The Retail Diet – Enjoying Shopping in Moderation

By Jen Kach

Throwing on the dress took less than 10 seconds, but that was apparently time  well-spent.

All day, people had been giving me the once-over and exclaiming, “Wow! You look so put together!” When I would murmur some sort of modest response, they came back at me with declarations that I always looked great. I was flattered, of course, but also surprised — I’d chosen my dress specifically because it didn’t require much effort.

Later that day, as I unlocked my dorm room, my neighbor stepped out of her open doorway. After a sunny hello, she said, “You look cute today.”

“Thanks,” I replied.

“You always look so nice.” She locked her door, then added, “Will you style me?”

Cue effervescent bursts of warm fuzzies.

And a burgeoning retail addiction.

It can’t be all that shocking that after a semester of interactions like this, I’d become obsessed with style. I paid attention to the fact that florals and ruffles were in, as were statement jewelry and embellished gladiator sandals. I started to drop by the boutiques, picking up new pieces to give that effortless dress even more “Wow, you look so great!” pizazz. Buying new clothes (and shoes and accessories) gave me a thrill that was only compounded when my peers gave my new purchases an unequivocal thumbs-up.

I ran out of cash but told myself it wasn’t a big deal. It was always easy to find free events on campus and, besides, I couldn’t live my whole life watching money just sit there. It wasn’t like I hauled home truckloads of outfits every week. A little splurge here and there was normal, right?

But then I began taking money out of my checking account. Money that I’d worked so hard for at my summer retail job, that I wanted to use as a relaxant when I’d inevitably graduate and realize just how much Mom and Dad wouldn’t be funding. Part of me knew it wasn’t the best idea… but that part of me was buried under a wave of fashionable justifications.

When it came time to apply for my first credit card, though, I finally rescued that side. I knew people in horrendous amounts of debt and  didn’t want to be one of them. I didn’t want to be someone who swiped at will and considered the consequences later. I didn’t want to be the girl who let money trickle between her fingers like water — and that’s who I was becoming. It was time to break my addiction.

As we all know, trying to quit anything cold-turkey is insanely hard, if not impossible. My mom told me to think of it like a diet: One small change at a time. I could still enjoy the “foods” I loved, just in moderation.

I needed to learn how to spend money in smaller, more satisfying amounts. Here are the guidelines I followed on my retail diet:

Find the “slimmed-down” versions of your favorites.

Thrift stores became my best friends. Those of you who have never been to one are missing out on clothing-stuffed slices of heaven. Think an Express dress for $9 or Seven for All Mankind jeans for an astonishing $35! These are actual items I’ve scored at consignment shops. Live it up in as many designer brands as you want — but don’t think you have to pay ridiculous prices for them. No one has to know where you found that Coach bag, anyway.

Only eat when you’re hungry.

Or, in this case, only buy what really speaks to you. How many times have I stood in a dressing room and added a shirt that was nice enough, but not really stunning, to my “yes” pile? Being picky about what you buy isn’t a fault (as long as you maintain an Audrey Hepburn grace about it). It can actually keep you from having a huge pile of stuff you don’t want come moving day. Not that that’s ever happened to me.

Work off indulgences.

Let’s say I want a pair of black heels to replace my scuffed-up old ones. They’re $10. (A thrift-store steal.) I look in my pretty blue wallet and discover a lone five I planned on using for a coffee date with an old high school friend. Uh-oh. I barter it out with my mother and agree to do the week’s ironing in exchange for the needed funds. See where I’m going with this? I’m sure your scenario will go down much differently, since you probably don’t have to rely on your mom for any kind of salary. But if you wait until your next paycheck to make that purchase, you’ll have time to consider whether or not you really do want it. If it’s gone by the time your financial fuel is replenished, consider that a sign from the universe.

And trust me: Not even the best pair of skinny jeans justifies unraveling the time-space continuum.

Jen Kach, an English major at Penn State University, almost died of happiness when she saw a pair of Steve Maddens for only $5. (But, alas, they weren’t in her size.)

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