Last week, I bought a Chanel bag. For me, it was a pretty exciting moment. At the end of every year, I typically buy myself something nice as a year-end bonus. Two years ago, it was a tennis bracelet and it is one of my most treasured things. Last year, I didn’t really want anything, so I didn’t force the issue. And this year, I knew I wanted to do something special to celebrate my tenth year of the blog.
As excited as I was, I didn’t want it to seem like a brag or rash financial choice and felt like more had to be said about the handbag in general. (Sometimes I feel like I have to explain choices I make because I’m often damned if I do and damned if I don’t.)
I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to buy to mark the 10 years for a while. I had boiled it down to three ideas: a nice watch, a Chanel bag, or another piece of jewelry. In December, I tried on a few watches that I liked a lot and a few pieces of jewelry. But I ultimately decided against a watch, at least at this point in my life, because I am fine with the ones I have now. And I didn’t find anything jewelry-wise that I absolutely “had to have.” I almost tabled the whole thing, but in the back of my mind, I kept going back to the Chanel bag. Especially since it’s a little less practical and not something that I would normally just go out and purchase for myself. It would, without a doubt, be a luxurious purchase for me in every sense of the word.
(I do have two designer bags– one is a monogrammed Louis Vuitton speedy and the other is a monogrammed Goyard weekender. Both were gifts and both were something I would never buy myself. The speedy I love, the weekender I could do without, but I’m kind of stuck with both since they’re monogrammed.)
When I was in the city with a friend last weekend, I popped into the Chanel store just to see if they had the bag I wanted. Each store has a different inventory and, at least in the city, sometimes you end up on a wild goose chase to track something specific down. (Personally, I have not done that, haha but I have been with friends through multiple stores and department stores to look for something.) When I told the salesperson what I was looking for, she lit up and said, “It’s the most beautiful navy!” I took one look, knew it was “the one,” and walked out with a new bag. It’s a medium double flap in navy caviar leather with champagne hardware, if you want the very specifics.
I did have serious jitters walking out of the store thinking, “Did I really just do that?” and understand how people can get addicted to the adrenalin rush. My friend who was with me came over to my apartment afterward, and we put together a few outfits to see how the bag looked dressed up and dressed down. With every outfit I put on, I loved how the bag looked, so I knew I made the right choice. It’s one thing to spot something online and it’s another to be in possession of it to see if it’s really what you want.
I wanted to share my experience because, well, I share a lot of my life on here and I wanted to celebrate “with you,” so to speak. However, the more I thought of it, the more I realized I had to say about it…. beyond just the specifics of the bag.
First and foremost, of all the things that went on that weekend, buying a Chanel bag really wasn’t the best moment. I felt like this had to be said because there’s so much more to life than material things. That weekend was spent eating pizza with friends, laughing hysterically over games of Catan, playing with babies, planning for the future, and celebrating an anniversary. Buying the bag was obviously great, but I couldn’t say it was the best part of my weekend by a long shot. I know it’s a common cliche at this point, but watching friends (or strangers) on Instagram, it’s easy to forget that it’s someone’s highlight reel. And you may be tempted to think, if you could go on a great vacation like that person, or have that person’s beautiful hair, or look like that person, or have that person’s wardrobe, your life may be different. It’s simply not what life is about. I can’t emphasize this enough.
I was also brought up in a pretty frugal household. We never ordered sodas or appetizers or dessert when we went out to dinner. My parents purchased used cars, paid in cash and paid off the mortgage to the house. We had nice clothes, but it was always well within reason. I’m actually pretty grateful for the conversations we had around money. My parents definitely instilled important ideas about debt and living within your means.
With that said… I think it was 85% healthy and 15% unhealthy conversations around money. As with a lot of things in life, sometimes the negative stands out more. I know that, even though there was certainly enough money, there was a lot of stress about money. I don’t want to go into details, but there are things and attitudes ingrained in my brain that I have to fight against, because it’s unhealthy. I’ve had to work with counselors to undo some of that ingrained financial anxiety that I “inherited” from my parents in that way.
Given the alternative (i.e. having no financial literacy), I’d prefer it this way, but it still has some downsides.
One of those things is that there is a very, VERY strong pull inside of me to never spend money out of fear of the future. Obviously, saving money is really important and because of my what my parents instilled in me, I have put myself in a very sound financial state.
But if I let my nature take over, I’d be an emotional wreck counting my pennies over every single little decision and living an unnecessarily unhappy life. I kind of distilled a lot of thoughts and emotional baggage down into that sentence, but the bottom line is that there is a BALANCE and moderation should be exercised when it comes to your personal finances.
Which brings me to another important point. Personal finances are personal finances. In a way, I think one of the reasons why talking about money is so taboo is because they’re personal. And with things being personal, there are TONS OF DIFFERENCES from person to person. And with differences comes a range of emotions, from judgment to jealousy. When talking about money, I think it’s important to note and acknowledge that every single person is going to have a different experience with finances, some of which are choices and some of which are not. It doesn’t make one person right or another person wrong and it doesn’t make it fair. It just is what it is. (This is also why it’s important to focus on yourself and not play the comparison game.)
I understand just how lucky I was to be born into the family I was born into. My parents graciously paid for college, so I graduated debt-free. I am healthy, and therefore, don’t have additional financial concerns about life-saving medicine, treatment, or intervention and could break out on my own because I didn’t need to have an expensive insurance plan covered by an employer. I could go on and on. Even just being able to work and to be financially independent is a gift.
