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Posts Tagged ‘holiday shopping’

When — if ever — do we just stop shopping?

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, urban life, US on December 19, 2013 at 12:18 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Every day, my email in-box (guilty!) fills up with notifications of sales from flash-sites like Gilt and One King’s Lane and Ideeli or from retailers I’ve purchased from before.

I delete almost every single one.

Every weekend, (yes, we still read some of our newspapers in print), a thick, glossy pile of flyers tumbles in a nasty tree-wasting avalanche from within the folds of the Times, each imploring us to spendspendspendbuybuybuybuybuybuy!

Consumer Spending

Consumer Spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Between the easy availabilty of on-line shopping — a boon to the home-bound or retail-underserved — and a consumer-driven culture urging us to buy everything we see, right now, it’s an ongoing challenge not to spend money. Not to buy even more stuff.

The U.S. economy, a statistic that always somewhat horrifies me in its implications of rampant consumption, is based 70 percent on consumer spending — gas, food, diapers, gum, Manolos, trucks, Ipads, whatever.

So if we actually stop shopping, or slow down our spending on consumer goods, the economy slows. If you live in the U.S., and have any disposable income (such a bizarre phrase!) it can feel like some civic or patriotic duty to go spend some more money.

When I worked retail for 2.5 years in an upscale suburban New York mall, I saw the insanity — truly — of holiday shopping firsthand. People staggered into our store already so loaded with bags they looked like pontoons. They pawed through the racks, threw our stock onto the floor and shouted with anger when we didn’t have exactly what we needed when they needed it.

Ugly!

And yet very few Americans, even those with decades of earned income, have saved enough money to ever stop working.

In October 2013, USA Today reported:

A new report paints a rather grim assessment of how prepared we are for retirement. “The Retirement Savings Crisis: Is it Worse Than We Think?” from the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute on Retirement Security, says the typical American family has only “a few thousand dollars” saved for retirement.

“We have millions of Americans who have nothing saved for retirement,” says Diane Oakley, executive director of the NIRS. “We have 38 million working-age households who do not have any retirement assets.”

For people 10 years away from retirement, the median savings is $12,000. “Of the people between 55 and 64, one third haven’t saved anything for retirement,” Oakley says.

I read those statistics and wonder what is going to become of them; not everyone has children able or willing to rescue them.

Fortunately, (partly because we never assumed the costs of raising children), we’re way ahead of that $12,000 figure. We drive a 13-year-old vehicle and live in a one-bedroom apartment and I set aside the maximum for my IRA, even when I’d really prefer to spend that money on a long and fantastic overseas vacation, or some gorgeous new clothes or to take in all the shows, plays and concerts that Manhattan offers us.

Having significant savings is, for me, a much deeper comfort than anything I could buy.

Here, from Harvard Business School, why buying an experience (if you must buy anything at all) wins:

Conventional wisdom says that money can’t buy happiness. Behavioral science begs to differ. In fact, research shows that money can make us happier—but only if we spend it in particular ways.

In their book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton draw on years of quantitative and qualitative research to explain how we can turn cash into contentment.

The key lies in adhering to five key principles: Buy Experiences (research shows that material purchases are less satisfying than vacations or concerts); Make it a Treat (limiting access to our favorite things will make us keep appreciating them); Buy Time (focusing on time over money yields wiser purchases); Pay Now, Consume Later (delayed consumption leads to increased enjoyment); and Invest in Others (spending money on other people makes us happier than spending it on ourselves).

I try to adhere to all five of these principles:

Paris - Île St. Louis: Berthillon

Paris – Île St. Louis: Berthillon (Photo credit: wallyg)

– I can still taste the salted caramel ice cream we savored at Berthillon on the Ile St Louis in Paris five years ago.

English: Ile St-Louis - Paris Français : Ile S...

English: Ile St-Louis – Paris Français : Ile Saint-Louis – Paris IV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– I’ve chosen to work fewer hours, (which restricts my ability to shop, given that I save 15 percent of my pre-tax income every year as well), to better enjoy my free time and have experiences I value more than buying more things — to take a long walk mid-day or have coffee with a friend or read a book instead of flogging myself into another 10 or 15 hours’ paid work. I ended up in the hospital in 2007 for three days with pneumonia after chasing money too hard, too fast. Never again.

– I tend to hoard gift cards for as long as a year before finally using them, as I did recently with a Christmas 2012 gift card from my husband, (it bought two great pairs of shoes on sale.)

