The Best Version of a Practical Thing
There ought to be a word for the feeling of misguided-cheapness-inspired-despair that comes from buying your fourth paring knife in a year because each $3 knife from the dollar store breaks apart in some new, inventive way—or else is so dull you find yourself stabbing fruit like it’s wronged your family. Buy a really good, really expensive, really scary-looking knife—and before you’re able to have a moment of regret, slice something like a pumpkin or watermelon and, as our French friends say, Vive la différence! Ditto for high-quality house paint, ditto ditto for an exceptionally comfortable mattress. It’s just one of those life truths that a really good boring thing will leave you more time, money and energy for the important things. Like looking up imaginative ways to cut radishes with your new supersharp knife so that they look like flowers.
...and the Best Version of an Impractical Thing
Then again, grown-up life can't be all kitchen supplies and household necessities. Right? RIGHT? Right. Because there are also pace-quickening shoes out there, and dresses that make you feel ready for frolicking in a dewy field (or at least brunch somewhere with a lot of houseplants), and it is sometimes okay, nay, necessary, to go all out on these things too. Because there comes a time in every lady’s life when kicking off her pinchy high heels at a wedding inspires a reaction that is less "What lighthearted fun!” and more "Why are you limping? Are you okay?” One solution is to stop dancing promptly at 8:30 and camp out at your table, foraging for leftover cake. Another option is to splurge on a well-fitting, well-made pair of formal shoes. You know the shoes...the ones that are so well made that you can dance all night, even if the last time you wore heels was, well, the last time you went to a wedding. The ones that are so classic they go with anything and will look good in 20 years, when they will still—really! — be in great shape. See also: the slightly-extravagant-but-so-pretty-it-gives-you-happy-chills dress that just makes you feel happy when you wear it. Because these things aren’t worn every day, it might be hard to make yourself plunk down a lot of cash for them, but just think of the satisfaction you’ll feel the next time you’re invited to a second-cousin’s bar mitzvah and remember you actually have just the right thing waiting for you patiently in your closet.
A Piece of Paper with Fancy Gold Script
Here’s the thing about getting a college education: It may not guarantee a lucrative job upon graduating. That is true, especially for nondigital majors. But you will never regret the years spent learning, reading, discovering. When else in your life will you have such opportunity to give priority to the radical act of just thinking? When else will you be not just encouraged but required to ask questions, to read widely, to think hard? "The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks." You know who said that? Albert Einstein. So there.
Photo: Photo: Zach DeSart, designed by Celerie Kemble
The Painting That Really Ties the Room Together
It’s not just about decoration; it’s about an investment that actually brightens your soul. I know about that other kind of investment; I regularly get reports about my IRA’s various adventures that make my eyes cross. A work of art, however—a painting you fall in love with at an affordable-art fair or on an artist’s website
—pays you back. It will beautify your life, it will support an artist, and it may well increase in monetary value.
A Good Bicycle
I don’t mean to sound like a sporting goods salesperson here, but have you ever worn a really good pair of running shoes, after shuffling about in ratty sneakers made before the invention of arch support? Taken a bike ride on a really good bike, after years of tooling around on a rusty old ten-speed? There is a lot of new technology out there that actually makes certain sports easier and more fun. See also: skis, surfboards, pogo sticks, etc. And what could be a better use of your money than investing in something that makes exercising more comfortable and fun and therefore likely to happen more often?
And 3 Things You Will Regret Spending Money On...
The House That Owns You
House hunting is one of those all-consuming phases, like having a baby or being freshly in love or quitting sugar. It is as if you are living in a big house-hunting-colored bubble. Anything that is not house hunting seems pale and uninteresting; everything you see or hear seems to have something to do with house hunting. Your friend who owns the perfect house complains that her marriage is going sour and you think, "What? How could anything be wrong when you have that house?!” It’s a kind of mania. So when you finally find the perfect place, it’s easy to convince yourself that even though it’s $100,000 (only!) over your budget, it doesn’t matter. What else would you ever want to spend money on besides this shining castle, this building that will make all your dreams come true? Well, when the dust clears, you will be back in the real world, with the rest of your life that is not house hunting. It may be that you want to see another part of the world that is not this perfect house. It may be that now you can’t go anywhere except directly home to pay the mortgage. Spending money in a way that lets you think about money less, not more—that's the kind of gauzy perfect life we like.
The Marked-Down (but Not Down Enough) Impulse Buy
Perhaps you, you gentle lost soul, have come to that crossroads in the snowy woods of shopping, and you have chosen the steeply-marked-down impulse buy that was still actually pretty expensive. To save you from spending even more money on therapy, here are the 5 Stages of Recovering from the Marked-Down (but Not Down Enough) Impulse Buy:
Denial: It wasn’t an impulse buy—I’ve always wanted a hot pink patent leather purse, and that was actually a really good price.
Anger: Why did I think $250 was actually a really good price? They tricked me by telling me it was marked down 75 percent! Who pays that much for a purse?
Bargaining: Oh, I deserve it. It’s a fun purse. And think of all I saved. And I won’t get takeout for the rest of the month. Or year. Or ever. And I quit smoking 20 years ago, so think of all the money I’ve saved since then!
Depression: I hate this purse. I hate impulse buys. I hate stores. I hate capitalism.
Acceptance: It’s not returnable.
Marilyn Monroe’s Makeup Regimen
Before you plunk down a week’s pay on the load of makeup that the cosmetics salesperson at the department store has hypnotized you into believing you need, consider this question: Are you buying this for the actual you that actually exists? Or is it for a dream of yourself, a misty apparition, an imagined you? If you’ve watched a few too many Marilyn Monroe movies and feel a sudden unprecedented urge for bold red lipstick (and a creamy foundation, a gold-powder compact and whatever gives a person a sexy beauty mark), fine, but for the love of your wallet, go to the drugstore.
Next: 7 people to cut out of your financial life