What’s a lot to pay for shoes?
A reader once asked me this question when I was a personal finance columnist for Mademoiselle, the young women’s magazine where I was the money advice columnist over twenty years ago. At first, I thought it was a really stupid question. And so did the Merrill Lynch analyst I asked to respond. I can still hear her contempt as she repeated the question. But the question lodged in my head because, as time went on, it acquired gravity and existential heft.
I mean, really, what IS a lot to pay for shoes? When I was young and single and looking good was part of the calculus intended to improve one’s life, I spent a goodly proportion of my income on clothes. I am constitutionally frugal so I haunted sales like the legendary Barneys warehouse sale where people would literally line up around the block to get in. Or I’d make the long subway trek to the original Loehmann’s which was located in a cavernous airport hangar-like building in the Bronx. But spend I did because I didn’t have children, a mortgage, I thought I’d live forever and I instinctively knew one ineluctable truth–the better I dressed, the better both my career and romantic prospects.
Now, I am older. 53, to be exact. And I think about money differently. For one thing, I am no longer making as much of it as I once did. Even though I might have spent $350 dollars on a pair of Robert Clergerie shoes back in the day, I saved money and parked it in mutual funds where it grew and grew over the years. Sometimes, when I need a pick me up, I will log onto my Fidelity account and gaze at my 175% return in the Contrafund. It makes me feel good because money is freedom and security and those things are priceless.
But I will never spend more than $100 on shoes again. That’s what Money Hags is about. It’s figuring out how to approach money in a way that is freeing, not fear inducing. It means being clear about who you are and what you want. It means second guessing all your decisions when it come to money because money is not instinctual. Your “instinct” might tell you to go ahead and spend $500 on a pair of Christian Laboutin shoes you will wear three times in your life. We all know that thrilling hit of pleasure as you hand over your credit card to buy a beautiful object, but if you had invested that $500 in an index fund that tracked the S & P 500 ten years ago, you’d have $1500 today. That’s not chump change.
My examples smell elitist. I apologize for that. I worked at Vogue for twenty five years so when I think of excessive spending I think of those damned red heeled Laboutin shoes. But the math holds, whether you are rich or poor. Save what you can, invest early and ask yourself on a regular basis, what is a lot to pay for shoes?