Frugal Fashion: bundle up on a budget considering cost-per-use

I think technically the first day of winter is December 21st, but if you live as far north as me, you know that the cold has already been here for awhile. I make a concerted effort not to break out my winter jacket until November 1st — it’s a mental game I play so the season feels shorter than it really is — and I kind of love that moment when I finally put it on and get to be so toasty and warm again. This happiness last through the holidays until about the second week for January, at which point I kind of feel done with winter and want the cold to stop (4-5 months later, I get my wish).

This year I’m happy to report my Burton snowboard jacket I purchased 6 years ago is still going strong. I did, however, buy some winter boots this year. I thought I could get away with some really thick socks in my Hunter wellies. However, now that there’s snow on the ground again and temperatures are dipping below -20C (-4F), my feet were freezing in rubber boots. I lasted all of two really cold days before purchasing a pair of Sorel Joan of Arctic boots. My quality of life has literally improved ten-fold as I am no longer risking frostbite for each of my toes on a daily basis.

As far as winter gear goes, my advice would be to splurge on a quality jacket and snow boots, and then save on everything else.

My Essential Winter Gear:

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 1. TNA Dalles hat, Aritzia $40 / 2. Canada Goose parka, Amazon, $650 / 3. Knit scarf, H&M $13 / 4. Talula Fulton mittens, Aritzia $12 / 5. Sorel Joan of Arctic boots, Amazon, $112(I paid $200 retail from a local store because a) CAN/US exchange rate, b) shipping c) needed them IMMEDIATELY)

The Talula mittens pictured above may be the best thing that’s ever happened to my hands in winter. At $12 a pair, they’re super affordable, but their quality is also outstanding. Knit on the outside, they’re fleece-lined inside so they are SUPER warm. Furthermore, they’re really easy to take care of: I spill coffee on mine probably every day, so at the end of the week I throw them in with the laundry and they come out good as new. Love! As for the other items pictured, I’ve amassed an excellent collection of scarves from H&M in my time (I’m also partial to circle scarves from American Apparel) and my TNA knit cap (different than the one pictured) is a staple in my hipster wardrobe. I’m not warm unless my head is covered! Long live the toque!

 I realize I’m going to get some trouble for calling this a “frugal fashion” post, then listing expensive items, but I don’t think spending $850 on a good jacket + winter boots is unreasonable.

(maybe I just really don’t like to be cold!)

When purchasing good winter gear, you should be doing so with the expectation that you will get a few years use out of it. Like I said, my Burton winter jacket (valued at $600 new) is on its sixth winter. If you divide the purchase price over the number of years of use, the price becomes a lot more manageable. For example, I don’t see any reason why my new Sorel boots won’t last at least 4 years. At $200 over 4 years, that’s a cost of only $50 per year. Since I will wear them daily for approximately 5 months per year, that’s a total of 600 days of wear which makes their cost-per-use only $0.66.

Am I willing to pay $0.66 per walk to the train station at -20C? You betcha.

On the other hand, opting for cheap winter gear — say $80 boots or a $150 jacket — that you need to replace annually will ultimately cost you more over the long run. Not to mention cheap stuff can generally be relied upon to wear out faster, defeating the purpose of owning it in the first place.

How To Save Money on Winter Clothes:

- buy accessories like mittens and toques during big sales like Boxing Day. Because these items are small and usually add-ons to big purchases, they end up super-discounted to entice buyers.

- coupon! The main reason I was able to score a high-quality expensive winter jacket is because I found a 25%-off coupon for the store. I went on a sale day and my discount was doubled. My Burton jacket had a $600 price tag but I actually paid half of that!

- buy online. As you can see, the Amazon US offers some better deals than Amazon Canada, like my Sorel boots. If you can find something at a great price on the internet and can wait out the shipping, it’s a great buy.

Stay warm out there, guys!

Frugal Fashion: just say no to Polyester

I browse ModCloth every day. E v e r y day. You already know that if you follow me on twitter.

It’s especially easy on the iPhone app where I can just flick through gorgeous dresses to kill time while waiting for the bus or in line at the grocery store. I’d probably be racking up $300 clothing shopping bills every day if it wasn’t for one simple tactic of avoidance:

I don’t buy clothing made of polyester.

