When Mike gets the mail, he carefully tears open the envelope, using two fingers to widen it so that he may peer inside without removing the actual bill. Craning his neck and squinting his eyes, while carefully poking at the still folded contents, he is able to locate the accounting total in the dark abyss of the legal sized stationary. From what I can surmise, it’s a coping mechanism — if the paper is never removed from its source, he’s never really seen it. But from the outside, it’s the kind of careful hesitation that someone might heed if they were bracing themselves for a crime scene. Then he leaves the bill for me, the official family bookeeper, so that I may take it to the office for payment, removing himself emotionally from the final assault of the burst pipe that resulted in our lovely plumber’s latest correspondence.
Yet, the credit card bill that arrives during sale season is an altogether different affair. I probably keep ten percent of what arrives, so as far as I’m concerned, the initial number is just a rough estimate — like overpaying your taxes, knowing that you will get a lot of it back at the end. But while I whittle down my purchases significantly, there’s a lot happening on that pre-returns bill. So I prefer to intercept it, hold onto it for a few days, and then nonchalantly stick a random post-it on Mike’s desk with a non-descript total. This way, everyone is on the same overall marital page about where our household expenses are going. Sometimes I’ll jot a little asterix with some diversionary highlights - *Dentist. *School Supplies. *Lola’s health insurance (i.e. that dog really needs to get a job). I then try to discreetly slip out of his office and back into mine hoping the post-it gets lost amongst the paper recycling plant that doubles as his office.
You see, I treat sale season like someone would a side hustle, working the night shift into the wee hours, stalking the internet for the shoes and jackets that at full retail seemed like irresponsible purchases. During these few times of year, my porch looks like a shipping and receiving dock and I’m constantly worried that Lola is going to give herself a heart attack from the anxiety of the UPS and FedEx drivers that she can see making their daily rounds down my driveway from her living room perch. She has literally spent the last two weeks barking at the constant clanging of the trucks’ metal doors rolling up to reveal my concealed garment bags stacked within.
In the throes of my sale season compulsion, I truly believe that I am saving us money when making these purchases. Plus, when I end up returning something and the funds are credited back to my card, there is a fairly large piece of me that feels justified in the conviction that I am actually making money. I do realize that this sounds like a fashion Ponzi scheme.
For Mike, there is no question about what is going on here. We share office space and he is fully aware that my company’s business shipping is done from there. This is personal and, as he side steps over the cartons that are often stacked in the foyer, he knows exactly what’s happening.
The other night, knocking on the door of my closet, which is just a tiny room filled with cheap rolling racks, Mike peaked his head in and jokingly asked, “What do you do in here?”
“I try on clothes,” I responded.
Again, very direct. I was surrounded by boxes, tissue paper, plastic hanger bags, return labels and a box cutter, which I keep in my costume jewelry drawer for slicing through packages with ease. Having one on hand is a habit I picked up as an editor wrangling in product for photo shoots, so keeping one in an accessory drawer seems not only appropriate, but also professional. In full disclosure, I also store a tape gun in there for proficient returns.
Yet, when it comes to the credit card post-it, before I make it to the door I inevitably hear a stunned, “Nic…what was on this bill?”
“You know, life stuff,” I usually respond. To deflect further questioning I might even throw in, “Do you know how much the co-pay is for the boys’ pediatrician? It’s insane!”
“Can I look at it?,” he’ll call out to me without the accusatory tones I surely deserve.
The man knows to the penny what the cable bill will be every single month and yet he won’t make eye contact with it, but this of all financial reckonings he wants to see? Why did he not grasp the full implications of this operation when the postman was using a dolley?
Yet, every four months, we do the same dance. I go back to my office in our shared suite, returning with the paper and acting excessively nonchalant, which by definition is not at all nonchalant. I’d normally insist that if he wants to see something, he needs to walk to my office, but tactically I prefer that he is sitting down. Mike leans back in his chair and, clearly practicing great restraint, calmly scans the bill.
My husband will then rub his temples to settle himself, look up at me and, without irony, ask…
“What did you buy at Trader Joe’s?”
And while this pattern repeats itself, I am almost always shocked by the purposeful evasion of the actual matter at hand.
The way the breakdown of designer dot coms reads, most rational people would assume their wife’s credit card was stolen. And yet my husband projects his astonishment and distress on the supermarket, which we both know carries life necessities. Food for our children, for example. It’s a ridiculous charade.
But instead of playing along with the grocery game and appreciating Mike’s impulse to protect our marriage from the issues that have plagued so many couples before us, I react as though I am being accused. Which, in fairness, I am - but under the guise of buying too much food to feed our sons.
