Why You Should Spend $150 On Jeans

playing mini golf in Texas wearing my $150 jeans

Before we were married my soon-to-be-husband and I had an argument when I purchased a pair of jeans that were $150. This isn’t a revolutionary argument in the world of mates. In fact, it is pretty cliched.

At the time I was irritated at his uncharacteristic outburst about my purchase. And ashamed because I knew he was right: I shouldn’t have bought the jeans. Not because they were so expensive but because at the time I a) didn’t have a job and b) we had a wedding to pay for and c) did I mention I was unemployed at the time?

On a side note my husband has a great acceptance for the cost of electronics, particularly from Apple, fine dining and jewelery but not so much on the clothing front. He bought me a winter coat one year from Banana Republic for my birthday. We shopped for it together and he got very quiet when looking at the $200 price tag. $200 for a coat? Crazy. But $2000 for a laptop is de rigueur.

$150 for jeans was ridiculous in his mind and doubly ridiculous because I didn’t have a job. Weren’t there $50 jeans at Walmart?

Yes, there are $50 jeans out there. And no, I do not want to wear them. I bought some American Eagle jeans to see me through my post-baby days. I wore them a lot and they quickly went nappy and fuzzy in the thigh area. They were a dark rinse and never stopped leaving dye marks on my nails. They stretched out quickly and I had to wear them with a belt after a few hours. I was happy to send them to donation once they were too big. I would rather just own one pair of jeans I feel great in, that fit and are of good quality, than three pairs of jeans I feel fugly in.

Quite a few friends read this blog and in my daily life I get interesting reactions to it. People are embarrassed to talk about shopping in front of me, or spending, or acquiring things. And I realize at first glance it may appear that I’m not interested in those things anymore. But I am. Probably more so now.

While I have tossed the items we don’t use or wear I am quite interested in only acquiring quality items in the future. I recently purchased two sweaters. I could’ve spent $30 on each of them, bought acrylic and itched my way through one winter before they fell apart. Instead I went with natural fibers that will hold up and spent an average of $80 on each of them. That was $80 after discount because they were on sale but I didn’t find this out until I went to the cash register. I would have bought them at the regular price which is a mantra I am trying to live by.  A good deal is no deal if you end up never wearing it.

I came across this post at Get Rich Slowly the other day that reiterated this. As J.D. Roth writes, cheap things you never use are no bargain. There is value in spending money on what you actually use. Like J.D., I feel that the $176 I pay each month for Crossfit is value because I go to the workouts and I love them. I feel like I am in the best shape I have been in since I was seeing a personal trainer three times a week. My son’s $14 a month membership at the YMCA is not a good value because he naps during class times so we miss them. I am going to cancel the membership this week. If his nap time changes, as I am sure it will, I’ll consider renewing the membership.

How do you value shop and not get swayed by sale signs?

Here’s my other problem with bargain shopping in stores: I lose my focus. If I go into a store I am more likely to buy things I wasn’t intending to buy or feel pressured into buying things that aren’t quite right. That’s why I do most of my shopping online these days. I like using things like google shopping app to compare prices from different retailers and review customer feedback. I find it far easier to find things that work for me and my price point online than in stores.

My other trick is that I often order clothing in multiple sizes and styles, try it on at home, and then return whatever isn’t perfect. So many online retailers offer free returns these days so it doesn’t cost me anything to order, try on and then return. When I try clothing on at home I can also test it out with my existing wardrobe and find out if it is going to be a value buy for me. Win, win, win.

Value for items can be hard to understand before you actually own them. We initially bought a $40 baby monitor and quickly found out why it was $40. It was difficult to differentiate the static from any noise my son would make. My husband then went out and bought a $200 baby monitor. It was, as expected, quite fancy and I could play my iPod on it. I told him to return it because $200 was too much. So what monitor did we settle on? None. We live in an 1100 square foot condo. Our son’s room is right next to ours. If he is cooing and making nice noises we don’t really hear it. If he is upset we hear him just fine without a monitor.

Sometimes it makes sense to spend more and sometimes it makes sense to spend nothing.

Old Shoes, New Eyes

Yes, I am quoting my old rowing coach again.

We used to get this speech about having new eyes. Like if you had a car accident and narrowly escaped losing your life you would have a new outlook on life. You’d probably start eating better, exercise, spend more time with your family and in general lead the life you envision.

And this would last for a few weeks. Maybe months if you were lucky. And then you’d slow down on things, get caught up with work stuff, watch more tv, pick up your ice cream habit, stay up late watching the guy in his underwear and sleep in and miss your gym time.

New eyes for a high performance athlete were about taking every workout, every minute and kilometer of it, as a chance to improve. It was about not phoning it in or just getting the mileage in. It was about being mindful and present.

