Confessions of a Not-Yet-Reformed “Consumer Sucka”

  • DH = Dear husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter

Do you like those jeans featured in the photo up there? I hope so! “You’re not going to blog about it, are you?” DH asked me last night. I told him I was planning to. “All of your frugal people are going to shun you,” he said.

So I’m going to ask you in advance please not to shun me. I avoid sugar-coating the realities of facing my long entrenched bad money habits. DH and I have had great success in our journey out of debt, but we aren’t always exemplary – and that goes double for me. The good, the bad, and the ugly – I share it all.

Today, it’s ugly.

March Break

As a teacher and a mom, I’ve always loved the March Break. When our daughters were young, it was the week when I’d take them to the maple sugar bush, to play dates with their cousins, and to the museums in town. Now our two eldest are living away from home – one working and one in university – and our youngest is in her second-last year of high school. So my March-Breaks-with-offspring years are numbered, and more than ever, I want to make the most of them.

Plans for a mother-daughter day at the mall

I have never shopped less than I have in the years since DH and I started our journey out of debt in June of 2012. In part, it’s because I’m being intentional about spending money on “needs” and not “wants”. That’s noble, but it’s not the whole story. There are two other parts to my avoidance of shopping.

  1. I almost never have enough discretionary money to do it. (Managing my discretionary fund is my most stubborn money weakness.)
  2. I don’t trust myself to do it wisely.

As we approached the March Break this year, I made a plan to go to the mall with DD3. Because I so rarely shop, I really did have several “needs”. I had worn out the shoes I wear at work. (And let it be noted here that I wear the same pair every day. I do not have a closet full of shoes.) I’d had to throw out my winter boots because of a broken zipper. My socks, underwear, and jeans had also worn through. As a mini-splurge, I was finally going to buy the kind of makeup – just a bit of it – that my youngest had long wanted me to try. DD3 would buy a birthday gift for a friend and a few other things.  We would have lunch at the mall’s food court. Nothing extravagant. Nothing out-of-control.

Some fun . . . 


DD3 enjoyed taking charge when it came to the makeup. She offered helpful tips like, “You need to get nude lipstick,” and gentle explanations. “See – this works better for your wrinkly eye-lids.” We avoided cheap, while not breaking the bank. Mission accomplished in no time.


The purchase of underwear was a bit trickier. In this area too, DD3 had strong objections to my past choices – “Don’t get any that will give you panty lines!” – but I had equally strong objections to some of the options out there. In the end, I settled upon a set of 5 for $30 that met the approval of both mother and daughter. Not the cheapest, but again, cheap wasn’t my prime objective.

. . . Some false starts . . .

shoes & boots

I’m not a patient shopper, and that’s a problem. I wanted to buy good shoes and boots on sale – not cheap ones that would fall apart within  a few weeks (been there) – and since almost all winter items were on sale, I thought it would be easy. But store after store had nothing at reduced prices in my size. So I started to look beyond the sales racks . . . And I found a pair of great black leather shoes – perfect for work – comfortable, attractive, good for both pants and skirts . . . With tax, $95.05. Ouch! A voice in my brain soothed me with, “That’s just what good shoes cost. Most people have way more pairs of shoes than you have. You’re buying one pair. You shouldn’t compromise. Well done. Good choice.”

Later in the day, when DD3 was at work and I was at another store, focused on boots that were both on sale AND my size, I heard the sales woman mention a 25% discount for the second item purchased – even for items on sale. I didn’t need anything besides the boots, but at that point, I looked around and saw . . . another perfect pair of shoes! They looked remarkably similar to the ones I had already purchased. Only they were on sale. Regularly $140 – now $40 – and I could get them at an additional 25% off. AND they were available in my size. I bought the boots for$60 (regularly $110), and the shoes for $30. I drove back to the mall where I had paid three times as much – and got a refund. I didn’t like doing that! But the point is, I did.


