Saturday, February 6, 2010

Affording Beautiful Bicycles... and Other Things You Love

Many people who are not "into" bikes consider the cost of a new lugged steel bicycle (such as a Pashley, Rivendell, etc.) to be much too high. I sometimes get comments such as "I love your bicycle! How lucky. Wish I could afford that." These comments leave me with mixed feelings. First, because I think the person could afford it, if they really considered it a priority. And second, because statements like those imply that I must be economically privileged compared to them - which is almost always untrue. If you love something that happens to be expensive and really wish to own it, there are ways to afford it. You just need to think creatively and be prepared to restructure your lifestyle. The goal of this post is not to give advice, but to describe my own experience - which I hope might be helpful to some.

For some years now, I have recognised that quality and aesthetics are extremely important to me, and that I enjoy owning, using and collecting certain things very much - to the extent that I am quite willing to sacrifice other things in my life to have them. What was necessary, I realised, was simply to identify those items or activities I would be willing to sacrifice. Perhaps there were all sorts of things I was including in my lifestyle out of habit that did not need to be there. If I could endure going without them, it would free up funds for the things I had always dreamed of. So these are the areas of my life where I save in order to afford the things I truly want:

1. Living arrangements: We live in a very small apartment. It often feels cramped, but the rent is low.

2. Television: We do not have cable and do not even own a television set. Does not bother us one bit.

3. Dining out: For me personally, eating in restaurants is just not all that enjoyable. Also, we hardly have the time!

4. Groceries: I know how to cook things from scratch. I learned early from my mother and I can do it quickly. This skill allows me to avoid buying prepared foods and frozen semi-prepared foods. Consequently, our grocery bills are low.

5. Alcohol: We aren't big drinkers, which further reduces the grocery bills.

6. Entertainment: Our preferred methods of entertainment tend to be either free (walking, cycling, looking at stuff) or to coincide with the things that we are already doing as part of work: going on photo-shoots together, browsing art stores, etc. We prefer these activities to movies and concerts.

7. Jewelry: I am not big on owning lots of jewelry. I am more like my grandmother, who had her one "signature set" of pearls and never wore anything else. 

8. Shoes: Same goes for shoes. I know that women are supposed to love shoes, and I do - but for me this does not translate into wanting hundreds of pairs. I prefer to own only a few, in classic styles and of high quality.

9. Clothes: When I was younger, I used to be seriously into fashion and would buy clothes constantly. But sometime in my late 20s, something changed and I now prefer the "several mixable classic pieces" thing. It works, it looks good, it minimises the energy I put into getting dressed, and it just happens to save money.

10. Professional salon services: I like to cut my hair myself. I do go to the salon once every 10 weeks to get my colour brightened, but that is it. Lots of women I know go every 4 weeks for cut and colour, which really adds up. I stopped being interested in professional manicures or waxing services in my mid-twenties. And thankfully, I hate massages, spas and saunas.

11. Gym: No gym. No membership fees.

12. Personal care products: Many of us, especially women, own a huge amount of various face creams, body moisturisers and hair serums. I believe that using too many products is not only costly, but, more importantly, not good for you. A couple of years ago I vowed to minimise, and have.

13. Vehicles: We used to own two cars. Now we only own one and we drive it much less than we used to.

So that is my list of things I do not spend money on. The things I choose to spend money on instead include: an enormous library (really, you might be shocked to see how many books I own!), my beloved collection of fountain pens, my vintage photographic equipment, a top of the line laptop every few years, coffee (I am a hopeless addict), and now also - you guessed it - bicycles.

Everybody's list of truly enjoyable things versus things they can do without is personal, and only you can decide where your priorities lie. If you have your heart set on a lovely, but expensive bicycle, ask yourself this:
What do you want more: dinners out every Friday night over the following several months, or a new Pashley?

What do you prefer as a gift for the winter holidays: jewelry, sweaters and trinkets, or a pooled family gift of a Rivendell frame?

Which is more important to you: clothes and shoe shopping every weekend over the following year, or a custom mixte?

Would you rather go to the movies/spa, or shop for bicycle components?
If you've been reading this weblog, you know what my answers to those questions have been. The point is, that you can choose. How much do you enjoy all the different little things in your life that you are paying for on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis? More than you would enjoy a dreamy bicycle? If not, then stop doing some of those things and use the money saved to buy that "unaffordable" bike. Voila. You are now as "lucky" as I am and can afford it. Congratulations and enjoy your new ride!

71 comments:

  1. I love this post, Velouria.

    It's the power of actually choosing what you want and how you want to live. I think this clear-eyed attention to what matters most to you is what I appreciate so much about your writing.

    My list of choices is much the same. We lived for several years without furniture beyond beds and a kitchen table when we moved away from our college digs because I didn't want to buy a fill-in until we could afford the one thing (a Stickley settle) I really wanted. I actually loved the empty room because it reminded me of what I was choosing.

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  2. Thanks Emma. I think the key to this method working, is to make sure the "sacrificing" is happy and there is no suffering. I imagine some people will read my post and think: "Oh my God. They don't have TV, don't go to restaurants or movies, and she cuts her own hair? That sounds like a miserable life and to me that just wouldn't be worth it." Whereas to me it is totally worth it and most of those things I don't even miss.

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  3. What about kids? I think that for many people having them means "no more nice things."

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  4. Reading this thoughtful post, I was struck by the idea that choosing the things that bring you pleasure -- and "sacrificing" other things in order to obtain them -- probably makes the chosen things that much more meaningful.

