Sunday, November 9, 2008

$200 Blue Jeans? I Hope Somebody's Buying

Comments like, "This is exactly why we need to take money away from rich snobs like you and give it to people who need it to buy pizza-level cuisine -- hold the ambiance -- and see if it trickles UP for a change."

Actually, most of the negativity surrounding my piece was directed toward Michelle Obama and her, um, novel election-night dress, or Sarah Palin's alleged $150,000 wardrobe upgrade.

But I want to make clear that I'm on the opposite side of the clothes-buying continuum. Almost everything I wear is from Target, or, more likely,a hand-me-up originally from Target or Forever 21. (Definition of "hand-me-up:" Something daughters consider so out-of-style or shrunken from washings that they can only give it to their mother. And their mother, who paid for it in the first place, can't bear to give it away when it's still perfectly good, so she wears it.)

From my husband's occupation, some people might assume our family lives high on the hog. Of course, the hog isn't kosher, and given the way I was raised, living high isn't acceptable either. I admit we are blessed to live comfortably, due to my husband's hard work. But if you've ever read the best-seller The Millionaire Next Door, you'll learn that vast numbers of people whose net worth ultimately grows into a lot of money do it by living frugally. That's why the millionaire is next door--he doesn't get a fancy house or eat at 3-D-food restaurants or buy $200 blue jeans. He has values that emphasize thrift and modesty and self-sacrifice and prudence.

That's what my parents taught me, and we've endeavored to teach our children. And that's why I've never owned a pair of blue jeans that cost more than one tenth of $200. That's right. In fact my "good" jeans were indeed from Target, purchased six years ago. My everyday jeans are hand-me-ups from Old Navy. Our shoes are from Payless, and when my son needs clothes, we go to JC Penney's. If he wants something from, say, Hollister or Apostale, he pays for it out of his own earnings. He's great with kids and earns most of his cash babysitting.

My husband is what most observers call "sartorially-challenged." His corduroy pants are so "broken in" they have no wale. The joke about "ties older than you are" started with him. And extends to his shirts. We have urged him to relent a little and let us at least augment his antiques with a few newer additions. We buy them (on sale). He refuses them.

By the way, frugality is a way of life that extends way beyond clothes-buying. We host Shabbat meals for a crowd every week, the menu based on sale circulars from our local markets and the coupons I've clipped. A "shopping spree" for me is the occasional trip to Big Lots or Dollar Tree, where I buy cleaning supplies, toiletries and sometimes splurge on something for our Shabbat table. (My creative outlets are fanciful tabletops and digital photography). Our meals out (about twice a month at most) are limited due to the dearth of kosher restaurants in our area, none of which are what you'd consider fancy--or even serve meat.

OK, I feel better. When someone as cheap as I am is accused of wearing $200 jeans, I get a little defensive.

My point stands: Even though I don't patronize them, I still care about the many posh and upscale stores and restaurants I see. I want them to prosper; I want people with means to patronize them, and enjoy their beautiful products and refined dinners. This downturn is causing big problems, and not just for the elite Wall Streeters who are laid off or laid low, but for the retailers who depended on the patronage of middle management, computer techys, and professionals of all types who are being trimmed from suffering companies, big and small.

When I've walked around our local mall--on the way to JC Penney's--I've often wondered who patronizes the stores I consider expensive. I seldom see more than a few customers browsing, and often the stores are empty. White House/Black Market. Ann Taylor. Coldwater Creek. Express. I'm sure each of these stores have sales where their merchandise is marked way down, but even at sale prices, the apparel sold there is usually more than I'm willing to pay. And now, with the downturn, customers are staying away in droves; even the ones who could continue shopping upscale are holding back out of guilt and embarrassment at their conspicuous consumption.

The decline of these glitzy stores is reality but the question remains whether a new President Obama (writing that was tough) will exacerbate or resolve the problem. The reason why I'm worried is because the kind of approach he promises requires more federal programs and thus more taxpayer support. Instead of cutting taxes on businesses that hire lots of people, Obama hopes to tax them further (ask Joe the Plumber), reducing their ability to keep employees and inventory.

