Encore: Scrimp, Splurge, Deprivation, Abundance

Still doing a bit of catch-up after returning from a week in Colorado. Aside from the aprés-ski boots, I had almost no interest in shopping on this trip, and have developed a healthy resistance to what I’ve dubbed “resort-itis” (the temptation to purchase clothes that seem perfect while on vacation, but that don’t work for real life). Oh, and the skiing was magnificent!

The post below was originally published in February 2009.

In this economy, it’s a rare bird who isn’t cutting back on spending, or at least talking about cutting back on spending. Une femme has embarked on an aggresive savings plan, which has cut deeply into discretionary spending, and I’ve been doing some soul searching about what luxuries are expendable, and where I can cut back.

Having been on many diets in my younger days, I know the trap of the “deprivation effect.” We deprive ourselves of what we really want, and end up eating an entire package of caramel rice cakes instead of the piece of chocolate that would have satisfied the craving. Likewise, sometimes we “spend around” that thing that we really want: instead of that $300 pair of boots that we LOVE, we buy the $100 substitute, and feeling vaguely unsatisfied, proceed to buy a bag and a sweater from the final clearance table, ultimately leaving the store still having spent the $300. We pass up the $100 eye cream and spend $100 on random makeup. When that deprivation effect gets triggered, all we can think of is more, or the next thing.


Another manifestation of the deprivation effect making it tough to curtail spending are all of the discounts out there right now. There’s a part of me that worries that if I don’t grab two pair of those lightweight wool trousers in my size at 30% off RIGHT NOW, that I’ll never find anything as good (at as good a price) ever again. Yes, I am a fear-based shopper.

The antidote for this is to cultivate a feeling of abundance. Abundance, not in the sense of having a large quantity of stuff, but of having exactly what we need. In fact, having too much can get in the way. Doing my closet purge a few months ago actually increased my sense of abundance, because instead of looking at a whole lot of “not quite” I had a clearer view of the “just right.”

Also contributing to our sense of abundance are the non-material things that make our lives more satisfying. Time is a big one for me: time to relax, read a book, visit with friends, sit on the front porch and watch the birds, work in the garden. When our lives feel overwhelming and out of balance, we sometimes rely too much on Retail Therapy to provide that satisfaction. The things we buy never quite scratch that itch; we get the immediate gratification, but not much more.

Cultivating an attitude of abundance makes it easer to be more discriminating. Do I love it or just like it? Yes, it’s my color, but don’t I already have something similar? Do I really notice that much difference between the $25 neck cream and the $125 neck cream? The trick seems to be to find areas where one can scrimp that don’t trigger the feelings of deprivation, and save the splurges for where they will provide the most satisfaction. Right now, I’m fine to pass on salon manicures, spa facials, fancy meals out, designer handbags or Hermès scarves. I’m test driving some less expensive face creams (jury still out) and have scaled back to single-process hair color. I’m holding the line on purchasing any more clothing or shoes right now, as I have plenty for the current season, which will mostly last (within a 10-15F range) until June. But I need my good coffee, my Chanel lipgloss and my Anthelios sunscreen.

What about you? Where do you scrimp and where do you splurge? Where do you find non-shopping satisfaction?
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  1. I’m not a big shopper, none if my friends are either, so we aren’t around that constant shopping/ look at my new things environment. I make a list if a few things in spring and again in autumn.
    I splurge on coffee shops, it’s my treat before the gym every day to go for breakfast, it also motivates me to be out if the door at 6.ooam!
    My gym membership is also non negotiable

  2. I’m not a big shopper, none if my friends are either, so we aren’t around that constant shopping/ look at my new things environment. I make a list if a few things in spring and again in autumn.
    I splurge on coffee shops, it’s my treat before the gym every day to go for breakfast, it also motivates me to be out if the door at 6.ooam!
    My gym membership is also non negotiable

  3. I definitely scrimp on eating out at restaurants. Haven’t been out to dinner in ages. I would have to say that I tend to splurge on books, the old school paper and cardboard type. Unfortunately, they do tend to take up valuable shelf space. One of my spring cleaning projects will be to go through all of the books and only keep the ones I really, really will read again. The rest are going to the library donation bin, or if they don’t want them, then a used book store.

  4. I try to avoid shopping when I’m on vacation and just enjoy my surroundings. I usually do most of my shopping locally or over the internet. I am scrimping on nail polish this year. Have way too many polishes I never use. I am splurging on a wonderful coat.

  5. Your post today is about something I have been working on years already. I have only the essential clothes I need in my closet. I can´t even go closet shopping, as I already know what there is ; ).
    The process has been a long one, as I have downsized our household things too ( including everything ).
    We don´t eat out, do not travel abroad, don´t splurge on food, flowers, spas, magazines, parties.. I could go on and on…
    In general, I save on the small things. But – if something absolutely gorgeous catches my attention ( in the form of something material ), I will somehow manage to get it. Once in a while.
    If I need medical treatment, I will go to the best specialist I know, or at least have a second opinion.
    This I willingly recommend to everyone else too.
    USA is known for it´s big spenders. Unfortunately, the rest of the civilized world has followed the crazy example.
    Sadly, as you know, we have received a big load of pure junk, which has to be dealt with.
    One thing is sure. I will not carry anything of it into our house.