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Dear polyester, we’re over. xoxo B.

My hatred of polyester has been a long time coming, and it’s only recently have I been able to commit to vanquishing it from my life entirely. It started out innocently enough — a dress from Jacob felt incredibly hot and uncomfortable whenever I wore it in the summer. What’s it made of? 100% polyester. I wishfully believed it was just that dress, but as soon as I started paying attention to how my clothes felt more than how they looked, I noticed a pattern.

Wearing polyester feels about the same as going about your day in a plastic bag.

It’s uncomfortable and hot, and to add insult to injury, holds odors. If you dare sweat in a polyester piece, it’s essentially ruined. Likewise perfume, deoderant, and any other kind of smell (cigarette smoke, pets) will become embedded in the fabric. There’s no delightful clean scent post laundry, this fabric wears all the smells of its lifetime in the threads.

Now whenever I see an adorable dress with a 100%-polyester tag my first thoughts are: “I would be miserable wearing that on any summer day” — because I would!

I’ve been tricked once or twice. A soft, slinky shirt from Aritzia that I thought was silk was actually just a really fine polyester blend. Polyester is tricky like that: it makes you think it’s something it’s not, something you want to put on your body. Resist or pay the price of misery later!

What on ModCloth is made of Polyester? Nearly everything.

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 7.41.30 PM But this is also true of most other clothing retailers. Polyester is a mass market favorite because it’s cheap, easy and relatively durable — so long as the wearer isn’t standing next to any open flame or anything.

Other synthetic fabrics to be wary of but I have not yet concluded are as loathsome as polyester:

  • Rayon
  • Nylon
  • Spandex
  • Acrylic

Cotton, on the other hand, is this marvelous sort of thing that keeps you cool in the heat and warm in the cold. It washes clean after every wear and emerges smelling like your laundry soap instead of your hairspray. Wool is another one of my faves, but some people are allergic so it’s not always an option.

By avoiding polyester, you can curb wasting money on clothes.

I say wasting because buying clothing that’s uncomfortable to wear is a waste of money. I know avoiding this one fabric has seriously curbed my daily ModCloth habit.

Do you have any tricks for your comfort and happiness that also boost your budget? Tell me your secrets, readers!

Is local the new luxury? Why handmade might be the new haute couture

If you follow me on Goodreads (a fabulous site to keep track of every book you’ve read and want to read!) you might have seen I’m on a book reading frenzy these days. Last month I foolishly set the goal to read 100 books in 2013 — without taking a moment to consider the year is already nearly half over. Consequently, I’ve been visiting the public library so frequently the staff may think I’m stalking them. But more importantly, I’m reading a lot. My latest find:

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre

(that’s right, I changed “luster” to “lustre” because I’m Canadian. Sadly I cannot modify the book’s cover)

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click to view on Amazon

This is a fabulously written book about the fall of haute couture and the rise of common luxury brands. After reading Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy by Martin Lindstrom and Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by the same author a few years ago, Deluxe was a natural successor. And yes, I do find it somewhat ironic that I buy so many books about buying things, but at least they tell me there’s worse ways I could be spending my money!

I just love the psychology of consumption.

It’s just so interesting! My favorite non-fiction books are those about how and why we buy the things we do. I like seeing how branding and consumer culture has changed over the decades, particularly in the 20th century. Advertising is a unique, rabid beast and I can hardly tell if we’re really the consumers or if it’s consuming us.

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Way back when, luxury was a privilege accessible only by the wealthy. Now luxury is a fluid term, and it exists on a spectrum, parts of it available on a gradient to all members of every class. I think we feel very romantic about luxury items. We consider their high prices indicators of high quality. Luxury items have an air of history, elegance, and durability that’s supposed to surpass their lower name or no name cheap counterparts. However, most of this is image based, as even now nearly all luxury products are produced cheaply in Chinese factories. Furthermore, the companies that boast well-established histories are now mere fractions of giant luxury brand conglomerates.

You might also enjoy my post on when to buy and when not to buy brand names. It includes a Macklemore video.

