Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How Much is 30 Wears? Livia Firth's Rule of Thumb in Perspective

Laundry day is a good time to assess your weekly wears.

Livia Firth, sustainability consultant, producer of the fast-fashion documentary The True Cost, and wife of actor Colin Firth, made a splash recently--well, at least in my corner of the blogosphere--with her statement that people should only buy clothes they'll wear at least 30 times. Because of the ecological and human cost of producing clothing, she argues, it's wasteful to buy things that we won't get much use out of, or that won't last long, even if they're affordable in terms of dollars and cents. If you ask yourself if you'll get 30 wears out of an item before you buy it, "you'd be surprised how often you say no."

I like hard-numbers rules of thumb like this, but I found this one a little hard to wrap my head around. I'm a huge Excel nerd, but even I don't count how often I wear things. I know if I've only worn an item, say, three or four times, but beyond that, an item is just "something I wear a lot" or "something I don't wear much." Take something like, say, my wool suiting skirt. I like it, and I've worn it a number of times, but I couldn't tell you if that number is closer to ten or twenty or thirty.

So here are some other ways to break down that 30 wears number.

  • An item you wear every day needs to last longer than 1 month. There aren't many items I do wear daily, beyond my glasses. (Which are starting to fall apart after 3 years, or over 1,000 wears.) Maybe some of my shoes on a seasonal basis--my summer sandals, for example, I wear daily from May to September. Worn hard like this, a pair of Tevas will last me about 2 summers, so ~300 wears. It is very, very easy to get to 30+ wears when you wear something this often! 

  • An item you wear twice a week needs to last longer than 3-4 months (or approximately one season). My work pants typically fall into this category (although they may be falling more into the weekly category now that I have four pairs). It's nice to know I probably made it to 30 wears with my charcoal wool pants before I shrunk them in the wash. (I still mourn.)

    My running gear also falls into this category now that I'm running twice a week more or less regularly (at least, I have been for the last month). On the other hand, I'm only running for about 20-30 minutes at a time. How long do you have to wear it for it to count as a "wear"? I'd think that a shirt I only wear for an hour a week should last longer than one I wear 20 hours a week, even though both of those might be "twice a week." 

  • An item you wear every week needs to last longer than 7 months. If it's something you wear seasonally, e.g. "every week in the winter," than 2 seasons is probably a good approximation. There are many items I wear regularly each week (seasonally), specifically my "work uniforms." Each of my near-identical navy-blue dresses is worn weekly, like clockwork, in the summer. I've gotten between 1 and 2 seasons out of each dress and they're still going strong. I'd say I easily have 30 wears on these (or am on track, for the newer ones). 

  • An item you wear every other week needs to last over 1 year (more than 14 months), or 3-4 seasons if it's seasonal. I'd say the vast majority of my wardrobe falls into this category: things I feel I wear frequently, but maybe not every single week. I'm thinking of my fall/winter work sweaters here. I have 10, so there's no way I can wear them each weekly! I'm starting in on my second season with most of these, and some are already getting worn, but then, I did get them used, so they probably already enjoyed at least a season or two of life before I got them.

  • An item you wear once a month needs to last over 2 years or about 7 seasons. This is wear things start to look bleak. I probably have a ton of wardrobe items that, realistically, I only wear once a month. Bear in mind that an every-other-week item is only going to get worn 2-3 times per month. I don't think of many items in my wardrobe as being monthly until I realize it's an item that I might see in the laundry every third or fourth wash. Yeah, that happens. Anything that I pick up and think "huh, haven't worn this in a while." A number of my casual T-shirts, realistically (there are only so many Saturdays and Sundays per month). This is where I start to feel bad because 2 years is a long time and most of my T-shirts are newer (to me) than that. But here, again, is where buying most of my clothes used is a saving grace! 

  • An item you wear twice a year (e.g. a "special occasion" dress or suit, a seasonal holiday outfit) needs to last 15 years. Ha! I do have items like this but certainly they have not, and could not possibly, last 15 years (I mean, at the very least, I assume I'll change dress sizes in that time). I guess this is a reminder that it's probably a good idea to find ways to incorporate your "special occasion" outfits into your everyday life somehow (getting versatile items that you can "dress down" for work or other activities, and/or consolidating with "one good suit" for all necessary special occasions). That, or share special occasion wear with multiple people, by renting (e.g. Rent the Runway) or trading back and forth with friends/neighbors. 

Basically, the number of days between wears (e.g. 14 days between wears for a biweekly item) translates into a number of months that that item needs to remain in your wardrobe in order to get you to 30 wears. (No fair just letting it hang in your closet, either--it needs to remain active at the same level that whole time.)

