Category: Consumerism

Automated

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” 
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Quick question, kittens, what do you automate or outsource? I subscribe to news and podcasts which are automatically downloaded to my devices daily. Books, video, and music can be delivered or streamed to me with a click. I can order a bunch of items or goods to my house instantly, and subscription services are a nice and growing industry. Much like google, Amazon is practically a verb now.

I like many aspects of modern urban life which have allowed me to automate or outsource things that previously required much more effort or time. Like many women, I’m time poor and married to an equally time poor man, so it’s worth it to me to pay for certain things to be automated on our behalf. As we’ve matured in our lives and careers, we’ve gotten better about budgeting for things that we are content to pay for rather than do ourselves. I’m deeply aware that this is a privileged experience and I don’t take that lightly, but I don’t hesitate to use them when they meet my needs. Some things I’ve automated…

Grocery deliveries. Once a week a box of produce arrives on our doorstep. It’s brilliant! Occasionally I amend my standing order to include things like dairy or special items for specific recipes, but as a rule it’s just a weekly delivery of seasonal vegetables and fruit in reasonable amounts for two people to munch through in a single week. This has helped cut down on the amount of food shopping I have to do dramatically, as well as the amount we physically have to carry when we do shop (as central Londoners without a car). It’s also helped reduce a lot of food waste, which is also something I’d like to be better about, as well as increasing our intake of vegetables.

Coffee delivery. We subscribe to a couple of companies that send us coffee throughout the month. Not only is this one less thing to have to pick up at the store, it fulfills our need for snobbery by constantly rotating the tastes and flavors we are exposed to, and allows us to try and funnel our money towards companies with transparency in their agricultural and labor practices.

If I had more money I would absolutely look into regular cleaning services as well. Not weekly, but perhaps quarterly to help maintain our home. I don’t want or need help in managing day to day mess, but it would absolutely be worth it to me to have professional help in the frenzy of seasonal cleaning when I’m looking to really dig into corners, scrub grout and defrost/broil appliances to get them scoured clean.

I wrote a post three years ago about the financial realities of dog and/or childcare and my views on this haven’t changed. If we have children, we intend to employ help for this too.

However, there are some automated services that I think are actively bad ideas. Clothing and beauty subscription services are popular these days, but do not represent sensible consumption in my opinion. Other novelty subscription services will deliver things like petcare or pop culture items to your door monthly, meaning that users often end up buying things they don’t need and never would have purchased normally and in greater quantities over the course of, say, a year. Some people subscribe to media platforms and never use them–why?!

I suppose in the end, what you value is where you end up investing money. I have friends who subscribe to meal services, wine deliveries, monthly deliveries of household goods (something I may seriously get into at some point to further reduce my shopping), various services and providers (including laundry apps!), and any number of things. One woman I know schedules two blowouts a week for her hair and economizes elsewhere to justify it. Some people do their own bookkeeping and taxes, some hire accountants.

What, if anything have you outsourced to other people or providers, and why?

Trying to Buy “Cheap” Beauty, When You Love Expensive ****

“Save your marriage, and buy that someone special Revlon Colorburst. You’ll be glad that you did.” 
― Anthony T. Hincks

The thing about high end makeup and beauty products is…sometimes they really, actually are better. The pigments are more stable, the powders are more finely milled and therefore easier to use, the formulas have more potent (and therefore expensive) ingredients.

But as I’ve tried to restrict my beauty spending this year (and owning up where I fall off the wagon), I’ve been slowly trying confront where I spend money because it gets me a better product or experience…and where I’m paying more money but not getting anything more out of it than feeling fancy. There are an awful lot of beauty products out there where you are paying top dollar for little more than than the brand, a logo on a package, or a case of some kind that probably cost to much to make and may not be recyclable in the end.

Part of my new spending goals include nearly a year of not buying any beauty or skincare items that isn’t a replacement pf something I’ve used up, replacing as much as a can like for like or from the drugstore rather than a boutique or high street shop. Luckily I’ve been unofficially doing the research for this for years now and I can tell you exactly where I think you should spend money in putting together a beauty or grooming routine.