    Thank you for sharing your interesting thoughts, Velouria.

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  5. Thank you, Mike.

    Giffen - That is a good point, which I didn't mention because it is not a variable that one can change: you either have kids or not. But I think that even with kids there are different life styles one can lead, and most of the categories I listed can be pared down. I know many people with lavish collections of antique what-have-yous who afford these items by cutting down on their personal expenses (salon, cigarettes, golf) as opposed to taking things away from the kids.

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  6. Giffen - I should also add that I disagree with the notion that being a parent means "no more nice things". I think that in order to be a good parent, one must continue to seek personal fulfillment alongside parenthood. Feeling that you are "sacrificing everything" for your kids or "have no life" because of your kids only leads to unconscious resentment and misguided attempts to live through your child vicariously. I come from an ethnic/religious background where this kind of attitude towards one's children is the norm, and I see nothing good coming from it.

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  7. I agree. Although I live in a rather small flat, I do have some valuable objects in it that I really enjoy. Just depends on what's more important to oneself. I have rather expensive hobbies, like analogue photography. So from childhood on I used to cut down on other things to afford it :).

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  8. Having children for me has made it easier to pare down my life to what matters most to us.

    Kids don't know what they're *supposed* to want or need (especially if they don't watch many TV ads) and they are experts at enjoying simple pleasures - and re-teaching their parents along the way.

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  9. I was reading this post, wondering how accurately it describes how we live. There's certainly much truth to all this, but it wouldn't be fair to forget that we've done our share of indulgent or wasteful spending and I enjoyed some of those experiences. Life is quite short and these memories are precious.

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  10. Indeed. Does this mean we're going out to dinner and getting a new Hasselblad lens? :))

    But seriously dear. Since you're reading this on the internets you know it's 100% accurate, even if it is not exactly how you recall.

    (Oh, and aren't you supposed to be working the night-shift rather then reading my exuberantly long posts?)

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  11. Such a well-thought out post, and great for people ruminating over their finances given the current economy. Yes, like me.

    I've gone through my share of phases of buying too much stuff and then stepping back to reconsider, but I think the hardest thing for me has been allowing myself to buy quality. I was raised with the attitude that cheaper is always better, so it's really hard for me to save for the higher quality item. It's getting easier, though, once you consider the durability factor.

    It also pays to buy a well-designed item.

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  12. You are a very practical and sensible person. That doesn't seem to be a common trait any more, so it is nice for you to publish your ideas.

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  13. I ride a Pashley Sovereign Roadster here in Toronto, and find that it saves me an enormous amount of money.

    The cost of the bike was less than one year of public transit passes. The cost of the bike was less that two months cost of car ownership. The cost of the bike was less than car insurance for a year.

    And I expect to be still riding the same bike 50 years from now.

    I ride my Pashley to work, shopping, church and everywhere else. It is by far the cheapest and fastest mode of transportation.

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  14. regarding what giffen said: we have two kids and it doesn't mean that you can't get nice thigns, but you have to think abotu all 13 points above, and then add on that large chunk of dough that goes to nanny, babysitter, pre-school, whatever. this is sadly unavoidable if both parents work, which is also sadly where money comes from in the first place.

    the key is redefining the definition of "nice things". for me, that is now one set of Velo Orange fenders, not two completely new fancy bikes. :(

    velouria, i love the prioritizing!

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  15. Good thoughts and basically the way I see things. Life if full of compromises and choices. Some of us choose to live a bit different from the main stream. I have children (now grown) but we raised them the way we chose and did not allow mainstream media to dictate how we raised them. I make daily choices that affect my lifestyle. I am also considered a bit of an oddity around the office because I don't buy into the middle class America suburbia thing. Nothing wrong with that if that is you choice.

    Free entertainment: Libraries lend CDs, DVDs, books and even in some cases artwork. I used to attend free movies at the local tech college, free summer concerts in the park, etc, etc.

    Aaron

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  16. Thanks for putting all this into perspective, even if it's easier for those who've made their choices carefully. With a bit more reflection in this world, there would be fewer, solo suv drivers clogging the roads and spoiling the air. Their fuel bills must be shocking. As for the dissatisfied one whose bike cost 60% of Pashley, her waste can be more difficult to accept than the feeling of envy. In short, I enjoy reading your blog.

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  17. What's more, those choices will evolve. Just as there's always time for important stuff, there'll be money for at least a few really nice things.

    I'd not have guessed about the books. Myself, I have begun to collect knowledge of how to borrow same via library interlending agreements. The only ones I now buy are those I have checked out several times and still find compelling. I LOVE the visit to the library, and especially when I can visit a great library. Even little ones are a portal to all, however.

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  18. We have done many of the things you have. As we get older (and hopefully wiser) we need less and what we want matters more and takes more careful consideration. There is always room to improve, but I feel better about the way I live my life today because it is with more thoughtfulness and intent.

