When A Bargain Is Not A Bargain

Susan - New York, New York
Entered on March 4, 2009

Despite America’s affluence and the plethora of choices consumers enjoy, my clients ask during a shopping trip, why should I pay more when I can get something for much less? Not: What do I need? How does this shirt differ from the cheaper one? How will this item augment my life?

When did what we buy become generic commodities determined largely by the (lowest) PRICE? When did we move away from appreciating quality and distinctiveness: how, let’s say, a coat was designed, crafted, the particular fabric and detailing involved in its making improve its functionality and comfort; how beautiful the garment is in its totality?

We’re told we must spend to bail out the economy while we are chastised for having bought too much and way beyond our means. As a nation we’ve turned to buying cheap. In this global economy, when profit is driven by economies of scale, trillions of stock items are produced daily in third world sweat shops by people who will never enjoy the fruits of their work while manufacturers are forced to eke out low margins so they can sell to the big-box merchandisers who further compete to sell at rock-bottom prices. Trust me, having weeded out hundreds of closets, I know yesterday’s bargains quickly become today’s clutter.

A bargain is not a bargain when it’s a lose-lose situation for the consumer, the worker, the manufacturer, the economy, and the environment.

I believe shopping should not be merely entertainment to fill empty hours but an empowering experience in which cultural, aesthetic, economic, and even ethical considerations come into play. When I shop, on my own or with a client, I carry a list that targets styles, sizes, colors, fabrics, with a price range for each item. Hitting the bulls-eye is buying what you intended that’ll afford good value while staying within a realistic budget, and being mindful as well, of the multiple costs intrinsic to producing, transporting, and marketing the goods.

I believe there are always alternatives to sticker-price warfare. Use a “mixed portfolio” strategy, pairing higher-end, special pieces (that might give pleasure years ahead) with less expensive, everyday basics. Scout out local artisans at craft fairs, unusual boutiques, over the Internet who’ll get to know you and can create one-of-a-kind clothes that become your skin. Support independent, style-savvy shop owners (versus national chains) who will listen to your needs and might afford better values. With more time, explore re-sale stores, thrift shops, church rummages, and flea markets for vintage pieces that might be today’s bargains. A few of my clients have even begun to sew nifty clothes for their children and grandchildren.

I believe in buying quality over quantity each and every time. How packed your closets are has nothing to do with how well you dress, how attractive or successful you are, or how much money you have. Dubbed by Money magazine, “The Black-Belt Shopper”, I do pretty well at bargain-hunting, but I will pay top-dollar for something I love and will continue to treasure for a long time, and does honor to its maker and the merchant who offers it proudly.