– I splurge on small surprises for Jose whenever I can, whether a book or a pair of colorful socks or a dinner out.

In a season where so many of us are rushing about madly shopshopshopping, it’s easy to forget that a more valuable gift can be as small and essential as a hug, a night or two of babysitting for a weary friend, making a meal for an elderly or ill neighbor.

It doesn’t have to come in a shiny Apple-designed, (cheap Chinese labor made), plastic shell or turquoise Tiffany box, no matter what their ads insist.

 Are you sick and tired of shopping?

33 fab holiday gift ideas

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, entertainment, family, Fashion, life, love, Style on December 8, 2013 at 3:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

For some people, holiday gift shopping is hell — you have no idea of your recipients’ sizes or favorite colors or you’re on a super-tight budget and/or the thought of a crowded mall makes you want to give up before you start.

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

English: Gift ideas for men – wrapping paper example. Please source http://www.giftideasformen.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take heart, Broadsiders!

Every year I make a list for you of fun, lovely practical gift ideas for men and women of all ages. A few are big splurges, but I’ve sought out a variety, many chosen for their combination of charm and affordability.

Enjoy!

From Plumo, one of my favorite fashion online retailers, this watch, with an owl on its face, $122.  And these great socks, with chartreuse hares on a field of blue, $38.63; they also come with foxes or crows.

I didn’t expect to find housewares at this new site, Saturday by Kate Spade. But this simple, black pitcher is gorgeous and large enough to hold a bunch of tall flowers or a lot of martinis; $75.

And, maybe for the same kitchen or dining room, here’s a great little black and white cotton rug, in an array of sizes, starting at $33. This site, Dash & Albert, has a huge selection of terrific colors.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

O’Brien’s boots! Any of you who are addicted to Downton Abbey will crave these terrific Edwardian-era black leather boots; $298.

Love these ceramic, printed measuring spoons, with imperial and metric; $25; add this gaggle of gold-edged geese — ceramic measuring cups. Adorbs! $36

It is a sad fact that many American schoolteachers — and their students — don’t have enough of the supplies they need. This site allows you to choose what to give and where.

As someone who loves to entertain and set a pretty table, I love this colored flatware, in a variety of colors, from tortoise to deep blue; $150.

Love this linen tea towel – made by a Broadside follower, Edinburgh-based designer Niki Fulton — of an industrial crane in the harbor, bright pink on black; $13.26.

You probably know Zara, the fast-fashion Spanish retailer. But do you know Zara Home? I love their unusual designs and colors, and splurged this year on a duvet cover and shams on sale. The quality is excellent! I adore this duvet cover, in a dusty grey and soft red paisley, (the sort of thing you’d pay three time as much for an antique version if you could even find it), $89-109.

The worst thing about flying? Tough to choose! But an overweight bag is a nasty surprise. Here’s a portable luggage scale. (We have one. It works!) $12.

I use Windex and Q-tips, but here’s a computer keyboard brush that looks like something from a Victorian hotel. Steampunk! $24.

I use candles and votives in every room of our home. I love their gentle, flickering light — a lovely way to wake up slowly on a cold winter’s morning or soothe yourself during a long bath or illuminate an intimate meal. This set of three, in white ceramic, resemble sea urchins, from one of my favorite catalogs, Wisteria; $19.

Oh, admit it…you’re dying for a little (maybe a lot of) cashmere. Feel less guilty if you buy it for your brother/father/sister/bestie (after getting one for yourself.) This V-neck sweater, a classic, is a delicious heathery teal; $225.

Speaking of cashmere, they call this thing a snood; I call it a cagoule. Either way, it’s a cozy, gorgeous way to wrap your throat from chilly gusts; in three soft colors, $108.

Can you resist a small fox door knocker? I can’t! $24

Do you know the Moomins? They were one of my favorite children’s books, by Finnish author Tove Jansson. A Moomin mug is sure to start your day with a smile; $22.

I love my Lamy fountain pen; this one is a sharp, matte black. $28.

These gold-plated Herve van der Straeten clip-on drop earrings are divine! Bold but organic. $376.

I serve on the volunteer board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, and am proud that we’re able to help non-fiction writers facing financial crisis. We have absolutely no administration costs so every penny goes directly to the people who need our help. We can give up to $4,000, which we send out within a week of receiving and approving an application. Writers, no matter how talented or experienced, often live a somewhat precarious life financially. Please keep our culture thriving with a donation to WEAF!

