Do You Buy Yourself Gifts?

Content warning: Mild cynicism, don’t read when in the thrall of holiday cheer.

I’ve long since given up buying my family gifts. I’ll lend or give money, but the effort of looking for a gift only to have it politely rejected and thrown away is more than I’m willing to put in.

Similarly, I don’t really like getting gifts myself. Oversized clothing, notebooks I’ll never use, chocolate goods that’ll give me hives. I feel awful and ungrateful for not wanting these things and try to smile (however unconvincingly) in return, but my family has never known me that well and, honestly, I am at a level of income where if I want something I can get it myself.

Other than handmade art and food, I think cash gifts are the best gifts. But since it’d be silly to just hand each other envelopes of money, killjoy that I am, I’ve asked that my family just cease gift-giving altogether. This suggestion has been met with weak approval, some parts confusion, and a sinking realization by my parent that her kids are now full-fledged adults.

But sometimes it’s nice to get something out of the ordinary. And for that, I might give myself a gift or two.

During my long vacation, I decided to book a couple massages for my fiancé and I to decompress after a long and stressful year. That’ll happen next week and afterwards we’ll have a nice 30-minute soak in a Japanese style hot tub. $200

In addition, as part of my drive to decouple myself from my generalized internet addiction, I’ve decided to order myself a Kobo Aura 2 e-reader. That way on my commute, instead of scrolling mindlessly through my phone, I’ll have something else to focus on. And long form reading is so much better without the glare of normal screens. $100

Before the year is out (and in particular, before I join finances with my fiancé and have to stick to a personal indulgence allowance), I’d also like to get myself some nice earbuds to replace my broken ones. Is there such a thing as buy-it-for-life earbuds? $50

So yeah. With the $350 I’m spending on gifts for myself, no wonder there’s no more room in my holiday budget. Sorry, fam.

How about you? Do you buy yourself gifts? Any suggestions for BIFL earbuds?

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All The Clothes I Bought This Year Part 2

This post reflects all my clothing purchases in 2017 after I wrote the post “All The Clothes I Bought This Year.” For the most part, I mostly got winter gear to help with the increasingly chilly season (curse you polar vortex!). There were a couple somewhat unnecessary vanity buys like my new leather jacket (gasp!) and a bucketful of tailoring.

Everything I Bought

Brunello Cucinelli silk tank (tan) – $46.50

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I got this from The Real Real to go underneath my slightly-too-sheer Hugo Boss white silk shirt. It’s also a nice addition to my wardrobe generally since I don’t have any other tanks or camis. It looks really powerful solo with my pencil skirt or with a blazer. Probably more expensive than I needed, but the delta between this (EUC) and a new lower-end silk tank was pretty small.

Patagonia quarter-zip fleece (navy) – $26.50

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This was a replacement for my old North Face shell which after five good years of service ended up twisting all up on its zipper. Being a fleece piece, it can’t exactly be worn alone especially since it gets windy out here. But it’s cozy and nobody blinks an eye when I show up to work with this and a T-shirt.

Coach lambskin leather bomber jacket (black) – $168.00

coach jacket

Pure vanity buy. I was craving a quote-unquote classic piece and don’t particularly care for trench coats so I decided to go for a leather jacket instead. Seriously, I spent about a full month contemplating whether to buy it. Save for my loafers– maybe including my loafers?– this is the most expensive item in my closet. The leather is super buttery but thin (it’s lambskin so that was expected), so I can only really wear it when it’s in the 40-60 F range and not raining. Which in my New England city is, oh, approximately never. But it’s darn beautiful.

One thing I will say is that I got this off The Real Real and I was really disappointed in their team when checking this item. There were definitely more scuffs on it than the listing noted and there was a half-opened piece of nicotine gum in the pocket. Major ew. They outsource their customer service to Zendesk so I wasn’t particularly hopeful my note to them will reach their garment review team. Though I love the jacket and plan on keeping it, I do not plan on using TRR again.

Neck gaiter (black) – $10.00ng-teal_1024x1024

I lose about two neck gaiters a year so I don’t bother to buy an expensive version, else I’ll be saddened when I ultimately misplace it at a restaurant or whatever. Fleece-lined, does the trick solo or, even better, layered underneath a scarf.

