Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Keeping Up Appearances

When I was about twelve, I needed a Caboodle. I mean, NEEDED. My life - not to mention my popularity and the ability to even show my face at school - was in jeopardy. My mom refused to buy me one since I had a whole drawer to myself in the bathroom, so I saved up my money and spent about $20 on a purple and pink Caboodle with a sea-green C clasp. Like the pastel tacklebox it really was, when it opened a tray lifted out of it so that I could see all my Love My Lips makeup products in one easy glance. I could show up for sleepovers without shame. I even took it on camping and backpacking trips.

Looking back on it now, I'd rather have the twenty bucks. I currently use an old mesh bag to store my makeup in - I'm not sure where I got it, but I've had it for years and years. It might have come from a thrift store or it might have been a hand-me-down. I don't remember purchasing it, but if I did buy it new, I'd bet I didn't spend more than $5 on it. I also have a few other cosmetics bags which hold other things, like extra q-tips or sample-sized shampoos, and all of those are of similarly obscure heritage - received with samples from Target's annual beauty giveaway, picked up from free piles in dorms.

All of these bags work just fine - they hold my cosmetics and keep my medicine cabinet clean. They are easy to toss in a bag for traveling. I don't remember the last time another person saw them, and I certainly don't care what anyone else would think of them.

Similarly, I've noticed that a coworker brings his lunch to work in a bag that has his son's name written on it. I would have been horrified to carry my lunch to school in a bag that had someone else's name on it. I'm not sure which would be worse - a parent's name or a sibling's name. Either would have been the kiss of death! I went through a phase of "needing" a certain type of lunch bag, and when I didn't get it, I refused to use anything reusable, insisting on paper bags (so wasteful!). (I was a vegetarian, and my school didn't offer vegetarian lunch options, hence packed lunches.)

Nowadays, I toss my lunch in a bag leftover from a book conference, or in my purse, or just carry it in my hands between the house and the car, and the car and the office. It never occurs to me to think about what other people - or Teenage Me - would think about my food-transport methods. I don't even really care if people notice that I bring lunch instead of buying lunch every day - it's my business.

Were these matters simple quirks of being a teenager or am I still keeping up appearances in other ways - to the detriment of my finances?

I have an iPhone. We replaced our glasses with a matching set when we got married. I washed my car the other day because it was filthy - but more out of not wanting to be judged than worrying about the paint. I rejected any houses I found ugly. Let's not even get into money spent on clothing and physical appearance.

I'd argue that pretty much all money spent aside from bare necessities and certainly over-and-above the bare necessities is at least partially spent in order to keep up an appearance of some type. The problem comes when money is being spent solely to keep up appearances - replacing a perfectly good television for a bigger, sleeker one to impress guests that come over twice a year. Spending more for an iconic design covering the outside of a handbag. Financing a new car to replace one that has many years of life left in it. It's all about identifying the hidden motivations behind a purchase, and making intentional choices.

Are there areas in which you spend to keep up appearances? Are they necessary expenditures? How could you reduce them?


  1. There are ways I spend to keep up with appearances, but I feel that they mostly fall into a grey area. I eventually bought an iPhone because some of my friends had one, but I found it to be incredibly functional and a benefit to my work. I didn't go for ugly houses because I want to live in a house that's aesthetically pleasing to me -- if I find the house ugly, I'm not going to enjoy living in it as much. I update my wardrobe from time to time, even if I have plenty of clothes because I love the confidence and enjoyment new clothes bring. There's certainly a keep-up-with-appearances element to all of those decisions, but there were also personal benefits.

    Probably the only time I spend money that is completely to keep up with appearances is when I'm out with friends and they want to do something/eat somewhere that I'm doesn't interest me. Sometimes I'll go along, just so I don't get left out.

  2. Boy, I remember caboodles! what a memory trip.

    I'm not at ALL into keeping up appearances, for better or worse. For me, practicality trumps any other consideration. For example, I bought at least 3 different makeup/shampoo-storage travel bags over the years, but what do I use? A big clear zip-lock bag, with the smaller one for the TSA inside it. Who cares if people see my deodorant? Not I!

    I used to be down on the iphone but the more I agonize over the far-too-many non-Apple choices, the more I think that may be the simplified way to go.

  3. Yes, a lot of gray area here... because the Caboodle did buy you happiness at the time. I know a family of four kids (now all grown up) where, years ago, the parents offered to give the kids $25 to spend or $50 if they saved it. Three of the kids saved the money. One daughter bought a doll house with it. Her daughter now plays with the same doll house. The others haven't necessarily gotten as much pleasure out of the $200 or so that $50 would now have become.

  4. I must say I never buy things to keep up appearances. I definitely did this when I was younger. I can't imagine too many teenage girls that didn't, but now that I've gotten older I've learned to value what I think and care about and not worry what others think.

  5. These days I don't. I usually only buy things for me no matter what. I do think about the appearance it would show off to others but that never affects my choice. I do have a couple fancy gadgets and what's not and I know these portray a certain image but then on the other hand, I take to work the same lunch almost every day. People joke at it and stuff but in the end it doesn't matter. It saves me money and that's all that is important to me.

  6. Like you, I was BIG on keeping up appearances as a teenager. Now, not so much. I strive to have a pretty home because I spend so much time at home that I want my surroundings to be nice-looking, and that's really the area where I probably succumb to keeping up appearances at times. Do I love brass doorknobs? Not particularly, but I also never saw a problem with them until I read a few too many home decor blogs referring to them as "dated." (We still have brass doorknobs in most of the house because my husband would think I was nuts if I suggested spending the money to replace them all right now).

    But in general, I don't care what people think. My husband and I drive very basic cars. I carry a plain black diaper bag that the hospital gave us when our daughter was born 2 1/2 years ago (with a little pin covering the formula label!)

    I also totally lusted after a Caboodle.

  7. I used to want to look better than I could afford when I was younger, but fortunately we did not have much access to credit those days. Now, I don't go out of my way to impress anyone. I guess I am just older and wiser....

  8. When I was a teen and preteen, I worried about all that stuff. Not really as an adult. Although I must say that some of my interests lean toward the 'hipster' end of things (boutique record stores, etc.) and I have found myself embarrassed if BF and I stop by and I'm wearing say, a sweatshirt and jeans instead of some of my 'cooler' outfits. I guess that's a holdover from my teenage years!

  9. Definitely! But for each year I grow into caring less and less for all that stuff. People can think whatever of me when they see I bring my own lunch instead of buying a fancy overpriced organic sandwich - I don't care anymore :-)

  10. I can't think of anything in particular that I do solely to keep up appearances. Maybe waxing my eyebrows. Guh. They really don't get out of control enough to warrant it, but they look so much better when they're waxed than plucked by me.

    But this post reminded me of my new coworker. He started in August, and he brought his lunch in a plastic shopping bag every day. No big deal. His sister ended up guilting him into buying a leather shoulder bag for his lunch! I couldn't believe it! He came in and told us all about how he spent this money on this nice bag because his sister scolded him that she "just couldn't imagine what all your new coworkers think of you carrying your lunch in a crummy plastic bag!" Seriously? I couldn't care less!


Thanks for commenting!