Where Do You Cut Back?


Most of us don’t really have a problem following the dictates of that age-old maxim, “ Treat yo self.” Because it's fun. And it's fun to talk about, like a convivial, inspiring bonding experience. Even if you are taking a bit of a risk (conversationally) of seeming a little overboard. Conversely, it’s maybe a little less glamorous to talk about where you cut back.

I'd like to think we've all been there (but I know better). The impulsively impecunious can understand what it means to check your account and wince. You can “budget.” which sounds like the most Dad-pastime ever and involves a lot of tracking, notation, and receipt-keeping. Or you can just vow to generally and fervently “cut back' that week—you pack Pop-Tarts for lunch, keep your eyes down passing certain shop windows, and block certain e-tailers on your browser. You try to make the process sound chic by calling it something insufferable but trendy, like “a juice cleanse for your wallet.” It’s true that, like a cleanse, cutting back makes most people edgy and jittery. It’s also true that after the cleanse is over, things tend to go right back the way they were.

That’s the problem with draconian, self-imposed austerity measures: they don’t last, and you feel miserable while they do and guilty when they end. What’s infinitely better, and something that’s actually, tangible life-improving, is finding out what you really, truly don t need identifying perfunctory purchases and just saying NO. No more. Most of the time you don’t notice the difference. And almost always you feel giddy with a feeling like you’ve discovered a consumer life-hack. It can be surprisingly liberating. Like reading Adbusters for the first time and having this vision of yourself living without logos, using up everything you have before buying more, wearing a thrifted, Tyler Durden-inspired wardrobe. Heaven.

Some people prefer to cut out personal, almost invisible purchases—things no one else will see but you. You get the generic panty-liners. The veggie Ragu instead of the Italian-import truffle-infused sauce. I’ve personally not had a headboard on my bed since high school, unless the wall counts. Switching to generic allergy drugs. That hand cream in your end-table drawer—is there anything that should be besides Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula?

But then sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes you only want to spend money on things just personally, intimately for you. Your coat can be shabby-chic consignment (and you know it’s actually really ugly), but you’ve got Chanel in your bathroom cabinet. No TV, but unlimited HBO Go. Little secret purchases while on the outside, you’re a quiet, thirsty soul.

So fess up. Where of you cut back? Be proud and declare your self-manicures. It’s never glamorous to admit the place you started economizing was at the museum’s pay-what-you-can day. Or that you’ve switched to toilet paper so deplorable that going to bathroom at a gas station is a treat. But it happens. What are some things you’ve learned you could live without?

—Trace Barnhill