Patagonia better sweater mittens (marled white/black) – $39.25

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A replacement for my old Isotoner gloves which, though they let me use my smartphone, fail miserably at keeping my hands actually warm in the freezing winter weather. I like that these can convert between mitten and fingerless glove style, makes it easier to access my fingers quickly during my commute.

REI silk sock liner (white) – $11.00

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These are to go under my thick calf-high Smartwool socks for the coldest days in winter. They’ll help with the itch from my wool allergy. Also, they’ll add an extra layer of insulation when the polar vortex comes.

Patagonia beanie (navy) – $26.50

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A slightly cuter replacement for my current beanie which looks like a nerdy winter helmet. Made with recyclable materials, which I love. Also covers and keeps my ears warm, which is a major win.

LL Bean silk long llbean.gifunderwear (black) – $50.50

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In previous years, I have used hosiery, thick fleece lined tights, and even yoga pants as an extra bottom layer during winter. All these were fine, but left a lot to be desired in terms of comfort under my trousers– so many layers left my legs feeling like sausage stuffed into its casing. I haven’t gotten a chance to take these for a spin since it hasn’t gotten below freezing yet, but they certainly are thinner and feel more flexible than what I’ve tried before.

Red Coral Necklace – $5.00

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Statement piece to jazz up my otherwise boring neutral-color wardrobe. The picture isn’t of my exact necklace, but it’s pretty similar with the same thick finger-like coral protrusions. I particularly like to layer this over my crew neck Everlane silk tops.

Coach Willis messenger bag (black) – $56.50

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Originally I was going to try to get the lock on my burgundy cross-body from Cambridge Satchel fixed. But this was the third or fourth tie it broke in two years and it costs $25 each time to get the push lock shipped in from the UK. At some point I might bring it to a cobbler to fix and then resell, but for now I’m going with a classic alternative that I know has already been through a couple decades of wear and is still going strong.

Tailoring, dry cleaning, repair – $191.50

This is how much it cost me to hem and take in at the waist four silk shirts and to dry clean and re-line my peacoat. Tailoring is expensive. It basically doubled the cost of my shirts. But now they fit slightly better. Worth it?

Total – $631.25

Next steps

Altogether I’ve spent around $1825 on clothes in 2017. That’s about six to seven times as much as I’ve spent in any other year. While I don’t regret spending that much– I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe and am still in a great place financially– I would like to ratchet it back to my previous spending levels for a good long while.

Now that I’ve finished filling all the holes in my winter wardrobe, I feel pretty set to not buy any more clothes until at least April 2018. I would like to set a budget for 2018 to spend no more than $350 total, or just below $30/month. That includes all alterations, underwear, etc. This does not include my wedding dress, for which I’d like to spend less than $250.

Insofar as I might upgrade my wardrobe next year, I’d like to keep it to cheap basic items. For one, I’d like to get a few V-neck cotton shirts (probably American Apparel or another good quality cheap tee brand) to replace my current suite of crew necks. I’d also like to streamline my work socks so I don’t have a variety of too-large-for-my-feet hand me downs making up half my food wardrobe. Lastly, a good tote bag or backpack would be nice as well. These are all minor wants though and– given how burnt out on shopping I currently feel– I think I can go without for a year or more.

What do you wear for winter? Have you purchased any clothing in Q4?

Perfectionist Consumerism

I hate buying things only to have them fall apart. I remember once seven years ago buying a cutlery set from Target that rusted over in about three months. I think the fact that I am still sore about it to this day is a pretty good indication of how obsessed I can be about wasting money on non-optimal things.

When I make a purchase, I try to buy at the top of the inflection in the price vs. quality curve. This often requires hours of research. I have on my bookmark bar Wirecutter, Sweethome, Consumer Reports, and Reddit’s BIFL forum. I spent days trawling Angie’s List, Houzz, and NextDoor when trying to find contractors to work on our renovations. Even with food, there are few places I’ll eat that I haven’t already thoroughly vetted either through my foodie friends or Yelp.

