This piece in The New York Times piqued my interest:
American consumers are putting what little extra money they do have to spend each month into eating out, upgrading their cars or fixing up their homes, as well as spending on sports gear, health and beauty. Spending at restaurants and bars has jumped more than 9 percent this year through July compared with the same period last year, and on autos by more than 7 percent, according to the agency.
Analysts say a wider shift is afoot in the mind of the American consumer, spurred by the popularity of a growing body of scientific studies that appear to show that experiences, not objects, bring the most happiness. The Internet is bursting with the “Buy Experiences, Not Things” type of stories that could give retailing executives nightmares.
Millennials — the 20- and 30-something consumers whom marketers covet — would rather spend their hard-won cash on out-of-town vacations, meals with friends, gym memberships and, of course, their smartphones, many surveys suggest.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as we’re finally, gratefully, at a point in our lives we need very little additional stuff. We’ve renovated two rooms of our apartment and own an array of sports gear, art supplies, camera equipment, the things we use for pleasure and for work. (We do need to replace our old car.)
It’s a huge relief.
I’ve never been a mall rat, the sort of person whose favorite activity is shopping. I enjoy it and sometimes take an entire day to do it, but rarely come home with more than one or two things, and usually nothing huge or expensive.
Like everyone, I have specific weaknesses — anything seriously antique, jewelry and lovely things for setting a pretty table.
We’ve also saved really hard for years for our retirement, so can now release a bit more of our income for pleasure; saving 15 per cent a year is no fun, but — yes, really — it adds up.
I’m more eager now to spend what extra money we earn on travel, dining out, enjoying the many plays, concerts, dance performances and conferences available to us in and near New York City. We do not have children or grandchildren, nor, as many of our younger friends do, huge student debts to discharge. Frankly, we feel like outliers — we are very far from 1%ers but we’re not panicked about money the way many people are; the average American has saved stunningly little for retirement.
In the next few months, we’ll attend a weekend workshop (for business purposes); travel back to Canada (by car), attend a few shows and concerts. We hope to be back in Europe after Christmas for several weeks.
My Dad heads off soon for a month sailing with a friend in Greece; at 86, with a new hip, he’s lucky enough to have the good health, strength and finances to keep enjoying his life. In this regard, he’s very much a role model.
How many things do you want to own? How many experiences would you like to enjoy?
Unless you’re wealthy, every expenditure of money means making a choice — the time needed to invest in earning the taxable income to buy the stuff, store the stuff, clean and polish and upgrade the stuff — or an amazing afternoon/evening/week/month/year creating indelible memories.
We spent a recent Sunday in Manhattan (a 40 minute trip into the city from our home) seeing a show, On The Town, on Broadway, and splurged on box seats, at $101 each. I felt like royalty — they offered amazing sightlines and no squished knees; we sat in comfortable elegant Louis XIV-style armchairs. Before the show, we stopped in at Sardi’s, the classic, old-school bar and restaurant, for a Bloody Mary and a snack.
What a lovely, lovely day, creating memories we’ll cherish for years to come.
I’ve never once regretted any of the money I’ve spent on travel or meals or a day of skiing or a game of golf. But I’ve deeply regretted the money I’ve wasted on a pair of too-high heels (worn once!), clothing that just looked like hell or a really boring book that was, after all, a best-seller.
Nothing that arrives in a box or bag is ever as pleasurable and satisfying to me as walking down a Paris street or having tea with a friend in London or catching up face to face with my sister-in-law in Toronto over a very long lunch.
First admission — we brought with us an empty duffel bag to contain our purchases, which cost us an additional 70 euros overweight charges (about $85.)
But my suitcase came in five kilos below the weight limit on our way to Ireland for three weeks’ holiday while Jose’s came in .7 kilos over, thanks to a lot of heavy camera equipment. (He is a professional photographer, after all.)
When I travel, and knowing everyone has their own style, I prefer to dress well when in European cities, (and all cities, really.)
I hate “looking like a tourist” — I saw many women my age wearing T-shirts, thick-soled running shoes and hiking clothing in a stylish urban place. Because I work alone at home in sloppy casual clothing anyway, travel offers me a nice chance to dress up. So, when in town in Dublin, I wore skirts or dresses and flat shoes. I didn’t pack a rain jacket (I find them clammy) and knew I could buy one there if I needed it — we enjoyed the driest Dublin June in 40 years!