If you’ve ever been to the Paris flea markets, you know what fun (and madness) they can be. I always score a few fab finds. Here’s  the next best thing - a hardcover book with lots of photos and stories about them, from the elegant publishers Assouline; $75.

Scarf mavens, unite! I want this one, quite desperately, a mineral print in tones of blue, turquoise and brown, on silk, exclusively from one of my favorite shops in the world, Liberty of London; $120.

Beautiful department store.

Beautiful department store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do love the elegance of a silk pocket square; this one, in deep blues and blacks, is also from Liberty; $56.

Have you ever tasted tamarind? Here’s one of the world’s best gourmet/spice shops, Kalyustan’s, on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Delight your favorite foodie or cook with a basket filled with exotic, hard-to-find ingredients — and hope for a dinner invitation!

Y’all know I’m a big fan of sending lovely thank-you notes. Check out these letterpress thank-you cards, made by a woman in Silicon Valley; $15.50

This creamy, dreamy soap, with a tangy citrus-y smell, is the signature fragrance of the five-star hotel Le Sireneuse on Positano and…swoon! We’ve been using it for the past month in our bathroom and the whole room smells divine. Eau d’Italie, a box of three bars; 36 euros.

And speaking of lovely scents, my favorite is Blenheim Bouquet, a man’s fragrance created in 1902 by the British firm Penhaligon’s. It’s crisp but rich, and I wear it year-round. “Reserved Victorianism, telegraph style. But fresh. Colonial lemon/lime meets Scarborough fair. Splendid, old boy,” says one reviewer; $136.68.

Shameless plug here; my latest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, or a one-on-one coaching session on any aspect of writing, journalism or publishing — or perhaps a headshot by a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer who has photographed three Presidents (aka my husband, Jose)? Just the ticket for an ambitious pal (or one for yourself.)

Who doesn’t want a baby elephant? Sponsor an orphan through the Daphne Sheldrick Foundation. From $50.

This squid’s dangling arms — designed by a Swedish kite-surfer — offer a fun, funny way to gather and keep your shampoo, conditioner and body wash in one place; $36.

Twenty-Five Fab Christmas Gift Ideas — Elephants Included!

In culture, domestic life, food, life, Style on December 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm
English: The Park House Club in Cardiff, wrapp...

Image via Wikipedia

This year, skip the dreary I-have-no-idea-what-to-get-them standbys — scented candles, scarves, hats, mitts or gift cards.

How about:

An elephant! Here’s a lovely stuffed, embroidered one from India for $60. My mom has owned one of these for many years and he’s a cheery addition to the household.

Or, why not adopt an orphaned elephant in Africa?

For the older music-lover in your life — perhaps someone in their 70s or beyond — how about this mix of classics from Kern, Berlin and others, played by the inimitable Stephane Grapelli?

For a stylish woman who likes unusual jewelry, these shield-shaped earrings from Vivre are exquisite: yes, a splurge at $280.

If you know and love Joni Mitchell (fellow Canadian!), you’ll know that Hejira, from 1976, is considered one of her best albums ever. I adore it.

This elegant women’s silk jacket — rich purple reversible to brown. I own one of these, (in burgundy) and love having two jackets for the price of one.

A travel shaving kit for the man on the go: $50, smells of sandalwood. Yum!

A mini food-processor, in bright tangerine, great for soups, smoothies: $39.95. I use mine all the time.

For all you old-schoolers who still wear a watch, here’s a simple, all-black field watch from LLBean; $129. A nice unisex gift for all ages.

I dare you to resist this insanely great-smelling (citrus) French soap, Hesperides by Fresh. One bar lasts for a month. A friend gave it to me and I now love it; $14.

For a woman with pierced ears, these tiny “diamond” studded pyramids would be perfect with everything from jeans to her favorite LBD; $28.

Or these really comfortable lug-sole black patent leather loafers. Comfy, water-resistant; $99. I own them and love them!

This Turkish seasoning is the bomb! Rub it into chicken or pork. Add it to Greek yogurt. A big $3.49.

How about a meter of this amazing Liberty print cotton? Red, yellow and blue ladders designed by an award-winning film and fashion designer. From my favorite London shop, Liberty. 21 pounds; $38.85.

From one of my favorite old-school Manhattan shops, founded in 1907, Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, a pound of chocolate cinnamon coffee; $9.95. Their teas are great as well.