I had a similar false start with socks. I wanted good ones – too much bad experience with cheap socks that my toes stuck through in no time. As I made my purchase at an uncomfortable price – 2 sets of 2-for-$9.99, and 3 individual pairs for $6.00 each – that soothing voice came back from the recesses of my brain. “This isn’t an expensive store. These aren’t expensive socks. This is just what decent socks cost. Good choice.” Later, when I was picking up groceries at Costco, I looked at socks. 6 pairs for $9.99. Ugh! Yes, second refund for my drive back to the mall.

. . . And an utter fail.


We went shopping for jeans after lunch. Pleasantly full and a bit tired, I felt the pressure of time since DD3 had her shift at work to go to. Remember that at this point, I had not yet had any wake-up calls. I still had the too-pricey shoes and the too-pricey socks for which I would later drive back for refunds. Even so, when we walked into the unfamiliar store that clearly sold jeans, I felt an uneasy sense that I shouldn’t be there. So did DD3. “This is too young for you,” she said, tugging a bit on my sleeve. But the very pleasant sales woman thought differently. It was a store for all ages, she assured us with a warm smile, and she brought us to a display of jeans. Subtle influences  in the store were working a seduction on me, and I knew it. The dark wood. The music. All of those sizes and shades of denim . . . And we were making such a nice new friend. I didn’t balk at the price tag. $109. “50% off for a second purchase.” I didn’t need a second purchase. But maybe DD3 would like a pair of jeans too . . . “Good jeans cost a lot,” came that voice again. I didn’t balk at the next price tag. $129. The fitting rooms were spacious. And look! The jeans fit so well. DD3 was happy. “That comes to a total of $209.03.”

A desperate “Noooooooo!” tried to fight its way to the surface of my brain, but that insidious“Good choice” won out.

Later, after waking up to the socks at Costco, I looked at the jeans. $21.99. “What have I done?!” Truly horrified at my outrageous purchase, I bought the jeans along with the socks. At home, in a state of urgency that caught DH off guard, I asked for his honest opinion. “I’m going to model two pairs of jeans, and I want you to tell me which ones you like best,” I said to him. Pair number 1. Pair number 2. “I can’t really tell the difference,” said DH, “but I’d say the first pair.” The Costco pair!

Back to the mall I went! Socks: refunded. Shoes: refunded. Jeans: “We don’t offer refunds,” said a sales woman. “I was here when you bought these today,” she continued, “and our policy was explained to you.” She pointed to a notice that looked vaguely familiar. I could get an exchange, but not a refund. And since the 50% off deal for the second pair of jeans wouldn’t apply anymore, the value of the exchange would be much less . . . My brain was calculating and weighing pros and cons in despair. I was stuck. With jeans that were over six times the price I needed to pay. And I’d have to return the bargain Costco pair.

“Consumer Sucka!”

I remember once reading a post by a pf “badass” – a young man who had paid off his home (in my city) and who was on the road to early retirement. I was put off by a reference he made to “the sort of Consumer Suckas that we detest.” (It took me a while to realize that “Sucka” was cool for “Sucker”.) I thought at the time that it was harsh. And it was harsh – not to mention alienating, defeating, and simplistic. Some of us are overcoming powerful synaptic connections in our brains that don’t make way for logic and good intention without a fight. And although we can at times demonstrate unbelievable lapses in judgement, we’re doing our best. And despite the failures, overall, we’re winning.

I felt pretty wretched last night, and DH tried to reassure me as I sat, resigned, in my new jeans. “They look good! Don’t feel too badly,” he said. “Just feel . . .” – he searched for the right words – “a bit stupid.”

And I do. Believe me. I do.

Have you ever had a financial “What have I done?!” moment? Your comments are welcome.



27 comments on “Confessions of a Not-Yet-Reformed “Consumer Sucka”

  1. In October I cleaned out my closet. Really cleaned it out and weeded everything that didn’t fit well, was too old or hadn’t been worn in years. Do you know how many of those things had been bought on sale and on impulse? Dozens of items that I should not have bought or at least should have returned. Or presents that were never worn, but never exchanged.

    It was a real eye opener. I am a sucker, but I’m trying to get better.

