3.25.2008

The Unenviable Closet

Lately I've been "upgrading" my wardrobe, particular for professional reasons. As a result, my closet is starting to get rather full. Lately I've had to remind myself that I don't really need that much of an upgrade aside from suits, which is the only true need. I'm still able to get great things on a beer budget, but trouble is, having the means to acquire nicer things begets a greater want of nicer things. [Ed.--I suppose I should define what I mean by "nice things." It includes more than tangible goods--it encompasses lifestyle changes, including but not limited to travel, eating out more (trying out new restaurants and food is something I'd like to do more often), going to the theater/opera/other cultural events which tend to cost a lot, etc.] A discussion in the Etsy forums, as well as a recent article in the New York Times, sobers me up to my recent habits. It's great to have some latitude, but with freedom comes responsibility.

A certain Etsy thread segued from pricing issues to consumer spending habits. The pressing issue was whether someone would pay a high price for something simple, and if so, why anyone would do such a thing. Some commenters are perfectly content with shopping from Wal-Mart and thrift stores, while others said they used to do that, but they are now willing to pay more for nicer things. Certainly, no one in the latter group became wealthy overnight and increased their spending limits concomitantly. Rather, things changed over time. It used to be that a $10 widget would suffice, but when income increased over time, the consumers were willing to buy something worth $30, then more, and more, and more in proportion to rising salaries.

I thought that I would be immune to this phenomenon, but to be honest, I'm not. This is something I'll be struggling with for a while. On one hand, I shouldn't feel guilty because I'm not spending beyond my means (and spending is good for the economy right now, I might add); on the other hand, I know what poverty is like all too well, and how one stroke of bad luck can wipe out the bounty. I also do feel guilty that I'm enjoying all these things while a large majority of the country is sitting in bad economic conditions. I guess it's a good thing that there are so many things stacked in the "other hand" column; it really makes me think twice before I spend anything. To my credit, I have been very satisfied with my "investment" purchases, for they were indeed carefully chosen and consequently, I've gotten great many uses out of them already. But "proceed with caution" is still my motto.

And now I finally meander to what the title of this post means. Sometimes I do oooh and ahhh when I see someone wearing, carrying, or otherwise being in possession of really cool things, but I rarely say that I want to have those things. Something similar, perhaps, and definitely cheaper, but rarely that exact thing. That's because I'm constantly cognizant of the price tags of "designer" and "luxury" goods, and what trouble some people get into for their expensive appetites.

The New York Times recently printed an article about Britain's consumer debt problem. Because credit was relatively easy to obtain (some may say too easy), consumer spending has been very strong. Consequently, debt in recent decades has not been viewed as such a bad thing. However, when the economy went south and many people are facing foreclosure, debt suddenly became a huge problem. At least one person interviewed for the article incurred about 60,000 Pounds on designer clothing, bags, and shoes. Once people started spending, they lost sight of the fact that they had to pay the money back.

To me, this article serves as a stark reminder to not get caught up in progressively wanting more and better. If people have fabulous clothes because they bought them with hard-earned cash, all the power to them. But don't make the mistake of envying a fabulous wardrobe too much...sometimes it is built out of financial ruin.

5 comments:

michelle said...

I think that you raised a lot of great points in this post. I too wonder how my spending habits will change after I'm employed. A lot of what would be expendable income will be going toward buying a house/condo and also a car (which I don't have now but will need in the new location). I actually don't like buying professional clothing as much as casual clothing for some reason, because there are more restrictions on what I can wear in the workplace, so I'm content to buy quality things on sale and also buy in multiples. I guess one change is that I'll be able to afford to shop and try things on in retail stores, rather than hoping that the things I buy on Ebay will fit! One thing I definitely want to spend more money on when I can is experiences - vacations abroad, dinners out.

ThatBeeGirl said...

you make several good points.
the desire for those luxury goods is sometimes overwhelming for me, but then i remember how lovely it is to be debt-free. and considering i want to stay that way...yeah.

Sales Rack Raider said...

Michelle--sounds like you've got a good head on your shoulders. I agree that it's nice to have those experiences that we don't get to have when we were broke. Travel for myself (and my family--but they don't know that yet) is something I'm saving up for. Tangible goods can sometimes carry the illusion of permanence because it's, well, there, but like they say, memories of a vacation last a lifetime--far longer than an expensive bag or shoes.

Bee--Smart move. Experience is a certainly a good deterrent.

michelle said...

Sales Rack Raider - Believe me, I wasn't always this way and have learned some hard lessons! I have to thank you and your blog a lot for setting a good example.

ambika said...

This post could have been written by me. I've been making a wage for the past year or so that has put me at an income level with so much freedom, it's dizzying. I think it's tremendously hard to battle the desire to buy things I do really, really want because I won't be going into debt to get them. However, while I'm still good at refraining from buying on a whim and making sure that what I do buy I'm absolutely smitten with--let's face it, I'm often smitten.

It's a tough balance and one that requires constant thoughtfulness.