It’s hard to keep your new eyes. It’s hard to create a good habit when there are so many chances not too. When the baked goods at Bean Around the World are so delicious and running in the rain with a jogging stroller sounds exhausting (until you actually finish the run, then it is exhilarating). When it would be great to tune out and watch another episode of Till Debt Do Us Part instead of putting away that laundry and then singing songs you learned at the library to your son. But it’s so nice to have the laundry out of view and your son giggles so sweetly when you toss him in the air and tell him he is a rocket ship.

New eyes are hard to maintain. I’ve been working on it a lot this year. So has my husband. We’re seeing progress every day: more books, less tv, more running, less couch time, more family time, less busy time, more meals made at home, less calling out for Thai food. Slow progress is sustainable progress.

It’s not only a near death experience that will give you new eyes. So will life transition.

C had a baby almost a year ago and is about to rejoin the workforce. Life events like these wreak havoc on your wardrobe needs (and sleep!) and C invited me over for an afternoon of wardrobe refinement. Initially she wanted to focus on everything but spying three huge boxes of shoes in her closet I suggested we start with just footwear.

65 pairs of shoes

First, let me just say that the afternoon brought out my jealous side. C has some pretty great shoes. Polka dot heels with red patent straps. The perfect black leather booties. Good stuff. Good stuff that I can’t even think about because I wear an 11 (okay, 11.5 and often cram my foot into 11s). And there is nothing good in an 11. The Tall Girl stores carry larger sizes but the footwear is basic at best. No polka dots. Sigh. I guess I was meant to be a minimalist when it comes to footwear.

16 pairs of boots

While the total of pairs of shoes was impressive I was really blown away by how many pairs of boots she had. 16. Look closely, purple faux croc boots up there, never worn. Bought on sale. Look fabulous but hurt too much to go anywhere in.

The edit criteria was a) do they hurt too much to wear and b) will C wear them in her regular or occasional shoe rotation. C isn’t looking to win a 100 things challenge, just gain some closet space, but I thought she did a great job cutting her collection in half. 33 pairs remain and eight of them are boots.

And then there was 33...

There was a lot of ‘these were so expensive’  and ‘I love these but they hurt’ before C tossed shoes into a consignment/donation pile. Halving your shoe collection is pretty serious to most women and I give big props. It was inspiring to watch. Like if Crystal Gale got a bob.

32 pairs of shoes for donation/consignment

After taking most of her shoes to the donation bin, one bag left for consignment, C says she feels good, no regrets.

Probably out of shoe jealousy, I made her wear her awesome cream heels to the park with the kids. She looked great. And in a moderate heel you can still help an almost walking one year-old get around.

Good job, C! Now keep your new eyes on when (because I know you will) you next go shoe shopping.

Just A Birthday Cake

We didn’t get birthday presents growing up. Not right off the bat but as my mother soldiered on as a single parent of six children the birthday gifts kinda slipped away. We weren’t sheltered from our financial reality. At the Safeway we weren’t the kids asking for a Coffee Crisp, we were the kids holding our breaths for the total at the checkout, hoping she had enough to cover it.

Usually we got a cake on the big day. Usually. Sometimes we made it ourselves. One year, must have been my sixteenth or seventeenth birthday, I was asked what special dinner I would like for the day. I chose pizza pot pie.

Have you ever had pizza pot pie? Pizza pot pie is a lasagna type casserole but instead of pasta you layer with premade pizza crust. And instead of layers of ground beef and cheese you layer sausage and peppers with spaghetti sauce. Like any good casserole, it is to be doused generously with cheese. My 32 year old palette now gags at the thought of it.

So this one year I ended up making my birthday cake. I should say our birthday cake as I do share the day with my twin. And later I ended up making the pizza pot pie too. Downer. I write this with the caveat that I have a great family and a mother that many consider a super hero, myself included. But those were our circumstances back then. My mom was probably too busy driving six girls to a volleyball tournament to make dinner so I stepped up.

In adulthood my family has taken a new approach to birthday gift giving. If there is something we can all agree would make a sibling’s days easier or bring them joy we collectively buy it. Otherwise we all call to say happy day, love you, miss you and that’s it.

One year my brother, a consummate pizza maker, was lamenting the death of his electric pizza oven. His family makes pizza once a week and it was really bumming him out. One of my sister’s saw a sale on a pizza oven so we all chipped in on it for him. He was floored and hugely thankful for the gift. Another year one sister wantedto start a running program and we all chipped in for an iPod and Nike + running system. She was overjoyed at the thoughtful and practical gift.

I like this kind of gift giving. With no expectations there is no burden. No more lame scarf sets or bath soaps that scream, I needed to give you something and nothing came to mind.

We didn’t buy Henry a present for his first birthday. I discussed it with Chris and there was nothing we were burning to give him. He’s collected a few new toys in the past month from relatives and we’ve correspondingly returned or donated some of his older ones. Our little man is still without words but from his babbling, squeals and hand waving he seems quite content with what he has.

