Thursday, December 24, 2009


Me: How much are those slices of pie*?
Cashier at pie shop: $4.
Me to Jo: I'm not getting it then. (Keep in mind, we'd walked nearly 20 minutes to get to this pie shop.)
(Insert endless agonizing over how these were actually more like two slices of pie, so maybe $4 was OK...)
Me to cashier: (Something affirmative regarding the pie.)
Cashier: I'll give you another one as well, since we're about to close.

It's the little things...

*A brief return to the Americanness discussion here and here: Apparently, 'American' is defined by considering a) pumpkin pie, and b) peanut butter foods worth eating. In that case, call me doubly American.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rampant materialism

What keeps me from posting at Cheapness Studies is that post-exam, I have bought. And bought. Not all for myself, but not all not for myself, either. There were $5 jeans, but also $80 (but fabulous!) ballet flats. There were these $10 leggings, and from the same den of temptation, just before the exam week, these, on sale, but still. Only one book, because of the backlog of unread-because-not-on-lists purchases, and because there was definitely a 48-hour period when I could not look at bound pages of any kind.

Part of this relative binge has been the knowledge that I'm about to go ascetic once more - this is just the moment before the next deadlines - but now I can do the next batch of work in leggings with stars on them. Part has also been the knowledge that a combination of Askhenazi heritage and old age (and like Swann, my Judaism appears atavistically, in my later years) prevents me from engaging in the level of drinking that's expected after such a semester. So, like Jewish women before me, where others drank, I shopped.

I worry, however, that where there was once expertise on seven lists' worth of French literature and history, there's now in-depth knowledge of New York shopping. I realize, for instance, that from this list, which I only just found, I've been to numbers 1, 5, 9, and 26 (but not the branch they mention) recently, and in the not so distant past, 4, 19, 20, 21, 23, and 36. That, and 7 and 38 both sound excellent... Luckily, tomorrow's a work day once more. The cheapness shall return.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And another

Did you know that buying loads of designer goodies is actually thrifty? Did you? Another entry to this unfortunate bandwagon. (Granted, this from a blogger whose comments policy bans all criticism, not merely trolling, personal-life and body-image commentary, and the sorts of things that are reasonable to discourage. I mean, why have a comments section on a fashion blog, then announce "I’m not looking for pointers"? But I digress.)

Remember, people: 'cost-per-wear' is just the reverse of the advice about how small purchases add up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sold out

Are we really supposed to be horrified when talented designers accustomed to making clothes the price of a grad-student stipend create a line for Target? According to Erika Kawalek, the Rodarte team sold out by doing just that.

The article itself is a bit confusing - the author announces that she just returned from China, and implies that the Target line was made there, but never says this outright, so for all we know it's not. But it has to be from China, and the result of poor labor conditions, for the argument to make sense. She calls the Target line's garments "Rodarte for Target clothes are commodities" - what, then, are the clothes from the pricier line?

And, um: "Rodarte is synonymous with craft, which means $3,000 to $12,000 price tags, but nobody calls the Mulleavy's elitist or out-of-touch." Because I read too many fashion blogs, I'm aware of who these sisters are, that they look much more 'normal' (read, non-emaciated) than most women in the industry, and wear jeans and not terribly cutting-edge sneakers, so I suppose compared with an Anna Wintour, a Karl Lagerfeld, the phrase "out-of-touch" wouldn't come to mind. But anyone responsible for clothing in this price range is part of the problem, if we are defining down-payment-on-house-priced clothing as a problem.

We are thus once again being confronted with the "slow fashion" argument. Hand-crafted, artisinal, quality, Investment Piece, blah blah, who cares that most of the clothing women actually wear-for-years is from places like Target. Kawalek writes of how the designers' regular line "practically howled with the sadness of environmental degradation, while at the same time inspired a poetic but equally practical mend-and-make-do approach to self-fashioning." Yes, because the solution for The Environment is to make clothing that costs $12,000, so that no one can afford it, so that no clothing - worn-to-shreds or otherwise - ends up in landfills, because there's no clothing left. As in, of course, it must be better to carry your great-grandmother's Hermes purse than a tote bag or backpack - perhaps if my own ancestors had carried purses and not pushcarts, I'd do the same.

OK, I realize the above is as populist as I've ever sounded, ever. My point, though, is not about Real Women who Wear Target, but about, once again, the nonsense that is pretending that there is Quality clothing, which is worn for years, and on the other hand, disposable junk. $40 clothing is only disposable junk if for you, the default is $4,000.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Van Masters

What is the message from this Salon article about a grad student living in a van?

-Stunts pay, if not in cash long-term, in publicity short-term?

-People who claim, "Living in a van was my grand social experiment" should consider a reduction in adjectives? (Other people can call your choice to live in a van "grand." You, the van-dweller, do not have this privilege.)

-People who are "worried" that Facebook groups will form on the topic of their "grand social experiment" could try to sound a tiny bit more sincere?

-Men who pose shirtless online and offer up statements like "I had a penchant for rugged living" must appeal to someone, or else they would not do this?

-College graduates whose parents offer to pay their rent and who nevertheless go for something like living in a van are living in a van because they can leave said van at any time without getting a new job?

-Don't go to a humanities grad program that doesn't at least pay your tuition?