I also would come back to our hotel sweaty and tired after a day’s exploring, so always wanted to change into fresh, clean clothing for dinner.
Jose typically wore dress shirts and khakis or nice jeans, with a great pair of Vans denim sneakers or, in the country, hiking boots. He also brought a lightweight navy blue blazer for dinners out and brought two ties.
In the country, I wore yoga pants and long-sleeved T-shirts and sneakers.
Before we left, I scored some great clothing at the Canadian store Aritizia, whose clothes are affordable, stylish, simple, comfortable and washable, perfect for travel.
three dresses (here’s one of them, although mine is a deep burgundy, which I had shipped to NY from their Chicago store)
five cotton long-sleeved T-shirts (could have done with three)
a warm fleece (Patagonia)
one short-sleeved cotton T (for working out or hiking)
one dressy black T shirt
one black duster (long jacket)
one pair of flat sandals, one pair of light mesh sneakers (Merrells), two pair of black leather flats
bathing suit (unused!)
a small portable umbrella
a pair of leggings (worn for hiking, relaxing, golf)
two pair of yoga pants (dark gray, dark brown), worn as trousers
three light sweaters, (one cardigan would have been enough)
two purses, one dressy, one casual
two necklaces and other jewelry
five scarves (very well used!)
Binoculars, a headlamp (for reading in bed) and a very tiny pocketknife (which cut a lemon into slices for our in-room end-of-day gin & tonics!) I also brought a small sketchbook, pocket-sized watercolor kit, colored pencils, several brushes and a pencil.
Depending on your budget and sense of style, I love almost everything from this American, woman-owned company, Title Nine (nope, I get nothing for saying so), from great sports bras to bathing suits to sneakers to casual/comfortable/stylish skirts and dresses perfect for summer travel.
Because I’m a voracious reader, some unread Irish and UK newspapers and magazines, (lots of story ideas in there!), guidebooks, maps.
In Dublin, on sale, Jose scored two gorgeous blazers and two shirts; in Ardara, a thick wool turtleneck sweater. We bought two copies of a book illustrated by artist Pete Hogan — whose watercolor work we admired hanging from the fence around Merrion Square one afternoon. We had a great conversation with him and he allowed me to photograph his paintbox.
I bought little in Ireland, which is unusual for me (and I did hit the sales!): a pair of olive suede sneakers, (84 euros, made in Portugal), several books, five antique forks and an antique Indian bag and a purple wool sweater for a fat five euros at the flea market.
I also bought, (yes, weirdly), a pile of great/affordable lingerie at Brown Thomas, Dublin’s poshest department store and at Marks & Spencer. Much nicer quality and lower prices than here in New York!
This was a journey documented with many photos, some of which you’ve seen here, and memories and new and renewed friendships. Ireland has many very beautiful objects for sale — from wool scarves, hats, sweaters and throws to ceramics, glass and porcelain.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the minimum wage a national law in 1938. Years earlier, he said, “By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” But minimum wages have not kept pace with the rising cost of living.
Nowhere is the income gap more extreme and obnoxious than in the fast-food industry. Fast-food C.E.O.s are among the highest-paid corporate executives. The average fast-food C.E.O. made $23.8 million in 2013, more than quadruple the average from 2000 (adjusting for inflation). Meanwhile, entry-level food-service workers in New York State earn, on average, $16,920 per year, which at a 40-hour week amounts to $8.50 an hour. Nationally, wages for fast-food workers have increased 0.3 percent since 2000 (again, adjusting for inflation).
Many assume that fast-food workers are mostly teenagers who want to earn extra spending money. On the contrary, 73 percent are women, 70 percent are over the age of 20, and more than two-thirds are raising a child and are the primary wage earners in their family.
I spent 2.5 years — part-time, one shift a week except for holidays — as a retail sales associate for The North Face, selling $600 ski jackets to hedge fund managers from Greenwich, CT headed out to Aspen for their vacation. I made, from 2007 to 2009, $11/hour, a wage some in the U.S. — whose federal minimum is still a paltry $7.25/hour — consider munificent.
I did it because I needed a steady income, even a small one, in the depths of the Great Recession. It was, to say the least, eye-opening, to work for low wages and see how little they bought.