Save

This is a caveated category, but we need to talk about drugstore lipsticks. My love for lipstick is VERY well documented at this point and it is a product where the quality of the ingredients matters to its application. But I’ve noticed a distinct trend of improvement in drugstore lipsticks over the past few years. Gone are the chalky, sticky bullets of my teenage years; what you can buy at your typical Boots or CVS is a much better, quality product. In fact, it’s incredibly rare for me to buy a “designer” or high end lip product, when a lot of what you’re paying for is fancy packaging and a brand name. Most of my formulas are considered “mid range,” and I think that’s because of this overall trend towards improved formulas at lower price points. I simply don’t see the need for most designer lip products when I can find the same colors in good formulas for better prices. Now listen, you will pry those mid range lipsticks I do have from my cold dead fingers, but I’ve started rediscovering my love for drugstore brands this past year and want to ensure that I buy from them much more.

Basic skincare. Similar to drugstore makeup, a lot of basic skincare has gotten much more effective at lower price points. The No 7 brand at Boots, for instance, is something I only got into this past year and it’s been revelatory. Once I used up more expensive cleansers, for example, I decided to see if I could get at least as good results at a lower price point and presto. Ditto with micellar waters, eye creams (which are a “disputed” product when it comes to effectiveness), and makeup wipes (which you should try to avoid using regularly as they aren’t great for your skin and are definitely not great for the environment). Save money on the basics and spend more on an “active” product like a serum, SPF, or treatment with much more potent ingredients that will help treat your trouble spots or maintain your skin health against sun, pollution, or chronic issues like acne.

Mascara. Some people swear by their designer mascaras but I am convinced they are the most ridiculous waste of money. The recommendation is to use up an entire tube of mascara in three months (which I have never once done in my life) or toss it to avoid it becoming a breeding ground for bacteria (again, advice I have never followed, but whatever). If you are spending more than a handful of dollars or pounds on a tube that’s designed to be perishable within 90 days, you are nuts.

Hair care. Again, fight me in the comments if you must, but I have yet to meet the shampoo or conditioner that is worth more than what I will pay at Boots. I’m sure that there are some styling products worth the coin and I am open to evangelizing on this point, but hair is decidedly Not My Thing and spending anything more than drugstore prices on it would be a silly choice for me. The bigger lesson is, if [insert a beauty/grooming routine step here] is Not Your Thing, do not be duped or pressured into spending your money on it.

Nail polish. Chanel may be iconic, but I say: save your money. Nail colors are easy trends to follow and incredibly cheap compared to the constant churn of fashion trends (which Instagram has spend up to light year speeds). Spend a handful on some seasonal or fun colors from the drugstore and save yourself the tears when liquid dries up, you drop the bottle, or you just get bored with it and want to chuck it. Enjoy double the savings if you paint your nails regularly yourself instead of paying someone else to do it for you (again, something I refuse to do).

 

Spend

If you wear foundation and concealer, it is worth spending some money on. If you have found a brilliant drugstore product that you love, suits your skin, and looks the way you want it to, YOU ARE A HERO TO ALL OF US AND SHARE YOUR WISDOM. But I personally have found the best performing products on my skin tend to be more expensive. I’m fine with this. The trade off I make is that I own only one foundation and have to replace it only one every couple of years, which feels reasonable.

Powder products. See my comments at the start of this post; things that take more work to produce generally cost more and this is particularly applicable for powder products which have to be milled and blended and often pressed several times during production to achieve what’s considered a high quality. Like unto lipstick, drugstore brands are getting better at these, but I still prefer the quality I find higher priced brands. Also like unto lipstick, I have found very little quality difference between mid-high ranged brands and designer brands. Therefore, I say be willing to spend money in this category, but don’t pay silly prices for just packaging or a logo.

