Scrimp, Splurge, Deprivation, Abundance

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’ll stop buying clothing for a month or so — haven’t bought much new stuff since November — but I also need my coffee.

    It’s more than the coffee, really. It’s the coffee shop atmosphere, it’s the cute demitasse it gets served in, it’s the polite waiter… it’s the experience.

  2. Having been through an art school higher education and working as a freelance I’ve cultivated a whole range of measures to deploy when I need to save.

    With face creams, I have two ranges on the go, one cheaper and one better and pricier. I alternate them each month so that the expensive one lasts twice as long. I also don’t bother too much with it during the summer, but splash on the sunscreen and use a cheaper moisturizer during June, July, and August.

    I find that when my brain is busy I don’t care about material possession. Your analysis of finding happiness by buying things just because they are reduced in price is very accurate. I’ve noticed in myself and I don’t like it.

    I find a visit to a really good exhibition or the theatre or reading a really good novel helps me to prioritise and stabilise me.

    The one thing I won’t give up is my subscription to my favourite professional journal, my weekly ration of goat’s cheese, and good quality home cooking. I would rather wear my well-made clothes and bags until they are completely threadbare than buy cheaper and shoddier new.

  3. After taking a close look at the Fall 2009 RTW Collections on (most of which are horrible) I can say that I won’t be tempted to spend on new clothes. What’s already in my closet will do just fine.

  4. I spend all my money on my business lately. Gold is not far away from the all-time high. As for face cream, I’d rather spend real money on getting real Retin-A — proved to work — from a dermatologist than anything else.

  5. Great post, Pseu! I’ve been appreciating my abundant life and closet lately, and although I’ve done some shopping, I have found it easy to resist buying, realizing my temptations were fear-based. I’ll only buy what I love, rather than new staples — my current wardrobe could get me through at least another year if necessary.
    But I won’t stop knitting and it’s going to keep being with beautiful yarns — my time is too valuable to spend with cheap substitutes. Groceries have cost saving potential — inexpensive foods can taste great, and I have a barrel of tricks from years raising four kids — but we’ll splash out occasionally on special ingredients.
    We’re not scrimping on travel — we’ll go to Paris again this spring. That said, we’ve always travelled affordably, enjoying simple pleasures like walking, visiting galleries and small museums, and people-watching, and we don’t need a splendid hotel room when we’re out of it all day. As well, this year, we’ll combine our trip with some conference travel, altho’ that’s more a nod to busy schedules than to the economy.
    This lengthy response (sorry!)to your thoughtful post is helping me see that I’m pretty comfortable maintaining my usual practices because they reflect a lifetime of careful, responsible consumption –having lived a joyful life with very little disposable income as our kids were growing, then being helped through post-sec, I’m really aware of how little happiness is liked to spendability (altho’ I won’t deny that a new pair of shoes puts a smile on my face!)

  6. I’ve slowed down on my purchases more from the sense of plenty than deprivation. Time to stop and wear what I have.

    I’m also trying to make time for my favorite hobby, sewing. I have a room stuffed with supplies so I have the means to make something new whenever I want. Making time is the issue there.

  7. Miss J have been trying to “love what you have”- in life, in her improv class, in her closet. It takes work if one isn’t accustomed to doing it. We’re all trained to buy more, more, more rather than enjoying what we have. The results for Miss J is that she has slacks in her closet she’s never worn- Miss J is an Ebay splurger! She’s still LOOKING on Ebay but she’s now asking the important questions Miss Pseu wrote of: do I need it? Do I LOVE it?

    Miss J will spend her $ getting a hair cut, but colors her own. She’s cut back on mani/pedis but not given them up entirely. Miss J has always been pretty good about bringing lunch from home (to control her caloric intake more than any other reason) but she’s gotten even better about it.

    Excellent entry today!

  8. Great post today…so far, I am sticking with pedicures every 6 weeks or so at the regular nail salaon, but I am going to try going to the beauty school near my house for a $5 manicure! I’ve gone from Estee Lauder face creams to Aveeno or Avon. I am staying away from Ebay. I did just buy a beautiful Kate Spade purse for spring, but it’s dark navy and bisque and will go with everything. I am brown-bagging my lunch to work. Bought an Oreck sweater shaver that plugs in to freshen up my old sweaters so they look brand new..I figured a $26 investment to spruce up my old cashmere sweaters is better than a $100 splurge on one new sweater. I have stopped buying books from Amazon and am hitting the library big time.
    And my main goal is to pay off a small amount of credit card debt by the summer, and then go cash only for clothing purchases. And I am going to focus on quality over quantity!

  9. All great ideas! I’m still in the weeding process and won’t buy anything else until that’s done. I agree with Pixie about quality. And I do have a lot of fabric waiting in my sewing room! But, coffee is another matter – I buy Allegro coffee at Whole Foods, their Sierra Espresso is my favorite. But I save a ton by making it at home!