It’s the expectation of customers and management that, even if your feet are swollen and painful from eight hours standing/running/walking without a break, even if you feel ill or nauseated or had to re-open the store barely hours after you closed it (and cleaned the toilets) — you’re happy. Smiling. Perky.
One of the least amusing aspects of working through the holiday season, when wealthy shoppers in our affluent suburban New York mall entered the store already laden with pontoons of loaded shopping bags, was being told to be nice(r.)
All the time.
This, as you face long lines of shoppers who, by the time you can help them — (stores cut labor costs by under-staffing, even during busy periods), are pissed off and taking it out on you — not the staffing/scheduling software your company paid millions for.
That’s emotional labor.
There’s a current trend in the U.S. — where labor union participation remains at an all-time low despite record corporate profits and stagnant wages — called Fight for 15.
The movement wants a wage of $15/hour for low-wage work; a day or week’s wages for workers in places like India, China, Nicaragua — where they make most of the clothes we sell and wear.
But it’s still very little income if you live in a large American city.
I’m forever fascinated by what people are paid and how they — and others — value their skills. Most of us have to work to earn a living, and many of us will do so for decades. Most of our lives will be spent earning an income for the skills we have acquired.
As a fulltime freelancer, knowing how to negotiate is one of my top skills.
Men, statistically, have been shown to negotiate for more. They also get it.
You don’t ask — you don’t get.
One of my favorite books on this issue is called Women Don’t Ask, and I highly recommend it.
I grew up in a family of freelancers and have also spent much of my journalism career without a paycheck.
I know that negotiating is every bit as essential to my income as knowing how to write well and meet a deadline.
One example: a major magazine assigns me a story, the fee $2,400. The “kill fee”, i.e. if the story cannot be used, was $600 — a loss of three-quarters of my income. Nope, I said. They raised it to $1,000. The story, for reasons completely beyond my control, couldn’t be used; they offered me more than the agreed-upon fee.
But what if I hadn’t asked for more in the first place?
I also network, every single day, with other writers at my level; only by sharing information, candidly, can we know what people are actually paying — and not just jump at the first lowball offer.
You also need to be extremely honest with yourself and know what the current marketplace most values in your industry; if your skills are weak or out-of-date, you’re not going to be able to effectively compete and negotiate for more.
Getting in and out of these three cities, and around them while staying there, can feel overwhelming. It’s not. Download whatever apps work best for you (I am not an apps person!) or, as I do, grab a few really good maps, including separate maps of the bus and subway systems. Study them in bright light at your leisure — i.e. not in the dark/wind/rain when you look like a gormless tourist inviting thieves to snatch your purse, backback, phone or suitcase.
In London and Paris, the lines have names; in Paris for the final destination, and in Paris they also have numbers. In NYC, they have numbers or letters — the L, the Q, the 4. The problem with NYC? Sometimes they go express and you’ll have to get out before the stop you had planned.
I was heartened in Paris and London to see sliding glass panels at some station platforms that open in concert with the train’s doors — which prevent the horror of suicide or homicide. In NYC, which has nothing so civilized, be careful.I can’t say this too strongly; people have been shoved onto the tracks and killed by mentally-ill people standing near them. Stand as far back as possible from the platform edge and be aware of who is near you.
Cabs cost a fortune in London, less so in Paris and are not terrible in New York. In NYC, you’ll see bright green cabs — they won’t stop for you if you’re in Manhattan as they are designated for the outer boroughs. You’ll also go crazy around 4:30 p.m. trying to hail a cab as that’s the time of shift change and many are racing to the garage.
Take the bus whenever possible. You’ll see so much more of the city and start to understand its geography. Buy a weekly transit pass in each city to save money and speed you up; in New York, you slide your Metrocard to enter the subway, dip it when entering a bus.
Remember that others work there and are weary/late/in a hurry. Don’t hog seats/space with your bags and packpack!
When walking do not, ever, walk slooooooooowly and in a large pack of bodies that spans the width of the sidewalk. It’s rude, dangerous and obstructive. Nor should you abruptly stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk or stairs or the entrance to the subway. We’re in a hurry, dammit!
It’s too easy to assume your default setting of hotel/Air BnB/couchsurfing. How about house or apartment-sitting? A home exchange?
