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And now for something completely different...I'm interviewed!

PJ Gach Freelance Writer

It was for an article in the Chicago Tribune about spending habits. My name is spelled wrong.
April 28, 2004

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By Margaret Littman
Special to the Tribune
Published April 28, 2004

Lizzy Klein pays the high price of beauty. Literally. The New York resident spends $55 (before tips) on eyebrow shaping, $150 for a 10-minute facial, $800 for an annual Japanese hair-straightening treatment, plus regular (and less expensive) manicures, pedicures and haircuts, plus the occasional teeth-whitening treatment.

Klein is not a lady of leisure. In fact, the 34-year-old who works in online media development, is currently employed only part time. Klein considers her spending on beauty services a must rather than a luxury.

"I feel more confident when I've had this stuff done. Everyone is so polished and groomed here. I do not want to look like I came off the turnip truck," says Klein, who adds that she didn't feel the same pressure to spend on beauty services when she lived in Oregon, Kentucky and Maine.

From the Manolo Blahnik-obsessed culture fueled by "Sex and the City" to a Vogue magazine writer spending $2,000 on just one day of beauty treatments, women in their 20s and 30s, like Klein, increasingly view such services as part of their regular grooming, not as a way to pamper themselves or as a treat before a special occasion.

But Cate Williams, vice president of financial literacy at Money Management International in Chicago, a credit counseling agency, says that many twenty- and thirtysomething women pay cash for their beauty expenditures and then use credit cards for basics like gas and groceries, thus, they don't associate credit card debt with their beauty habits.

"The end result, though, is the same as if they were charging it. There's no savings," says Williams, who often counsels women in creating budgets and just as often hears young women say that haircuts, massages and facials are necessities, in the same category as food and rent.

According to New York market research firm 360 Youth, spending on and focus on beauty products has increased dramatically in recent years, with teens spending twice what they did on the equivalents of waxing, tanning and lipsticks in 1966 (after numbers are adjusted for inflation). Once those teens reach the twentysomething stage, they are not likely to scale back even if their bills start adding up to more than their paychecks.

Highlights, not food

Hillary, a New Yorker whose spending habits embarrass her to the point of not wanting to have her full name used, found herself doing just that.

"I've been making an average of about $50,000 per year since I graduated from college, but don't have a dime to show for it," says the 30-year-old who lives in a Manhattan studio apartment and does not have a savings account. "I've tried many times over the years to maintain savings accounts, but everything would fly out the window the second I came across a new beauty treatment. I will sometimes forgo food, but as long as I get my highlights touched up on a regular basis, I'm happy."

Hillary won't give up on her $170 hair color, even if it means occasionally turning to Mom or Grandpa when cash gets tight. "I have naturally dark brown hair, and going back to that would feel like going backward. Like pulling out the pair of glasses you haven't worn in 10 years. That's not who I am anymore."

For some budget-busting beauty spenders, it simply comes down to wanting to feel better about themselves.

"There's nothing silly or trivial about taking care of yourself," contends PG Gach, a 33-year-old New Yorker who shops for bargains on hair coloring, hair cuts and manicures in order to afford the services she values. For Gach, spending on beauty increased after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "The superficial calms you down. It makes you feel better that someone is paying attention to you."

Stacey Koerner is a former Nordstrom cosmetic buyer in Chicago and owner of Beauty on Call, a business that sends stylists and estheticians to homes and offices for the convenience of busy women. "I noticed after 12 years in the business that beauty is the one thing that women don't scrimp on," she says.

But some women do draw the line at overspending on beauty products. Money saved today makes them better off financially tomorrow, they say.

Erin Ensign, for one, is trying to use her money to say something else about her inner self.

"Approaching my 30th birthday was a real eye-opener. I didn't really want to be renting anymore and I didn't know when I would have the money to buy a condo," the 29-year-old Chicagoan says.

Beauty pays off

Always "financially responsible," Ensign decided to hunker down even more and build a nest egg for a future condo. Instead of paying for an eyebrow wax, she plucks her own. Instead of going out to dinner with her friends, she'll eat at home and then join them for drinks. But she still treats herself to makeup or a new hair product. The radio promotions manager is single, and wants "to look my best when I go out."

Spending big bucks on beauty pays off with and bolstered self-image for some women. That means they're willing to live with a refrigerator with just "champagne, cat food and facial spray" if they can then afford the tips and massages instead.

Sue Bergeson, vice president of the Chicago-based Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, cautions that excessive spending, be it on Japanese hair straightening or anything else, may be a sign of a manic period in someone suffering from bipolar disorder.

Bergeson's sister, Barbie, used to stock up on toiletries and other beauty-related purchases during her periods of hypomania.

"These shopping sprees can look like someone is just getting into a mode of buying cleaning supplies or beauty products. But it can be something more than that," she says. "It can be a chemical imbalance."

Of course, not every woman who puts off saving for the future by spending today has a mental illness. For some, like Klein, being single helps determine her spending habits.

"This morning I shared a cab with very cute guy. I was grateful that I was all pulled together. I'm not sure what would encourage me to be more practical, but I'm sure my priorities would change if I had a family."

- - -

Spending smarts

Cate Williams, vice president of financial literacy at Money Management International in Chicago, offers these tips for helping to choose to skip the Jimmy Choos and solidify your financial footing instead.

1. Set a goal. If your goal is amorphous, such as "save money," it is unlikely that you'll ever feel that you achieved it. If you are specific, such as "save enough for a down payment," "pay off my credit card balances," or "give 10 percent of my salary to charity," you'll know when you've made it. Then you can indulge in a little personal reward.

2. Try do-it-yourself services. If your spending is out of control, try scaling back by figuring out what you can do on your own. An at-home pedicure may not make your tootsies look as good as they do at the salon, but can cost 75 percent less. Purchasing a home steamer may let you scale back on trips to the dry cleaner.

3. Spend on quality. A good (i.e. expensive) haircut, or hair color, will last for weeks, if not months, and may allow you to spend less on styling gels, shampoos and other miracle products.

4. Don't fear online bill paying. Paying all bills over the Internet--or setting up automatic deduction from your checking account--will help you avoid forgetting to pay bills and getting stuck with those $29 late fees. More important, those bills will be paid first, not after you splurge at the spa. Once they're paid, then you can decide whether there is enough left over for a beauty treatment.

5. Rein in impulse buying. If your problem is impulse purchases, make yourself wait 48 hours before buying anything over $50. If you can't resist a bargain, even when you don't need it, stay away from sales racks and write a list of what you need before you leave the house.

-- Margaret Littman

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

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