I’ve always been obsessed with fashion and pretty things. My beloved mum, a practical woman who nevertheless inherited my granny’s infallible taste in clothing, always dressed me beautifully as a child. There are a lot of photos of me giggling up trees in soon-to-be-not-so-shiny shoes and not-long-for-this-world dresses and skirts. My first jobs as a teenager were in fashion retail, and I used to spend quiet shifts scoping out new arrivals, falling in love with them, and writing and rewriting my meager budget in order to be able to afford everything I wanted.
I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to go to a fairly prestigious private school (even with the scholarship it was hideously expensive — big thank you to mum and dad), and as such, I was surrounded by friends whose parents were in way higher income brackets than my own. Lots of doctors and lawyers. I certainly wasn’t growing up in poverty by any means (my dad is a very well-respected scientist, and my mum a talented librarian), but my brother has severe disabilities, and as such there were a few cost-cutting exercises at play that I wasn’t quite aware of at the time. We were a one-car household; takeaway or going out to restaurants for dinner were reserved for legitimately special occasions; my parents rented out a room in our home; family holidays were few, far between, and always local.
Nevertheless, I wanted for nothing. However, my more well-off friends followed in their parents’ footsteps and studied prestigious degrees that lead to higher-paying jobs. My parents gently suggested I might like to consider something other than the English Literature degree I had my heart set on, but ultimately supported the ambitions to become the writer I wanted to be since I was a little girl, even if it meant I’d probably never be particularly wealthy. Unfortunately, the stereotype about Arts degrees is mostly true in my case, and I currently work as in administration at a not-for-profit (a not-for-profit that publishes a magazine which I get to write for, however, so all is not lost!), and my income is well below the average here in Australia.
But back to the fashion — I bought a new item of clothing or a new outfit with almost every paycheck, for basically every social occasion I had, from hiking to cocktail parties. I adored selecting the perfect outfit. It was a true hobby, and feeling like I looked 100% appropriate made events so much more fun for me. I’m sure you’ve all heard of lifestyle creep, or lifestyle inflation — popular buzzwords in the financial literacy community. My lifestyle inflation was almost exclusively localized to clothes. The more I got paid, the more expensive clothing I’d buy. In my defense, I never went down the rabbit hole of designer clothes and bags, but I was still spending far too much on clothes.
As a result of my prolific shopping, I’d always considered myself “bad” with money, and would happily tell that to anyone who asked. My disapproving mother bought clothes only when absolutely necessary (and they would always be the kind of beautifully timeless high-quality items one keeps for years). She would constantly take note of my new purchases and frown at them, telling me I should be saving up — for a car, for a house, for at least an overseas holiday (this last one took — the shopping in Europe is phenomenal). I was aware of my deficiencies, so I’ve never trusted myself with a credit card and I’ve never taken out a personal loan. I have never been in debt. (I have had basically $0 in my bank account, but that’s as far as it got…which is admittedly pretty far).
But my obsession with shopping did have some unexpected side benefits. You know all those really basic “how to save money” articles, the ones that tell you to stop buying your coffee out, pack your lunches, catch the bus, don’t spend so much on alcohol? Or even the slightly more specific and advanced ones, that might recommend particularly cheap phone plans or a “hack” to lower your energy bill or groceries? (No shade on any of these; I devour them religiously.) My sensible upbringing is no doubt responsible for some of this as well, but I pride myself on the fact that I have pretty much always had a very low cost of living — purely so I could shop more. I mean, would I rather spend $60 a month on the latest phone and unlimited data, or would I rather buy the cheapest phone and plan available, and spend the remainder on shoes? The choice was easy for me.
Now we come to the present day. I have just turned 26 and had the predictable quarter-life crisis. The feeling of invulnerability and immortality of youth seemed to drop away from me very suddenly — not due to any injury, illness or accident, I just seemed to suddenly realize that I needed to be thinking longer-term than the next overseas holiday (on which I would shop). I had a sudden mindset shift — money wasn’t JUST for the purchase of things, even pretty things (gasp!). Money buys opportunities, time, peace of mind, options. It could even buy me the option to quit my current job and try my hand at writing full-time, which is what I’m currently working towards.
And so, for the past year or so, I’ve managed to wean myself off of my shopping fixation. I do still shop (mostly “window-shop” online — and sometimes I find it’s just as satisfying) and buy things occasionally. I don’t think I’ll ever not love pretty things, but it’s definitely slowed down a huge amount. And now, since my cost of living is already so low (and I’ve since managed to lower it even more), all the extra money that was going towards clothes is going straight into savings, superannuation, and investments. I’m able to save almost 50% of my income. I’ve also sold a lot of the pretty clothes (the depreciation is terrible, let me tell you) and only kept the ones that really make my heart sing.
So, while I wouldn’t recommend a shopping obsession to anybody as a means of attaining financial freedom, it certainly motivated me to do all the boring things we can find so hard to do in the short-term to have things pay off (literally) in the long-term. I’m happy when I look at my wardrobe…but I’m happier when I look at my bank account.
Emilie Francis is an administration coordinator/aspiring writer living in South Australia. She loves her cat, reading, cooking, and, of course, shopping.
Image via Unsplash