As I blogged here earlier, I spent my three Paris weeks in two people’s homes, both of them professional photographers and photo editors, (hence, great taste!) It was so much more relaxing for me to lounge away my mornings at the kitchen table or dining table, reading the paper or a book. I was able to spread my stuff out, do laundry, cook my own meals — and listen to music as loudly as seemed prudent.
In short, I felt truly at home in a foreign city. I loved food shopping, coming home with my baguette and gooey hunk of Reblochon (cheese) and some fresh figs for breakfast. I bought several sorts of loose tea and enjoyed it as well.
Unless I can afford a really lovely hotel, I’d rather rent a place.
A whole set of blog posts on its own!
If you love antiques as much as I do, you’ll quickly suss out the best vintage stores and flea markets in these three cities; in Paris, I scored a gorgeous fedora and 80s earrings at Eponyme in the 11th and was deeply disappointed by the sky-high prices at the flea market at Clignancourt. In Manhattan, check out the East Village — East 7th and East 9th — for lots of vintage and some great indie shops; I just discovered Haberdashery on East 9th. Heaven! It has one of the best-edited collections of serious vintage I’ve ever seen.
All three cities offer boatloads of style from smart, savvy retailers, whether the fabric department in London at Liberty (swoon) or the jewelry in Manhattan at Barney’s (bring a Brinks truck full of money.) Pick a cool/chic neighborhood and spend a leisurely afternoon exploring it, whether Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Marylebone High Street in London or the 6th or Marais in Paris.
Don’t forget — you can, (as I did twice on that trip) — box and ship home your new things from the local post office or a bunch of your less-needed clothes/shoes to make room/reduce weight in your suitcase; mine weighed just one pound below the limit when I returned!
These are three of the world’s most stylish cities. Sure you can schlub around in baggy pants and white sneakers and bright pink nylon, but you might as well wave a flag shouting “Tourist!”
Many of their residents take serious pride and pleasure in how they present themselves, whether the hipsters of Willamsburg or the Sloanies of London. In NYC, assume that wearing black makes for good native camouflage; women favor a good, fresh manicure (easily acquired in many affordable nail salons), and haircut, with polish in cool dark non-frosted shades or pale.
Parisian women, and men, are justifiably known for their style and it’s easy enough to fit in if that’s fun for you. Women rarely wear prints or leggings and many sport truly eye-catching accessories — an unusual hat, a terrific muffler, interesting shoes. I rarely saw anyone wearing high heels; cobblestone streets chew them up. Many men, of all ages, also wear mufflers or scarves to add a dash of color and texture. Look for unusual color combinations and flashes of wit — a lavender sock, a tangerine pair of gloves.
London men, especially, dress with care: narrow-toe, highly-polished leather shoes, narrow trousers, a great briefcase. Women dress more eccentrically and playfully there than in Paris or New York — all black in London and Paris just feels sad and lacks imagination, while the pom-pom-studded skirt I saw on the Tube in London would raise dubious eyebrows in much of New York.
Bring an umbrella to all three cities! In a month, (late December to late January), I faced a frigid low of 33 F to a high of almost 50. London was more humid. A small umbrella, (with a sealable Ziploc bag for when it’s soaked and you need to tuck it into your bag or backpack), is a must.
To stay warm, I’m a big fan of cashmere, even socks, mitts, scarf and/or hat. Light and silky, it’s super-warm but not bulky. Add a thin layer of polypro or silk beneath your clothes on the bitterest of days. Woolen tights aren’t easy to find in the U.S. but also make a big difference.
Eating and drinking
London will bankrupt you! I have little great advice other than…expect it and bring money. I save hard for my vacations and refuse to make myself miserable, so I mix up splurges, (a cup of tea at the Ritz in London [not the full tea!] for about $10) and a cocktail in their gob-smacking gorgeous bar for $30), with a quick cheap sandwich for lunch.
Keep in mind that museums and art galleries often have excellent dining facilities; I loved my lunch at Tate Modern,
Paris restaurants typically offer a plat du jour, always less costly than dinner. For about $15 to $20, you can enjoy a hot meal of two or even three courses. Wine can be a little as five euros a glass — about $7. Enjoy!