As I said before, business is not the enemy but the source of recovery, if we encourage it. The government should cut taxes on profit, and offer workers the option of an 18% flat tax on income. History has shown that lower tax rates bring in more revenue, as citizens have less motivation to hide or weasel around federal demands. We need to re-empower customers to buy, and reinvigorate the entrepreneurial spirit of those in the marketplace.

And maybe my husband would even accept some new pants from Nordstrom Rack if he thought it would help the economy, though they better be far less than $200.


  1. Bravo. I am irked at the accusations based on envy that have been flying around....even though I don't buy $200 jeans either! The "take you down a peg" attitude from people holding opinions opposite from mine is troubling. I don't wish anyone ill - I want all of us within our country to prosper and do well, including those who might like to afford fancy jeans someday. I hope their futures are not diminished by bad government policy.

  2. As one who has accompanied you on countless forays to $Tree,B'Lots, & Target, I had to laugh at those finger-pointers accusing you of "hog-high" living-they would be surprised that the money you spend at these pricey "haute"-filled emporiums wouldn't even reach the height of said piggy's toenails! Dare I even go so far as to call you "cheap", certainly 'way more frugal than I whether you're buying that rare steak or pretty paperware at Tuesday Morning. While I tend to be impulsive with my "Carpe Diem" or at least "Carpe Bargain" approach to buying, you tend to ponder, weigh, deliberate, cogitate, and vacillate, your brain churning with endless questions of "Do I really need/want/deserve this?" and then if something should really cause your socks to roll up'n'down, even then you prefer to wait till you can use a coupon or an Old uh "Part" Discount or it goes on sale for 75% off. Been there, seen that.

    I add my hearty huzzahs to your musings as well as my continued admiration for your (not self-) righteous lifestyle -- you and your husband may not necessarily be best-dressed, who cares as long as you're best-blessed!

  3. You go, bright light! You're the perfect combo - stingy to self, over-the-top generous to your friends... that's why they call you bright light! xoxoxoxo!

  4. And of course I echo the sentiments of your other friends! You are one of the most frugal AND generous people I know.


  5. Deborah, I agree about the "take you down a peg" sort. Ignore them.
    Doubletee--Your comment is hilarious and apt. And you are one of the bargain BEST.
    Mink, thanks--I'm cheap all 'round but good to hear some don't notice!

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  7. I understand your defensiveness. I remember when my husband and I were first married my brother-in-law was spreading a rumor that we had gone into debt to furnish our home. Nothing could be further from the truth! I was flabbergasted and quite offended.

    I decorated in what I called 'early american garage sale'. Everything we owned was either purchased used (for less than $100) or was given to us.

    We are finally in a position to afford nicer furnishings and pay in cash while still contributing to a savings account. Are we to be punished now for working our way to this position through hard work and wise decisions, and more importantly, the good grace of God?
    Is not everyone hoping to get ahead? How is that to happen if we have no incentive to 'get ahead' and when the idea of 'getting ahead' is discouraged?

    Anyway, thanks for your article.

  8. Wow, this is such an encouraging post. My wife and I are trying to dig our way out of our debt mountain so we can start our family, and it can be hard to be frugal. It's nice to hear that you and Michael are out there enjoying the frugal life even when you don't have to!

  9. Oh, dear. I completely agree with you, but PLEASE do me a favor... go buy yourself a pair of expensive shoes! Seriously, go to the mall, try some of those shoes on and walk around a bit. You'll be amazed at how comfortable nice-looking shoes can actually be! Then go to Ross and see what they have on the shelf from last season - lots of times you can get $100+ shoes for $20 there.

    Please don't tell me all you ever wear are tennis-shoes. No, that won't do.

    Thank you for your bright insight! :)

  10. I love this post.

    We too love hand-me-downs and target. (Our babies are still to small to pass their clothes back to us.)

    Your family sets a good example. Blessings to you.