Tracking Personal Spending: 2016 Report

Early each year, I analyze whether the clothing and accessories I bought the previous year returned good value.

Beginning in the Great Recession of 2008, I  recorded every penny I spent, which revealed that I was a fritterer, an impulse buyer, a stockpiler who had more clothing than a costume supply house.

Because I had more discretionary income then, I also paid less attention to cost. Recently, I overheard a conversation between two older women whom I passed on the street: "$120 for a t-shirt? What happened?" I realized that in addition to the well-known Princess Dollars (buy item on sale, subtract sale price from full price, then award yourself the difference to spend) women my age think in Gran Dollars: we not only remember when a soft, 100% cotton tee cost $35, we remember when it had set-in sleeves and was made in North America.

My desire for quality (which relates to value) means ever-escalating expense, and that therefore means I am buying less.


Tedious trews

Three pairs of work-appropriate trousers I bought late last winter were barely worn, nor will they be, because I was sacked in August, when the owner changed the qualifications for the part-time job.

My mood when I entered the women's chain store after work last February should have alerted me: tired, rushed, not wanting to dig out something for the next morning—a guarantee for lacklustre results. They fit, require no thought to wear, launder well, but were dispiriting.

Lesson: Work clothes need to spark joy, too. Though I like deep blue denim, the navy poly trousers were stiff and did not breathe. The grey wool made me feel like a security guard; the black were interchangeable with a dozen other pairs I've owned over the last twenty-five years. Donated.

Moth-magnet moccasins

L.L. Bean sheepskin slippers are moths. These are wonderful house shoes if you don't have pest issues, but I had to replace the sheepskin with washable plush. Since they cost nearly $100 given the currency exchange, not a good buy. Binned.

The (obvious) lesson: We cannot keep woollens out, at least for now. We laundered all knits, then froze them on the balcony (thanks to Montréal winters, a natural deep-freeze) and bought more snap-lid storage boxes. We found moths incubating in an old down duvet and an Ikea woolen Christmas ornament. (Making progress; no new moths in the traps or sighted for a month.)

Unthrifty find 

At the same thrift were I found an impeccable black velvet blazer, I bought a peach top with a taupe velvet trim, very pretty. But pale peach is not my colour, no matter that it was new. Given to a friend, out $7.

Lesson that experienced thrifters know by heart: it may be great, but if not perfect on you, pass it up.


Playful pearls

While walking through the Toronto Outdoor Art Show last summer, I saw these wild peacock-dyed 12mm Chinese freshwaters. The price was reasonable (about $200) and I liked the handmade silver clasp. (Note to pearl buyers: "Dyed" is the forthright, accurate term; many vendors use "finished with a special process", "enhanced" or "organically-treated". Those words mean dyed.)

These are as obviously dyed as a pink poodle, and should be worn in the same frivolous spirit. They pick up neutrals when it is dark by 4:30 p.m.

Lesson: I have the minimalist thing more or less in hand except for pearls.

Grrrl power

Then, there's that new-to-me leopard-print velours coat. Do you sense a theme here? Someone needed a pick-me-up. So much spotty style for $70!

Lesson: I hardly ever buy "fun" clothes but when I do, secondhand is the way to go.

Puffer: Northern necessity

Here's the other solid star, actually a replacement item: a knee-length khaki down-filled puffer, road-tested against -25C windchill. And washable! (Worn with an eight-year-old Eric Bompard milles pattes scarf, a discontinued style, in cumin, a bronzy green.)

 Lesson: We have minus zero temps for months here, no excuse needed!

Another good buy from 2016: a long black skirt from Muriel Dombret, bought during end of summer sale so not worn much, but it will return good value and pleasure in 2017.

2016 Grade: B

Even though 2016 was a record low for purchases, what I bought was not wholly well-chosen. Back in 2009, I got a D and vowed, among other reforms, to buy fewer and finer.  The fewer has been easy, but the finer harder than I thought—those damn Gran Dollars—though by now overpriced clothes seem absurd, rather than covetable.

I wish I'd bought one pair of less-generic trousers, even if they cost more. And—I did not need three. (If Christine is reading, she will laugh, remembering my shock over the price of her  teal velvet Italian pair, but she knew. The cost equalled that of my three, but hers was the smarter buy.)

Mrs B. at her 90th birthday party last winter
I'll keep tracking and assessing so that I might reach ninety (a goal in itself) like Joan Burstein, in her beautiful yet comfortable party dress.

The words of 1940s designer Vera Maxwell continue to guide me: "Clothes should be beautiful, adaptable, and sound."

And where were those words when I bought the trousers? Maybe I need them stamped on my wallet!


