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Spend Smartly, Not Sparsely Comments

Why I value being picky over penny-pinching

A mentor of mine recently told me she’d sooner give up groceries than forego her weekly salon blowout, and I totally get it: There’s real value added when we invest in ourselves. A $70 bimonthly facial feels good, sure, but it also means I don’t need to wear as much makeup ($45 Make Up For Ever HD foundation that stays on all day with nary a touch up, if you’re curious), which, in turn, keeps my complexion clearer and my rear end out of my dermatologist’s chair, save for annual checkups. She shoots, she saves! My $400 Frye boots — which, by the way, I scored on eBay for $200 — help me pound the pavement without the nipping pain accompanied by poorly made shoes, critical for a city-dweller whose car rides consist mostly of sitting in the backseat of an occasional Uber

Even when my reserves are dwindling, I make room in my budget for organic produce, the bulk of which is pulverized into a 32-ounce green smoothie that I drink every morning without fail. “That’s an expensive breakfast,” my mother commented after listening to me count off the pieces of fruit and vegetable I use in each serving, a woman whose frugality kept our middle-class family afloat during difficult times growing up, but who also has a weakness for sales at J.C. Penney and more scarves, sweaters and winter coats (last count: eight) than one could feasibly wear in an entire winter. Instead of shooting back a pithy remark about coupons and strip malls, I pointed out the health benefits that would come to serve me for potentially the rest of my life. She nodded, and changed the subject.

That’s the trick, though, if you want to call it that: Show and tell why it’s worth spending more on a few well-made things instead of maintaining an overflowing closet full of cast-offs. Not plead and beg. Sometimes, our brains place a psychological grip on us and keep us in our comfort zones, even though it’s just a change of view that will help us go big. I knew if my friend could see how fabulous she’d look, and eventually, feel, in a better-made frock, that it’d be a no-brainer to take it home. I pulled another wrap dress from the rack, this one $40 and by a lesser-known brand and half-guided, half-pushed her toward a fitting room. (By the way, it’s never about the label; it’s always about the cut and quality.) “Just see how it looks,” I said. “You don’t have to buy it.” 

A few minutes later, she emerged, and there it was: a polished, beautiful woman who stood beaming in a dress that seemed to be made just for her, someone who would no doubt be taken seriously in an office full of professionals. Like my mother did when I was a kid, I checked the seams and buttons to ensure everything was in working order while my friend angled and posed in front of the mirror. “I look good,” she admitted, smiling. “No,” I said. “You look amazing.” 

She bought the dress and another one — a lightweight printed sheath, perfect for spring and summer months — and on our return trip to the train station, stopped by Sephora, where my friend conceded to a $19 travel-sized tube of Smashbox BB cream after seeing its transformative effect on the back of her hand. (Seriously, that stuff is a cosmological wunderkind.) 

I also declared a small victory in convincing my sister to return a wallet she bought on a flash sale site that, price-wise, was a good buy, but she simply didn’t love. Because that’s the other thing: We’ll always be bombarded with endless options, whether it’s what we wear and eat, who our friends are, and even where we live. But if we choose well, we'll always get our money's worth.

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