New York City has a terrifically wide array of options, from the hautest of elegant bars and restaurants to the usual national chains like Olive Garden, Friday’s, etc. The city excels at diners, old-school, all-service restaurants whose enormous laminated menus go on for pages. Few things make me as happy as settling in at the battered Formica counter, (look for a shelf or a hook beneath it to hang your purse or pack so no one can grab it and run), and eating there. Try Neil’s, at 70th and Lexington, or Veselka, on the Lower East Side, in business since 1954.
Whatever you do, flee midtown: boring, crowded, filled with tourists.
When you’re a visitor with limited time, it’s tempting to rush around all day and forget how tired, hungry and thirsty you’ll end up. Allow for a two-hour lunch or a glass of wine or an espresso sitting outdoors in a Paris cafe — which has heaters for the winter. Slow down.
And do not keeping staring into your bloody phone. Just….be there.
Read about your city!
These might be histories, or fiction or guidebooks. I always take my London A-Z, (a highly detailed set of maps), and my Plan de Paris, (ditto), both of which are small and slide into a pocket or purse easily.
There are, of course, dozens of great blogs written by savvy, stylish people living in each of these cities whose posts will be timely and give you all sorts of fun ideas; I like Small Dog Syndrome for London and Juliet in Paris (whose August 2014 posts about London were super-helpful and detailed.)
Pick up the local newspapers; in New York, compare the New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News to get a real picture of this city’s diversity; in London, the Guardian, Times and Daily Mail; in Paris (if you read French), Le Monde, and Liberation. The letters to the editor, alone, offer some serious insights into what people all around you are thinking and care most about.
Yes, you can read online but don’t. Go old-school and savor it.
Gives you something to tuck under your arm, and look like you belong!
If you enjoy shopping, this is your city! Especially between January 7 and February 15, during “les soldes” one of the two citywide annual sales. (The other is in June.)
There are few things not to buy here, and so many temptations, from stunning foulards (mufflers), worn by men and women of all ages, to exquisite teas and chocolates, mustards and other culinary lovelies. Perfume! Shoes! Jewelry!
Not to mention things you never realized you really needed until you see them….like this Babar hot water bottle cover.
I’ve been running around my favorite neighborhoods seeking a few treasures to bring home.
I went to Galeries Lafayette, despite the sniffy disapproval of a local who said, “It’s only for tourists.” Um, she was right. It was a madhouse and not nearly as much fun or appealing as I remembered from my last soldes there, (still wearing a gorgeous pair of sandals from seven years ago.)
There was a man guarding the small area devoted to Longchamp handbags and a pretty stunning selection but I found nothing that said “Buy me!”
I finally tried on a pair of great-looking soft red suede boots, ankle high, with a zipper up the back.
Then the zipper broke and I couldn’t get them off.
Four salespeople joked, “Oh, now you have to buy them!” and finally a strong man with a large pair of very sharp scissors cut me out of them. That was a first, and, I hope, a last. Merde! (No, I didn’t have to buy them and they were extremely kind about it.)
I have a few categories of things I’m always on the hunt for: textiles for our home; clothing; shoes; accessories; lovely things for entertaining (tableware, napkins.) When traveling, I don’t look at books (too heavy) or electronics or much artwork (difficult to get home and we already have plenty.)
If you love people-watching — and getting inspired by what you see — this is the place. Women here, whatever their age, (and women over 40 consistently seem to look the best), take great care with their appearance and it’s fantastic to see.
Unlike New York, there’s no slavish attachment to the same tedious and tired logos — Michael Kors, North Face, Coach — or the usual Big Name Designers people in New York use to flaunt their wealth, like Prada, Gucci, Goyard and Vuitton.
Here, instead, you’ll see some of the French classics, like Longchamps and Lancaster (handbags) but will also see a much wider range of colors, textures and styles.
Women, and men, are very definite in their own specific look, whether their hair is loose and gray, and they’re wearing Converse, (sneakers are called “les baskets”) or they’re blonde, sleek and soignee. Their self-confidence is lovely and you can quickly pick up style pointers just by observing them discreetly.