The more frequently you wear something, the easier it is to get to 30 wears. My typical pattern has been to re-donate or replace most items every other year, which means I'm only getting my 30 wears out of items that I wear every single week (for seasonal items) or at least once a month (for items that can be worn year-round). There are, of course, exceptions in both directions: all-stars that I wear constantly all the time and definitely got more than 30 wears. And, on the other side, experiments that turned out to be "not for me;" special-occasion dresses I wore only for a handful of occasions before changing sizes or deciding I just "needed something new;" and Livia Firth's bane, Fast Fashion Items That Fell Apart.

I do feel that buying many items secondhand helps with a number of these issues. I don't feel so bad "experimenting" with clothes that have already had one life; at worst, I wear them a couple of times and return them to the thrift shop from whence they came in much the same condition. Between me, the person who had it before, and the person who has it after, we can probably get to 30 wears.

Secondhand shopping is also a great way to vaccinate against "fast fashion" fall-apart mishaps because clothes that fall apart after a couple of wears don't even make it to the thrift shop. I'm wary buying new, now, especially new discount clothing, because it so often looks great for work at first, but then it will stretch out or start pilling and immediately be unprofessional-looking. When you buy things at Goodwill, they may not be in top condition, but they'll probably plateau in the condition they are in for a while. And it's more honest than seeing them at their best if their best only lasts a couple of wears.

For special occasion items, Halloween costumes, or other things you're planning to wear once, renting and borrowing are great options. Practical Cranberry Nut Roll had a great experience with Rent the Runway, for example, and men have been renting tuxes for years. It's always struck me as odd that renting tuxes is normal but renting ballgowns is rare, but hopefully companies like Rent the Runway are changing that!

What I like about the 30-days rule is that is provides a metric of success for item of clothing. If something fails to meet that 30-wears mark (or an approximation), the, yeah, we have to wonder "what went wrong?" and how we can avoid making the same wardrobe mistake in the future. But nothing lasts forever, as Nut and I lamented recently, not even a really great pair of shoes. If we've gotten our 30 wears (or 300!) out of the item, we can count it as a positive and productive citizen of our wardrobe, for however long it worked.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Frugal Bagel's Anniversary

This blog is now 1 year old. I wrote the first post on October 22, 2015. The idea? "I read so many personal finance blogs, why don't I have one of my own?"

I'm pleased to report that whim has kept me going for a year, with a fairly regular 2-3 times/week update schedule of posts ranging from 1 page to 5 or 6 pages long. Over the course of the year, that amounted to 138 posts (not including this one). Assuming approximately 3 hours per post (between writing, editing, and sometimes formatting), that adds up to 414 hours of Labor Of Love!

Some of my favorite posts:

BTW, I may as well admit to you that, when I started this blog, in the back of my mind, part of me thought, "Maybe a blog will help me establish a passive income stream!" Ha! Ha! I have made $3.49 in this whole year (which so far is imaginary money anyway since I need to get to $10 before Google will cut me a check). I think that in order to make a blog work out financially, you need to be a much better self-promoter; get lucky enough to go viral; and/or have started in 2004.

Still, I enjoy having a place to sound off on my favorite topics (money, clothes, and Pokemon), so I plan to keep going!

What now? Will my updates become less frequent? Will they become MORE frequent, but shorter and dumber? Will they STAY THE SAME?? You'll just have to stay tuned.

(I'm not holding out on you, I really don't know. We'll find out... together.)


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sales Resistance Tactics from "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion"

Widely available cookies taste just as good as scarce ones.

I recently read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini (1984, revised 2006), a pop nonfiction book in which a social psychologist explores compliance and manipulation, combining his field knowledge with undercover applied tactics gleaned from attending a number of sales trainings. How do advertisers and salespeople, governments, authority figures, and con artists get you to behave in certain ways? Cialdini explains several methods, including how to notice you are being manipulated, and how to say no.

One thing I liked about this book is how Cialdini acknowledges that the "weaknesses" being exploited are, in most cases, strengths. Our social lives are greatly improved by the assumption that "one good turn deserves another." In fact, the social norm of reciprocation is a foundation for a lot of human society! Other "rules of thumb" may allow us to navigate through the world without stopping to analyze our every move, which would eventually paralyze us. We shouldn't be throwing out these rules of thumb altogether. But we need to recognize when they are being exploited for others' gain.

I enjoyed the book, and it helped me recognized a number of ways in which I have been manipulated. I thought it would be helpful for me to create a one-pager in which I outline each tactic Cialdini explored, with particular emphasis on how they relate to buying behavior. It's important to me to notice ways in which I am being manipulated to buy more, so I can avoid them!