    1. We can start a CSA group, Emily: “Consumer Suckas Anonymous”
      I’m sure that your eye-opening experience has made you more conscious of the things you have spent your money on since. “Will I really wear this?” “Do I really need another one of these?” Your particular brand of suckerism is not the same as mine. It’s an affliction worth studying in all of the different ways it presents. Thanks for sharing your experience, Emily!

  2. Ouch! 🙂 It happens to the best of us. We do a lot of our clothes shopping at Costco now. Good quality and low cost. We try and avoid stores with bad return policies. I’ve seen it with pairs of shoes for my wife. After wearing them a time or two and her feet hurting her, and no way of returning them we’ve been stuck with dust collecting shoes. 🙁

    1. That one with shoes is particularly tough to take. Sometimes you don’t know the shoes will hurt until you’ve worn them a few times. That happened to me once, and ever since, I’ve bought shoes that are very comfortable even right there in the store. None of this, “Oh, they’s stretch to your foot.” I’m with you on Costco. Thanks Brian : )

  3. Ruth! You need to go shopping with me! I would have gently slapped you for even thinking of paying that much money for a piece of cloth with a zipper on it. 😛 Anyhoo! I never shop anywhere that doesn’t have a good return policy. I’m too indecisive to be stuck with a decision I make on impulse. At least the jeans look great on you! And they’ll always remind you to go to Costco first! Wish we had one around here! 🙂

    1. OK, I read your comment out loud to DH yesterday, and he got a real chuckle. “High-five!” he said to you through the screen. This morning, the first thing he did was laugh. “What?” I asked. “Kay’s comment,” he said. Next time I buy clothes, you’re coming with me!

        1. LOL, Kay, you crack me up as usual. 🙂 Ruth, since you’ve been so good at not buying clothes for nearly 4 years, I think you should give yourself a pass. Imagine how much money you’ve saved in the past 4 years because of your non-buying! A lesson to be learned, for sure, but let the guilt go. You’re doing great.

          1. Thanks, Laurie. Not so much guilt as a sense of being really . . . stupid. I would like to have the discipline to shop wisely – not just the endurance not to shop at all. Does that make sense? Anyway, one step at a time.

  4. Haha, my first thought while reading was, “you took the other shoes back, right?” 🙂 Yep, been there done that. Recently I needed shorts as I’ve lost weight, and have worn out and tossed about 4 pair in the last 4 months. They were all over 7 years old, but finally gave up the ghost, I still miss you grey shorts! Anyway, Mrs. SSC noted I needed new jeans as well, and I remembered buying some when I had lost this much weight before, so I held off and just got shorts – Marshall’s 50% or more and under $15/pair, score! We get home, and I do a fashion show, and lo and behold, nope, didn’t need any new jeans at all. 🙂
    Oh,a nd those jeans look good, and they should last a while right? I’ve been burned by stupid refund/exchange policies before too, so don’t feel bad or stupid. It’s easy to overlook that stuff when you aren’t thinking you are going to return them – ever…

    1. So much evidence of wisdom here, Mr. SSC.
      1. You’ve lost weight. Well done!
      2. You wore out your old shorts – the only way to go!
      3. You bought new shorts at 50% off. Smart.
      4. You remembered your old new jeans. Good level of awareness.
      5. You held off the purchase of new jeans just in case . . . and you were right.
      Now I feel even more stupid! Oh well, if you’ve “been there done that”, then I can become wise too. All the best in maintaining this new weight. Nothing like spending money on new shorts to do that : )

  5. Every thing we do that we might regret at any point has the opportunity to be a learning experience. Even if we waste money on something once, it can end up being ‘okay’ if it leads to better decisions that we might not have otherwise made. The trick is to keep working and learning.

    1. Yes, it’s true. I transitioned out of my “What have I done?!” mode and into my “What can I learn” mode pretty quickly. (But I think the “What have I done?!” mode was a necessary starting point – not to be skipped.) And what have I learned? Shop with patience. Shop without time pressure. Stop shopping when I get tired. Shop with a budget range in mind ahead of time – not just a list. We’ll see if those lessons carry through. Thanks Mr. Money Beagle : )

  6. Cheap clothes are cheap for a reason. They don’t hold their shape after several washes. If you really want inexpensive clothes you can look for top quality brands at thrift shops, but that gets time consuming very quickly. I don’t think $100 is too much for a pair of jeans… I’ve paid as much and expect to pay as much again post baby (I haven’t bought new jeans since before Kenny was born and mine a wearing through now too).