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  19. v,
    i am so glad you posted this. i , like yourself and others, decide on the things i would like to spend my money on and plan accordingly.

    i tend to have expensive taste but i cut back on other things in order to get those items.

    i am relatively low maintenance. i also cut my own hair, and i think that simple/basic beauty products are much better for you then the expensive "serums". its called eat your fruit/veggies, drink water, and moisturize people!

    the areas that i do spend on are things like my clothes, shoes, bags and bikes. i dont buy much or often but when i do i tend to spend money. BUT i use/wear those things for years. luckily i sew, knit and build out my own bikes so when i see things i really have to have but that are way beyond my price range i can make them myself.

    when i see a dress or skirt i like, i immediately go to patterns and fabric. my mom helps me with them during the semester. (i am getting my masters in architecture and i work in a firm so my time is extrememly limited.)

    as for knitting, i see so many cute things but feel that they are not functional, a little on the cheaply made side, or just too expensive. i go to the yarn store and buy a skein of yarn, think of what would make those knitted wonders i saw in the shop window more functional for bike riding, and start knitting. isnt it amazing that a scarf is one piece of string knotted in the right way?

    all of this being said i blame my love of expensive things on being a designer. i need clean, sleek lines, good fabric, textures, colors, and an overall modern yet personal aesthetic.

    and yes everything i buy/wear i think about what it would look and feel like when on one of the two bikes that i have built myself.

    okay back to work now.
    velo love,
    d

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  20. Speaking of children and sacrifices, I was reminded of a recent conversation with my husband. Due to him being laid off last summer and now trying to get his own business up and running, and I already being self employed we decided NOT to have children. When I decided that I wanted to save up to buy a Pashley, he was reluctant to agree to the plan I had thought out. But when I told him (and I was half joking when I said this) that it would be MUCH less expensive than having a kid, he had to laugh a little and admit that when put in that perspective the cost of the Pashley really isn't that bad. Now though, I think that he is beginning to imagine that bicycles are my replacement children. :)

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  21. I love the fact that you classify 'looking at stuff' as one of your pastimes. It is much underrated in my view, and I could easily entertain myself for the rest of my life just by looking at stuff - whether it's people passing by in a park, buildings, wild birds, views, the changing weather, whatever. Luckily a bike is a great accessory to enhance this pastime!

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  22. Great post! I think you are absolutely right, if something is a priority, you will make it happen/work out.

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  23. I can't agree more about being able to afford certain things, provided that you prioritize what you want. One can't have everything all the time, but why not have the things you value?

    I think a lot of this stems from our consumerist culture and keeping up with the Joneses phenomenon of always needing to get newer and fancier things just to prove to others that you can... when often you can't. This time of economic crisis we are currently in certainly illustrates the foolishness of wanton spending...

    Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don't need.

    ...but spending money on a thing or an activity that one truly loves and values is never irresponsible.

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  24. Actually, this post is relevant for anyone who is figuring out what is really important to him/her, and who may be choosing a way of life of which family, friends and others may not approve--or which they may simply find questionable.

    I am about to have another nice frame made for me. As always, I have decided that other things, such as baubles and pleasures that last for an hour or two (movies, eating out and such) are not worth the money (at least most of the time).

    I have quite a bit of jewelery, none of it in precious metals. Most of the pieces were given to me, and, fortunately, they're interesting or elegant or both. And, I admit, that I went through a period when I spent a lot of money on clothes. But now I'm sticking to some basics, and I'll buy one or two pieces every season. I can justify it because when I'm ready to buy something, I have one or more pieces that are ready to become bike-polishing cloths.

    I also don't drink or own a car. It's not hard to live without the latter in NYC; the former isn't difficult after a year or two, when you realize that your drinking buddies were nothing more than that.

    Best of all, I, like you, enjoy "looking at stuff." So I am very happy to go to art openings, which are as often as not free. I also like to go to poetry readings and plays in small venues, which cost little. Once a year or so, I'll go to a play in a larger venue like BAM.

    So, my priorites are writing, reading (I have lots of books, too.), my cats and my bikes. And I recently realized my greatest dream of all, which also required some lifestyle changes. I don't miss anything I've given up.

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  25. Sox - Thanks, but to be fair, I am not at all practical. The Co-Habitant is probably laughing at the very thought of it. What drives me, is that when I want something very-very much, I get so emotional about it that it is simply not an option not to have it. So I do whatever is necessary to make it a reality. And if I want this thing very much, then many other things fade to gray and become easy to give up. Don't know if that makes sense, but it is an emotional approach rather than a practical one.

    Steve - Yup. The walls of the entire apartment are covered with books. Mostly 19th-20th century literature, art books, critical theory, psychology, and foreign relations (the latter two categories being dayjob related). I get attached to the books as physical objects. I sign my name inside all of them too. It's crazy.

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  26. Justine - another nice frame! What are you getting?

    DDKK - Looking at stuff is the best : )

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  27. I am frugal and proud! I love this post and say "preach it sista". It really is about priorities.

    As for your book addiction let me introduce you to this wonderful site that has helped feed my own book addicton http://swaptree.com
    Its a book swapping website. You pay nothing, just pay to mail your book out to the person you are trading with. I often pick up free books from freecycle or just out on the street so I can trade them on swaptree for books that I have been wanting.

    I'm off to go drool at the Pashley site, I still haven't decided what my next bike is going to be yet.

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  28. very good post, and i'm glad you pointed out how most people mis-speak when they say "i can't afford that". it's all about where we place our priorities in the things we buy, and how those priorities evolve over time.

    one thing i'll add to the equation is savings and investment. those are two things i never cared about before having kids, but it has become of paramount importance to me. for me, many of the things that i now regard as needless luxuries (two cars--and nice ones at that, cable, nice clothing) used to be important to us. we used to spend our money on the things we liked, with little regard to future savings. now, we skimp on many things and sacrifice the things we would really like (expensive shoes, clothing, dining out, cable, nice digs, top of the line laptops) so that we can eventually own a decent home in this area. living in this area is something we are not willing to sacrifice, so in order to save up for a house we're living in 1000 sq ft for a family of four! sure we could afford a much nicer apartment but then we wouldn't be saving as much as we do now.