  10. I use a less expensive face cream (as I mentioned in my blog recently) which my skin loves more than any expensive brand I’ve tried.

    As I have a makeup wholesaler, that’s easy – I pay wholesale prices anyway. If I want a pedicure or the like I go to the Salon School where they train beauticians and pay next to nix for it.

    I already do my own hair colour (it’s easy when you’re a brunette).

    I’m only buying any clothing that I internally scream I LOVE IT and it fulfills a hole in my wardrobe. I’m holding off the shopping til I get to LA where clothes are heaps cheaper than Australia.

    I pay nothing by credit card so as not to increase my debt load (fortunately the mortgage has gone down significantly in the past couple of months to ease the debt burden).

    I spend time blogging, and walking the dogs and playing games with my kids, seeing friends and chatting over a glass of wine, these are my simple pleasures.

    Interestingly, last night I did a closet purge for a client, she was very nervous, and worried when she saw the enormous pile of clothes that were going, that she was going to find herself lacking – yet I know from past experience she’ll now find her wardrobe easier to handle, less stuff that’s not working to get in the way.

  11. Great post! I’m job hunting, so I am purchasing (secondhand, vintage, FANTASTIC QUALITY) investment suits and jackets and slacks. Because I am not squeamish about wearing something someone has worn before, I can get jackets or suits that sell for $300-500 sometimes for $25. I found a perfect, fitted, sings-on-me Nipon jacket for five dollars.

    I also am fortunate that I like many of the older formulations of scents. I lucked into a wee bottle of l’heure bleu in parfum, from probably 1950s to look at the bottle, for $3. The aftermarket lets me buy the occasional fragrance, as a treat. And amazingly reasonable!

    I also scrimp by doing myself — I pack lunches from dinner leftovers for me and husband. I color my own hair. I have a pretty inexpensive place for haircuts, and don’t get mani-pedis. I buy the better grocery store coffee or the starbucks, but not the fab godiva coffee I used to love.

    Where I can’t scrimp or scrape or buy used, I have to bite the bullet. I wear DKNY tights, because I only need a couple pair and they last forever and cheaper ones I can run by looking at them crossways. I use NARS and MAC lipsticks because they make me feel fierce and I need that right now.

  12. Pseu, your posts are so great, thank you! Regular yoga classes obliterate my need for Stuff like nothing else. So I bought a year’s unlimited pass.

    80% of the clothes I wear (vs. own) are from two boutiques so I go there, mostly on sale but sometimes not. I save SO much not trolling only ok shops. Will not cut back on a good hairdresser or my Sid, my pain-free, adorable dentist.

    Go to the Aveda school for colour, $25 and cheaper than doing myself b/c I dye the bathroom walls and carpet.

    Fountaingirl, that’s so true about chap tights!

  13. Several years ago, I analyzed what it was that caused me to get into a frenzy about my hair. Was it the cut? Was it the color? What was driving me to keep going in and telling the stylist to ‘just do something’? It was the color. I have hypothyroidism and drugstore level color just would not touch and grey and white on my head, leaving me multicolored and feeling awful and frankly ancienne. The color is expensive; I can’t deny it. But when my hair looks good, I feel I look great; I feel I look ‘not old’ and I feel I look energetic and healthy. And when I feel that way, I tend to not buy stuff to ‘make myself feel better’. So, the hair coloring every 5-6 weeks is worth it.

  14. Great post. I use a really inexpensive cleanser and moisturizer. As a reformed skin care over-spender, I am pleased that these work for me so well. I still like a serum from l’occitane but I’m trying to find a good drugstore alternative.

    I switched hair places as my former place was the price of a small car note every 6 weeks. I’m stretching out my visits to 7 or 8 weeks and my new place is more conveniently located and a lot cheaper, by about half. And I did not sacrifice quality either, it just took some time to shop around. I keep it at a single process color though.

    I am learning to be happy with my collection of handbags and stop purchasing new ones. I have them properly stored and displayed in a closet sweater organizer (the hanging one that looks like hanging cubes). Now I can see them better and I’m not tempted to buy new ones. Clearly I have a handbag for every occasion and could not possibly want more. They are a weakness though so this takes diligence.

    I’ve even started dabbling in drugstore lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow. The only thing I’ve had difficulty with is the quality of the eyeshadows but blush and lipstick are just fine. Plus it’s an inexpensive pick me up.

    I also keep an inspiration board on the inside of my closet door. it keeps me focused so I don’t buy things that don’t suit me or that I don’t need. It’s hard to pass up a sale, but often there is nothing I need on the sale rack.

  15. That distinction of abundance as quantity versus abundance as “having exactly what we need” is SO important. And, as you point out, key to calming the urge to procure, procure, procure.

    Brilliant post, lady.

