Price Check, Please

September 29, 2011

I have expensive taste. My gift in life is that without looking at a price tag, I am able to point out the most expensive item in a store. How do I do this? I just go to the item that is calling my name. This would be great if, say, I were a contestant on The Price is Right or if I were Bill Gates sole heir. Unfortunately, I am neither.

To avoid the extreme heat we were having a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to take a family walk through a local, air conditioned, shopping center. As we were walking through stores, I would point out the items that caught my eye. Out of habit, I go to the items and check the price tag. I always do that, even if I have no intention of buying it. My curiosity of the cost is too strong to not check it. “Too bad we can’t afford it,” I said to my husband. He looked at me, perplexed and said, “We can afford that.” I shook my head, “No. If you have to look at the tag or ask how much it is, you can’t really afford it. You may be able to buy it, but there is a difference buying and affording.”

It got me thinking. Can you ever really afford the extras you want in life? Unless you have millions to squander, most people will check the price before a purchase. It is the only way to avoid sticker shock.

When I was in college, I had a bit of a spending problem. I would say I am a recovering shopaholic. I remember going into my favorite clothing stores and trying on all the clothes I liked and taking the items that fit me well to the register. Then as I would stand there and watch the register, a pit would form in my stomach. As each item dinged in, that pit grew stronger and heavier. By the time I had my total it would take everything inside of me not to vomit on the poor person behind the register. But, I would look at my new, wonderful treasures and that pit would disappear. At home, I would try them all again, amazed at how good I would feel in my most recent finds. My closet had never looked more beautiful. Everything would be picture perfect until later that month when I got my credit card bill and just like that, that pit was back, bigger and stronger than ever.

It was a deadly cycle. Month after month, my bills would go up. I would pay what I could off, which wasn’t much. When I put the bill away, the pit went away. Out of sight, out of mind. Then, the next day I’d find myself in front of a pair of shoes with my name all over them.

By the time I graduated, at 22, I had over $15,000 in credit card debt alone, not to mention student loans. The pit wasn’t going away. My cards were maxed out and I wasn’t making enough to keep up my spending habits. Unfortunately, the desire to shop didn’t go away. I did the only thing I could think to do. I quit, cold turkey. I boycotted shopping malls. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to resist the temptation.

Fortunately, I had a really nice guy who offered to “take care” of me. With not having to worry about rent, utilities, and food, 100% of my paychecks could go directly to my debt. It took me over three years, but every last penny was paid off, including student loans.

Now, at almost 29, when I’m out shopping I always check the tag. Even if I know I can buy it, I feel that pit return. I figure that is my conscious telling me I can’t afford it and I should walk away, quickly. I don’t know if I will ever think I can afford the items that catch my eye. Now, I am at least comfortable admitting that I probably don’t need them and have the strength to walk away.

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