Thursday, April 22, 2010

How neurosis promotes cheapness

Some anecdotes:

-For a while now, I'd noticed that my cuticles are a mess. I'm not sure what one does about this (there are such things as cuticle oils, sticks, and nippers, none of which I'd know what to do with), so I decided to get a manicure, what would have been, I think, my fourth ever. Then I googled 'manicure hepatitis.' Saved: $12.

-Yesterday, I saw a woman with the chambray shirt of my dreams. I was all set to ask her where it was from, when the following thoughts popped into my head:

1) Given what this woman looks like (40-ish, very-slim-but-not-emaciated, massive diamond ring, perfect-yet-understated hair, all signs point to her being one of the mothers from the private school near where I teach), I can't afford the shirt, and it will be too depressing to know that the shirt exists but costs $3,000.

2) Given how flawless this woman looks, how put-together she is versus how put-together I'm not, it could be that the very same shirt on another woman (namely, me) would not be anything special.

3) She's so not going to want to interrupt her conversation with the other mom to help some shabby grad student mimic her style. Yeah, it was the perfect shirt, but I saved, shall we say, $98.

-Unlike the PhD students one so often reads about, who are convinced that after graduation they will have amazing jobs, I remain convinced that I'm one awkwardly-phrased email to a professor, one messily-formatted citation away from destitution. This, I find, inhibits my shopping tremendously. Money saved: incalculable.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Selective luxury in a restricted life, or should I shell out for a nice apartment?

As I've written before, moving and starting grad school seem to have brought about spontaneous and substantial decreases in my monthly spending. The reasons for this are pretty obvious--I live a narrower life now, and there is less stuff to spend money on. No going out for drinks, no vacations, no health insurance premiums, fewer groceries even, because the store is so far from my apartment that I only go a couple times a month. The main recipients of my money are now my landlord, Amazon, coffee shops, sandwich shops, and Old Navy's online store (all stores are inconvenient to my house). I've even become willing to pay the $7 shipping fee, because the time it would take to schlep to the nearest actual Old Navy is just not worth risking that the hoodie I want isn't even in stock. I could read like 30 pages of Aristotle in that time!

The result of all this is that I've been saving a decent amount of money out of my stipends. All is well in Cheapness Studies Land, except that your thrift theorist is getting married this summer and needs to find new digs for herself and the future Mr. Self-Important, and the cat. Cambridge, while no New York, is a pretty overpriced place in its own right, where for $850 a month, you can have the privilege of residing in a tiny room of an elaborated three-story wooden shack with slanted floors, thin walls, and no insulation. And that is with roommates splitting the cost. Up to now, I have always apartment-hunted by prioritizing the rule that more people in fewer rooms equals less rent. But this rule no longer applies.

This brings us to the current forecast: as of June, I will be living in a 1.5 bedroom work of awesomeness, convenient to school, coffee, and groceries, and complete with a dishwasher. It is true that I don't exactly make tons of moneyz, and the future Mr. Self-Important is a law student, so he makes negative moneyz. But I don't think this should really be an impediment, should it? If I don't spend money on anything else, can it be ok? If I am 25 and married, can I be an adult person with level floors and brick walls and maybe even furniture purchased from a retailer not based in Sweden, even if it cuts into my savings?

I have tried to compensate for this irresponsibility by getting a part-time job, and promising myself to write articles this summer. That is my cheapness penance. I am repenting, and also doodling floor plans and possible furniture layouts in my notebooks during class.

On a related note, between silver clogs and luxury apartments, I think the mission of this blog has officially been subverted.

Context is everything

I'd been feeling a bit guilty about having bought a totally unneeded pair of boots in Arizona. Sure, they were $21, but I'd just bought silver clogs, and there was really no way to justify this additional purchase. It thus made me feel slightly better to see the same boots through the window of a shop on the Lower East Side. I of course had to see how much they cost, and after a bit of poking around inside the boot to find the price tag, got the answer: $198. Granted, this doesn't make the fact that I spent $21 on boots any more noble, but it's reassuring to know that if this academia thing doesn't work out, I have a future in whatever career it's called if you buy lots of used clothing in one town and sell it in another, preferably on the Lower East Side. (Oh, my Ashkenazi ancestors would be so proud.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Esprit. Who knew?

I had time to kill on lower Broadway and found the nautical shirt (this, but with light blue stripes and not at all the odd shape you see in that image thanks to pinning) of my dreams for a whopping $8.99. (Least plausible ever "original price": $35.50. I believe only the previous price of $14.99.) This was that much more exciting because the Uniqlo sailor shirt I'd been on the lookout for a) is no longer being sold, b) would cost $15.50 if it were, and c) isn't as interesting. This one has buttons on the sleeves! Extra nautical! (As if I know what that would even mean.) My loyalty to the Japanese chain has, it seems, been broken.