I have a pretty good idea of what I spent last year and I'd say that I am satisfied with about 85% of what I bought. There were a few impulse buys on sale items that a) I didn't really need and b) didn't fit perfectly. I also bought a few prints for the summer (trying to break out a bit) and although they look nice on and I received compliments on them I am really NOT a print person - never feel quite right in them. I will wear them again this summer as I need to conserve funds this year but will probably donate them after that. Lesson learned!
I am tracking this year's spending on clothes and household items - so far I have spent $24 at IKEA for a few bits and pieces and nothing on clothing.
materfamilias said…
I admire the discipline of your accounting, although I'm not quite ready to do that for myself....
And I LOVE that photo of you in your leopard coat -- the sophisticated print-mixing with your scarf doubles down on the style, and with your grey curls?! Five stars, truly. A fabulous look.
Beth said…
Great post -- both the rueful "should-have-known-betters" and the smugly smile-inducing winners of coats and pearls. I think of a pair of fine wool trousers that have been in my closet, unworn, for two years because they need to be hemmed and the wide pleated waist with sash doesn't go with any of my tops - so that's another point, it's OK to buy things that need alterations, but do it right away. On the other hand - those new scarves and hand-me-down cashmere sweaters have been in heavy rotation from the day they arrived! (Thanks, too, for the tip about freezing woolens on the terrace...)
Duchesse said…
Margie: I know what you mean about prints; I get tired of them way before solids even if they are pleasing. Ikea! I always go with one or two items on my list and then fall for a bunch of other things.

materfamlias: It may sound detailed but it's a matter of jotting the purchases in a dedicated notebook (no complicated spreadsheets) and I no longer track incidentals like a coffee. Has been key factor in controlling overbuying, and keeping this small condo low-clutter.

Beth: Think I have finally (almost hate to jinx it by writing) vanquished the moths. Le Duc just binned two pairs of quality wool trousers and has joined me in the fight. He's the one freezing the sweaters after he found a storage box had been hit. (You put them in with eggs on them, they have a banquet in the box.)
I keep track of all my clothing expenditures and have done so since I retired...I even record thrifted items.
I did not know that you were let go from your job...are you looking for another one?
Duchesse said…
hostess: Not looking, nor was I for that one; the owner recruited me. I recommend the firm to anyone wishing to buy gems and am happy to have had the experience. But also, it was intense work and I'm enjoying being re-retired.
The way things are going with our new "President" (not even a full week in!) i think we all need a pick me up. Love the pearls. Love that you take stock. Very wise and I love to hear the good and the bad. There is definitely something to "buy the delightful, it will become your favorite" as opposed to "buy the serviceable, it will do". Ugh. Who just wants "do"?
Duchesse said…
Nelson Bartley: I still remember the Suze Orman segment I saw on Oprah where she suggested that women do write down all spending for (as I recall) 6 months. I thought, I wonder if I would learn anything. It was truly revealing, and changed the way I spend.

Sharon said…
Wonderful post. I'll try to learn from you!
Jane said…
My two cents, buy what fits. Your physical measurements, of course, but most importantly what fits your personal style. I make a mistake when I buy something because a magazine or blog says I should buy "x". If it sparks joy you will wear it to death.

On a personal note, my son is a U3 political science major at McGill. From the moment
that kid, 1,00 miles from his home in the States, stepped on the 747 bus the accepting, diverse, artsy, and nice people of Montreal became family. Thank you.
Hummingbird5 said…
I so love your peacock pearls. They're casual enough even for *my* life. I think I'm on a hunt for these now.
Duchesse said…
Sharon: I think every woman reflects on whether what she buys works out. I am data-oriented woman and knew I was making mistakes and had no one else to blame, so- this exercise. You might go to this extent or not, or even further... someone I know counts the times she wears something and if not sufficient she sends it to a same size friend.

Jane: Oh, wonderful to hear, and if you ever need a hand from someone here, feel free to email me.

Hummingbird5: I found some similar strands on Etsy, search " peacock pearls" or "Tahitian type". You could also contact Sarah Canizzaro at Kojima Pearl Company! She has way more pearls than she posts on her site.
LauraH said…
As a fellow record keeper, I love the nerdiness if your annual assessment😀 So interesting to see how you did this year, we all make mistakes and it's such a good lesson in looking at purchases with a cool eye and a view to improving. Love both your coats...that leopard is wonderful on you and the puffer looks quite stylish. Any info you can share on that one?
Duchesse said…
LauraH: The brand is Ellabee, I bought it at 100,000 Jeans.

I am delighted to receive the term "nerdiness".

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