There was a time when I was the queen of Neiman Marcus. Back in the days when I worked on Wall Street, I went to Neiman Marcus twice a year, Fall and Spring, to buy my business suits for the season. I bought five suits with matching blouses and spent what now seems like a ridiculous amount of money.
My priorities and circumstances have changed a great deal since then, (not least of which is that one of my life goals is never to wear a business suit again in my life). Back then my cosmetics were from Chanel and changed with the seasons. Now, make-up is less of a concern as I work from home. But these purchases also reflect the self-absorbed consumerism that drove my spending habits. I developed pet spending projects that became obsessions. When I took a trip overseas, one of the highlights was buying an Hermes scarf on the plane ride home. But then, if I had one scarf, wouldn’t two be even better? And then there was my Steiff period in the mid-nineties, when I became an ardent collector of Steiff teddy bears. If I bought the Steiff Collectors Club edition for the year, shouldn’t I also by the next special edition that came out for the holidays?
Luckily, over the years, my money habits have changed along with my consumer desires. I’ve come to appreciate the pleasures of saving and investing rather than spending. I have learned how investing even a small sum every month, also known as dollar cost averaging when investing in the stock market, can add up to a nice sum over the years. I’ve come to appreciate the satisfaction that these small measures can bring over the momentary pleasure of retail therapy.
Which is not to say that I’ve stopped shopping, but I’ve learned to shop for bargains. For instance, at Wal-Mart I’ve found a $7 black puffy jacket in the mens’ department that worked perfectly when the temps dropped. I bought two extras for my brother and his wife for their visit in March. I go to a terrific thrift store that is run by volunteers from local churches and which uses 100 percent of its revenue to fund a local charity for people in need. There I’ve purchased a lambswool Ralph Lauren sweater for $8, with the store tags still attached. I got a gently used Le Creuset dutch oven for $4.
But my favorite bargain find is a book. On the thrift store shelves I’ve found hardcovers on my Amazon wish list for $2 and paperbacks for $1. This magic trick has been so consistent with each visit that I now look forward to sitting in one of the comfortable wing-back chairs in front of the shelves and waiting for the book du jour to appear before my eyes. I’m happy to report that I have donated more than I have purchased, which not only helps me to keep my closets filled only with clothes I actually wear, but also provides a nice tax deduction for charitable contributions.
Admittedly this focus on thrift has become sharpened in the past few months since I have been without a job. However, rather than feeling deprived, I feel grateful that my needs are being met in an abundant, yet affordable way.
My frugal mind-set actually became the impetus to help a local business owner with the suggestion for a new product offering for his soup and sandwich shop. When he included two thick slices of homemade bread with our take-out order for soup, I brought the slices home and turned them into rustic croutons which I then took back to his store and told him that he could use the butt ends of the loaf that he would normally discard to create croutons to sell with the soup as an additional source of revenue for the store.