Unlike most women, I hate to shop. But if I should find myself in a department store, I inevitably get lured into the pocketbook department. Pocketbooks are my kryptonite. The smell of leather fills my head and some mysterious force takes control of my body. I feel weak and can’t resist the pull between the racks and tables full of pouches, duffels, backpacks, clutches, wristlets, wallets, satchels, carryalls, shoulder bags and totes.
Once I’m there, I tell myself, “I’m just looking,” which is shopping code for I have no intention of actually buying a pocketbook. But soon I find myself with several bags draped over each shoulder, and others in my hands, as I strike poses in the mirror.
If my mother is with me, she can snap me out of this hypnotic state by simply asking, “Do you need a new pocketbook? The one you have looks fine.” With one raised eyebrow she can bring me safely back to earth.
Shopping with my mother over the years has saved me a lot of money. She is a minimalist and a pragmatist. She is in my head even when she isn’t physically there, asking me: Do you really need that? Don’t you already have one of those? I’m the person who stands on line with an arm full of clothing and when I get to the checkout I tell the cashier, “I’m only taking this one item. I’ve decided I don’t need all this other stuff.”
One day, I wandered into the Coach handbag section in Macy’s where prices ranged from $175 for the cheapest little wristlet to $1,250 for a bag that was chained to a display pole. The chain should have been my first warning to leave the area immediately, but I was curious about the $1,250 bag.
As I unzipped the Coach bag and poked through the various compartments, a saleswoman asked, “May I help you?” That should have been my second warning. No saleswoman ever asks you that question these days unless she suspects you of shoplifting or mishandling the expensive goods.
“Just looking,” I answered, and left the $1,250 bag dangling from its chain. Well, you know the old sticker shock syndrome. After inspecting a $1,250 handbag, anything under $300 seemed like a real bargain. Before I could say kryptonite, I found myself standing on line at the register, clutching a $280 Coach shoulder bag to my chest.
My heart was pumping furiously and my palms were sweaty – a sure sign, and my third and final warning: Drop the bag and walk away! But my brain wasn’t sending the signals to my feet.
Two women on line ahead of me were chatting and laughing together as their purchase was tallied. When the saleswoman said, “that will be $706.06,” I swallowed hard, but the two gals in front of me continued laughing as one nonchalantly signed the credit card receipt without even looking at it. So that’s how it’s done, I thought. When you spend that much money on a pocketbook you’re supposed to laugh about it, not have an anxiety attack.
Where was my mother when I needed her? Why wasn’t she here to lift her eyebrow and bring me back to earth? As if on cue, I heard her voice in my head…
Do you need this pocketbook?
Don’t you already have a pocketbook?
Are you crazy spending that much money on a pocketbook?
I was light-headed as I walked to the car on shaky legs. When I got home, I took the pocketbook out of the shopping bag, ran my hands over the smooth leather and cooed. It felt as soft as a baby’s behind. And in that moment, I was sure I would be returning it the next day.
A $280 pocketbook was not practical. It was too nice for everyday use. I worried about it being snatched off my shoulder in the subway or on the streets. Could I negotiate with a would-be mugger? Take my wallet, but leave the pocketbook!
It occurred to me that I had become my mother – a minimalist and a pragmatist. The most I had ever paid for a pocketbook was $75, and I justified the purchase by using that purse for many years – until the straps finally fell off. I thought about all the necessary things I could buy with $280 – groceries for a week, gasoline for a month. I could pay my electric bill with $280 in the bank.
When I recounted this Coach bag story to my mother, I knew she would be proud that her sensible daughter had paid attention all those years when she was giving me life’s lessons in frugality and common sense. Instead, she said, “Fool! You should have kept it. You work hard for your money; you should spend some on yourself.”
I asked her to repeat it a few times, to be sure I heard her right, and because that was the message I wanted to hear in my head the next time I go shopping by myself.