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On being tall and unintentionally frugal

August 19, 2011

Something about a vow not to buy clothes from now until the end of the year piqued my interest several weeks ago. It must have been near the end of July, meaning someone found the idea of not buying new clothes for a bit more than five months to be a grave personal challenge and noteworthy announcement. That’s great, but so completely alien that I’m still struggling to imagine living such a lifestyle so filled with new stuff.

I don’t shop. I like window shopping or admiring things that are available for purchase, but I get no joy from imagining or pursuing personal ownership of them. I almost never feel that irresistible and often destructive “I must own this immediately” sentiment that so many of my friends suffer from (and I do mean suffer, as that sentiment is at the root of much of the financial stress in their lives whether they recognize it or not). The last time I felt that way was when I saw a purse I had to have. In 2006. Seriously.

This look-but-don’t-buy behavior is likely conditioned, as my early financially independent life began in Tokyo, where, as a nearly six-foot-tall female with a 36″ inseam, I knew that no matter how much I wanted something, there was no point in trying it on because it wasn’t going to fit. Eventually I stopped coveting things and learned to appreciate without experiencing the desire to have. Long before becoming financially independent, I had learned that even in America cute clothes off the rack don’t fit really tall skinny girls and either things must be a few sizes too big so they’ll be long enough, or the right size and uncomfortably, comically short of sleeve, hem, or length of any kind.

Living in Israel for the past year and a half has reinforced my shopping habits even more. Apart from still being the wrong shape and height to find clothes that fit, I find that clothing here costs more and, excluding big brand names or designer clothing, is generally of noticeably poorer quality than elsewhere. Many people here prefer to shop abroad, and there’s a reason why Israelis are obsessed with duty free and foreign brands — Israeli stuff can’t compete when it looks and feels cheap but costs so much more.

I thought this size-imposed unintentional frugality must be something that all very tall people have experienced, so I consulted my even taller better half. At 6’5″, he has also always struggled to find clothes that fit on three continents, with Paris being the most challenging unless he was willing to shell out big bucks for fancy stuff. Rather than his height turning him frugal, it instead turned him into a pessimistic shopper who will settle for items that fit poorly because there’s simply no other option and he has to cover himself somehow. Mens fashion might be less versatile in that way, leaving him with fewer options, especially for suits. I’ve since trained him not to buy anything unless it fits or can be tailored to fit. Neither of us shops much as a result.

Being tall and marrying a tall person has likely had the biggest influence to date on my personal finances — although we do eat a lot more than smaller people, which might cancel out all the money saved from voluntarily foregoing the latest fashion trends.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Annie permalink
    August 20, 2011 1:26 am

    But you will have so many more options, both of you, when you come to live in the States. We will have so much fun shopping!!

  2. August 20, 2011 7:06 pm

    What I’ve noticed in Israel is that many people seem to have irresistible desires for bigger things like electronics, home ownership, etc, so much that they’re willing to go in debt every month for it. Where does this need for things people can’t afford come from? I really don’t know, but I feel fortunate not to have those impossible needs. And I totally agree with you about shopping for clothes in Israel – so not worth it! If I ever do go shopping, I stick to second hand places.

    • August 22, 2011 12:30 am

      I think this “gotta have it” mentality is pretty universal, though Israelis seem to be obsessed with Abercrombie and Fitch and iPhones instead of Louis Vuitton, which always seemed like the favorite in Japan. Maybe it’s the result of growing up on commercials that confuse people’s priorities and ability to distinguish between want and need?

  3. September 5, 2011 8:04 pm

    it’s keeping up with the Joneses mentality, pretty sad. It’s very common to go in dept because of this. As for me, I hate clothes shopping which is a problem because even if I am abroad I don’t take advantage of it.

  4. March 27, 2013 6:42 pm

    I completely agree about the quality of clothes here (very low) while still somehow being 2 to 3 times more expensive than the better options found in the states. If you want something “really nice” and “made well”, you have to really search for it and then pay an obscene amount for something so little. It very much irks me and has taken all the fun out of shopping for me. I can luckily go back to the states every now and then, when I buy a year’s worth of clothes that are quality and that I like.

    To add to this point, the customer service is HORRIBLE. HORRIBLE. The way the people in the stores treat you is beyond, for me at least. At one point, I would get stressed out before going on shopping trips. They have no desire to help you or tend to your questions. I don’t get it. It also seems that they are paid to give you feedback and comments that they really shouldn’t and seem rather rude. The whole things stresses me out and I avoided shopping for a while back then.

    Like I said, I feel so blessed to get away and go back to the states for some “mental health time”. My husband (Israeli) only finally started to realize just how much affect this place had on me and that a vacation from this life was vital to my well being.

    About Israelies trying to “keep up with the Jones”, well that is also something I cannot figure out. Everyone seems to aways project this lifestyle where they own everything they want and have an abundance of leisure time. Yet everyone I speak to says that they work all the time and don’t have money to spend on all these extras (iphones, cafes, ects.) Are they walking around with a growing debt on their backs, like most Americans, just to have everything that is in trend at the time??

    There is this appearance of people always sitting at cafes and drinking coffee and shopping here. You often hear people asking when do people work!? I ask this myself and never get closer to an understanding of what is happening around me. I feel that I’ll never fit in here…. and even though I’ve only listed materialistic-type concerns above, there are seemingly endless details about daily life here that are turning me into a person I don’t recognize. At least I have a visit to the states soon. Yay.

    Sorry for writing so much… I just found your blog and it is so wonderful. You are writing so many things I’ve been thinking for about 4 years now. Thank you!

    • March 28, 2013 8:42 pm

      I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling. While it’s small comfort to know someone understands, believe me, I do! We left Israel in part because I didn’t like the person I became while living there. Simple things often stressed me out because I couldn’t be myself; I had to push and be pushy or no one listened, or worse yet, I was accused of being fake because I’m nice to everyone and rarely complain. I couldn’t reconcile how I was expected to act and how I saw myself as a person, and it made me unhappy. I hope you’re able to find a way to make life there a bit easier, or else manage to relocate to a more compatible place.


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