Active skincare products and lipstick. As discussed. Worth the money if you find a high performing product that treats a specific condition (rather than is just generally expensive lotion you smear on your face with indeterminate results), but be conscious about where you can find an equivalent at mid or even low range. The Ordinary is a range that’s made waves for providing skincare formulas at very low price points. The efficacy can vary but it’s worth experimenting to find what suits you, which also frees up other budget for more expensive products that you can’t duplicate.

Perfume. This may be a tad personal, but it is a rare cheap perfume that lasts long enough, smells good enough, and feels “exclusive” enough for me. I am an unrepentant snob about some things and I enjoy wearing clothes and perfumes that aren’t mass marketed. I wore Coco Chanel for years and loved it, but eventually gave it up because it was 1) expensive and 2) ubiquitous. The first wasn’t enough to stop me but the second was. However, in general, I think a perfume is a good place to spend your “luxury” money, whatever that means for you personally. Formulated well, a scent should last on you all day and therefore a bottle should last you at least a year. Find one that you adore and make it the finishing touch of your beauty or grooming routine to feel luxe. Even if everything else on your body or face is cheap as chips, the one thing that will literally encase you and float about your presence all day will be fancy AF, as the kids say.

The Faustian Cabinet Has Arrived

“If you love something, it will work. That’s the only real rule.”
– Bunny Williams

A quick moment of apartment appreciation, minions. We’ve lived in our current place for two years and our lease is for a year more, after which we may either need to move or at least try to negotiate on rent a bit more. We struck a bargain when we moved in that we would furnish the place ourselves in exchange for lower rent and we have done so…very, very slowly.

I don’t like living in what feels like a barebones apartment sometimes, I’m ready for a home that feels intentional and grown up, with art on the walls and furniture bought to keep instead of disposable IKEA goods. Simultaneous and paradoxically to that, I enjoy the ease with which we have been able to move, be it to another country or a new apartment on short notice. Owning fewer possessions definitely helps with that!

However, the older I get, the less satisfied I am with living out of suitcases. Our first ever apartment in Utah was starving newlywed accommodation, our first London apartment was a shoebox and not very nice, but this apartment feels like the first proper grown up place. I’ve enjoyed the process of putting it together, even if that process takes a long time and is constrained by the realities of budgeting and strategy. We bought a bed and a wardrobe when we first moved in, for obvious reasons. Over the coming months, our next purchase was a couch, which again is fairly standard. From Etsy we bought a coffee table and stools, from John Lewis a rug. After about a year we splurged on our fabulous vintage chairs and then closed our wallets again for a long while.

Furnishing is a balancing act. I’m a magpie who loves interesting, colorful pieces with personality while Jeff would be a Danish minimalist if he could. Smashing those two styles together into something that involves taste is a tricky, but I think we’re doing okay so far. He has his industrial tables, I get colors and patterns so long as the lines are modern. I get to do the majority of the selection, but he gets veto power so we don’t get overwhelmed with my magpie tendencies. It works. So when I spotted our latest piece online, I knew it would work too.

It’s a vintage piece, but one that’s been upcylced. It’s a muted dark blue, which goes with the blue-gray leather of the sofa, and the blue and white rug. The gold touches keep it feeling chic instead of just a solid block, and it’s deep enough to absorb a lot of items that heretofore didn’t really have a home in the apartment–thus tidying up mess and satisfying Jeffs desire for lack of clutter. I’m absurdly pleased with it and it really has helped me feel as if the front room is “finished” in some way. The only other thing I would want to do in this current apartment would be to frame and hang our art, but if that doesn’t happen until our next lease somewhere, I think could be satisfied.

As promised, this is my last purchase for the year (minus the usual things like socks, underwear, or unsexy items like toothpaste and shoe inserts) and any failures on this point will be publicly documented for shaming purposes. I’m fairly confident that being able to gaze on my growing domestic kingdom will help keep me in financial check. How could you not feel happy in a room that looks like this:

 

 

A Week of Outfits: Monday

“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” 
― Coco Chanel

Back to work!