Cans, deposited

I forgot to mention, my roommate and I finally accumulated three bags of cans and went down to the bottle deposit place to get our due. Unlike in New York, apparently, regular stores don't accept deposit cans, so you have to go to some dank, smelly warehouse in east Cambridge to claim your reward. And, as I predicted, this warehouse was full of homeless people plying their trade. Also, you have to sort and arrange your own cans. After all that, we got fully $3.20 for our efforts. This is barely enough to buy a latte.

I concluded from this adventure that in order to get the most out of this deposit law, one really needs to have either 10 beer parties a month or 10 soda-guzzling children. But I still intend to go back in June and get another $3 worth of thrift.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

If you can afford X, you can afford X+Y

A popular argument in favor of the much-debated cosmetic surgery tax is that if you can afford to spend a ridiculous amount on personal upkeep, surely you can afford to spend a bit more for something worthwhile - in this case, health care for others. While the proposal itself does not bother me, the suggestion that if you can pay Amount A, you can also manage Amount A+B, does.

Leave aside for a moment the specific issue of cosmetic surgery. The question here is whether one's intent to pay Amount A should be taken to mean that one could just as well pay A+B, as though B does not change the price and thus the affordability of Unnecessary Item X. My argument is thus not that purchases should never be taxed, but that we should not pretend that taxes have no impact on the affordability of said purchases, even if such purchases could be classified as rich-people-nonsense. If part of the hope with this tax is to discourage consumption of something foolish, fair enough - I'll leave opposition to the more libertarian among us. But it seems the thinking is more, these spoiled, vain fools have money to spare.

Why does any of this matter for those of us not looking for nips and tucks? Because the principle of assuming X's affordability implies X+Y's affordability extends to realms that have nothing to do with taxes, Botox, or spreading the wealth to the less fortunate. Example: at every food store where a per-pound item is selected for you, you have to ask for less than you want to get the amount you're effectively asking for. But if you forget to do this, receive significantly more than you'd asked for, and complain, you will learn that this is just the amount the item comes in, or that it's tough to cut some item (fish, meat, cheese, etc.) to a particular weight (which is plausible in some situations, but does not excuse, say, extra olives, walnuts, etc., and is in any case often used as an excuse to oversell items well beyond the range of error). The store's message: 'If you can afford not to eat only prepackaged foods, you can afford an extra third of a pound of whatever it is you're having.' Only someone cheap would argue over a sliver, or order a quarter of a pound in the first place.

Leaving aside the question of whether cheapness should be penalized (and why wouldn't those on the selling end frown on frugality?), the implication here is that all consumers of X spend a set percentage of their wealth on X, and thus that only those with a particular economic status buy X in the first place. Which, whether X is a nose job or arugula, is false. Different people budget differently. Two people can be said to have a spare $400 to spend on nonsense, but one person's 'spare' $400 might come from his spare $4 million, while another's might be the result of months' worth of lentils in lentil sauce.

So, readers whose knowledge of economics extends beyond what's taught junior year of high school, does any of this make sense?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shopping repression

When I lived in DC and had a real life, I shopped at least once a month. It was easy--I had lunch breaks, and DC had convenient retail. My shopping was not extravagant, in part because I had a lot of time to waste waiting for things I liked to go on sale. Now that has changed. Everything in Cambridge is inconvenient except the Gap, and I make no moneyz, so I rarely shop.

This is apparently only a good cheapness strategy until Black Friday. That's when free shipping starts. Also, free returns. And then, you know, what do you have to lose...?

The answer, as you might expect, is your money. I bought lots of barely justifiable stuff on Black Friday (it was cheaper then!), which arrived, turned out not to look that great, and had to be returned to the store (no free returns on this). It was almost like I had repented of this terrible sin. But, unfortunately, returns require a trip to the mall, where other stores also live, and the sinning began anew. It's just that it's been so long since I had been in an H&M... And then these pants were on sale in exactly my size for only $20...Besides, what if I don't get to shop again for another three months? It's all totally justifiable, bank account, I swear!

Anyway, the moral of this story is that the binge and purge method does not work in any realm of life. Indulge your shopping desires regularly in moderation.


FLG sent me this link a while back for a kind of CNET for not-just-electronics that suggests the cheaper version of stuff you want, but also warns against products whose cheapness is not worth it (a temptation to which I am regularly subject). The site is still a work in progress, but could be good for christmas shopping cheapsters.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lessons in home decor

I'm sure I wasn't alone in identifying with this Greenwich Village couple's attempts to redecorate "On the Cheap," spending a mere $5,000 and using a decorator. Ah, to be young and carefree!

Or, as an alternative, you can go with a couch former roommates found on the street, and for flair, instead of throw pillows, use signs.

Such as:

Jo, who knows me well, got me this "No Peddlers" sign at a hardware store in Downtown Brooklyn. I'd been sort of obsessed with this sign for months, given that a) I'm descended, I believe, from the very peddlers this sign was probably designed to keep out when it first entered this hardware store in 1920 or whenever, and b) it's just such an anachronistic word and problem. No Smoking, Post No Bills, No Solicitation, No Spitting... but peddlers?

Below is a surprisingly inoffensive image of "The Old Jew" from Curmer's 1840s illustrated encyclopedia of French "types" that I believe captures something of my own Ashkenazi heritage. (via Gallica.bnf).

The best home decor includes 19th century as well as more modern touches:

Keeping with the Semitic theme, this sign, made from piece of paper that welcomed us to a Tel Aviv hotel bathroom, offers a positive message if I ever saw one.