Turns out, all the brands striving for unique identities are really just different facets of the same glittering gem. Long histories in small family businesses have been eroded by time and globalization. Hand-crafted quality has been traded for Asian factories to minimize production costs. Perfumes have been diluted to increase profits. Quality has been sacrificed for quantity: the goal is not to clothe the elite, but to enchant the lower and middle classes.

In short, we’re all trying to buy pieces of a dream that’s already dead. Luxury is a thing of the past!

Or is it?

The luxury you’re looking for might be right in your backyard. Local is the new haute couture. How so? Well, locally made items are often handcrafted by an artisan. Because they’re made individually by hand, they’re unique and one of a kind items. Pondering this made me look twice at the shirts and dresses made by some of the local designers in my city. A few have their own shops, more sell to local stores, and nearly all of them can be found in the middle of big events like festivals and farmer’s markets hawking their wares. Jewelry, dresses, shirts, and scarves are everywhere, and they’re beautiful, well-made quality products. If you want something custom, all you need to do is ask. That’s how I came to the conclusion that local is the new luxury.

But what if I still like luxury brand items?

I feel you. There’s some things that I don’t really care if they’re faking family history or the thread-count is 100 when it used to be 400. I’m wholly unbothered that Unilever manufactures both my $2.99 shampoo and my $80 perfume. There are some luxury brands that I just like! I just do! Does this mean I’ve been brainwashed by clever marketing tactics? Or do I genuinely just appreciate certain designs even if they’re mass produced? Does it even matter?

I do know that I haven’t found local a shoemaker yet, and I don’t have anyone to make me a sturdy leather purse, so there are some things I might always turn to my favorite faux-luxury brands for. However, if I’m itching for some special and unique, I might be better off spending my money at the local farmer’s market than a high-end department store.

Branded: When to pay extra for a name and when to not

I’d like to introduce you to my favorite song of 2013. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve already heard it, but it never gets old and neither does the video:

Despite what you’ve just witnessed, this post isn’t about thrift shopping (like most PF bloggers, I’m an advocate of buying things secondhand), but my favorite part of this song is actually the criticism of buying brand name clothing:

I hit the party and they stop in that motherf@#$%&
They be like, “Oh, that Gucci – that’s hella tight.”
I’m like, “Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt.”
Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant b@#$%
I call that getting swindled and pimped
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t
Peep game, come take a look through my telescope
Trying to get girls from a brand? Man you hella won’t

Swindled and pimped? Tricked by a business? Ouch. Those are harsh words, but they’re certainly true!

I used to be so into brand names. It’s actually a bit embarrassing… but I also think it’s a symptom of youthful ignorance and misplaced values that I’ve thankfully grown out of (almost). Just to show you how deeply into brand idiocy I really was, I want to point out that I owned a Herve Leger dress as a early-twenty-something undergrad and I subscribed to the personal tradition of buying a piece of Tiffany jewelry everywhere I traveled. In addition to that, I owned a LAMB purse, Dior glasses, BCBG dresses and really a quite impressive collection of completely unjustified brand BS. To add insult to injury, I even set “goals” to acquire more branded crap. All I wanted was a pair of Louboutin shoes and a Louis Vuitton bag. Uh..?

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Now I’m happy to report I sold my Herve Leger for more than I paid for it, I ended the Tiffany jewelry nonsense nearly two years ago by not purchasing a new piece since 2011 (despite traveling like crazy), and my LAMB bag is getting so much use it’s showing signs of appreciative wear.

Buying pieces of clothing that cost hundreds of dollars when my income was laughable and my expenses were high was in no uncertain terms, STUPID.

There is no reason for a 21 year old girl to buy a Herve Leger dress or other designer clothes/purses/jewelry. It’s like wearing a sign that says, “I’m irresponsible with money” or “I have grossly misplaced values”.

I was both irresponsible with money and had misplaced values when I wanted and bought those things. Pricey designer items are not made for low-income students! (I hope that either set off a light-bulb inside your head or you muttered “duh!”)