So far I’ve bought:
1) a chocolate brown dress from Irina Gregory, a fave shop in the Marais; 2) several scarves; 3) a small canvas handbag I sling bandolier-style across my body; 4) a thick black-and-white sweater/jacket; 5) a thin rust-colored mohair sweater and 6) matching color T-shirt to wear beneath it; 7) two bright chartreuse linen pillow cases; 8) a dark brown vintage fedora; 9) fab 80s’ earrings; 10) two presents for my husband and 11) a fountain pen and multiple cartridges 12) two small pouches for organizing; one for change and one for loose ends, like pills and fountain pen and lipstick. (The small one is velvet, a great choice as I can know it by feel when rummaging in a crowded carryall.) 13 A bottle of Hermes Voyage, a perfume of theirs I wasn’t familiar with.
I’ve already picked up on a classic French style trend — sticking to a palette of colors that are flattering and go well together. French women wear a veritable rainbow of colors, but many of them wear a delicious mix of camel, cream, navy, black and gray. They may add a burgundy or olive boot, or a pale blue scarf. Very few women, anywhere here, wear prints, unless it’s a fantastic oversize houndstooth coat or jacket.
I had another retail mishap (what the hell?) after walking down the Rue de Rennes.
As I settled into a cafe for lunch, a woman at the next table pointed, aghast, (and smiling sympathetically) at my new jacket, made of thickly woven fabric….in its folds I had snagged a camisole, still on its plastic hanger, and walked out of the store with it attached to me. No one noticed. So attractive!
Where to shop?
Les Grand Boulevards
This is where all the major department stores are: crowded as hell but with lots of selection and multiple places to sit down and eat a good meal to regain your stamina. You can also get your “detaxe”, VAT refund of 12% right there if you spend more than 175 euros in one day and are returning to a non-EU country. The biggies are Galeries Lafayette, BHV, Printemps and Au Bon Marche (in the 6th.) For a totally different world, try Franck & Fils, in the 16th., a quiet and elegant residential neighborhood.
Irresistible. The tiny, winding streets are charming and filled with boutiques, not the usual chain suspects. Everyone loves Agnes B (too plain for me). I discovered Miller et Bertaux, pricey but gorgeously simple women’s clothing. I like Irina Gregory, clearly. Just to weep gently and silently, visit L’Eclaireur; everything is exquisite, costly and edited. The space alone is worth seeing.
It’s an upscale residential neighborhood, so the pickings are slim, but very nice. Petit Bateau sells high-quality T-shirts (and great kids’ clothes) on Rue de Grenelle. I scored a lovely fountain pen and my discounted pillow cases on the same street.
The flea market
Meh. I never thought I’d say it, but…meh. Most people go to Porte de Clignancourt, as I did, which is huge and divided into many smaller markets. Unless you’re buying furniture, lighting or art, though, you’re going to Vernaison, which I found just really overpriced. (I did much better at Eponyme, a small but great vintage shop in the 11th.)
If you have the time and patience, Paris is loaded with vintage shops, some of them with crazy-low prices — like 10 euros for a shirt or sweater ($12-15.) Go to Eponyme, 7 rue Paul Bert in the 11th; the owner is a treasure and speaks English. Great prices.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to buy Big French Names (like Hermes, Chanel) — unless, of course you have pots of money and they’re your style.
I get much more pleasure from some of my smaller, quirkier purchases I’ve made here over the years — a polka dot apron from BHV, a crinkled duster coat from Irina Gregory, a fab poster by the classic cartoonist Sempe and three burgundy striped votive holders.
You’ll notice I’ve skipped the legendary strips of the Champs Elysees and Faubourg St. Honore; the latter is lined with every possible designer and well worth it, if your budget allows.
And so it arrived — all 4.5 inches of it — and all seven editions:
Have you seen it?
For those of you living beyond the U.S., RH offers one-stop shopping for all manner of weathered, patinated objects, from enormous replicas of German lighting and railway clocks to a wall-hung glowing ampersand. (Do I really want to sleep beside a piece of punctuation?)
The tone is regal, imperial, seigneurial — and the scale of many of the objects and furniture designed for people who inhabit extremely large homes and estates. Their catalog named “small spaces” offers tableaux named for a Chelsea penthouse and Tribeca loft, each of whose entry point is about $2 million, in cash.
It’s exhaustingly aspirational, and references abound to “landed gentry” and “boarding school”, clearly meant to appeal to people who have experience of neither. (As Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary said, witheringly, to her self-made suitor, Sir Richard Carlisle: “Your lot buys things. Mine inherits them.”)
What to make of it all?
1) Fly into shopping frenzy, wanting allofitrightnow!