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  29. Excellent post! I've done the same in my life. Sold a house & downsized to a small condo with low rent. I haven't had a TV in years... +1 for not missing it. :-)

    My reorganization was to reallocate time rather than money.

    Perhaps, recessionary times present us with an ooportunity to reevaluate our relationship with money (and time) and how we choose to spend it. Probably for the better, all things considered.

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  30. Girl on a Bike - Oh no, I could never "swap" books; I need them to be all mine. I do use many of my books repeatedly for reference, rather than reading them once and putting them on the shelf forever. But that's not the real reason they need to be "mine". It's simply that I love them.

    somervillain - That sounds like a nice plan you are following. We used to own a house several years ago, but sold it when we moved to the city. I do want one again in the future, as I am just not really a city person, nor an apartment person. But we are stuck in Boston for a while, so neither the country living nor the house that would go with it, are in the cards any time soon.

    I admit that we do not "save", nor does our lifestyle feel as if we are being frugal. And I think in a way this is the key. To me frugal implies a mode of thought where you are intentionally "economising" or saving money. You want to go out, but you don't, because you're being frugal. This is not how it is for us. We simply don't think about the things we don't do anymore, and focus only on the things we do want. So if anything, it feels as if I am being extravagant when I sit down in a cafe and take out my exquisite leather pouch with beautiful fountain pens to write with. Or sending paint colour specs to Circle A for my custom bicycle frame. The lack of television, salon visits, new clothing and dinners out, is the furthest thing from my mind at these times. I am surrounded by luxury.

    It's just an exchange of one thing for another really. If I am being frugal, then so is the person who abstains from new bicycle frames and fountain pens and hundreds of books, but instead goes to the movies and hair salon.

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  31. JPTwins, i probably speak for most parents by saying this, but i totally hear you! we estimate that for what we spend on our kids each year for things that aren't even necessary to raise them responsibly (i'm not talking food, clothing, etc... but more like private school tuition, extra curricular activities, special events, etc), my wife and i could each have brand new custom made bikes every three months, or one new car a year. on top of that, we decided that we wanted to raise our kids a certain way, and for that, it meant my wife becoming a stay-at-home mom for several years. think of the savings if we just raised our kids the "standard" way, with both parents working. so i agree with everyone in that it's really all about where your priorities at any given time may lie. and in a very big way, our kids have become a focus for much of our current expenditure, and it makes my velo collecting hobby quite literally a drop in the bucket in terms of our overall expenses.

    i also find something immensely satisfying about finding creative ways to be frugal... and more often than not my frugality is directed at things where being frugal isn't very important. i don't skimp on the quality of the food we purchase, or our kids' education. i don't see frugality as an impediment to my lifestyle, but as an element of mental engagement. honestly, i could buy a new peter mooney or JP weigle bike every year without affecting our budget, but being able to restore a vintage high-end bike on a self-imposed shoestring budget of 20% of the price of a new rivendell turns it into sort of a fun challenge--a game--for me.

    velouria-- i'm like you in that when i decide i want something, it *totally* becomes emotional regardless of any justified practicality, and obtaining it becomes a foregone conclusion.

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  32. nice post. my motto is I work hard, i party hard.
    partying in my mind doesnt mean going out dropping fancy dinners or spending tons of money. it means going out with friends, exploring my beautiful city and homestate, spending time riding and yea sure dinners and drinks here and there are always a nice plus. im young and i got no kids, no mortgages and no strings attached. rebel at heart that likes to be smart about money? sure. i go out and i love it.

    and when people ask no gym membership? du'h - we got our beautiful bikes!! right ;-)

    much luv and keep riding. cheers.

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  33. Fountain pens? Did you say fountain pens? There are several message boards I frequent, which talk of nothing but pens, especially fountain pens. These are the main two I look at:

    www.pentrace.net/mboard.htm
    www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/

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  34. Anon - I don't care for Pentrace very much, but I've been a member of FPN since 2007.

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  35. Well said! I agree completely with your points and we practice most of them ourselves. At the risk of inciting a riot, I world pose the question that isn't having kids or not, a huge choice in itself? Hopefully, the most important and well thought out one that an individual or couple will ever make!

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  36. I really enjoyed this post. It's inspired me to re-evaluate my own priorities. I often think about the fact that I'm willing to pay less rent to live in a modest apartment, when it can free up money I would rather spend elsewhere. You quite rightly point out as well that things like cars and TV's, which so many people think of as non-negotiable, are really choices we make.

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  37. again late to the party!

    I haven't read everyone's comments so forgive any repetitions.

    I get these looks when ppl see what I spent on the Sorte. Clearly it was not cheap. It makes my life happy. I can't say I'm particularly frugal in lots of other areas of my life. I'm more frugal than some though and for me I tend to use my purchase power for things that will last. This includes clothing, furniture and now bikes.

    My town peers mostly have Lux SUV's. And if you think about it, my bike will last decades longer than those SUV's. And when I decide to sell it, my resale value is extremely good and unlike a car. My current 7 year old car is currently not resellable mainly b/c I chose a color no one likes. However it was a color I worked hard to find. ( a blue green shimmer) But honestly? I don't plan to re sell the car. I will drive it until it dies then donate it to NPR or shelter system org.

    It's all about priorities. I def dislike when people give me the wide eye look when I choose my priority. I don't give other's that look when they choose to shell out 20K for private school when our public school system is actually excellent.