Here’s one of my favorite lingerie stores, in Canada, La Senza. Two of these floral push-up bras for $39.50. Deal!

I love this tight close-up color photograph of a cowboy’s tools of the trade, by a Wyoming female photographer on Etsy; $20. If you haven’t yet explored Etsy, get on over there! It’s a huge on-line marketplace of things all made by creative individuals worldwide. (I’ll be opening my site there in 2012.)

This home goods store in Alexandria, Virginia has a fun, retro-look mantel clock in red. It would add a nice pop of color and a small, great style hit; $118.

A fresh set of towels, in rich and unusual earthy stripes: rust, gray, cream: $35-45.

These astonishing pewter candlesticks -- with a geranium leaf motif. Designed by a San Francisco artist, I have one by my bed and love looking at it every day.

Here are five global charities endorsed by international columnist Nick Kristof of The New York Times.

If your giftee has an Iphone 4, here’s a leather Iphone case; $38.

Or a man’s tattersall shirt in a nice weathered gray; $69.50.

Here’s a blog post with ten gorgeously-wrapped foods, (cake, chocolate, marzipan) you can order on-line.

You could also buy a copy, e-book or hardcover, of my own memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, which received terrific reviews from People, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and Marie-Claire. It tells the story of working in a low-wage job, and is filled with useful, practical lessons for employees, managers and shoppers alike. You can read two chapters for free here.

I hope, wherever you shop and whatever you buy, you give as much business as you possibly can to your local retailers, the men and women who give our cities and towns such character and style.

Be sure to say a genuine thank you!!! to the weary associates helping you. Their feet are killing them, they’re making minimum wage and no commission and working crazy-long hours. (Give the best ones a candy cane! Then tell their manager how helpful they were. That way they might get hired on after the holidays.)

Be the best Santa ever!

Twelve Shopping Tips From A Mall Insider

In behavior, blogging, books, business, women on November 25, 2011 at 3:54 am
– Say please and thank you to associates and managers. They’re working long hours with fewer breaks and are trying their best.
First 4 digits of a credit card

It's not a license to kill! Image via Wikipedia

– If you can’t find what you need, don’t punish the staff or manager by yelling or being rude. They didn’t choose the store’s inventory nor do they control the amount of goods available.

– If you’re eating and drinking as you shop, please do NOT leave your food and drink bottles or cups on tables, shelves or the floor — where they will spill, make a mess, be dangerous and ruin the merchandise. Ask an associate, nicely, to throw it away for you, which they will (or should) gladly do.

– If an associate helps you, ask their name so you can be sure they are credited with that sale. Each one typically must meet a sales quota per shift; without those sales credits, their managers have less proof they’re productive, (and won’t be inclined to offer them post-holiday jobs.)

– If you don’t see what you want, ask if there’s more in the stockroom — but if the wait is a long one, don’t wander off. During the holidays, the stock room can be pure chaos so even the hardest-working associate can’t help you as fast as they would like.

– When an associate asks you if you want a store credit card, don’t bite their head off. Management insists they do so. It’s not because they want to!

– Don’t assume that an associate is on commission, (most are not) and is trying to sell you something to earn more. Most do have a daily sales goal to meet, and it can reach four figures.

– If an associate tries to sell you more than one item — even if you didn’t ask for it – it’s also because they’re required to by company policy.  Each associate is measured by this standard, called UPTs.

– While you’re shopping, stay hydrated and fed. The more exhausted you, and your kids, are the less pleasant shopping is for everyone. Take breaks! Sit down. Bring a bottle of cold water and some granola bars to keep your energy level up.

PLEASE keep a close eye on your children. Stores are not designed or meant to be a combination of a garbage can and a playground. They’re dirty and full of ways for a child to get hurt, from smashing into a metal pole to grabbing a fistful of dirt while playing peek-a-boo beneath a row of coats. Associates have neither the time nor the energy to play babysitter.

– Don’t assume the store, or associates or managers, have as much access to web-based information, even about their own products, as you do. Even though it’s logical to expect, many retailers are not investing in this.

– When an associate or manager is helping you, on the sales floor or as they are completing your sale at the register, look them in the eye and listen. They need your full attention to make sure they are properly meeting your needs – and the many demands from senior management. If you’re talking on your phone or texting, you’re selfishly slowing business down for everyone else.

Caitlin Kelly is a 27-month veteran of working part-time for The North Face in White Plains, NY and author of “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

Read an excerpt at malledthebook.com.

