Here is something (maybe) interesting about me: I am crazy frugal, but I absolutely love shopping.
Does that make any sense? Not really. It is an interesting paradox, and people close to me — my mother and my boyfriend, to name a few — spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. How could someone so financially-conscious — someone who writes a weekly budget, panics over most every necessary purchase, scours for deals, and is deeply involved with the online personal finance community — love shopping?
After all, shopping is, at its core, frivolous, unnecessary, and perhaps even materialistic. It is exchanging your money for shit you don’t often need, and doing it recreationally. It is getting another pair of sandals when you could be buying a concert ticket, or funding a vacation. (We all know we’re “supposed” to be spending on experiences only, rather than things.)
It isn’t surprising that people in my life poke fun at the fact that I’m dying to go to Nordstrom this weekend, even though I clip coupons and go to three different grocery stores per month, because I know exactly which items are cheapest at what store.
But it does make sense, and I’ve mentioned it here before: I treat shopping like a hobby.
It doesn’t feel any more unnecessary than knitting or scrapbooking or stamp-collecting or even playing video games. No one would shame someone for using the money leftover at the end of their budget to pursue their scrapbooking hobby — so why is shopping for clothes looked at as something so frivolous?
If you are someone like me — someone who loves clothes, gets heart palpitations when flipping through fashion magazines, and is constantly daydreaming up outfits in your head — and shopping for clothes feels more like a part of you than a thing you do because you’d get fired if you went to work naked, it is okay to accept and acknowledge that recreational shopping might be a hobby for you. And like most hobbies, it comes with a set of rules to make sure you don’t take it too far. (And if you follow the rules, you most likely won’t take it too far — have you ever heard of someone going into massive credit card debt because they are a coin-collecting-hobbyist? Me neither!)
Here are the rules I tend to follow to make my love of shopping budget-friendly:
1. It is totally okay to love shopping, but it isn’t okay if buying fun things takes priority over things that you actually need.
Obviously. And I’m sure you already knew that your hobby shouldn’t take priority over things like your food and shelter and work-life, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.
Chelsea’s written about how you need to eat your financial vegetables before your dessert. Which is to say that your dedication to the hobby (both financially and otherwise) needs to come after all other things in your life are taken care of. It is an extra — it can be your favorite extra, but you still have to remember that it isn’t a necessity, and if you don’t necessarily have the funds or financial means, loving something isn’t enough justification to buy it. I mean, of course you love it. It is fucking adorable. But just hold off.
2. Too much of a good thing makes it bad.
The hobby you love so much will lose its magic touch if you justify buying literally every cute thing you see by saying, “I love it, it is my hobby, it is okay!” Moderation is key everywhere. If you like knitting and you buy one of every single possible type of yarn that exists, you have nothing left to work towards or look forward to. Your hobby dies the second you let it become an obsession and just start hoarding and collecting.
3. Acknowledge when it is happening for the wrong reasons.
This one has been important for me in particular, because sometimes I find myself in a store I love browsing through racks of clothes and hardly getting pleasure from it. That is usually when I realize that I’m not doing it as a fun expression of the hobby I enjoy, but rather as a band-aid for some temporary bad feeling. Part of my love of shopping has to do with planning it out, clipping pictures of looks I found in magazines and loved, writing lists of the items I want to buy, and researching different places where I can find them to make sure I find ones I love at a good price.
If I find myself walking through Banana Republic aimlessly, having assigned myself a mission five minutes earlier to get a new dress to wear to a party I’m going to that night, I have to stop and wonder why I feel like I need a new dress right now. Usually, it is because I’m feeling bloated from having a few too many drinks the night before, or because I’m feeling nervous about something, or I’m having a bad skin day, or just feeling generally down and insecure. Spending on your hobbies is supposed to be happy — it is a happy addition to your life, and the minute it becomes a crutch for you to lean on when you’re feeling shitty, it becomes a problem.
These three rules — while perhaps not perfect — are a good guide to keeping yourself on-track and on-budget, even when it comes to extra, non-necessity things like shopping and other hobbies you may enjoy putting some money into. It is okay for us to acknowledge that we like things sometimes — and it is totally okay to want a new pair of jeans just because, and it is totally okay to buy them if you have a certain bit of your budget that is designated towards these types of purchases. You can love things, and you can love shopping, and you can be frugal-as-hell, staying out of debt, and saving money at the same time. (Like me. Seriously.)
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