The Great No Shopping Experiment: The Unexpected Costs of Living

Love for money

Cost of living: the cost of maintaining a certain standard of living. It’s simple, right? In order to live you have to pay. “Standard of living” is where things get… murky. We have rent, insurance, cell phone bills, electric bills, taxes, car payments – and the list goes on. Beyond those basics is where the word “standard” comes into play. Some people pay $30 a week to get a mani/pedi, others will accept a higher car payment in order to commute in the lap of luxury. I think we’ve established that clothes were my vice, but I want to look beyond that this week. What do I spend that adds to my “standard”?

The inspiration this week came from my trip to see the eye doctor. I’ve been in glasses since I was fifteen months old. That’s right – fifteen months. I wake up every morning and my world is blurry and distorted until I slip on my glasses or put in my contact lenses. I have never had a complex about my glasses, not even when I was getting called four-eyes (which was back in 1997/8, far too late for that still to be an insult). I made peace with my glasses as a toddler because I could finally see. Without them, or my contacts, I would be close to blind. My attitude as a kid was, “Go ahead and mock because I’m not taking these babies off”. As a kid, I didn’t understand that sight comes with a cost and the cost to my sight is high. When I got a big-girl job and started earning for myself my mother cut the eyeglass strap and declared that it was time for me to pay for all ocular-related items. Little did I know, $99 glasses sales are a total lie because my lenses can cost up $125 each, before the cost of the frames.

The first time I paid for my own contacts I was shocked at the price – $250 for a year’s supply – but I could understand it after breaking down just how bad my eyes are. I am far sighted, which is rarer than near sighted; I have an astigmatism in both eyes which means I need I need specialized, weighted contacts in each eye; and I have a different strength prescription in each eye, which means I can’t get a simple flat rate on boxes. I can’t exactly call the cost of my lenses (either contacts or glasses) “unexpected” because it happens every year. I accept this cost because I cannot see otherwise.

The arrival of a fresh year-supply of contacts got me thinking about all the other costs I have when it comes to my body. I have written at length about my skincare routine, as well as my search for a good shaving cream, and I accept those costs not because of “society” dictates that I look a certain way, but because good grooming makes me feel good. The same way a cute dress makes me feel good. The same way a pair of shoes that fit and look good make me feel good. I accept the cost of more expensive makeup and organic bath products because it’s better for my skin. I probably spend more on my skin than on my clothes every year, but I don’t ever plan on letting that number change because it directly affects my health and hygiene.

There are ways to save when it comes to health and hygiene, however. Buying bath products and toothpaste from Costco is a smart move because it will last a hell of a lot longer and cost a hell of a lot less than buying from a pharmacy every time. You can also get the name-brand products you’re looking for if you go at the right time. (Aside: Costco also carries designer perfume in large bottles, so if you’re looking for a big bottle of Daisy go there. I am always looking for a big bottle of Daisy. End aside) Another tip is to time how long a bottle of one product lasts. I use a retinol cream from Philosophy that takes an average of four months to go through. I know that every four months or so I will need to restock, so I plan accordingly the same way that I plan to replenish my contacts every October.

Clothing sales and new lines are less easy to predict and plan for. Yes we know that every August fall clothing lines will come out, and every December we have to plan for a holiday party or two, but the entire year is not like this. What about that weekend in April when you were bored and hit up Nordstrom just for fun? What about when the zipper on your favorite boots breaks and you need to replace them? Or when you’re knee deep in snow and suddenly duck boots are a requirement? The same rule I use for facial cream applies: Take stock of what you have and how long you think it will last. I live in New England where sweaters are Queen from October to April, so in September I have to do an inventory on what I have and how long (I think) it will last. This year I am forcing myself to get by (trust me it isn’t a hardship) and I can use the data I collect to plan for next year.

Where you live dictates your cost of living in so many ways. From your rent price, to transportation, to how much you need to layer according to weather. The lesson I’ve learned from The Great No Shopping Experiment is that there are necessary costs that look surplus on the surface, and there are costs that look like a necessity that I can live without  – at least until I’m knee deep in snow.