Just a birthday cake this year for Henry. I hope he looks back on the photos and sees how happy he was. That I baked him a cake from scratch and that we sang to him and he was delighted. I am sure there are many birthdays ahead of us where his young hopes and dreams will be pinned on whatever we have wrapped up for him. But this isn’t one of them.

Shopping Is Not A Hobby

I was a nerdy jock in high school. And chubby. When I wasn’t at volleyball, basketball or rowing practice I enjoyed eating M&M’s and reading. A good book and some sugar. Heaven. The 90’s were a simpler time it seems.

Shopping is on addiction status for teens. I was sad/appalled to read about ‘haul videos’ – teens posting videos of themselves unloading bags of purchases from the mall and describing/rejoicing over the purchase. We’ve recently watched a few seasons of Friday Night Lights via iTunes: what about football, cheer squad and the rally girls? I thought Glee Club was making a resurgence. Isn’t there a better hobby out there than shopping?

I’ve made some bad purchases in my life. Too many to count. Did I really need to lease a brand new VW Golf when I was a full-time athlete with almost no income? But so far the only thing I regret selling is half of my Apple stock (thought I needed to diversify. Bad call by me).

We are still in selling mode here. I’ve got multiple listings on Craigslist for assorted baby items. My goal this week is to get our car cleaned up and listed for sale. I’m still unsure what the best method is to sell my Coach purses: eBay, consignment or Craigslist. Progress is being made but it’s slow.

The first round of minimaliz-ing was hard. In fact, my brother commented on here that it shouldn’t be that hard. On her blog The Very Small Closet (excellent wardrobe planning advice here – take a look), Julie Skinner has a great post on learning to let go. I have found that after that initial pang about dollars lost and dream wardrobe items that never quite looked right on me (and never would) it’s become easy.

It has become easy to look around my home and see what it is I actually use. What is picked up on a daily basis and what is causing me more laundry, dusting and stress. What was a brief time in my life and no longer needed (my box of craft supplies that was only used three years ago for all of our wedding invitations) and what is the here and now (snowshoes ready for some baby and mom snowshoeing as soon as the mountains are ready for us).

It’s become easier to see what hobbies are part of my life. Running (jogging stroller and running gear), reading (library card), Crossfit (said running gear works just fine), watching Mad Men (so sad the season is done. Don Draper you are killing me), working on my e-book about saving money/buying less baby items (MacBook) and spending time with family and friends (nothing needed).

Minimalist Finance: My New Super Tool

Behold my financial super tool: a notebook.

There is nothing as lame and boring and unsexy as someone discussing their financial diet. A friend of a friend once told me about buying the wrapped up mega discount produce at T&T and cutting the mold and squishy stuff off to make a stir fry. While I applauded her efforts to stay out of debt while in school I also felt kinda sick at the thought of it.

My husband and I have recently paid off a bunch of consumer debt. We were prepared for financial disaster while I was on maternity leave but found, strangely, that a few months in we were staying afloat. This curiosity lead me to inspect our finances a little closer and in February we decided to actually watch our spending and see if we could save money. I messed around with some Excel spreadsheets, an app for my iTouch and a pay for use online budgeting software that imported all of our banking information. None of it worked for us. But the spend less approach did and we have saved into the five figures in the last eight months.

Just to be honest: I’m not ready for full financial transparency on this blog. While I know it is fun to see other people’s numbers I don’t think I am ready for it. But I will admit to being a card carrying member of the ‘still have student loans and over 30’ set. *I did go back to school for a year when I was 26. Expensive school.

But I am ready to take my financial awareness and planning to another level. I read a pretty good e-book over the weekend, Unautomate Your Finances by Adam Baker. I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is the second e-book I have read and while I like Adam’s ManvsDebt blog his writing style is not in the vein of say, The Wealthy Barber.

But I guess his writing style is what made the book so good.

Adam and his wife were $80k in debt when their daughter was born just a few years ago. Becoming parents was a wake up call to them. Not just about their finances but about what they wanted to do in life. Over less than two years they paid off over $20k in debt and saved an additional $17,000 so they could live abroad for a year. In the book Adam details how they did, how others can do it and pumps you up about spending less and earning more. He also recommends a tool I know quite well: writing it down!

August 2006
August 2007

In 2007 I lost 25 pounds using a website called MyFoodDiary.com and marathon training. Essentially you write everything you eat down, in this case online. The act of writing it down makes you more aware of your consumption. And with awareness you stop mindlessly eating and listen to your body’s hunger cues more. And then you lose weight.

Adam Baker recommends writing down all your purchases for 30 days in his book Unautomate Your Finances. Pretty simple, right? I’ve only been practicing this for two days and already I am seeing a difference. Simple works.

There are some great ideas and tools in the book and I highly recommend it if you want to make some changes in your financial life. Big or small. If you want to know more about the book check out Adam’s blog ManvsDebt.com.

UPDATE: apologies, this book is no longer available. You can read more about Adam’s debt strategy at ManvsDebt.com.

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