Friday, March 13, 2015

On Finances and Aspirational Shopping


My friends and I sometimes chat about wealth in the context of our classmates at graduate school. I'll be the first to confess that I think about these things a lot more than is entirely polite or sensible: what people are wearing, what people are buying, and what I might like to buy in order to "keep up" (usually in terms of things I might wear to work). The costs of tuition and costs of living in NYC are both substantial. It is probably natural enough that I am insatiably curious about how people can afford certain things such as living in a more desirable neighborhood far away from student housing, an Equinox membership supplemented by a generous dose of SoulCyle classes, a Celine bag here, a pair of Charlotte Olympia shoes there, and a few Theory dresses just because it was a bad day (each of these things refers to a different person). It is probably not at all classy of me to wonder about these things, but I confess that I can't help it. 

Sometimes that thinking and speculation might start to look like judgement and, implicitly, a desire to shame or take the moral high ground. I would never, by the way, actually claim the moral high ground on anything consumption related. I took one long European vacation as a student, knowing full well that I live largely on loans. It wasn't wise. I own at least a few expensive items while my loans render my net worth solidly in the red to the tune of... well I won't get into specifics. What I can say is, it will be at least a half decade before I can conceivably finish paying off my student loans. That is a very ambitious timeline.

So I don't ever mean to imply my own moral superiority when it comes to these questions. I look closely at my budget daily and look even closer before making major spending decisions, some of which are still less wise than others. I am comfortable with the decisions I make for myself. I know that I cannot fully know and don't have the right to know about anyone else's finances.


Relatedly, I am also not immune to the desire to consume in order to aspire to be someone else, to fake it 'til I make it. My own experiences with heart-stopping, "what did I just do" expenditures were not at the Rick Owens leather jacket price point. Sometimes, even a Longchamp tote (purchased at a much cheaper price than the American MSRP in London while the GBP was weak that semester I studied abroad, I'll have you know) can embody something much like the "distillation of everything [one has] ever found seductive about not only living in [insert setting of choice here] but the prospect of belonging there, too." Sometimes a too expensive for you normally item can make you "feel thinner, taller, and infinitely more interesting." That's certainly what the marketers want.

It isn't a good thing to give in to that advertising and image-driven impulse, that much is obvious. What I mean to say, though, is that I understand it all too well, even if my price point and the items I long for are different. Some people I've talked to about this beg to differ, but even if my dream item is something like a Theory sheath dress or suit, that desire to shop to become a newer, better version of yourself still comes from the same place.

Can any of you relate to that article I linked about the Rick Owens leather jacket? Do any of you sometimes find yourselves curious about classmates' shopping? Maybe I am alone in overthinking these things. I do admit that it all comes from a place of relative financial privilege...

All photos via Pinterest. 


  1. First of all, I have just discovered your blog and it is such a breath of fresh air! I rarely comment on blogs I read because of limited time (and a wee inclination to laziness) but I had to tell you that, haha!

    On to your questions - I, too, am insatiably curious about people's spending habits and occasionally lapse into being judgemental, despite not being a paragon of shopping restraint. Thankfully, I can afford my indulgences. However, I think this is a topic that should be discussed more on style blogs, because they do tend to showcase conspicuous consumption so much. Nothing wrong with that (at least, financially) if it's done responsibly - and that's the missing aspect on most blogs. There is a dearth of resources for financial literacy for young women especially, and at the same time a plethora of voices (blogs, media, etc.) encouraging young women to spend money without regard for the financial consequences.

    Anyway, sort for the novella, I guess I have a lot of feelings about this topic, lol! Great post!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment!

      I've definitely bought small (for me) things because of blogs, though all the bigger wishlist items normally come from seeing things in real life and what other young professional women in NYC seem to like.

      I might be talking about personal finances in the next few weeks because I recently sat down and formally did the calculations for some of my student loans. While the student loans are manageable with a few years of realistic but still aggressive repayment, I definitely did not fully know the cost of the investment I was making when I was deciding to go to graduate school (eep, and a story for another day). If I had fully known that, some of my spending decisions last year would have been different, though I'm glad I'm starting to be more careful now!


I love to hear from anyone who might be reading! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.