Money, Relearned

On wearing fewer safety pins and more jewelry.

Photo credit: k4dordy, CC BY 2.0.

There should be a name for the things we buy after protracted agonizing. Typically, I agonize over an inexpensive piece of clothing or jewelry that I covet, but cannot convince myself to purchase. Occasionally I give in, and the piece becomes a beloved member of my wardrobe. I am then left to wonder why I was so hesitant to make the purchase in the first place.

I have always shopped at thrift stores, an activity which has skewed the way I assess the cost of something new. Part of this is tied to a desire to live sustainably, but most of it is due to money. I have never had a credit card, but I am carrying an average amount of student debt for my bachelor and master’s degrees. Even though I started working when I was sixteen, there has never been in a point in my life where I felt like I could justify spending money on things beyond the necessities.

There has never been in a point in my life where I felt like I could justify spending money on things beyond the necessities.

Since getting my first real career-job a few months ago, and doubling the salary I had before going to grad school, I have found the need to relearn money. Buying clothing exclusively at thrift stores has always been fun, for the variety of things you can find in one place and the rock-bottom prices you pay to clothe yourself. But I am realizing that I do not always like the way that the clothes fit me, or more accurately, don’t fit me. I used to justify buying clothing a size too small or too big by telling myself I was saving money, and I am only now understanding that it is worth the extra money to occasionally buy things that fit and make me feel good.

With every paycheck—after carving out money for savings, rent, bills, and loans—I try to replace one thrifted item in my wardrobe with a well-fitting replacement. This does not feel irresponsible or extravagant, but practical. Getting dressed is easier now that I am not engineering solutions for my clothes with strategically placed safety pins and belts.

I have also allowed myself to make select, small purchases. My formerly days-long waiting period before buying something has been reduced to a few laps around the store. I am on my third week of wearing the $8 earrings I saw at Target on my way to pick up some cleaning supplies. This trivial purchase was another step toward appreciating my new financial situation, and learning that the small things can no longer break me. Unlike the safety pins that used to hold me together, these purchases help me finally feel secure.

Brittany Schrenker lives in Pittsburgh and thinks a lot about her relationship with stuff and things. She is firmly rooted in the public sector, loves discussing cities, and would like to be more social on the internet but needs some cajoling.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Change Series.