By Josie Lo, Contributor
Money as a social barrier
Growing up, I was usually aware of family’s financial struggles. Though I appreciated living simply, I often felt that money was a barrier that isolated me from friends and classmates.
In middle school, I worried about if I had enough outfits to rotate through. Some classmates would consider it a crime to wear the same top too often. I had nice things, but I was painfully aware of how different shopping trips were for my friends. I envied the kids who had Hollister clothes, a cell phone with a data plan, or a Vera Bradley backpack. I couldn’t participate in Nintendo D.S. group chats, couldn’t catch cable TV references, couldn’t join the class trip to Europe or take horse riding lessons with my friends. I remember spending my afternoons making wishlists on the internet, strategizing what I would pick when Christmas or a birthday came around. I felt that if I looked the part, I wouldn’t feel like an outsider. This was how I lived for years, trying to buy the confidence I didn’t have.
During high school, I worked long hours at a lousy hotel restaurant, just to spend a week’s earnings on an American Eagle hoodie or a MAC foundation to hide behind.
I always knew what I wanted to buy with my next paycheck. I had a never-ending wishlist. As a 15-year-old, earning $7.25 per hour, I started to realize how much work I was doing and how little I could afford in the adult world.
Around age 15, life events just became a new goal on the calendar to diet towards. Rather than buying my confidence at retail stores, I became convinced that happiness would come once I achieved the perfect body. Now, every paycheck was going towards cosmetic procedures and diet pills. I secretly saved to get my eyebrows micro-bladed and filler in my cheeks. The wishlist of products became a wishlist of procedures. Undoubtedly fueled by unrealistic social media standards, I spent all my time, energy, and money becoming skinny and pretty. I was miserable and isolated, lost in my pursuits of being a perfectionist.
Shifting my value of worth through healing and mindfulness
By the time I finished my freshman year of college, I had done a lot of healing, and pulling myself out of an eating disorder gave me new confidence. I lived more in the present rather than always being consumed by how I needed to improve my outward appearance. I started to become self-aware that I was compulsively shopping when a trip to Target felt like a “pick-me-up”. I would always leave the store with more than what was on my shopping list. Maybe cheap trendy jewelry, a fast-fashion piece, or a new beauty product to add to an overflowing bathroom cabinet.
Throughout college, I worked to gain confidence from within and make friends. My obsession with beauty and style did give me the confidence I needed to put myself out there. Once I started making meaningful connections, I realized that my genuine friends weren’t concerned about looking like an influencer and that my friendship was what they valued. Around the same time, my artistic sister inspired me to start buying secondhand. By thrifting my clothes, I elevated my style beyond just trying to fit in. I was saving money, feeling like a more responsible consumer, and making friends doing it. Sure, I went through phases of overbuying at Goodwill. Still, I distanced myself from the fast-fashion industry and the associated remorse when your FashionNova jeans don’t look like they did online. It is a great feeling to find a hidden gem among old housewares or get a compliment on a thrifted item! I highly recommend spending a few months buying secondhand (or shop your own home!) for as many of your needs as possible. One of my favorite recent purchases was an “almost new” Ninja blender that I bought for half the retail price! So satisfying!
Post-college, I’ve continued to evolve as a more careful consumer. I now see a store more like a museum that tells a story about the current consumer market. I still enjoy a stroll around Target or a vintage shop, but now I can shop without the ensuing buyer’s remorse.
I appreciate getting ready with a few makeup products that I love, rather than a whole collection of each product type. I feel more relaxed living in a space where I use everything I have without feeling burdened by too many impulse purchases. I’m grateful that I have friends who understand and respect my financial boundaries. Friends who are down for a chill night at home with a cheap bottle of wine, on days when I shouldn’t spend on an evening of Ubers, cocktails, and drunk food.
It can be hard to set financial and emotional boundaries, especially when you’re exposed to Youtubers with a new haul video every week, influencers who aren’t pictured in the same bikini twice, and an inbox full of sales that expire in 24 hours. However, I’m learning to set aside present bias, the culture of immediacy, and impulse buying, so I don’t have to feel as anxious when monthly bills come around. By shifting my attention away from consuming, I can focus on my health and relationships. I’m looking forward to saving money for retirement, trips (post-COVID), and memories that will last much longer than my next purchase.