Selected Luxuries

I like nice things. I’m sure you probably like nice things, too – whether experiences or physical items, there’s something out there that brings you happiness to have or experience. Nice things in moderation is the way to go, but I didn’t start with that mindset.

Going from being a student with a minimal budget to working full-time with minimal expenses (no student loans, no car, meal plan through work), I welcomed lifestyle creep into my life like a long-lost friend. Frequently travelling within and between provinces each month, attending symphony concerts like I wrote for the Arts & Culture spread in a newspaper, and shopping bargains like it was a part time job was my life from 2018 to early 2020. Granted, I didn’t go so all out that I bought luxury goods like designer bags, shoes, and clothing and wound up in massive debt, but I was definitely buying and doing more than the average person could expect to do in a sustainable way (neither for my bank account nor for the planet).

After slowing down significantly last year, I had a look at what I’d been spending my money on the most – and what mattered the most to me. As much as I love clothing, I have more than enough at this point and I don’t need more (not to mention that I’m still decluttering). Tea, planner stickers, and craft materials are still abundant in supply and there’s no need to purchase anything more for this year at all. What I miss most about my pre-2020 life (other than seeing family) was the solo adventures to museums, concerts, events, restaurants, and festivals within eastern Canada (namely Montréal, sometimes Toronto). Sure, I’d ask friends to tag along when our schedules lined up, but I’ve never had an issue with doing my own thing if I was excited enough about whatever the experience was. I also miss travel and getting to visit somewhere new or even playing tourist in my own city. Museums for me are like 3-Michelin Star restaurants for foodies – I’m willing to go somewhere with the museum as the focus and fill out the rest of my day/stay around it.

There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.

Once it’s safer to do so, travel and experiences are my selected luxuries. I’m willing to forgo following trends and buying new clothing if that means I can see a Degas in person, get a lodge seat for the ballet, or watch a hockey game in person (go Habs go!). The amount of money I’ve spent on tea in the last 5 years could have covered a trip to Reykjavik, Edinburgh, or Toulouse. The craft supplies bought in 2019 are the equivalent to the premium table seats at the charity ball I attend. I’ve also fully given up buying granola bars since they eat up too much of the grocery budget and don’t last me long enough in my two-month grocery rotation, which I mention for the sake of pointing out the smaller decisions I make, too – as not everything is gala-level for luxury to me. There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.

Personal finance is by definition personal, and my selected luxuries will not be the same as yours – even if on paper, we seem to be at the same stage of life and have other overlapping qualities. Our selected luxuries may not overlap at all if you have a family to take care of, and what you count as your luxury is time to yourself or the ability to pay off your mortgage sooner (does that even count? I don’t know, I still rent). What I would encourage you to think about is where you’re unwilling to compromise on standard of quality, freedom/ease of access, and what is non-negotiable versus things that cause you undue stress or you feel external pressure to keep up with (whether FOMO or something internalised/self-imposed). Basically, how you spend your time, effort, and money should add to your quality of life rather than cause you more stress. It will take time to figure it out, but I’d wager it’s worth it in the long run to see what matters most to you – and you can always adjust and shift as necessary – as what you’re doing is going to serve you. For example, I use a silk pillow case to protect my curly hair from frizzing – it serves me but might not do anything for you, and that’s okay.

A final point I’d like to make is that I feel having a specific or category of selected luxuries allows you to be a bit less restrictive while working toward a specific financial goal. Whether that’s a sinking fund/line in your budget for the category for one major event or smaller experiences throughout the year, you have planned for it and can get hyped about it coming up (which is half the fun for me) – or you’ll be less likely to overdo it and go all out when the event or item comes up, which in turn could throw off your budget/lead to unplanned debt. In essence, being intentional about what brings you happiness and intentionally planning for it is what I’m trying to do, and I invite you to do so, too 🙂

My Shopping Habits – Part 2

I’m back with the next instalment of my relationship to shopping, and how it developed over time (you might want to check out part 1 for this post to make sense). This is the narrative overview before we get into the “why” of the choices I’d made, which will be part 3.