So while I want to say, “What the f do you think I bought there?,” but should in solidarity say, “Those boys just plow through snacks,” and then get myself the hell out of there, I instead sarcastically respond with, “You know, a Chanel bag. They are nineteen cents like the bananas, so I bought a ton.”
“Nic, you don’t have to get defensive,” Mike always responds reasonably. “I’m just asking because I can’t understand what you do with all of this money at the supermarket. I mean, what happened at Whole Foods?”
“Well, I know the Whole Foods charge seems a little high, but they had the Marni sandals I’ve been searching for,” I quipped the last time. Is he kidding? If he ever went to the supermarket, he’d know how much organic lettuce runs these days.
Of course I’m defensive. We have two children and a 120-year-old house that is falling to the ground and I’ve got a warehouse of designer shoes being unloaded in the driveway. I am a maniac. Feeling victimized is my only option. And if anyplace can make a wife a martyr, it’s the supermarket.
In truth, we have always had a democratic marriage when it comes to money and everything else. As adult partners that share the responsibility of two children and a household, there is simply the unwritten understanding that we have priorities, but we trust each other to make individual decisions about the personal purchases we make.
The issue with this arrangement is that I know in my heart it is completely imbalanced. Mike doesn’t even buy underwear and wears the same “vacation shirt” on every trip that we have taken since I bought it for his first visit to St. Maarten with my grandparents almost twenty years ago. Every fall he has the boots resoled that I got for him at the Barneys Warehouse sale before we moved to California. We lived in Los Angeles for nine years and we have been back for three, so you do the math. Last Father’s Day, my boys asked if we could get him a new bathing suit because, “Daddy always wears the same one.” If only they knew that he was wearing those trunks when we were counselors at sleepaway camp decades ago. It would not surprise me if his name and bunk are written in them.
He’s no buddhist, but my husband is a person who truly wants for nothing. At least beyond his wife and childrens’ happiness. So, while I would have never married someone who didn’t feel that I was free to make my own financial decisions without oversight, I do realize that my material values may be called into question in comparison to someone who doesn’t wear underwear because it seems like a waste.
Mike simply wants to enjoy his home and the world’s many experiences with his family. I do too, but sometimes momma wants to do it in a new pair of shoes. I may be defensive about this twice (ok, thrice) yearly compulsion, but I have enough self-awareness in hindsight to admit my shortcomings. And Mike, to his credit doesn’t judge me. More often than not, when I have buyer’s remorse, he urges me to keep the pants. “They look cute,” he said to me the other night as I was hemming and hawing over a new arrival, smiling at me like he used to when we were teenagers. Everytime he does that he reminds me that I have all that I need, so those pants will likely go back. Maybe it’s a tactic.
Reflecting a little, I can see why Mike's reaction touches me. My grandfather adored my grandmother Leona, always wanting her to have beautiful clothes, taking true pleasure in seeing her enjoyment in getting dressed. When "Loni" recently passed, we found stacks of photos that he had taken of her often standing at the top of their stairs, modeling her outfit before a night out. But they grew up during the depression and my grandfather’s desire was born of a need to give his love the life she had only dreamed of in hopes of erasing those memories of never having enough. And yet, for her, from the time she was in high school with a wardrobe that could fit neatly in a grocery bag, he was already her everything.
Always reminding me, “You don’t love things, you love people," for my grandfather it was never about the clothes, but rather the wish to see someone you love enjoy a little uncomplicated delight in an uncertain world. I can draw no comparisons to the bread lines that my grandfather was too pained to speak of, but I did grow up wanting to emulate my grandparents’ relationship — one where I would wake up everyday appreciating feeling treasured. It may sound trite, but that’s how I feel when Mike smiles at me lovingly and tells me to keep the pants. It reminds me of my grandparents. If I close my eyes, I can vividly picture my grandfather grinning at Loni and telling her the same.
“Ok,” Mike will finally say about the bill. “I think if we can both make a concerted effort not to waste, we’ll reign in the supermarket runs and be back on budget.”
Having come to my senses I always answer, “I totally agree,” both of us knowing that nothing will change but the seasons.
A few months ago, friends requested that I share some of my finds during my frenetic nights of sale season. Some of my best gets sold out, two of them because of me, but here are three handfuls of items that have either made their way to my door or I have my eyes on.
P.S. If those Marni sandals pop up in a 7 (they run big!), be a friend and message me! Happy Sale Shopping. xoxo