  16. I’ve always been frugal in most areas, especially food and drink. I don’t drink wine or spirits: big savings there. I rarely buy coffee by the cup unless it’s a business or social occasion. (Those little $3 expenditures add up.) I love me some Peet’s coffee, but you know what? The house brand at the wonderful local produce market is $5 a pound less, and I wouldn’t know the difference in a blind test.

    I do love clothes, and shopping for them, but I simply avoid full-price temptations. Last weekend I scored big at a local outlet store that carries J.Crew overstock; everything was 50% off outlet prices. I spent $125 and got five items, including a wool tweed coat and a moss-green velvet blazer I’ll wear to death.

    As for skincare, I’ve discovered the Kirkland/Borghese line at Costco. Yes, Costco. The products are mineral based and fantastic. The serum is magic, and it’s only about $25 for a big bottle, less if Costco is offering one of its coupon specials. If you can find them, the Kirkland/Borghese lipsticks are terrific; a three-pack is about $15. That’s better than drugstore prices.

    I don’t do facials or visit dermatologists. I do my own good-enough pedicures in the summer.

  17. Truly a beautiful post, with beautiful comments. Last year was a splurge year (new kitchen cabinets, new proch steps); this year, we’re going to splurge on new slipcovers for some chairs.

    We love our coffee here in New Orleans! Luckily, local dark roast coffee with chicory is only about $3.00, so it’s not even a splurge.

  18. I discovered a very long time ago that it’s the small, everyday pleasures that make a difference to me–good cheese, for example. I buy a very few cosmetics (Aveda brand), but that’s it–I don’t do manicures or pedicures or any of that. I get my long hair trimmed four times/year or so, but do not color it at all (it’s about 75% grey now). I have been buying clothes lately, in part because the years at the bakery meant no clothes-buying (or clothes-needing, except for chef clothes), and in part because things I know I will wear are on sale. (I almost never pay full price for anything anyway, and I pretty much only shop online, because I loathe shopping.) I have no debt, and no house or car.

    I have actually increased my expenditures on things like Starbucks, just a little, because I can afford it (despite my low-paying job at a non-profit), I like the treat, and it helps keep other people employed. I have been asking myself recently how much I really need this or that–or, more usually, I make a list of the type of thing I need (a pair of black flats, because my current pair is wearing out) and then wait until something I like is on sale.

  19. I went through a period a few years ago when I had to use all high end makeup/skin care/hair care, but I’m back to shopping at the drugstore for everything. I realized I was a brand snob about so much of that stuff, and no one notices when you use a $25 shampoo versus a $5 shampoo. Your hair is still your hair. I’ve stretched out haircuts from six weeks to eight, and I’m going back to coloring at home.

    I have a shoe obsession but I’ve always been a bargain hunter, never paying full price for anything, so I experience the “deprivation effect” constantly. Only recently have I started paying for quality, not quantity. Those $29.99 Nine West shoes looked like a good deal, but the heel broke and the cheap leather hurts my feet. My $200 J. Crew riding boots (bought for $80 on ebay!) still look like new after a whole winter of snow and salt. Spending the extra money has made me value them more than the Nine West pair. I store them in their box, and use leather conditioner and waterproofing spray to keep them up. I’ll probably never *need* to buy another pair of riding boots as long as I live. That’s money saved.

    Unfortunately, with all the bargains over the holiday season, I went a little crazy. To my credit card’s dismay, I discovered that Amazon sells designer shoes. Cynthia Vincent for $90! Pour la Victoire for $60! Needless to say I did some damage.

    That also speaks to online shopping vs. brick and mortar. The older I get, the less patience I have for the traditional retail experience. Getting in the car, driving to the mall, trolling for a parking space, trudging to my favorite store (Banana Republic), clawing through the racks and standing in line just to hand over my hard-earned money all have less and less appeal as the years go by. I’m convinced shopping is becoming a young person’s game. I’d rather be reading. Books from the discount book outlet, that is!

  20. great thread. My luxuries are nice soap which I can get Australian Organic range one for the princley sum of £1.50 ! Real coffee £2.70 for 500g at Lidles and my bus pass £45 for 4 weeks…Postage stamps I write to a lot of people. I love the library and being able to get books for free and I’m trying to sell books on amazon at the moment. I have a love hate relationship with shopping because of my size but bought a nakeen yellow Toast Jacket for the NY part of my trip for £175 which is pricy but I’m hopfully not going to buy another for 10 years ! So yes buy the stuff that is really really wonderful and ditch the almosts.

    Coffee out as someone else pointed out is not just about the coffee its about social interaction. I love having brunch out and giving that up once a week would be a wrench. But I don’t drink, make 95 % of my food from scratch, often go 3 months between haircuts… use minimal make up BUT I enjoy my life.

    Its all about priorities like Dea having a housecleaning service in a tiny little flat its worth it to her working long hours