Here are the tactics Cialdini explored. (For more info on each one, do what I did and take the book out of your local library!) In some cases, I've augmented them with my own thoughts!!

1. Contrast

AKA anchoring. The tendency to compare two products or prices simply because they are presented together (not because they necessarily have anything to do with each other).

Sales Exploits

  • Old price/new price: "$55, reduced from $129" looks a lot better to us than straight-up "$55." Even if the "old price" is meaningless.
  • Add-ons: when purchasing something large, you're susceptible to "throw in" extras/accessories without the thought you would normally put into those smaller purchases, because they seem trivial compared to the main purchase (e.g. a $95 sweater "thrown in" with a $495 suit).
  • Set-up models: Salespeople may show you overly expensive or otherwise undesirable models first, so that you will see the one they actually want you to buy in a better light.

How to Resist

Ask yourself, "Is this comparison relevant?"

2. Reciprocation

One good turn deserves another. We feel obligated to pay people back when we feel they have done us a favor.

Sales Exploits

  • Free Samples: Accepting a free gift may make us feel obligated to make a purchase in return.
  • Concessions: In a negotiation, your opponent may make a large request they do not expect to be accepted, in order to use their "concession" to a smaller request as a bargaining chip (you feel obligated to accept the smaller request because they were so reasonable in giving up the larger request).

How to Resist

Mentally reframe the "favor" as a sales tactic. Remember, this is a business deal, not a social relationship. There is no social rule obligating you to buy something you do not want.

3. Consistency & Commitment

AKA avoiding cognitive dissonance. We want to see ourselves as consistent types of people. We avoid appearing or admitting to being inconsistent at all costs. The subtle genius of these techniques is that they cause us to change the way we actually see ourselves.

Sales Exploits

  • Foot in the Door: The salesperson makes a trivial request. You comply, because why not? Later, they make a similar but larger request which you might normally refuse; but by now, to refuse would seem inconsistent with previous behavior. Your self concept has since changed to, "I'm the kind of person that does that."

    Example: You agree to let the canvasser into your home to use the bathroom. You sign the petition, because if you let them inside, you must trust them. You donate money, because if you signed the petition, you must care about the cause.
  • Public Testimonial: Many companies will offer a small prize for an essay or video contest e.g. "Why I Love Kraft Mac & Cheese." Having committed yourself publicly, you convince yourself that you believe what you wrote. (The key is that the contest prize must be fairly trivial, so you can't say to yourself, "Of course, I just did it for the money.")
  • Extra Effort: A company may make you go to extra effort for the "opportunity" to buy something. Having made the effort, you must become a staunch supporter of the product, because why did you go to the effort otherwise?

    I remember almost falling for this with the OnePlus One phone a year or two ago. You couldn't order it unless you were invited to do by an existing customer. Just to open up my options, I began to trawl customer message boards, increasingly obsessed with securing an invite. By the time I'd snagged one, I'd proven to myself that I must really want that phone! (Luckily, at the last moment, I balked at the $400 price tag and then realized I didn't even need a new phone.)

How to Resist

Distinguish between laudable consistency (commitment your values), and foolish consistency (bullheaded commitment to something random). Notice that stomach-clenching, trapped feeling: this is your signal you have overcommitted yourself to something you don't really believe. Notice, also, your first emotional reaction to a request, before you have a chance to overthink it. Consistency tactics rely on your cool, logical brain taking over to resolve the cognitive dissonance, but your "heart of hearts" (first emotional reaction) probably holds a better clue to your true feelings about the request.

This tactic isn't in the book, but I feel like it's also helpful to give yourself a script for making an exit the moment things cross a line for you. "Foot in the door" type techniques rely on your inability to see a way out. My mom had a great one: "I don't do business over the phone." This inarguable line cut short any number of telemarketing calls. Creating strict guidelines ahead of time for the circumstances under which you will do certain things (like give out your credit card number or you phone number) can help to put the brakes on at the crucial moment, even if your hackles aren't raised until you're well into a seemingly inescapable chain of commitment.

Also, try not to worry too much about seeming consistent, I guess? Remember Moriarty's mantra: "I'm sooooo changeable."

4. Social Proof

We look to others (especially those similar to us) to decide how to act.

Sales Exploits

  • Appeal to Popularity: "We're the #1 toothpaste nationwide!"
  • Man on the Street: Commercials feature "average people" (actors pretending to be unrehearsed, ordinary consumers Just Like You)
  • Seeds: Bartenders seed their tip jars with a few dollars to make it look like throwing paper money in the jar is the normal, popular thing to do.