    Granted the ppl I talk to are economically well to do. So for me it seems really hypocritical when they look at me as if I am doing frivilious spending.

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  38. Vee - I know what you mean about the car; the resale market is really bad. Our car is "luxury" and 6 years old; now worth next to nothing.

    jim - I don't think it's controversial to say that the decision to have children is a huge one. We don't have any and don't plan on it, and the reasons have nothing to do with finances. Conversely, for those who do want to have children, I think there are ways to afford it even if it seems that "now is not the right time".

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  39. Like Mama Vee I'm late to respond to this one, but yes, an excellent post and good thoughts to ponder.

    We live in a world where we are told by the advertising mighties that we 'need' this or that, and the latest version thereof. Not true. I guess there are a lot of people out there who want the latest and greatest gizmo and feel a real need to wear what Paris Hilton wears, but I suspect only a very small percentage of that lot of people would be interested in buying a Pashley ("What! Something old-fashioned looking?! No, I want the chunkiest aluminium hybrid bike you can sell me, Mister"). Given that, I suspect that many of us who love reading Velouria's blog have a similar mindset. Our bikes, and the other things we have in our lives, mean a lot to us because we have thought long and hard about the decision to acquire them, and why we have them.

    What do we spend our hard-earned on? My husband and I rarely go out to dinner (I prefer to cook and consider it a better spend of our food dollars), we live in a small two bedroom townhouse with a low mortgage waaaay out in the suburbs. This is a lifestyle decision; we are both self-employed and work from home, and could probably earn a LOT more in full time employment and move to a better area, but we can pay our bills with what we do earn, and have less stress and commuting in our lives.

    We do have two oldish cars, as he travels a fair bit out of town with work and my own work sees me carrying loads of unwieldy things across town on a regular basis. For local journeys I use my bike/s.

    We don't have cable TV; we do have a TV but the free to air stuff is good enough for us, there's a video hire place in the next block, or there are nights to sit and talk, visit friends or throw a dinner party... or read books.

    We do luxuriate in books. We are both readers and writers and have six bulging bookshelves at the moment with piles of books in the garage we don't have space for anywhere else. Most of any leisure money I have goes on books. Bless eBay, Amazon et al for providing me with my reading fix at a cheaper price :-).

    Our lives might seem dull and frugal to some people, but I don't have a desire to spend nights out drinking stupidly, paying hundreds of dollars at restaurants, or silly amounts on high heeled shoes I might wear once or twice. I have no desire to see my face in the gossip columns in the newspapers as mixing it with the nouveau riche and infamous.

    In my twenties I'd spend a fortune on cheap clothes and shoes and jewellery. And on nights out swilling cocktails. And on nice cars. I've grown out of all that; I look now at the finite spend I have and choose quality as it's worth in the long run if you are acquiring something you want to last.

    I do obsess when I really want things: like the Pashley I bought last year. It was all I could think about for weeks before I bought it, after months of research into which bike was the perfect one for my needs and my height, leg length etc. I looked at my spending budget and banned myself from eBay and Amazon for a while. I pestered clients who'd owed me money for ages and got the cash together. I paid partly on credit card but had another client payment coming in to cover that. I got what I wanted; it meant a little shuffling around of money, and a minimal entertainment budget for a while, but the end result is worth it.

    And it's not hard to do. If you really want a lovely bicycle, a sacrifice for a while will provide you with years of pleasure.

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  40. There are almost 1.4 million posts on www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/
    whodathunkit?

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  41. I'm getting another Mercian: this time, a women's frame. And, yes, in the same color as the one you saw. I'm going to equip it with fenders, a chainguard and VO Porteur handlebars.

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  42. I wish I had the time to write long blog posts like yours, but as you keep writing what I'm thinking, maybe that's not necessary!

    People always react in a similar way when they find out how much my bike cost - yet it has pretty much paid for itself in a year. It is amazing how bus trips and the odd car parking costs add up, but people still equate bikes with toys and supermarkets selling "bicycle shaped objects" at £99 don't help.

    It is hardly a surprise that given the constant media bombardment to be a good consumer that people give in, what is more heartening is how many people can see through this and make their own decisions.

    However, the human weakness for shiny objects does mean that I've even gone as far as working out that I could get a Pashley Princess through the work cycle scheme for about £350. It's tempting, a beautiful bike and supporting british industry too, but I don't need one. However, a bakfiets I'm still trying to figure out if I can justify!

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  43. wonderful post, velouria.
    so much more than about bicycles - yet very much so.
    i always felt that a lover of classic bicycles is very much an individualist, a bohemian, a poet if one wants to say so... sombody who strongly lives by his or her own rules.
    and even more - tyhe bicycle shows us how much freedom and luxury there actually is in this world when you apply your own measures. - living in a city of course one cycles to work. - who needs the faux promises of luxury cars that let you stand in the traffic for hours. who needs to be crambed like livestock into a subway.... - come on, that is no live. and there is no advertising or status hysteria selling us anything else.
    this actually is also a very european approach towards life. many of my friends do not own a car anymore, i share one in my family, tv-set.. few people i know have one - let alone a new flatscreen one. -all of that stupidity passes us by. - we like the freedom of our book shelves, fresh art on the wall, travelling .... - and in the city we love our bikes.

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  44. btw.
    here is nice quote from the german bazon brock:
    "the opposite of 'having style' is not 'having no style' - the opposite of 'having style' is 'NOT NAVING YOUR OWN STYLE'.
    -
    and a little further on he writes:
    "style is measured by the extent to which a person sets her or his goals in life and acts accordingly."