I picked this look because I needed a simple but serious outfit for the day. I had meetings at a client site that involved me getting up early to get ready, traveling, and needing to arrived in a polished state. I had to lug around several devices, project folders, and notebooks without overwhelming me so I didn’t want to bother with an outfit that required a lot of elements. I needed a single item solution and so: a power dress.

This dress is from MM LaFleur–a brand I’ve written about before with a huge amount of love and satisfaction. I own five dresses from them in total, bought over several years, and would like a couple more at some point. This brand is on the pricier side, ranging from about $150-250 per item as a general rule, but I have found them to be solid investment purchases. I’ve spent some additional money having each one tailored and I have never worn one of their pieces without being complimented for looking nice.

Finding simple ways to feel much more put together is something that’s become important to me in recent years, especially as I’ve leveled up in my career. Clothes are an important way of communicating messages about yourself, and I try to be in control of my messaging.

I mentioned before trying to incorporate more dresses into my wardrobe and there is a reason for it: simplicity.

It’s very fashionable to look “effortless,” look being the operative word. The amount of women who look simultaneously great while not giving two ***** is not a vast number in my experience, and the most “effortless” looking women I know actually have to expend an awful lot of energy to achieve the appearance of nonchalance.

Effortless is not my aesthetic, but more importantly, it’s not my reality. I am a person who has to expend effort in order to look the way she wants, especially in a professional setting. I also confess to admiring “effortful” style quite a bit. I like fashion that clearly took some thought, wit, or creativity to put together, in the same way that I admire women who look polished and well groomed. All of these things take time, energy, and whatever amount of money we are willing and able to put towards them. I aspire to polish whenever possible. However, I’m also naturally lazy, not very self confident (physically speaking), and not particularly gifted when it comes to the finishing touches that allow some women to achieve that finished look.

Well-tailored work dresses allow me to put on a single item of clothing and fairly basic accessories (charity shop shoes in this case, a pair of earrings that were a present from my father, and a trusty old Longchamp bag that fits my gear and still allows me to look professional), and feel fully outfitted. I’m then able to spend the rest of my preparation time focusing on the “polishing” bits for when I need to feel serious and be taken seriously.

See? Very serious.

A Week of Outfits: Saturday

“Black is the hardest color in the world to get right—except for gray…”
– Diana Vreeland

You have Katarina to blame for this project, ducklings, as this was an idea for a 101/1001 goal she suggested and I foolishly added it to the list. I then thought it would be a great way to write about some of my new goals around shopping my closet, avoiding new purchases for the rest of the year, and generally writing more honestly about my consumer habits.

Then, the stupid paranoia hit. I am terrible about having my picture taken (a side effect of that body negativity I wrote about the other day), and go out of my way to avoid being photographed because I always hate how I look in images. I think I’m hoping this project will help me get over that personal hurdle a bit. So I bit the bullet and dressed for the day one Saturday with the intention of kicking off this week-long project. Then, I took a look at my shots from day one and there we were, kicking off with an annoyingly unflattering image, given that I’m feeling pretty good about my my recent health and wellbeing progress of late. Anyway I present you a British day, blazing and gorgeous high summer, and myself, a column of gray and black.

Welcome to a week of outfits from me, your friendly neighborhood Emphatically-Not-A-Style Blogger.

The recent heatwaves have presented a challenge for many Londoners. Speaking for myself and based on the rigorous anecdotal research of my friends and coworkers, I can tell you that it turns out few of us have the wardrobe for this kind of heat. Most of the time, when you want this much sun and high temperatures for a sustained period, we leave the country for them! There is a reason Europe is effectively out to lunch for the month of August, this continent wasn’t built to deal with the heat and many of us flee for cities and countries with the infrastructure to cope or the topography to make the most of Vitamin D.

Dressing for work has been a chore. Almost everything I have that’s appropriate for the office feels too hot or too covered up for the thermostat, while the few summer items I own are almost strictly casual or weekend clothes. Juggling necklines and hemlines while also trying to not sweat through your clothes on an overpacked Tube on your commute is a puzzle. I’ve started taking a bus into central London just to avoid the worst of the crowding on hot days, with its accompanying irritation and smells.