2) Read the descriptions in wonder and dismay:
“Crafted with Italian Berkshire leather…” — it’s an ice bucket, people. And it’s $199.
3) Sneer at the hopeless addiction to more stuff it inculcates and rewards
4) Dog-ear a few of the pages, however guiltily, because some of it — yes — is really gorgeous, like this bed, oddly featured in the baby and child catalog.
5) Wonder why our possessions are deemed “treasured” and whether or not they even should be; (see: Buddhist teachings and the ideal of non-attachment)
6) Consider attending an auction to watch the detritus of a hundred other lives, wondering when this stuff will end up there, too
7) Might children raised in these formal and fully-designed rooms, amid thousands of dollars worth of wood and linen and velvet, emerge into the real world of independence and employment with overly hopeful notions of pay and working conditions? Let alone college dorm facilities?
8) If a baby projectile vomits or poops or pees onto the immaculate washed linen and velvet beds, chairs and cribs shown here, how elegant will they really look (or smell)? Much as I love the idea of refined aesthetics (not pink or plastic everything), this seems a little…excessive.
9) I love their restrained neutral palette — pale gray, cream, brown, white, black — and their industrial designs for lighting. But if I were six or eight or 14? Maybe not so much. Your kids have decades ahead of them to stare at wire baskets and faux-Dickensian light fixtures.
10) Have you ever noticed the echt-WASP names included in these catalogs, as would-be monograms or examples of personalization? You won’t ever find a Graciela or Jose or Ahmed or Dasani here, my dears. Instead: Addison, Brady, Lucas, Mason, Ethan, Grace, Charlotte, Chloe, Sarah. Such a 19th-century white-bread version of “reality” ! Am I the only one who finds this pretentious, silly — and very outdated marketing? Many people of color have money to spend on these items as well. My husband’s name is Jose and he’s got great taste and good credit. Include him, dammit!
11) OK, OK. I admit it. I love this chair. After a long crappy day, even a putative adult might enjoy the soft and furry embrace of a stuffed elephant.
12) “Understated grandeur” and “Directoire-style daybed” — in a nursery?!
13) People put taxidermied animal heads on your walls to prove that: a) you know how to shoot accurately; b) you own guns; c) you can afford to spend time in some foreign land on safari; d) you enjoy killing things; e) you have no shame showing this to others. Putting up faux images of wood, paper and metal like these ones seems a little beside the point.
Certainly the evidence that people don’t typically behave rationally is quite compelling. It’s easy to find examples of behavior which conflicts with economic theory. The problem is that it’s not clear that these examples help us much. I’m pretty much obsessed by when, why, how and where we choose to spend our money. Or save it.
Given how little money most Americans save — here’s a blog post from The Economist about that — it’s a tough decision to postpone immediate pleasures (let alone the daily grind of needs), for groceries, housing and medical care in the future, possibly decades away. What if we never get there?
But what if we do live to be 80, 90 or beyond — and find ourselves broke and scared?
Here’s a frightening post from one of my favorite writers, Guardian journo Heidi Moore, about how older women — because we earn less and live longer — end up in poverty:
17.8 million women lived in poverty in 2012, 44% of whom lived in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty means “income at or below 50% of the federal poverty level”, which amounts to less than $5,500 a year…
What is surprising is that the slide into deep poverty is happening so soon, and in such massive numbers, among the elderly. It’s not clear what could have changed between 2011 and 2012 to cause it.
My mother went into a nursing home three years ago, paying — for a small room — $5,000 a month. Yes, really. That certainly made clear to me the very real cost of getting old, ill and needing costly care every single day. She saved, lifelong and ferociously, so she has the funds for it.
Most of us will not.
Our parents and grand-parents, and a few fortunate folk in specific industries, could look forward to a company pension; Jose will receive one from The New York Times, thank heaven. A few lucky people also get a company match to their 401(k) retirement savings from their employers.
But most of us are now expected and required to save and save and save and save, praying our investments retain and grow in value. I’ve been saving 15 percent of my income every year for a while; it’s finally adding up to a sum that makes me feel like the sacrifice is worth it.
It’s also simplistic to shame people who “spend too much” when millions have lost their jobs, often repeatedly, and have run through whatever savings they might once have had. Millions are also now earning far less than they once expected or hoped to.