The funny thing about the shirt, though, is that its size is different in different countries, as per the tag. In the US, as in Germany and the UK, it's a medium (that, I should note, fits me just right even though I'm a small or extra-small in other stores); in France and Italy, a large. Maybe the discount comes from the implicit reminder that the wearer would be considered "large" in Paris or Milan...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Failure to shop as pathology?

Dear Prudence has received a letter from a man with a problem I'd have thought inconceivable: he's annoyed (see the first letter) that his wife refuses to shop for new clothes. I'd always thought that the role of men in heterosexual relationships was, among other things, that of cheapness-promoters. "Do you really need another pair of black boots?" Clich├ęd, yes, but I've found it's often altogether true. Men may spend elsewhere, but women notice subtle differences in clothing that causes many of us to buy what seems to many men to be a replica of that which we already own.

Anyway, the letter seems quite obviously to be about more than a mom feeling cozier in sweats. There's the question of why this woman wears rags to a wedding, and on the other hand of why her husband cares that she hasn't worn earrings in years. I mean, I have a tendency to lose earrings, and so tend not to wear any, but can't imagine my boyfriend or any other man noticing either way. I could imagine a man being upset if his wife stopped, say, showering, or gained 300 pounds. But who cares what their partner wears in public, unless it's at a meeting for your work or something like that? The guy seems way too concerned about non-problems (again, earrings?) while the woman seems truly uninterested in dressing up. What's her deal?

The husband hints at the possibility that it's about weight - his wife is not as thin as she once was, but not large, either. Could be. Or, as some commenters suggest, it could be depression.

Another possibility: Cheaporexia. Not as in anorexia, but as in orthorexia - the eating disorder less about self-starvation than about an attempt to eat healthfully taken too far. Women are stereotyped as shopaholics, wanting new clothes whenever possible. But we've been told that this is wrong.

Not only is buying new clothing frivolous and vain, confirming all the worst stereotypes about women, but it supports child labor (who if not an oppressed four-year-old made that new dress you're admiring in the shop window?) and contributes to landfills. Think of the environment! Moreover, money spent on personal appearance could just as easily be donated to Haiti relief or one's savings account, depending where one's guilt primarily lies. Sure, we all want to look appropriate at work, and no one's faulted for owning a suit for meetings when in theory sweatpants would do. But gratuitous clothes-shopping is, in our culture, sin, a particularly despised subset of gratuitous spending more generally.

The ideal woman would look amazing - stylish, put-together, well-groomed - but not shop. (A bit like the new idea that the perfect woman is one who's a cover model even without airbrushing - this, when the anti-airbrushing brigade is ostensibly all about making all women feel better about their own looks!) It could be that, on some level, the wife in the Prudie letter suspects that by not shopping, she's in fact more appealing - to her husband or more generally - than she would be if she did what her husband ostensibly wants. Because yes, he wants her in a nice dress, but does he want her coming home with shopping bags? Or, two dresses later, would there be a Lucy-and-the-hats situation?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

There's always a catch

In NY, food establishments can only meet two of the following three criteria: cheap, delicious, and comfortable. By "comfortable" I mean a number of things, but mostly chairs or benches rather than barstools, at least a hint of space between you and your neighbor, and no seats where you're perched on a stool, facing the street, during your meal.

Alas, two of my favorite lunch places fail the comfort test so much it's not even funny. Old favorite Taim (Waverly off 7th Ave South) and new obsession Dos Toros (14th Ave and 13th St), selling falafel and burritos, respectively, are both places where everything tastes fresh and delicious, where you'd have to have seconds to reach $10, and where you will end up getting a very messy food all over your face, clothes, and neighbors as passersby look on. By "you," for that last one, I mean "I."

Given that years of experience have not taught me how to eat falafel without a fork, I don't know what I was thinking with my forkless approach to the two soft tacos overflowing with rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, and hot sauce. Other people were picking theirs up just fine, but the same goes for falafel. It's not cheap ethnic foods, it's me. It was only by the second taco that I realized forks were available, but at this point 4th Avenue was strewn with the contents of taco #1. This was unfortunate both because I was sad to lose the contents of so much of my lunch, and because I teach next to Dos Toros, meaning I was fairly convinced my students or colleagues were about to witness the mess I was making. If I read anything on this semester's course evaluations about black beans, I'll know my fears were well-founded.

So what's the answer? Proper restaurant dining? More compact food items? Lunch at home? Abandoning shame?