Often, when in search for the “perfect” thing, I come to find it doesn’t exist. Or that it’s too expensive. And rather than compromise on my standards, spending or otherwise, I choose not to buy anything at all. Which is, I suppose, one method of frugality.

Because of this analysis paralysis, I didn’t buy a blender until we could afford a Vitamix (which is awesome, by the way). And we still don’t have a vacuum because Miele canister vacuums, like the ones Wirecutter recommends, are expensive. If I’m going to shell out $100+ to do, ugh, chores! then that vacuum better not leave a crumb and last twenty years to boot.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether this makes me mindful in my spending or just a very particular consumerist. In any case, it seems to keep money in my pocket and junk out of my house.

Are you a buy-it-for-life-er? Do you hold out for the “perfect” purchase?

Scaling Lifestyle Inflation With Income

For a few weeks now, I’ve been ruminating on whether it makes sense to inflate my lifestyle and hire a house cleaner to visit my home once a month. I finally got around to shopping for quotes. Everything was in the $120-140/month range (ouch!), so I decided to go with the company that did the thorough and professional post-renovation clean for my house, which charges $130/month.

Justifying spending money can be difficult for me. On the path to early retirement, every expense, especially luxuries, can seem like the enemy. It is hard not to get caught up in uber-frugal mindset and forget that the path to early retirement is about minimizing stress, not just front-loading it.

And so, I’ve come up with a framework that will both allow me to inflate my lifestyle a bit, but also keep me in check. In this schema, I will allow myself 1 unit of lifestyle inflation (roughly $100/month recurring expense) for each $X I increase my income. Note that the value of X is the same as the value of a single unit in my net worth tracking posts. That is, each time I increase my income by roughly 1/8th the value of my mortgage, I’ll allow myself a little extra spending now in return. Times when I surpass my budget do not figure into this framework (they’ll still happen, regardless of income level). Rather, this is where I feel comfortable defining my baseline monthly expenses.

Here is a chart summarizing what my lifestyle looks like at each income level:

Income Level Description
1X  Frugal mode: Time to cut back. This means I need to get a roommate to live with Fiancé and me, no eating out, and a major spending moratorium on non-essential items
2X  Baseline: The minimum amount I need to spend roughly according to my typical not-so “bare bones budget”, with a few spending exceptions as needed, and still hit reasonable financial goals (e.g. saving at least 20% of income, etc.)
3X  Expensive fitness membership: $95/month
4X  Monthly cleaning: $130/month
5X  ???

Right now, my income level is at roughly 4.5X. So while my monthly cleaning bill is slightly higher than the allocated $100/month for the 4X lifestyle boost, I feel okay with a slight monthly overrun.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of lifestyle increase I would want if I do reach 5X. I expect by then, I may have kids. They’ll certainly be an increase to my monthly budget. In general, I want each boost to be something that simplifies my life or promotes my other personal values– health, relationships, creativity, food. Maybe a family chef? (Haha, no.) In any case, best not to count my chickens before they hatch.

How do you deal with and plan for lifestyle inflation?

Lifestyle Inflation? Yes, Please.

Guys, I want to hire a maid.

Someone who can vacuum the stray hairs and rice grains out of the rug in the living room. Someone to wipe down our shower and mop our kitchen floors. Bonus points if they can rub out the thin but impossible to remove film of grease that coats the outside of our stove, protecting it from the other kitchen elements.

The expense would be relatively minimal, I think, though I haven’t gotten quotes. Once a month, maybe $100 a visit? And in exchange, a clean home that smells vaguely like lemon-scented Lysol and wood floors that get dusted not just when I do the cha-cha slide in my footie socks.

Why not get hire a cleaner, then? Well, I’m afraid that I’m inflating my lifestyle too quickly. I’ve spent more on renovations for my condo than I did for three years’ rent in our dilapidated former apartment. That plus my recent upgrades in terms of food and fitness makes me worried I’m getting too big for my britches.

On the other hand, we can certainly afford the expense. Our retirement and college funds are in a good place. I’m earning good money and my savings rate is over 50%. There is certainly a little room for more fun money. And fewer chores.

Do you want to inflate your lifestyle? Do you think hiring a cleaner is worth it?