Show Me the Money
Have you ever heard of the saying, “I cannot afford to be cheap?”
I once had a person (let’s keep this gender neutral) who made a bold statement to me, that most of us, parents and non-parents alike, would consider it a social faux pas. Keep in mind, this happened in the middle of an elementary school ground, surrounded by other parents. “You are a single mom, I heard. So it’s easy for you, huh.”
Instead of running away from this odd statement, (Oh hey, look, I suddenly remembered that we have an appointment, gotta go!”) I dug a little deeper to ask this person why they would think that. This person’s confused assumption came from my projected image. I always looked pulled together. They never saw me scrambling, nor late. I also tend to wear beautiful brands, brands that are considered to be luxury.
I ask this question to every parent reading this out there. Is it hard to be a parent? Even single people can answer this. It is a pretty obvious answer. What other job in the world do we commit to for a lifetime, 24-7? Parenting does not end at age 19. It is a lifetime work, which does become easier over time, however, what we put in during the early years becomes the legacy. No parent is happy later when they do minimal work in the early days (the first two decades) of caring for a child. Or if they get someone else to do most of the work. Argue with me all you want, but no nanny can ever replace the care and attention of a parent. The results that show are obvious. We do not need to have children to know this. What this person actually meant to ask is, as it turned out, was “How do you afford your stuff?” It was an odd projection of a compliment. The statement came from curiosity of how I manage to look pulled together all the time.
Eventually the conversation went there. They wanted to know how much money I made, and they did not know how to ask this question without being literal. To be clear, I do not chase brands. I do not believe in getting a kick looking better than other people. We do not buy prestige and reputation. We build that through action. Studying personal development for almost two decades, I have found my true voice, and that translates into my wardrobe. The way I dress is the way I communicate my authentic self. Most people will agree that their style says something about them. I have perfected this craft. That is why it looks so easy.
So again, how do I afford things? Buy less.
There was a time when I made this commitment. I was not born into this. I decided to stop spending money on small things. I stopped spending money on bad quality, which includes most fast fashion brands. I had enough of things that look nice from far away only, seasonal trendy items that work for a season or two, then sits in my closet collecting dust. I do not want things in my closet if I am not regularly reaching for it. Fabrics that do not wash well. Jewellery that change colour or retire after a few months. I cannot afford to be cheap. Cheap items suck money out of our bank accounts. People feel less guilty spending $30 on something, than $500. If I am spending $500, I would have thought about the purchase extremely carefully. How much will I use it? How much value does it add to my life? How much does it help me communicate my true authentic self? Dressing has become so easy for me. Everything in my closet is the right fit, the right colours, and meets my expectation of quality. This is what I will tolerate in my life, not just in my closet. My personal brand strives for high quality, whether that is service, any products that I sell now or in the future. It is inauthentic to represent myself in less than high quality.
It is cheaper to buy less while choosing high quality. It is cheaper to spend money on things that matter. If you follow my stories, I care a great deal on health, so I make my lunches almost every day. So let’s calculate how much eating out lunch comes to per year.
$10 (conservative estimate of lunch) x 5 (work days) x 4 (weeks a month) = $200 per month
$200 x 12 months of the year = $2400.
To me, this is a Burberry coat, the only trench/rain coat I will ever need, as long as I keep at my weight. I saved money by not buying an ill fitting, terrible quality rain coat that I will have to replace after 3 years.
Add on any Starbucks or other coffee trips that people do daily. Have you ever calculated this?
$5 (coffee) x 5 (work days a week) x 4 = $100 / month
$100 x 12 = $1200 year
If you made your own coffee, where would you put your $1200?
I don’t mean that we should never take advantage of small pleasures and ways to make life easier. However, once we see the numbers, it is clear that it is not about how much money one makes. It is about how we allocate it. Some people spend money freely on small things, and focus on the fact that they have no money at the end of every month. They turn to others and wonder why everyone else has it easier and better.
The True Cost
Next: There is the true cost of things. My Burberry coat example also has a wonderful perk, aside from high quality and beauty. It was not made by abusing people and the environment.
The obvious part is that people spend their small dollars, and soon, they have to rebuy the same item again. This is the business model of fast fashion. The greater problem in this consumerist cycle is the human problem. How is the cheap stuff made? Who makes them? Oh yeah, it costs much less to live in Bangladesh or Vietnam. A meal may not cost as much as it costs in North America, but no place in the world costs practically free to live in. Fast fashion is the culprit of current human slavery.
How would we feel if our $10 shirt actually involved our fellow humans slaving away in a work place with inhumane conditions? Sometimes children are involved. Not necessarily child labour, but mothers do not have a place to leave their child, so the children, including babies, tag along to these terrible factories. They spend 12+ hours, breathing in chemicals that are used to create clothing and accessories. There is lack of air circulation, no breaks, and sometimes, many of these workers are forced to leave their family at home, in a far village, including their small children, in order to slave away for perhaps a cent of benefit for your $10 item. Somewhere, the manufacturer had to cut costs. They are not making us, the rich consumer pay, nor are the companies willing to eat the loss. It is the workers who pay for this.
“Well, I am not rich,” you say. “I make minimum wage.” Well, this is rich compared to the people who work in these factories. We are rich, not because of the power of our currency, but because of the opportunity. We have a choice. We can rise up. The workers in developing countries do not have that option, through the limits of their society and education level. If this sounds unconvincing, watch the trailer for the documentary film “The True Cost.”
Given my reasons, I cannot afford to be cheap. Things that break or ruin easily. Things that do not represent who I am willing to be in my career and in my personal relationships. I cannot afford to be cheap because I refuse to choose to consume items made of blood of factory workers in developing countries. These items represent their dead end life, extreme pollution, and in many cases, sickness and death. In this global economy, it is hard to know exactly how each item we own got made. It is impossible to buy luxury items every single time we need something. What we can do is to minimize supporting this vicious cycle the best we can. Buy less, and buy better quality. Fast fashion production is also one of the biggest culprit of pollution. The current model of pumping out cheap clothing is not sustainable for humans, nor for the Planet Earth. If we buy less, we make less pollution and garbage that fills our landfills. We can choose to buy items that workers got paid a decent wage. As long as we take up space in this world and continue to consume, we are all responsible in this cycle.
This is rather a long-winded explanation to that original statement. It is easy to make an assumption based on appearances. There is truly no shortcut to anything. Choose quality over less than. Choose luxury over cheap. Choose high quality relationships and friends. It is, ultimately, all in our decision.