    Also, those fit you very nicely. The costco jeans were probably tighter which is probably what your husband liked.

    1. Ha! That was my one question to DH when I modeled the Costco jeans: “Do you think they’re too tight?” I thought they were, but he assured me they weren’t : ) Good insight, Hannah.
      I think Costco clothes really are good quality at low price. They offer a very limited selection of any given item, but lots of it. There are no change rooms. No fashion specialists on staff. So a lot of the overhead is eliminated. And Costco isn’t even paying me to say this! Once I’m out of all debt – like you are – I’ll feel free to buy $100 + jeans. For now, that kind of purchase flies in the face of the financial goals I’m trying to reach.

    1. OK. I won’t feel guilty . . . but can I still feel stupid? Not in a “hopelessly stupid” kind of a way – more of a “still learning” way. I would like to become a smart shopper – not just someone who goes an admirably long time in between shops.

  7. Ha! I love your husband’s condolences! For what it’s worth, I probably need to spend a bit more on boots and shoes. I tend to go cheap, and the husband always reminds me how dumb I’m being since they’ll only last a year. Now I almost always use consignment, but still….

    When I do shop, I usually go big and plan to follow up with a buyer’s remorse trip. I’ll have to keep an extra keen eye on return policies!

    1. Thanks, Femme. It’s true that going cheap is not always such a good deal. There’s got to be an ideal balance between quality and price out there – and I’m sure we’ll both find it : ) I will definitely start to pay more attention to return policies!

  8. “Just feel a bit stupid”. I think I like your husband! This is a tough one, because I think that good clothes DO tend to cost more. Not always, but often. I get it, the problem wasn’t so much the purchase, but the rapid, rabid decision-making that accompanied it. Darn those fancy stores with their dark wood floors! Please, whatever you do, don’t feel guilty every time you put on those jeans. It sounds like you’ve already learned your lesson 😉

    1. Thank you, Janeen. I find that I’m not wearing those jeans very often. I’m trying to reserve them for Fridays at work (dress-down day – though they’re more expensive than my “dressy” clothes!) and for going out – say, to visit friends and family. I don’t put them on just around the house since I don’t want them to wear out too quickly. So I’ll put them on with caution – but guilt-free. Yes, lesson learned!

  9. I really appreciate you sharing this story. It’s so easy to talk ourselves into a purchase that seems wise at the time, sometimes to realize later there were equally good and much more affordable options out there. Even though I’ve purchased some “good deals” at the mall in the past, I’ve come to abhor the place. Too many choices, too much mark-up, too much temptation, and after awhile it all looks the same to me.

    1. It’s true – malls are just dangerous places : ) Best to approach them battle-ready. The trick is to shop in a well informed, “sober” state. For me, shopping has a history of being giddy and celebratory – with a certain endorphin intoxication. It sounds like you have completely extricated yourself from this type of affliction, Kalie. Well done!

  10. Thanks so much for your honesty, Ruth. I personally find it very refreshing to read PF blog posts that are real, and not just about how people paid off $100K in 18 months, by never eating anything but rice and beans. I’m sure those people do exist and I applaud them, but I also find their stories kind if demoralizing.

    I agree with Hannah’s comment, that sometimes quality clothing costs more. (My mother used to say, “Sometimes cheap is expensive.”) But it’s all about finding balance.

    This post definitely reminded me of the last book I finished, Bargain Fever. There’s much more science behind stores and deals than I realized. You reference some of the effects it had on you here.

    1. I try to keep it real, Amy. Even when real isn’t pretty : )
      I know what you mean by that demoralizing feeling that can come with too much reading of people constantly doing the right thing – even though it’s very admirable. It’s good to know that imperfect performance can be part of an overall success.
      I’d like to learn more about the “science behind stores”. Sounds like a good book.

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