The most ironic part of all this is now my income has more than tripled and I’ve completely lost interest in buying brands for the sake of owning something made by so-and-so. I have no idea why I thought I was justified buying a $600 dress when I made less than $60,000 a year, but can’t even stomach a $200 dress when I make $60,000+ a year now. I’m finally in a position where I can afford more expensive things and now I think they’re not worth the cost.

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My personal finance hero Gail Vaz Oxlade has described brand-buying as a symptom of insecurity and an attempt to establish an identity. Young people do it because they don’t really know who they are yet, and they’re hoping buying certain names will buy them the constructed identities of those brands: cool, hip, affluent, cultured, etc. You could get a plain leather bag from a place like Coach with the branding considerably less obvious, but many will still choose the monogrammed items. Do they like monogrammed purses better or is it just so they can be recognized from a distance? This is why the knock-off market is so popular: you get the brand identity without the pricetag, because that’s what people really want.

Yikes.

That isn’t to say I’ve given up shopping. My clothing spending has increased dramatically since graduation, and I drop more on what I wear than ever before — but there is considerably more hesitation when it comes to expensive items. The only thing I can think of that I’ve bought in the past two years that crossed the $200 mark was a pair of boots (and you can’t tell their maker unless you look inside!). What changed?

I simply have better things to do with $200+. Like buy 2 dresses instead of 1/3 of one.

I’m becoming ultra-sensitive to where my clothing is made. While I’m not 100% local yet, I make a sincere effort to buy items that are made in the US and Canada and not an Asian, Indian or South American factory. Herve Leger dresses? Made in China. I don’t know about you, but I feel guilty picturing my t-shirt sewn by a 9 year old.

I no longer define my identity by the brands I wear. I still love to be fashionable in my own unique and kind of awkward way, but you wouldn’t know at first glance what names I’m dressed in.

I read a lot of books by Martin Lindstrom that killed my enchantment with instantly recognizable brand identities. The Tiffany blue box & white ribbon does not stir even a hint of want in my heart anymore. Nothing will take the magic out of an item faster than taking a hard look at the company’s marketing tactics and recognizing that you’re not the winner, you’re the pawn. Sigh.

So at the end of the day I still buy brands (do we even have a choice?). I have my favourites and still exhibit some pretty solid brand-loyalty to certain names, but I like to think my choices and allegiances are made with more scrutiny and caution than when I was younger. Occasionally I will still swoon for something completely out of my price-range — the only difference is I no longer follow through with the buy. I approach both expensive and cheap items with the same skepticism, and I would argue, discount both the outrageously expensive (OVERPRICED!) and the unbelievably cheap (SWEATSHOP!) equally quickly. Here are some questions I ask myself when I want something:

Am I buying this for the name or because I really like it?

Is the price reasonable when I consider my income and net worth?

Do I want it just to communicate and image or will it actually serve a purpose?

What are the values of the company that makes this item?

How and where was this made and by whom?

How will this improve my quality of life? Will my life be lessened without it?

What brands to you buy? What for? How much brand loyalty you exhibit is out of sincere appreciation for the product vs. what you hope owning it says about you? How did we get into this branded mess in the first place? Why aren’t we trying to get out??

Clothing for sale!

This is a new sort of post for me but after seeing Fabulously Broke have success with it, I thought I’d give it a go! I’m clearing out my closet for spring and looking to boost my income for this month, so below are some items of clothing I have for sale. Please contact me at bridget [at] moneyaftergraduation.com if you’re interested or have further questions. I will accept payments by PayPal and combine shipping for anyone that purchases multiple items. Whatever does not sell I’m going to take to a consignment store or give to my sisters.

All of the clothing listed below is a size small (with the exception of the shorts). I usually wear between a size 2 and 4 to help give you perspective of the fit of these items.

BCBG dress, size 2 — $75.

Red/purpleish RW & Co. long top, size small — $40. I wore this in my MoneySense article, so it’s a little famous ;) It’s much darker and less pink looking than it appears in the photo.

 

Green patterned Forever XXI dress, size small — SOLD.

 

Brown patterned dress, size small — $10 OBO

 

Pink Jacob tank top, size small — $20.

 

White Limelight shorts, size 5 — $10 OBO. Haven’t worn in years because they’re too big for me.

 

Thanks!