Personal finances are also personal in that people put different values on different things. I, for example, do put value on how much money I earn (for better or for worse) and that has directed my choice of career. I also value making sure I am saving money for the future and that has directed my choice of purchases. That’s not to say that I’m wrong for believing what I believe or wanting what I want, it’s just who I am.
When you take every little thing into factor, you can see how different everyone’s personal finances become. I’m trying to say this because I think people are so quick to judge what someone else does for a living or what people choose to spend their money on…. but it’s really up to them.
“Good for you, not for me.” Is something I try to remind myself if I catch myself judging someone else’s financial choices.
I’ve always been an aggressive saver of money. I babysat a LOT between middle and high school and carefully kept track of the money I earned in a homemade ledger. (I was verrrrry particular, to the point that if my mom borrowed cash for something, I’d make her write down the amount in the ledger.) I loved watching “the bottom line” grow every week of babysitting and it made me realize the value of money early on. The two “big” things I purchased before college: I helped pay for a trip with my eighth-grade class to Italy. And I bought myself a Coach handbag in high school. Otherwise, I took the rest of the money with me to college, most of which I had upon graduating because I was extremely frugal in school. (For example, going to Subway for a sandwich for lunch was a HUGE treat and I’d get the $5 foot long and only eat half at a time so it was two meals.)
When I graduated, I got a job and negotiated for a pretty aggressive starting salary. I was also blogging “on the side.” Without realizing it, this is where I started to make borderline unhealthy decisions when it came to money. I lived by myself, but my rent was actually not that bad (for NYC at least) because I lived in a modest building on the Upper East Side, where rentals are less expensive. But I was so afraid to take any sort of financial risk that I stayed at in an extremely unhealthy work environment (I feel like my coworkers and I could write a tell-all book, but that’s another story for another day) and stressed over every financial decision– big or small. I can tell you, in detail, the things I bought while I was working to this day because of how much they mentally weighed on me. (One time I bought a Sudoku book at Barnes and Noble and I carried the guilt of wasting the cost of two lunches on it.) I would NEVER take a cab. I got the same lunch (which, frankly wasn’t enough food) and made a carton of eggs + loaf of bread last. Did I have to live that way? No. I was living in complete and utter fear of my finances.
As a result, I ended up saving what was almost my entire salary by the time I quit. That financial freedom allowed me to quit my job more comfortably, but it certainly wasn’t required.
Once I quit my job and started earning more income through my blog than I ever had before, I realized that I had to change my relationship with money. Especially since I was entering a career with a whole lot less certainty than a guaranteed paycheck, if gone unchecked, I know I could have become a very miserable person completely driven by my fear of spending.
Again, I’ve worked on myself by myself and it’s also something that I’ve worked on with counselors. Recognizing an unhealthy relationship with money (no matter if you’re spending too much or too little), is really the first step in fixing it.
What I realized/am realizing (it’s something I’m always working on), is that I can have it both ways. I can “treat” myself in moderation and be financially stable in the process. Once I reframed how I thought about money, I realized that this could actually be a good thing if managed well. Yes, it’s in my nature to save, which is good. But also yes, it’s okay to spend a little bit of my money here and there in a way that makes sense for my values or the value of my time.
Without getting into numbers, I have a weird set up in how I’m paid. My company (which is technically a corporation and not “me”) pays me a salary every month (W2) and at the end of the year, I get paid the company’s profit for the year as a K1. So throughout the year, my personal checking account goes down and my business checking account goes up. On January 1, I know exactly how much money I have personally for the entire year (upcoming salary + the previous year’s K1). Because I’m a psycho, I make it a little bit of a game. I keep what I think I’ll need spending wise for the year in my checking account (the salary that I get essentially covers my portion of the rent so it nets out) and the rest goes into a totally separate savings account. My checking account is my budget for the year. It’s not aggressive, but I’d consider it fair. I know generally then what I have to spend each month, but because I work for myself and have a flexible schedule, I know my months’ spending fluctuates so I focus on yearly budgets instead of monthly. Also, some of my expenses are also business, not personal. Even though both are “me,” I keep things really separate so I don’t get confused and god forbid if I was ever audited (my second worst fear after being arrested), everything would be totally square.
It’s really a stupid game, but by October, I have a pretty good sense of how much money I’ll have “leftover” in my yearly budget. That is historically what I use to make my “bonus” gift for the year.
I treat my savings account as invisible money. It’s there and it grows, but it’s not money that I “have.” It’s where I’ve been saving money for big life purchases (previously a downpayment and then, once I hit a number I was comfortable with, a wedding).
Right now, I’m 29. I’m in a different financial position now than I was when I was 24. I’ve saved a good bit of money on my own and I’ll only continue to do so. But even though I don’t have a house yet or a wedding (lol, I know some people are going to lose their minds over this but whatever, it’s what I’m saving for), I know the money is there when I’m ready to cross those bridges. That gives me a HUGE sense of financial freedom right now and I think that’s ultimately why I felt totally comfortable purchasing a Chanel bag.
Will I be going and buying designer bags every month? NO. I think part of what makes my Chanel bag so special to me and such a great way to celebrate a giant milestone is that is is not something I would just go out and buy on any given day! It’s still well within my values: I went with a color that was very me and slightly more unique than the ubiquitous black, BUT, it’s a classic shape that has been in style for years and years. It’s not an “it bag” that will only be trendy for six months and then sent to a consignment store. I love that it’s something that I’ll be able to carry for the rest of my life and even passed down.