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  45. For us, the last 5 or 6 years have been largely the process of figuring this stuff out for ourselves.

    I also have a love affair with books, and I was just remarking the other day that I would rather have a load of old books than diamonds or really anything "fancy" - as I was reading our 1907 copy of Jane Eyre :) We also cook nearly every day, so cookbooks and books about pickling and fermenting and baking and whatnot are also a staple around our home.

    Finding that we enjoyed cooking so much, we also decided to invest in high-quality kitchen stuff, Le Creuset pots and skillet, Shun knives, and the random vintage piece here and there (just got a nickel lined copper gratin pan from Etsy) - it's expensive compared to Target utensils, but we use them every day, and boy what a difference they make over having cheap stuff. Not to mention, they will last our entire lifetime (and then some).

    We also don't go out to eat much (though we do enjoy going out, there is so much good food in Portland!), or to films and such, we've been making extensive use of Portland's awesome library system for at least first-reads of books and for watching films when we want. We do have a TV, though we almost never watch anything but films, we definitely don't pay for cable. We did, however, just buy a cribbage board and are learning to play :)

    We're also trying to cut energy costs (and make our home homier) by using candles and oil lamp light for most of our evening lighting at home - just started that, so we'll see how it goes :) I don't feel like our flat is restrictive in size, though it is a much smaller living space than most other people we know - to me it feels comfortable not having way more space than you need - sort of like wearing slightly restrictive clothing - there's a comfort in having some boundaries, even if they are somewhat flexible.

    We also have a car, but we only drive probably 30 miles per week or so, give or take. We have a 1974 VW Beetle, so repairs are cheap and it gets good gas mileage in town, and we don't have to take it through DEQ anymore and it's awfully cute :)

    We were lucky with our bicycles, as we found both our Raleighs used for around $350 (each). We had to put some work into them (and my wife's still needs some work) to make the viable primary bikes, but they are extremely solid bicycles, and a steal for the price.

    I think this post brings up an important point too, in that Americans often tend to be much more focused on Quantity than Quality. Getting the most for your money has become much more literally understood than it used to be. I think this has a lot to do with our affluence, as if something breaks or wears out, many of us can afford to just buy another one. I think this has a lot to do with the increasing disposability of things in our culture, and it is so different in so many other places in the world.

    We lived in Lithuania for a while, and for instance, people would have maybe two sets of very nice clothes, and one or two sets of more casual clothes, and they would all be high quality, because they couldn't afford to buy clothes every month (or every year). They lived with less, but the things they had were higher quality, because they needed them to be. I think that is also a really good strategy for cutting down your expenditure: For instance, I have a long wool coat I bought in Lithuania 7 years ago now, that still looks almost new (except for having to re-attach one button). That's 7 years I haven't had to buy a winter coat (and still counting).

    If you need to buy something you aren't specifically excited about, at least buy something that is well-made, so you won't have to buy it again anytime soon.

    Thanks for this post, I think this is a really important issue for people to work out in their lives - what really makes them tick and then how to live their life so that they can do the things that make them tick, rather than just doing what you're "supposed" to do.

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  46. ps. - of course it has to be:"The opposite of 'having style' is 'NOT HAVING YOUR OWN STYLE'.

    best
    v.

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  47. And in the end, your life is not defined by what material goods you own or even wish for.

    But yours is a well-reasoned essay. You could even write for a Simplicity journal. Some advocates of simplifying life do have a few fine objects, and it's not hypocritical at all. In fact, it reinforces the idea that we choose what we want well because it serves us well and amassing more stuff doesn't lead to more happiness.

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  48. This is exactly how I ended up riding a 1970's Peugeot mixte. I wanted a brand new bike, but have several other more important financial priorities (house, toddler) that prevented me from going that route. So I thought very carefully about my bike and realized what I really wanted was a different bike, not a new bike. After a few months of searching, I found the Peugeot listed on Craigslist and I coulnd't be happier with my $200 set of wheels. :-)

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  49. Great post. I heartily agree that having the things you love is as much about prioritizing as it is about income.

    I come from a long line of farm families, children of the depression, and do- it yourself-ers. I sometimes struggle with the time vs money equation and have to remind myself that sometimes just because you can do something (install the heated towel rack/ brake pads and calipers/new exterior light/front fence) doesn't mean that it's worth your time to do it.

    I don't spend much on "things" although I do spend more on food and alcohol than most of the commenators seem to. I do most of our cooking, but have expensive tastes (just pulled a pan of Duck confit out of the oven and am sipping a glass of Cabernet). Mainly it's because cooking and eating is one of the things I love, not just something to keep me from starving.

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  50. Ohhh, me too.

    I try not to get embarrassed when people ask me outright how much the bakfiets cost. It was expensive, but we made our choices. One car. Three kids. Two bedroom apartment. And so on. I feel lucky that we could pull it off and I don't regret one penny of this purchase. Not a one...

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  51. Cycler - I generally don't eat meat, but on the few occasions that I do, I love duck!

    sara - "Three kids. Two bedroom apartment." Oh my!..

    Portlandize - candles and oil light, hmm. I struggle constantly to find the perfect low lighting, because I frequently get horrific migraines and can't endure overhead light - or even table lamps if they give off a very direct, concentrated light. Maybe candle light would help, because it is softer.

