Saturday, January 2, 2010

consumerism wow: motivations

Another side effect of my trip to visit my family in upstate New York is that I have fallen hopelessly, tragically in love with Ojon's Hydrating Conditioner -- hopelessly because it smells wonderful (like musky vanilla, and the scent actually stays for at least a day) and leaves my hair & scalp neither greasy nor dry, and tragically because it costs way more than I'm willing to pay for a conditioner. Hair & skin care products occupy such a terrifyingly steep & slippery consumer slope. 'Cause. Sometimes expensive products work really well. But. I like not spending 22 bucks on a bottle of conditioner. But if I'm willing to spend 7 bucks on a bottle of conditioner, then why not 10? And if 10, why not 15, why not 20? After all, I'd drop that much on a round of drinks any night, and those drinks last significantly less long than a bottle of conditioner would.

This is why I'm not allowed to go into Sephora.

This is also (partially) why I've been thinking lately about how I assign value to things. I mean, consumable things: food, experiences, media, beauty products, wearables. I blanch at the idea of spending more than $20 on a piece of clothing, unless it's something nice that I can wear to the office (where I care much more than usual about how I look) -- but I'll gladly pick up the $40 check for a nice dinner with a close friend. I won't buy an $8 paperback book (~400 pages) if I don't have a coupon or can't find it cheaper used -- but I'll buy $15 worth of comic books I've never heard of (~70 pages) because they look weird and funny. I'll order a $12 cocktail but search out the cheapest entrée on the menu. Sometimes I won't buy an entire album on mp3 for $10 because I can pick & choose the songs that immediately strike me as likable for only $7 (even if I enjoy the artist and know full well that I feel differently about songs once I've warmed up to them), but I'll order 5 samples of perfumes I've never smelled for $3.50 apiece.

Do you do things like this? Surely I can't be the only mercurial spender out there.

The conclusion I've come to is that what I'm really shopping for isn't the product, but the experience of that product. Of appearing responsible and capable to my coworkers and bosses. Of sharing conversation and plates of good food and not having to clean up afterwards. Of feeling like I'm cultured and supportive of independent artists. Of drinking something I'd never conceive of on my own. Of finding out exactly what roses mingled with graveyard dirt smells like when applied to my skin.

Why I value these experiences more than others I'm not sure. It's probably one of those highly individual, annoyingly unsaleable, unique-snowflakey things that drives advertisers to drink. Although it's true that somewhere in my motivation to purchase these things and experiences lies the concept that they'll make me more attractive/loved/happy, my personal idea (anyone's personal idea) of what is is to be attractive/loved/happy is necessarily strange, even to myself. But because self-awareness is awesome, I'm working on sussing out the particulars. I'll let you all know how that goes. I just hope you'll forgive me for not having the softest, flowingest, musky vanilla-scentedest hair while I'm at it.


Chris said...

I'm basically exactly the same. I get worked up if a pair of jeans that I'm going to wear for like two years costs more than $40, but I will go to a cocktail bar in New York and drop that same amount of money buying drinks for my wife and I. It makes no sense when you think about it, and yet, damn man ... eighty bucks for a pair of jeans?!

Leigh said...

I was just pondering this the other day! I try to take my mom and aunt's advice on things like this:

1. Never pay full retail price for anything if you can help it.

2. Buy quality, not quantity.

These are the benchmarks I use to justify some pricey the KitchenAid mixer I found for a steal on Amazon and the solid wood butcher block cart I found on Craigslist for $50...which I of course *had* to get so the mixer would have something to sit on. Right.

Jeans are tricky, but I tend to wait for the twice-yearly sales, or check Ebay.

I've started to buy only hardback books unless I'm travelling. Used, mostly.

I use Origins makeup and face products, but they have fairly frequent 25% sales with free shipping, so I wait.

Sephora is an achilles heel of mine as well...and the location of the exception to my rule: perfume. Perfume doesn't really go on sale, ever notice that? Annoying.

Conditioner is a funny thing. I don't want to spend $20+ on a bottle, but Suave wrecks my hair (seriously) and Pantene gives it that dank, icky, droopy feeling. Is there a middle ground? Who knows.

Is this just a woman thing, or do guys have this dilemma too? I'd love to know.

Mommy Melee said...


And now I want that conditioner.

the grammar monkey said...

@Chris: EIGHTY BUCKS, MAN. Yeah I've never paid anywhere near that much for jeans. An mp3 player, yes. Jeans? My two favorite pairs were purchased for me by an ex's grandmother in a Goodwill in South Florida.

the grammar monkey said...

@Leigh Those're pretty much my ground rules! I always try to buy the best I can afford for the lowest price possible. I always end up doing crazy amounts of research before I make big purchases, and by "big" I possibly mean "anything more expensive than a hamburger, though possibly I have done extensive research about burger joints before going to them as well".

Though I prefer softcover books. I always wind up irritated by the weight of hardcovers.

Re: perfume: I'm obsessed with small geeky boutique scent manufacturers. Upside: Occasionally other addicts ebay/trade lightly used bottles. Downside: They're even more crazy expensive than store brands. Smelling good is hard work.