For me, clothing falls somewhere along the spectrum of “utilitarian” and “literal art, but on my body,” with most of what I own falling in the middle, which we’ll call “I’m choosing to wear this.” I define “utilitarian” clothing based on the purpose that they serve in covering my body: warm clothing in the winter, lighter fabrics in sweltering heat, and rain boots for any terrain that is not completely dry. The “I’m choosing to wear this” clothing is what I reach for for everything else, whether that’s running errands, holiday/themed events, lounging about, fancy dress, or work. If the item can be cute while serving its purpose, splendid, but I’m not too worried about the panache and pizzazz of a knee-length puffer coat when the hair escaping from my hat instantly freezes from the humidity of my breath. I do, however, worry about what’s under that coat when I arrive to my destination and what I wear is a reflection of who I am.

I’ve lived most of my life in Montréal, which has its own mix of high fashion, streetwear, chic, trendy, and classic looks. Throughout high school, we had a strict uniform to follow, so the clothing I chose to wear was trendy late-aughts/early-’10s teen fashion – wordy neon graphic tees, layered tank tops with lace trim, and imitation Roots sweatpants (why buy the real thing when you can get the same from Garage and three v-necks for the same price?). My first semester of CEGEP/2-year college, I was dressed a mess while figuring out what I would wear every day, despite the purpose for being there was my academics. 17-year-old me knew that what I wore casually as a 15-year-old was not going to cut it (according to whom? I still don’t know). During the break between first and second semester, I went all out at the Boxing Day sale at Urban Planet, the spiritual older cousin of Shein. Spending not much more than $300, I came home with a haul of patterned leggings, sheer button shirts, bodycon skirts and dresses, and a slew of basics to balance out the zany monstrosities I dared to call pants. This was at the height of peplums, skater skirts, and galaxy print everything, in case you needed a refresher on why this was normal school clothing. I was known at school for being the leggings girl (someone for real asked me if I owned any “normal” pants halfway through the semester), which was fun until I had to mentally keep track of 30 pairs to avoid having repeats too soon after each other.

University was a whole other ball of wax in diving head first into a theme to latch onto and dictate what I would wear. Anything that was related to the school colours, I would wear it – not to mention the veritable windfall I was for the bookstore and student design shop after snatching up anything I could fit into my teeny, tiny budget. All in the name of school spirit, and I would wear purple like I knew of no other colour. This slowed a bit by my third and fourth years (limiting my shopping to only the cute stuff, and not one of everything), and other colours re-entered my wardrobe as I continued to shop sales at stores off campus.

Graduating and starting work at my first real job resulted in just as ferocious a shopping spree as 2013 Urban Planet, but now in the name of professionalism. Blazers, pencil skirts, flowy blouses, trousers, and some sensible shoes – not that I was starting from scratch, mind you, I just wanted to have options. Once I started making money, I turned to online shopping for clothing in my free time. Old Navy was a favourite, since they had a “tall” section available online, and I was in need of pants that didn’t look like they were borrowed from my 12-year-old cousin. Well, “in need” of more options, but I told myself it would be good to have more options for the days when I’m running behind on laundry and need something to wear (as opposed to, you know, just doing the laundry??). In between these hauls were the various warehouse and outlet sales that I’d go to, and I started to run out of space in my closets, so I bought storage bins and hoped that would do the trick. I had gotten to the point of such rapid consumption that there were items that would be squished and hidden between two other items in the closet that I would forget they were there, but still order more.

The beginning of 2020 did not see this slow down all that much, as I had orders coming in roughly every other week – some were necessary cookware now that I needed to actually feed myself without the cafeteria at work as an option, while I indeed still had the audacity to purchase more clothing like I was leaving my apartment any time soon (I did a total of zero Zoom Happy Hours, so it wasn’t even for that). Things slowed down more over the summer, and then my bank account got another workout once Le Château announced that they would be closing – which ended by summer 2021. I was still strategic (hmmm) about waiting for the right time in the sales once I figured out what the pattern was for additional percent off versus total percent off based on category – since that’s what normal people do to buy clothing, no?

Luckily, I didn’t go into debt over this spending habit. My need for bargain hunting outweighed any desire for an item that was full-priced, and I never got into designer or luxury clothing (thankfully). The potency of bargain hunting did a number on me, and I remember buying two evening gowns at a store-closing sale for under $15 apiece (91% off, for anyone interested). Luckily, I did have an annual event to wear them to, but at the same time, how many gowns does a 22-year-old need?

With this personal history on the books, I’ll leave the topic here for now. Catch you later this week with my thoughts why small changes are a more sustainable approach to me. Thanks for reading!