How to Resist

Be wary of counterfeit social proof; just who are the people you are following? Are they real? Are they acting the way normal people would, or paid shills?

5. Liking

We want to do favors for people we personally like… such as buying things from them.

Sales Exploits

  • Tupperware Parties: Some companies arrange for people to sell directly to their friends, capitalizing on an existing relationship.
  • Likeable Salespeople: Salespeople may just get us to like them, through any combination to techniques (mirroring, giving compliments, appearing to cooperate with you against someone else, just being cute).
  • Association: We like people/products when they're associated with nice things. Beware celebrity endorsements, and the sales pitch that comes with a meal.

How to Resist

Separate the salesperson from the deal: without this particular salesperson, is it still a good deal? Remember that it's the product you're buying, not the person.

6. Authority

We tend to trust authority figures (doctors, people in fancy business suits, etc.)

Sales Exploits

  • Appeal to Authority: Commercials often feature an authority figure, or even someone who simply resembles an authority figure (man in a white coat, actor who played a doctor on TV)
  • False Impartiality: Salespeople or other representatives may point out some shortcoming in the product in an effort to seem impartial and therefore trustworthy. Of course, this can be done in a way such that shortcoming is unimportant or actually a strength (like in a job interview).

How to Resist

Ask "Is this authority truly an expert?" And "Are their credentials relevant?" If so: "Do they have a profit motive?" We cannot expect even legitimate authorities to be completely honest if they stand to gain from pushing a particular agenda.

7. Scarcity

People just go nuts for the chance to possess something that they believe is a scarce resource. This is definitely one that I personally fall for a lot!

Sales Exploits

  • Limited Number: Customer is informed that the product is expected to sell out, and will not be restocked. (This may be true or false.)
  • Limited Time: There is a deadline on a particular offer (last hour of sale!)
  • Competition: Seller fosters genuine or apparent competition ("Another couple is interested in the apartment")

How to Resist

Unlike Consistency tactics, Scarcity relies on our "hot" (fast/emotional) brain taking over, so we can combat by engaging the "cool" (logical/rational/slow) thinking systems. Use "hot" state as a cue to trigger a slow-down-and-think breath. A purchasing process shouldn't feel so emotional and manic.

Ask yourself, "What do I want from this product?" The actual qualities of the product (useful, well-made, aesthetically pleasing, delicious, etc.) are not affected by how scarce or common it is. "Limited edition" cookies don't taste better.


Okay, so this one pager turned out to be more than one page, but you can keep this business-card-size version in your wallet for handy reference!

Contrast | Is the comparison relevant?
Reciprocation | It's a business deal, not a social call
Consistency | Funny feeling in your stomach pit? Don't commit
Social Proof | Are these people even real?
Liking | You're buying the product, not the person
Authority | Is the authority's expertise legitimate & relevant?
Scarcity | Quality is not affected by availability

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Ideal Wardrobe Is a Myth!

Perfect Jacket: Achieved

Yesterday I was commiserating with my friend and colleague, the Practical Cranberry Nut Roll. We felt betrayed because some of our clothing and shoes were wearing out. There's no reason this common occurrence should necessarily be a cause for alarm, especially when the items in question are things we've worn frequently, perhaps near-daily, for nearly two years! But these were among the first things we purchased "intentionally" after our Color Revolution and other wardrobe-related revelations. We were careful with these purchases: they met new, exacting standards. They were, perhaps, the culmination of lengthy searches. When we found them, we thought, "Ahhhh. Here is it is." Done, we thought. Don't have to think about that wardrobe need anymore. And now, here it is: proof that nothing lasts forever!

Now and Then
I definitely have a "before" and "after" feeling about my wardrobe. There's the Bad Old Days, when I bought things at random because I liked them on the rack and they were inexpensive. Then came The Great Reboot, where I donated almost everything and practically started fresh. While there has been some significant churn since then, especially with thrift store items, there have also been great successes. I have found the perfect of several things. This has spurred my belief that The Ideal Wardrobe is an achievable goal!

The Ideal Wardrobe
The Ideal Wardrobe has many exciting properties:

I love everything in it.

Items are specialized and absolutely perfect for their intended purpose: work clothes look crisp and professional; casual clothes look cute and fun; lounge clothes are deliciously comfortable; performance gear is rugged and, well, high performing.

Items are versatile, comfortably crossing capsule boundaries (e.g. the Little Black Dress that can be worn to work or dressed up for a night out).