I love cold weather clothing and it’s easily where I’ve invested the most money over the years. But this year I had to dip into my original goal of only purchasing 18 items (since exploded) to pick up some summer appropriate shirts and trousers…because I truly didn’t have enough hot weather options to put together presentable work outfits. I felt a bit silly but there it is.

Weekends I’m better equipped for, as I said.

I’m trying to wear dresses more often in general, so last Saturday I pulled out an old J. Crew jersey dress that I picked up years and years ago. It’s short enough to keep cool but has a crew neck which keeps me more comfortably covered and feels modern and sporty.

I own only two pairs of sunglasses, both of which I bought years ago and spent a bit more money on, on the theory that I’d take better care of nice ones than cheap crap. So far that’s proven a wise move and I’ve had these for nearly five years with nary an accident to report. In the summer I wear these aviators by Tory Burch and in the winter, I have a pair of Jackie O style frames from Ralph Lauren

Accessories are a hodgepodge. The trainers are from Muji, the necklace and bag are both vintage. I’m thinking of doing a whole post just on my collection of vintage and second hand pieces, and some recommendations for finding good deals and steals throughout London, let me know if that would be of any interest or just frivolous and boring.

The hair is straight up laziness personified. On hot weekends I often let my hair air dry rather than putting my head under an unwelcome blast of additional heat from a hair dryer, and the results are either charming and almost-French-girl looking…or scruffy. Today felt scruffy, alas. I slapped on some concealer, mascara and a bit of loose powder, all by Glossier, and a Bite lipstick and called it A Look.

Jeff and I spent the afternoon in Southwark. We wandered around Bermondsey Street and Borough Market before picking up groceries and heading home. And that’s Day One of Outfit week.

Lest any of you think I’m taking this or myself to seriously…

I still have no idea how to take a nice photo. Prepare for a week of ham and cheese, friends!

Forgive Me, Readers, for I Have Failed…BUT!

These are my confessions
Just when I thought I said all I could say
My chick on the side said she got one on the way
These are my confessions
Man, I’m throwed and I don’t know what to do
I guess I gotta give part two of my confessions
If I’m gonna tell it, then I gotta tell it all…
– Usher, Confessions II

So, Reader, here’s the bit where I confess that I have failed my shopping self challenge for the year.

Earlier this year I wrote about a goal of only buying 18 personal items throughout the year (with a few sensible caveats like socks, and that sort of thing). Well, I did really well at this for well over half the year but a grab bag of charity shop scarves and a vintage shopping binge have put me over my tally.

One of the culprits in question. It was 20 quid. It’s brilliant.

A few shameless attempts at reducing my guilt! I have only bought one item that is more than what I would have paid on the high street or a mid-range shop for its equivalent. A bunch of these items were a handful of pounds each, but did not fall into one of my protected categories and thus were tallied on my running spreadsheet regardless of cheapness–of course there’s a spreadsheet, don’t you know me at all?

But self-justification aside, I did have a bit of a moment of self-reflection. In fact, to speak truth, I had a nice little bout of emotional self-flagellation when I typed in my purchases and realized I had broke my goal, and decided to wallow in unproductive recrimination for the better part of an evening. Eventually more sensible feelings prevailed. I felt weak willed, but I also didn’t really regret any of the items I’ve spent money on this year. In fact, the sum total was less than 2% of our combined income as a family so maybe I had picked a silly goal to try and accomplish, or maybe my expectations weren’t reasonable? Or hell, maybe I am just weak willed and that’s the end of it.

I decided I could live with the minor guilt, especially if I set up a new self challenge instead. I’ve discovered in the past couple of years that game-ifying things helps me achieve goals and keeps me more accountable that sheer willpower alone. Working towards an established prize or even just being able to tick a box every day is a simple but effective thing for me. It’s a bit juvenile, but it works. X. and I keep one another accountable with our health and fitness goals because we are working towards a girl trip together if we meet them. Katarina I and keep up a regular chat chain of encouragement towards writing goals, whether about meeting a word count or just bouncing ideas off of one another. I have whole pages dedicated to lists and projects (of course I do) in my journal that I get the most ridiculous pleasure from in updating and refining. I’m so type A it’s silly. So, what could I do to reset my self-challenge in a really useful way?