Wages are stagnant or falling while the cost of living rises each year — and we’re still human beings who actually want to leave our homes and have some fun!
I splurge on four categories: 1) items or improvements for our home; 2) travel; 3) entertaining friends; 4) fresh flowers.
How about you?
What do you splurge on — and where do you keep your wallet closed?
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!
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.
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.
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:
— I can still taste the salted caramel ice cream we savored at Berthillon on the Ile St Louis in Paris five years ago.
— 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Today, thousands of Americans rush out to start their holiday shopping. It’s called Black Friday because it’s the beginning of the season that pushes retailers into the black — i.e. profitability.
While shoppers clamor for more product, more discounts and even more hours in which to spend their money, please pause to remember the hard-working people who serve them, since 70 percent of the American economy is created by consumer spending.
Retail workers also deserve more:
— More money (most earn minimum wage)
— More respect (until you’ve served them, it’s hard to believe how rude and nasty some shoppers can be)
— More hours (store managers scrimp on paid hours because every other cost is already spent)
— More opportunities for raises, bonuses and promotions into a decent wage. (No worker adding profits to the bottom line should be so fiscally punished)
Here’s my op-ed in today’s New York Daily News, America’s sixth-largest newspaper and the last newsroom in which I worked as a reporter.
In a time of growing income inequality, no one should assume that retail staff are uneducated or have no higher ambition than folding T-shirts for hours. RAP also found that more than 50% of them either have a college degree or are working toward one.
Some, like our store manager Joe, who fought with U.S. Special Forces in Mogadishu, have served their country overseas. And some enjoy retail work and consider it a meaningful career choice.
For others, it’s a stopgap, a place to earn a wage while awaiting a better-paid opportunity. One multi-lingual young lawyer I know recently made the move from folding T-shirts at the Gap to working at a major investment house, the fortunate culmination of a lengthy and frustrating job search.
These workers deserve and demand more respect and better economic treatment.
As some of you may know, a frenzied crowd of shoppers trampled a 34-year-old Walmart associate. Jdimytai Damour — in his first week on the job on Long Island, NY — to death in 2008.
Sitting on appeal with a review commission, the case of Jdimytai Damour’s death highlights how corporations can choose to fend off modest penalties over workplace dangers for years on end, according to occupational health experts.
For a company with sales of $466 billion last fiscal year, the $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration represents little more than a single store’s rounding error. Walmart would have vastly outspent that sum simply in legal fees devoted to fighting the penalty. But the world’s largest retailer is less concerned with the monetary fine than with the broader implications of the case. A negative ruling could compel Walmart and other retail companies like it to take additional safety precautions for workers or face new liabilities.
“It’s not about the penalty,” said Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA analyst who’s now a lecturer at George Washington University. “It’s this interest in seeing how far Walmart can push back against the decision.”
I’m aware that for some people — including readers here — Walmart offers low prices and may be the only shopping choice in their area. I will never ever shop there.
I worked part-time, from 2007 to 2009, at an upscale mall near my home in suburban New York selling for The North Face, costly outdoor clothing manufactured — as most apparel now is — in low-wage nations across the globe, from Peru to China. I earned $11/hour, with no commission, for a job that demanded devoted attention to 14 simultaneous tasks, from spotting shoplifters (no store security staff) to scrubbing the toilets. We were given daily sales goals. The lowest was $400, the highest — during the holidays — $6,000.
It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. I’m glad I did it. I’ve never seen the world the same way since then.
It showed me a sort of corporate brutality I could never (naively) have imagined had I not stepped behind the cash wrap. Shoppers assumed we were stupid, uneducated, unable to get or keep any other sort of work, when many of us had lost much better-paid jobs in the recession. Or we were going to college, and/or supporting a family.
Yet the word most industry experts use to describe these workers?
Retail work is the largest source of new jobs in the U.S., yet most of them — part-time, with very few hours and no benefits — pay such low wages that workers end up using food stamps to supplement their meager incomes. Enough already with corporate welfare!
LAST CHANCE TO SIGN UP FOR THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR — “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”. CLASS SIZE IS SMALL, SO EVERY STUDENT RECEIVES INDIVIDUAL ATTENTION.
THERE’S PRE-CLASS READING FOR THIS ONE, SO IF YOU’RE INTERESTED, DON’T DELAY!