And for those who find the idea of shopping Black Friday horrifying...here’s my op-ed at Reuters.com

Originally published at The Stir at Cafe Mom.

The Other Side Of The Register — Spare A Prayer For Those Working Retail

In business on December 19, 2009 at 10:03 am
Pedestrians walk past a store with a holiday-t...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

With only six days left for anyone planning to offer Christmas gifts, the push — literally — is on. Stores are jammed, shelves are empty just when you wanted X in size Y, line-ups to pay are long. Customers tap their toes, click their credit cards on the counter, curse and sigh at the ineptitude of those they expect to help them. One woman, I heard this week, decided to toss a full, heavy box of shoes at someone behind the counter whose behavior annoyed her.

That’s assault, but the company — who I will name in my book — didn’t even call the police. Don’t be that person!

No matter how frustrated or tired you get, please don’t take it out on the people whose job it is to help you. As I told one furious female shopper last night,  as I worked my final night at a store in a suburban mall: “The store right now has two people to help you. I assure you they are doing the best that they can.” She harrumphed and clearly didn’t care.

It wasn’t even my place to say so, as I was not the manager, which she mistook me for. But the store was a vision of hell: dozens of shoppers facing, in New York today, a blizzard predicted to drop up to six inches of snow downstate. They were all desperate to buy gifts or warm clothes, gloves and shoes. And it was the leanest staff possible. I left at 8:00 p.m. as planned and the manager, not there last night, had budgeted for.

Today’s New York Times offers a shopping story, with the same limited perspective I’d have brought to it before I switched to the other side of the register, as a part-time sales associate for more than two years. The reporter caught every detail — but one. That of the exhausted and overwhelmed associates working there. Yesterday, fighting a bad cold, I stood ringing people up in an unbroken stream of commerce, for hours. It may be utterly inconvenient, but associates also get dehydrated and/or need to use the bathroom, none of which is possible under those circumstances.

I quit my job yesterday, with notice, and as planned. Last year I worked through Christmas Eve. Anyone who’s ever worked retail in the holidays gets it.

Smile, say thanks, wish them a happy holiday. They are doing their best.

The Hell Of Holiday Shopping: A Few Last-Minute Tips

In business on December 15, 2009 at 9:10 am
Drawing of a self-service store.

The associates have fled in fear...Image via Wikipedia

If you’re still holiday shopping, you’re almost out of time. Working retail offers a front-row seat to the annual insanity of people trying desperately to buy things for people they apparently don’t know.

Yesterday a man in his 60s came in. “I need a gift for my daughter,” he growled. Happy holidays to you, too.

I wheedled and cajoled and finally got enough details from him to show him about half a dozen items that might gladden the heart of a 17-year-old. No retail associate has the time or energy right now to do this a dozen times a day. Here is why he is sadly typical:

1) He had no idea of her size. 2) He had no idea of her taste 3) He had not asked what she might like 3) She had not told him what she might like 4) She was spoiled and fussy enough her father was too intimidated to just buy her something, trusting she’d appreciate his love, attention and thoughtfulness; at least he didn’t hand her a gift card 5) He threw his frustration and bad temper at me to solve.

Don’t be this guy.

Tips:

1) If you have no idea what size your wife/kids/husband/partner is — look in their closets and drawers! How hard is that? Or, just ask them. I found out my partner’s neck size is larger than I thought, so I could order his shirt in time.

2) Take a good look around your home: garage, kitchen, terrace, back yard. If you’re totally out of ideas, these might inspire you to refresh or replace weathered, broken or out-of-date items.

3) Give gifts of your time and talents: babysitting, dog-walking, tutoring, knitting, cooking, home repairs, snow shoveling. The best gifts are about love and attention to someone’s needs, not just their material cravings.

4) If you ask a retail associate for help, be nice! Yes, it’s their job to know their stock, but demanding “Would he like this?” when you have no idea of the recipient’s size, age or tastes is absurd.

5) Stores run out of things. Do not snap at the associates if this happens because it is management’s decisions that have created this siutation — and, just because the associates are standing before you and physically available to take the brunt of  your rage, it is not their fault. We ran out of gift boxes yesterday morning for a few hours and women in their 50s stood there, paralyzed with disappointment and disbelief, for many long minutes, sighing and moaning “What will I do without a box?” Get a grip.

6) Call ahead. Our phones are ringing off the hook as people ask for specific sizes, colors and items that we place on hold for them. This saves everyone time, energy and frustration.

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