift/going-out-within-reason exception). Either way, the $6-but-tiny chocolate-domed pastries at (pardon the NYC-specific reference) Bouley Market are, most of the time, at least, out-of-bounds. The $2.75 cannelles at Joyce, however, will be my financial downfall.

4 comments:

Miss Self-Important said...

On the gender question, my anecdotal evidence of living with and watching unattached twenty-something men and their spending habits suggests that they not only spend at least as frivolously as women, but often more obliviously.

They only appear not to be spending, because their purchases are usually hidden from public view (ie, they are not worn on their bodies), and they too have been taught that frivolous spending means buying clothes and spa treatments. They look at themselves in their ratty jeans and think, at least I am not buying that, so I must not be spending frivolously. There is, I suspect, more cultural approval for buying top of the line electronics and housewares because these are "practical," and since they are such, you should probably invest in the best version of them since you're going to use them a lot and for a long time. The result of this mentality is the $2000 flat screen TV, and the $200 espresso machine (an actual artifact unearthed from Seb's old house after having been abandoned by his roommates). Why settle for a $15 one-cup drip machine when you need to drink coffee everyday, right? (Sadly, you may not realize that luxury housewares, in order to last as long as you imagine they should, might need to be cleaned every once in a while.)

One possible indirect means of ferreting out this information is to find out how many men cook for themselves. If not, how do they eat except, as my roommate does, by going out every night?

But all that applies primarily to unattached men who have only their money to lose. I imagine the spending dynamics change when it's a matter of apportioning money between two people (the Lucy's hats scenario). The arguments for the fancy espresso machine seem more outwardly logical than the argument for a pair of similarly priced shoes--"we can both use the espresso machine," for example. Or, "the espresso machine improves the house we jointly share." Same arguments can be applied to the video game console which women are even less likely to want. The things women might prefer to buy seem downright selfish and vain in that light.

Phoebe said...

"They only appear not to be spending, because their purchases are usually hidden from public view (ie, they are not worn on their bodies), and they too have been taught that frivolous spending means buying clothes and spa treatments."

That's probably right for nearly all cases - I guess I'm struck by how, even spending just about nothing, I've met more than one man who spends less still. Also, some of the things men probably spend money on overall than women do, and that are for themselves, as makeup and spa treatments are for one's self - alcohol, tobacco, and illegal substances - are more likely to be vilified for reasons that are not related to their cost. Whereas the only possible thing you can say about too many H&M purchases being a bad thing is the monetary cost.

"One possible indirect means of ferreting out this information is to find out how many men cook for themselves. If not, how do they eat except, as my roommate does, by going out every night?"

True, true.

PG said...

Americans used to spend a much larger proportion of their incomes on food, and much less on housing. (The fact that we're still using Mollie Orshansky's market basket from the 1960s to figure out where the federal poverty line is -- a budget that assumed 1/3 of income would be spent on food -- almost certainly has led us to underestimate how much money a family needs to survive.) If I spent 1/3 of the money that I spend in an average month on food, I couldn't afford my share of the mortgage.

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