My post "Obama Wins--but will the Economy Lose?" got posted on a website that gets lots more hits than mine, a website where threads of comments insult each other, and where readers can be downright mean in their responses to the original posts. The next day someone told me, "There are now a hundred comments on your piece, and some of them diss you, thinking you buy $200 jeans."
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.