As summer begrudgingly winds down, New York families are a buzz in back-to-school season. As annoying as those JCPenny’s and Walmart commercials are, a fresh pack of pre-sharpened colored pencils and spiffy new sneakers give me that springy kick in my step to start something afresh. Those stale resolutions from January could use some dusting off, and another look might produce something a bit more practical. We at Reassession are offering you another way to save some serious cash flow. Some of the beautiful women I know in the City are already rocking their new action plans.
Three of my jet-setting girlfriends are taking vows to spend less on clothes and/or not buy new clothes at all for a year. While Ben Bernacke might be cringing in his Johnston & Murphy’s, I am overjoyed. My quest to be thrifty has often been challenged by the inner demons that groan with envy when yet another pretty bag is brought home from that fantastic boutique. Now these trendy ladies are joining me in the land of chic frugality.
Mysteriously, they all came to this decision on their own and it just happened to time out together. To be quite honest, I am shocked. These friends are trendy, put-together and designer-savvy. But honestly, they are all broke or about to be broke, due to various life circumstances including going back to grad school, a job change and spending too much on cabs. They haven’t told me this frankly, but it is a general sense I gather. The recession has hit us all hard. We have to rethink where our disposable income will have the most impact. We need to decide where that money is actually going to increase our quality of life and make us feel…well, better.
All of these girls have more clothes than our tiny New York City closets can contain. Yet, they really don’t need them. Or at least, that many articles. It is fascinating that in life we require three basic necessities: food, shelter, and clothing. Clothing actually made it on the list of needs. However, when the mavens of fashion saw an opportunity to shift our perception from need to want, a massive market for exploitation was created. Us “independent” ladies pine for new clothes. With all the extra clothes we swim through in our dollhouse-sized flats, the Container Store has monopolized the market to reign in all the extra things we can’t store in the closets that are too small. We’ll pack up all these charming garments and try to hide them under a bed or up high in a closet where we forget about them entirely. Another season goes by and the vague itching of a vision of a gray quarter-length cardigan goes tumbling through your memory. It is packed tightly away, but forgotten. So we go buy a new cardigan, and…(deep breath)…you get the picture. When I say I am proud of these ladies, it is because I believe with great conviction that they are undoing brainwashing that most of the twenty-something women I know have been steeped in for years.
Carol, one of our ReWriters is one of the newly celibate shoppers. She went through much this year, including being unemployed for five months. During the winter. (big sigh) She recently experienced a great victory in the job front. She called me with an unusual giddiness in her voice. “I really want to go…buy something!” Visions of Diane Von Furstenberg danced through her head. But Carol held back. Instead of new jeans or a wrap dress, she bought herself a latte instead. In a moment of joy, she chose to celebrate with a $3 purchase, as opposed to $129.Whatever that instinct was to treat herself with something pretty, she evaluated and chose wisely.
Jenn’s motivation comes from a different space. She’s taking an eco challenge, which entails only buying organic or used clothing (ie thift shop or sample sales) for the next year. As she describes it, cotton uses an unbelievable amount of water to produce that graphic T. By “recycling” clothing she’s saving money and resources. What’s more, Jenn knows she doesn’t need new clothes. She wants to save money for things that will last. She knows she’d be much happier saving up for a camera that develops her artistic passions and gives her a sense of accomplishment when she gets out to shoot the city or her friends. She’s gone 3 months, practically an eternity in a former life, and only bought 1 item from a sample sale. She has also sold/donated about 35 pounds worth of clothing. She’s feeling light in all sorts of ways.
While my friends’ vows to discontinue shopping may not be helping out our macro economy, they will be helping their own pocketbooks by eliminating a (practically) nonessential expense considering their existing wardrobes are well supplied. I too have been sucked into the sometimes slippery slope of keeping up with New York fashion. To keep myself accountable, I do my shopping on a strict budget.*
I limit myself to spend $50 per month. If I “must” have something that puts me over the limit, my allowance for the next month shrinks. If I want something sassy that is just for going out to dance, I’ll buy it in Harlem or Washington Heights. Lights are always low anyways, so your shirt doesn’t have to cost more than ten or fifteen dollars. An insider told me that Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy are now using the same quality of fabric so go with Old Navy. Jenn and I are also in love with Housing Works, a thrift store where the money goes to supporting AIDS and homelessness efforts.
We could all be wearing potato bags and conceal everything worth covering if necessary. Remember these brilliant words from Fight Club if you can’t fathom cutting new clothes out of your budget:
Tyler Durden: You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your f***ing khakis.
Here’s to being more than our khakis.
PS – For more inspiration to buy less, please see this lovely little article in the NYTimes.
PPS – If you don’t have a job, try selling the clothes you never wear at a consignment shop.
*I lived in California for four years and my blood will never be the same. If you need to buy something to keep yourself warm during the blistery New York winter, be frugal but allow yourself a little wiggle room. Fleece jackets, puffy coats and gloves do not count in my budget. They are their own line item and frankly, they are the only thing I don’t have a set limit on. If you are as wimpy in the cold as me, you’ll be interested to know that Land’s End is having a major sale. Check out the “Overstock” tab for great deals.