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  52. Velouria: I don't get migraines, but my eyes are quite sensitive to light in general (bright overhead light irritates my nerves kind of like if someone kept rubbing the same spot on your arm for a long time), and I'm loving the candle and oil lamp light. The bonus is, too, that if you get used to a lower level of light, you can make do with a lot less - now when we do turn on electric lights, we can just have one lamp on in our living room and it feels ok.

    Plus, especially during the winter, they give off some heat too, so you don't have to turn the heat up as far :)

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  53. Way back when, I had a woman approach our soccer club asking us to absorb the cost for her to join the team ($65!) as she, "Couldn't afford it." I knew she went out clubbing several times a week. I then took one look at her airbrushed nails, tats, hair salon color and do and said, "You can afford it. You choose NOT to afford it."

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  54. tats, airbrushed nails and soccer... a winning combination : )

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  55. I really liked reading this post and comments. I share your love for coffee, but enjoy beer & wine. Mostly, I think our family operates similarly. Graduate school was the likely culprit - chic-poverty forms frugal habits and critical theory makes one feel guilt of mass accumulation of commodities. LPs & books are indulgences. In terms of stuff - if you know enough, then you get what you pay for.

    We have two children, and they change everything. For the better, as people have pointed out.

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  56. Great Post!!!! This post was one of my deciding factors in going for a Pashley. I have a savings goal set up and automatic withdrawals going to my savings now too. She will be mine:D

    Fiona
    girlcanbike.com

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  57. I love your post. I buy cameras which based on my income and job I shouldn't be able to afford. How do I do it? Here's the slightly "guys version" of the same idea, but not just for the boys! Enjoy:
    http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/how-to-afford-anything.htm

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  58. This is a great blog and I agree totally with your choices ,although I am addicted to motorcycles and cars too.

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  59. Great article! It is interesting that the issue of kids came up. Many of my peers and I do not have kids and we are now in our 30's where it is do it now or never(unless you have the money for fertility stuff later on) and it is a tough one. Most of us have not had the careers we thought we would, we went to art school(wah!!), haven't met our dream mates, or only just found them and the economic reality is that we have to make do with much less than our parents did(middle class) and what we were used to growing up. We are now poor and live in a society that pushes the illusion of wealth and consumer consumption. My sister on the other hand has chosen to go deep into debt for her kids and to have a new car, the best and latest. She is a single mom and works full time so she rarely even spends time with her kids. She could easily have chosen to work a bit less and do without the new plasma tv, the new couch, the expensive 3 bedroom house she rents etc..The kids have EVERYTHING and they are still so young all they want to play with are cardboard boxes. We were raised to make do with less, to be creative, find good deals, 'use our ingenuity' as is the family motto.
    I learned long ago the value of quality well made things and will spend the money on it even if it means saving and waiting for the right item to come up on craigslist or ebay rather than buying new. Also you'd be surprised what comes up for free. It is far better to buy something that will last a lifetime than to buy some cheap consumer product that will break or become obsolete in minutes.
    I did get a surly long haul trucker which costs alot in Canada. Everywhere I go people express interest in it as it sure is pretty, and ask how much it costs. They balk at the price and retreat even when I explain that they could find an older steel frame and rebuild for less than a new modern cheap bike. Then they get into their expensive cars. People think of walmart of canadian tire bikes that cost a few hundred dollars. But those bikes are terrible.
    I unfortunately have bike lust and drive my husband nuts looking at beautiful vintage bikes online. He's just as bad but shows more restraint. Even though he used to be a bike mechanic and could easily fix up bikes etc,, we never have the money to really do too much. In the 90's the only bikes available were mountain bikes so I had many years of clunking around on the wrong bikes so I want to ride the bikes I always dreamed of riding....and I would love a raleigh dl-1. I want a bike with an 8 speed internal hub and drum brakes for winter, I want a fast road bike, I want a rivendell...
    I love cameras and have unfortunately fallen in love with leicas so that's going to do me in. I rarely buy books although I love them because I can get them from the library. No tv, no cable except for internet, we live in an old hippy house in the country with NO CAR, and generally make do with very little. I work in an organic grocery store so at least get alot of free food. Oh yes and there's oodles of free things out there. I too cut my own hair and because I am so sensitive to chemicals and stuff use very little beauty stuff. Clothes I love but luckily I have been more or less the same size so most of my clothes still fit(well maybe not pants) and get 2nd hand stuff, look for high quality wool and make my own clothes or change them as needed. I do have a weakness for shoes but I have silly small wide feet that make it impossible to wear most shoes. So I tend to buy more expensive footwear that I will wear for life. I have campers that I bought years ago that are still going strong because they were well made.
    I have my obsessions and am willing to work for them. Patience, time and research will help you find what you are looking for second hand or by some miracle on sale.

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  60. I just discovered your blog (I'm also a vintage bicycle and photography afficianado) and can entirely relate to your post. I'm not economically privileged either but have managed to get buy just fine through a lot of similar concessions (no TV, small apartment, tiny car, reserving dining out for special occasions and having a practical, if basic, wardrobe). At the same time, I do have nice things and have just managed to prioritise.

    Also, secondhand is wonderful and would like to emphasise your point about buying quality things. In a world where most of what we buy is manufactured with a short lifespan in mind, owning a vintage Raleigh or a Pashley or a vintage camera is almost counter-cultural in a good way. It's refreshing to purchase something that will, quite literally, last two lifetimes. :)

    With bicycles I'm extremely proud of my Lady Tourist and Cameo and often have to explain to people who want to know why I'd spend money on something "old and heavy" when there are supposedly so many newer and better components and bikes on the market today...