  6. Only one things works for me if I want to avoid spending $$$ unnecessarily- stay home in bed, covers pulled over my head, until the husband and cat drag me out. Once I’m in a store or boutique, surrounded by lovely things, (most of which I neither need nor can afford), I’m doomed and have to make a run for it before I find the checkbook jumping into my hands. Damn those clever display people!!!

    Being an antiques dealer, it’s usually a tussle between buying for the business or for myself. Usually, the business wins, which is why I’m wearing clothes older than dirt.

    Anyway, thanks for trying to keep us more or less on track!



  7. I’ve found that if I set a goal to buy nothing, I get same deprivation fits as when I went on very restrictive diets (in my 20s); all I think about is what I’m not getting. But setting a budget and making decisions about how to spend and save is more satisfying- like working with your WW points. The polarities of complete freedom (in my case that means debt) and complete deprivation do not work, at least for me.

  8. I have to say, that after I began reading your blog, as well as a few others, I’ve learned to shop quality over quantity. It’s hard for me to pass up a bargain, but after having cleaned out my closet following a pretty big weight loss, I’m only buying garments that really work now in my wardrobe, not saving it for someday.

    Now if I could only do the same with shoes and handbags, I’d have the perfect closet! That’s this year’s project, along with keeping my makeup binges under control as well.

  9. I admit to being tempted by the sales although I try to only buy classics that will last and that I can not normally afford. I am still aware that I would be better to buy less however having read all the good blog advice I am making progress.

  10. I know exactly what you mean – it’s great to get to that point where you know exactly in your mind where you want to spend your $$ (if at all) and where you are prepared to save. And you are so right about that feeling of “the deprivation effect” – this is one I am guilty of I know at times. Glad you had a fabulous ski trip. x

  11. This post is a classic! I love how you’ve managed to make such a clear and precise point in just a few sentences! This is what it really comes down to, the negative thoughts and impulses that drive our unhealthy spending habits. As for the scrimp vs. splurge: In 2012 the splurge fond was dedicated to experience (travelling, dinning out with friends, road trips, nature walks) as oppose to owning/buying more things. It’s something I’m eager to explore further in 2013 until I find the perfect balance.

  12. Bonjour everyone!

    I have been on a financial diet for years!! After I got divorced, I learned to be frugal. Nowadays, I splurge on a good haircut, good coloring.Manicures every other week. No need for lots of expensive clothes.. just basic wardrobe. My car is nice but not a luxury car. Dining out once a month, or so, cleaning woman once a month, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.. I belong to a fitness center because I need it. But my secret luxury is the theater.. there I get great seats for the ballet and the opera. Since I do not travel, or have other expensive wishes that is my two or three our escape!!


  13. No one in my family ever purchased anything “on sale”. My grandmother had good reasons, and I had always stuck by them until last year when I purchased a pair of boots on sale. True enough, I didn’t love them, and had bought them because of the 70% discount, and wore them only once before giving them away. I don’t buy all that much, and make very few mistakes as I only purchase what I love, what I know I need and only buy for my real life now. I did just order a beautiful Spring dress online, and it came and I loved it, but I don’t know that I’ll have any need for it, so back it went. Don’t want anything superfluous hanging in my closet, making me feel guilty. Great post.

    1. Kathy, What you describe is what I aspire to do with my own wardrobe–which is a work in progress. I want only what I need and can use. Where to draw the line? Which accessories are necessary and which are luxuries?

  14. Scrimp: Face soap – it just goes down the drain anyway.
    Splurge: Chanel lipstick – that perfect “click” of the case is worth it.

    Scrimp: No more gym membership.
    Splurge: $125 running shoes.

    Scrimp: Bulk dried beans and flash-frozen veggies.
    Splurge: Sushi – because you just don’t want to cheap out on raw fish.

  15. Amen! But I’m SO weak! My email is filled with sale this, sale that…EVERYDAY! So hard to push that delete button.
    When kids were home, I hardly shopped for myself. It was kids first and foremost. I guess I’m trying to catch up now. 🙂

  16. I love this post. It really speaks to my personal accumulation flaws. I too buy out of fear. Fear of discontinuing my favorite brand of jeans, t-shirt, even favorite colors. I have been trying to reduce my wardrobe and even joined project 333. I will probably never have 33 items in my closet exclusively, but I am slowly reducing. Deprivation never works for me either. But, lately I have resisted buying items I loved, but “missed” buying the item by waiting too long and then its unavailable. I’ve realized that I have something similar and I don’t need more. I splurge on shoes. Once a year I allow an expensive shoe purchase ususally Manola Bhanik, but they have to be perfect and wearable. I save on basics. I hit STA or Ebay a lot for jeans and shirts. I don’t get manicures or pedicures, but I color my hair. Its all trade-offs.

  17. I splurge on books. No willpower there at all. I buy good coffee, good food. Lovely perfume, fragrant oil-based soap. These things make every day better.

    Clothing is pretty much always secondhand but good quality. I splurge on undergarments.

    And I don’t count the cost where the dogs are concerned.

    It’ss actually scrimping, but it feels like splurging – using inherited furniture, china, glasses and flatware. And old, soft linen tablecloths and napkins.

    I think that being surrounded with beautiful and useful things is a real joy!

  18. This post is as true as the day it was written. I find it easier to be frugal these days, what with the decline in proper customer service and quality in clothing for what you pay…..I’ll never be totally “cured” of my love of shopping….but I make sure I really love something and that it is of a quality I can live with before I spurge these days. Oh….and welcome back from your ski trip!