We haven’t purchased anything for the house since these antique chairs, which I still think were a great purchase, for the record.

My one regret in shopping these past few months was that I didn’t feel like I had made any progress towards decorating our house which is still fairly basic in its furnishings. But finding the right trade off between an item that you like, that suits your space, and isn’t stupidly priced in London can be difficult and though we’ve liked the idea of different items over the past eight months, nothing compelled me to loosen our purse strings once.

Until the other day. I think I found it. A piece of furniture that matches our front room area, solves a storage need, has the right dimensions, looks gorgeous, is an upcycled vintage piece, and costs less than £350. Jeff and I discussed it and it seems to check all the boxes. I’ve messaged the seller to enquire about it and thus far the signs seem positive.

And so, kittens. I’m making a new bargain and documenting it here for you, the coterie, to hold me accountable. If this deal goes through, we are counting this piece of furniture as our mutual Christmas present to ourselves and the following Faustian pact will kick in:

  • I am locking up my wallet for the rest of the year. Nada, zilch. Not a single personal item shall I buy for the next five months. This will also count as my final spending freeze for my 101/1001 goal list.
  • I will finish paying off one of our credit cards in full, by the end of the year. Another partial 101/1001 goal!
  • I will prepare and pack lunches every day for the rest of the year, or lean on my cash allowance. Or starve, I guess…
  • I will extend my makeup no-buy challenge (which I have confessed to breaking) until June of 2019. Any replacement items I buy will be drugstore, without exception.
  • I will write about this project: regularly, fully, and honestly. No matter how embarrassing or confessional. Hell, I even promise to try and be funny about it!

So, there, that’s how I’ll leverage my weak will for your benefit, ducklings. Let me know what kinds of posts you’d like to see now through the end of the year as I try to earn myself some furniture and engage in some new financial asceticism. I think I may like to open the (vintage!) kimono and write a bit more specifically about the things I’ve collected over the years and why. I may finally do a “shop my closet” series and get around to doing those Out of the Day posts I’ve committed to in my 101/1001 but have felt too self conscious to do. Perhaps you’d be interested in a tour of my favorite shops and markets around London, or you yourself may want to engage in some competitive goal tracking. Do let me know in the comments, I’m interested!

 

 

 

What I’ve Bought: Summer Update

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.” 
― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

Kittens, I feel like it’s time to confess my purchases for the summer! For a recap and a bit of a sense of how I’m tracking items, here is my first update on this project. In the past couple of months I have been shopping, but I’ve also been continuing to edit out old or unused items in my house and closet. I’ve had a couple of, ah, shopping indiscretions but at the end of the day, I’m doing pretty well.

As you read this I should be in Prague (unless something annoying has happened with our travel plans), so expect future posts on that next week. In the meantime, here’s what’s cause me to put down my credit card in the last three months:

  1. A pair of shorts
  2. A summer weight shirt from Gap
  3. A pair of work trousers which were unanticipated but necessary when I discovered that my other lightweight trousers, ah, didn’t fit anymore. At all. This was a humbling purchase. I maximized the opportunity, though, by finding a pair from LK Bennett on ridiculous discount and are wide legged, so as to channel Katherine Hepburn
  4. A leopard print dress
  5. A pink cotton shirt, because I’ve decided I’m exploring my WASP heritage this summer (sartorially speaking)
  6. A linen shirt, because we don’t live in a nation with air conditioning!

Confession: I broke my makeup no buy challenge. I don’t want to dwell on it but let’s just summarize by saying there was a night out, G&Ts were involved, I happened to be in the vicinity of a NARS store just after their new highlighter formula launched….and well, we’re very happy together.

I also snagged a blush by & Other Stories…because Into The Gloss made me do it… Shut up. It was on sale.

Oops.