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  61. LOVED YOUR POST! I also love bicycles but unfortunately I live in Caracas, a big, undisciplined south american city where riding a bicycle is a very dangerous thing. I owned an old 1956 Raleigh, traded it with my father-in-law for my first wife and lost in the deal. I am now divorced and without the bike, but have a beautiful son whos's turning 25 next year (WOW). Bought a low-range Specialized mountain bike back in 1995 and recently found a 1970´s Schwinn ladies touring bike in very god shape, but I hesitate about adquicring it because of the lack of space in my petite apartment. Thanks for your blog, made me feel the breeze on my face again.

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  62. I agree that prioritizing is important and that limiting our spending can increase our enjoyment of what we do choose to purchase, and bicycles are certainly a wonderful investment.

    However, it is also important to realize that many people do not have the choice of eating out or going to the spa or shopping every weekend, and cannot afford to buy or build multiple bicycles, no matter how much they prioritize.

    Personally, I am grateful that I am able to pay rent, buy groceries, and stay on track paying off my student loans. I'm riding across the country this summer, and am having a very hard time affording components to build my mom's old Trek into a decent touring bike. And I'm wealthy, compared to many.

    So, while I do agree with much of what you said, if you are able to afford multiple bicycles, you're pretty damn well-off, so don't take offense when people tell you so.

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  63. Anon 1:50 - You are entirely right. And I would not be offended if a person who is unemployed or earning minimum wage or even earning a similar income to what I earn (which is modest) but with kids to support would tell me that I am well off compared to them. Fair enough and true enough. But... my sense of my readership, is that most of them are not in that category, and this post was written with that audience in mind. There are many, many people out there who will spend over a thousand dollars a month on various forms of entertainment (without even being aware of it because they never add it up), but will perceive a bicycle over $500 as hopelessly unaffordable. The idea that they can give up cable TV, going to the mall, and having beer after work and in exchange have the bicycle of their dreams does not occur to them. So this post is about that, not about people who are genuinely poor.

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  64. I know get the bike thing and have succumbed and have 2 beautiful bikes, an Ellsworth Ride Commute and an Autum Minion (the last one). Am getting them shipped to me in the UK and cant wait.

    The Pashley is nice of course but I wanted something even more unique, both of my bikes will be the only ones in the UK. Not bragging in the least, I tend to go out of my way to be different :-).

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  65. I guess if you had a frugal upbringing, you never manage to escape from it. I love bikes, but I have a golden rule never to pay anything for one. Having said that, it can cost a few bob to fix them up, but it's usually worth it. Today, we went shopping in a small place called Formby near Liverpool. There's a newish bike shop there, in an all-glass building which must have cost a fortune to build. Their bikes cost anything up to £4,000, and they all look grey and totally boring. Heck, you can pay more in that shop for a pair of cycling shoes than I've paid in my entire life for all the bikes I've ever owned, and I'm now 59. Cycling has become an elitist activity, and I don't think that's a healthy thing.

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  66. Gotta have your priorities - cameras, computers, bicycles and coffee. Very nice. People complain that they cannot afford good stuff so they buy c-r-a-p that doesn't ever work right or provide joy upon every use. Give up on a bunch of miscellaneous stuff and go big on the stuff that is really important to you and discover what it is like to have something of very high quality.

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  67. Hi Velouria, I am really glad I found your blog. Actually it wasn't difficult to find it since it appears in many of my searches about bicycles and cycling. This post is great. My wife and I are living this exact moment in our lives. We are defining new priorities and new goals. We have a lot in common with you and also share many of your interests. Some months ago we decided to buy two bikes and take them with us in our trips to the countryside. We are from Brazil and we live in a really big city and both of us work with technology, so we were looking for alternatives to our de-stressing routine of partying with friends in bars and restaurants and dealing with hangovers before our bodies started to charge us the bill. We don't have too many bike brands available here and all imported stuff is extremely expensive. The local manufacturers offer low quality and bad service only. Anyway, we bought those Specialized Expedition bikes that have more or less the looks and the resources we were looking for at that time. These bikes sell for about $850 bucks each here so they required us to change some of our priorities.
    Our plan is going nicely and now we are cycling addicts. The addiction led to reading and searching a lot about cycling and we found out that we could have bought real vintage bikes and made them what we were looking for for almost half of the price we paid for the Specialized bikes. I mean, we love the new bikes and they perform awesomely in our trips, but they lack the soul and the looks of the vintage bicycles we learned to love. After some other priorities being revised now we own two real vintage babies: a Chinese Forever roadster from the 80's and an English Phillips from the 40's for her. Both are completely original, with rust, some parts missing and a brilliant future. And no hangovers in sight.

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  68. What is not necessary. We have no children;
    (never wanted them); now, we are too old to have them. It's a win, win, win.
    With no children, we pollute the earth less, much less, than a couple with four children (do the math). We can afford any bicycle we want (and any Porsche for that matter).

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  69. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  70. My boyfriend got me onto your site a while back (he's currently the new cyclist in the relationship). I'm recently working as an expat in Japan, teaching in the rural countryside. I want to say thank you for your inspiring post! I found I spent money as a means of coping with homesickness and loneliness (I live alone in a foreign country -both firsts!) instead of creating and treasuring what I can afford (or what I'd LIKE to invent in!). Your bikes ARE lovely, and I will admit, I like a lot of what you're willing to invest in as well (yes, even spending $5-$30 on a fountain pen that just... dances across the page). Thank you again, and all the best~

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