There is enough of everything. I never ask, "WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR?" I never moan, "EVERYTHING IS IN THE WASH." There is enough variety that I am not bored.

There are no extraneous items. Everything that can be decluttered, has been decluttered.

I no longer feel the need to make substandard purchases or really any purchases at all, because I have everything I need and no more. Nothing needs to be added because everything is there. Nothing needs to be upgraded because everything is ideal.

There is just one problem with The Ideal Wardrobe. It is a myth.

Clothing Doesn't Last Forever
As Nut and I are beginning to discover, even high-quality items wear out over time. We actually have not had that much opportunity to notice this in our wardrobes in the last few years, because we've had so much new and new-to-us stuff, and we've grown dissatisfied with things and decluttered them before they had a chance to wear out. It's only now that we're accumulating wardrobe workhorses that we're actually pushing them to the breaking point.

The more you wear things, the faster they wear out. But the more perfect your item is for you - the less you want to wear anything else in its place - the more you wear it! True, high-quality items will not wear out as fast as cheap "fast fashion" items, even if you wear them a lot. But they do wear out eventually. And most likely, that will be before you have achieved The Ideal Wardrobe. This can lead to the feeling we're having now: "I thought I was done thinking about that type of item forever! Now I have to think about it again!"

The other downside of the minimalist approach is that you have no backup if your Perfect Item wears out suddenly (say, an elastic snaps in your Perfect Pumps and they begin to fall off your feet in the middle of the street NOT THAT THAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME). And you don't want to rush to the nearest store and grab anything-that-works. You want to take your time with each addition to the Curated Museum of Your Closet. So, you have to be okay being without things for awhile… or you have to be okay with owning a backup!

Tastes Change
Some of the "churn" in my post-revolution wardrobe has been expected and built in: I donate things I hung onto from The Before Times, even if they are not ideal, because I have yet to find suitable replacements. Or I buy things cheaply from Goodwill to fill a need quickly, intending to try it out and see if I like it, then replace it with the Ideal Version some other time.

But some of the churn has been unexpected: things I thought were perfect, perhaps spent some real money on, but that didn't turn out to match my Ideal Wardrobe as much as I expected them to. Or things that seemed perfect, but then I found an even perfecter thing and jumped up to a whole new perfection bracket!

The goals of the Ideal Wardrobe are clear, but the specific methods to try to achieve them can change. I thought A-line skirts were perfect for me, then it was pencil skirts only. I thought aqua was one of my best colors, now I think it's too "Light Summer" and I should stick to darker teals.

The refinements come from Time and Mistakes. There's no shortcut.

Bodies Change
No sooner had I found perfect size-6 jeans when they began to feel tight on me and I thought, "Why did I think I was a 6? I'm clearly an 8." A few months later, my size 8 jeans were baggy on me, and I thought, "Why did I think I was an 8? I'm clearly as 6." If your weight fluctuates a lot, you might need to have more clothes than you use at any given time, because you have a couple of different sizes in reserve. Or maybe your weight or body shape has changed permanently; that may mean bidding a painful goodbye to what may have been near-Nirvana in your previous-size wardrobe.

Trends Change
Suppose you achieved The Ideal Wardrobe and in 1987, and magically you got all perfectly infinite-lasting clothes so that they still looked as new today as they did then. You'd still probably be gagging for an update, if only to get rid of some of the linebacker shoulderpads that looked so hot and professional when you first got them!

Some Perfect Items Are In The Future
Sometimes you're looking and looking for a particular type of thing, ready to spend big cash if you find it, and you end up settling for something that's, maybe, 7.5 out of 10… and then you find the perfect thing. Maybe it's something you couldn't possibly have found earlier; it's a brand-new design or it came across your path serendipitously.

I want to be ready for these things, and the only way to be ready is not to "settle" in the meantime. Which means being okay with "not quite there yet." Maybe indefinitely.

The fact is that The Ideal Wardrobe is a moving goalpost. This means that even if you achieve The Ideal Wardrobe for now, it won't be ideal forever.

So I need to let go of it as a goal or an expectation. I need to be okay with the fact that my wardrobe isn't, and cannot be, perfect, even for one moment in time. I need to love those items that are perfect for me right now, and wear them fearlessly, without worrying that they'll wear out or stop fitting or not look good in 5 years. Of course they won't last forever, they're not meant to. And I need to love with them without thinking about all the other things that aren't perfect.

Oddly, I think this acceptance might take some of the pressure off to get Everything Perfect Now! And Finish With Clothes Shopping Forever! There's no urgency because I'll never be finished no matter what I do. So I might as well just be content with what I have now, which is honestly pretty darn good.