Splurges Vs. Steals

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The Last Pair of Sandals, Ottawa, August 2014

The Last Pair of Sandals, Ottawa, August 2014

“I hate buying sandals,” I confessed to the lady behind me at the checkout.

We both eyed the customer in front of us who was buying $600 worth of shoes and counting her money very slowly.

“Why is that?” she asked distractedly.

“Because no matter how much money I spend on sandals, I never keep them long. Heals wear out, soles have holes, straps break. There is nothing I can do. This kind of shoes are not made for walking.”

Yet, I was purchasing another pair. On sale. The one I had bought in May were abandoned in France—holes in the soles, hopeless. I walk I lot, I guess.

I stopped splurging on sandals a long time ago. I have tried all the major brands, from store-brand shoes to big names in footwear such as like Clarks, Sketchers and Nike. I have spent as little as $15 to as much as $100. The result is always the same: no pair of sandals can last an entire summer.

I paid $39 for the shoes and left. We will see how long this pair last.

This got me thinking… what do you splurge on and what do you save on?

For me…


Coffee: I don’t drink enough coffee to invest in a coffeemaker, beans and filters. I buy my fix from Starbucks (or Tim Hortons if I’m desperate). No fancy concoctions, just black coffee. Brewing my own might be slightly cheaper but to me, it’s not worth the trouble. I make my own tea, though.

Winter gear: I find good snow boots do make a difference in your day (walking with wet and cold feet is just awful). Cougar is one of my favourite brands, as well as Merrell. A good winter coat is also a must-have wardrobe item in Canada.

Bread, pastries and cakes: I will never ever eat Wonder Bread. My loaf of Swedish rye bread costs a bit more and it doesn’t keep for weeks in the fridge but it actually tastes like… you know, bread. I hate most supermarket-made “sheet cakes” and would rather buy my treats fresh out of the oven at the bakery.

Pedicures: In theory, I can totally paint my own nails. But I don’t mind paying $30 for the luxury of having someone else working on my poor feet. Plus, considering the price of nail polish, it’s a good deal.

Massages: Until I find a way to rub my own back, I’ll keep on treating myself to a good massage once in a while.

Bedding: Last spring, I bought a nice set of sheets and pillowcases because I was sick and tired of our mismatch stuff. Turned out to be a great purchase. Cotton sheets are the best.

Conditioner: A friend of mine who work in a salon once told me that shampoo doesn’t matter much, but a good conditioner makes a difference. He was right. I’m very low maintenance when it comes to my hair but I do splurge a bit on conditioning products.

Web hosting: Last year I had to switch to a more reliable and more expensive hosting solution for this blog. It was worth the peace of mind—I don’t have to submit tickets every week and wait for the blog to be back online!

Traveling: While we don’t splurge when we travel (we stay in cheap hotels or hostels, use local mode of transportation and backpack), traveling is a priority for us. I don’t care much about my living space, but I can spend a lot of money on getting to a remote destination.


Clothes: Don’t get me wrong: I have plenty of brand-name items, but I never pay full price for them. There are sales quite often in Canada (not just twice a year like in France), so I regularly go to Gap or Calvin Klein to check out the “last chance” clearance rack. Otherwise, I head to Winners. Most of my jeans are either Levis or Calvin Klein (I like the fit for both brands) and the most I have paid for a pair was $40.

Produce: Bananas are bananas. I’m not paying more because they come packaged in a fancy bag. I don’t buy organic food either because I can’t be convinced the price tag is worth it.

Facials: I had a facial once, just to try it, and I didn’t find the experience particularly relaxing or the results particularly amazing. I buy “fancy” skincare products from my favourite brands when I go to France and regularly exfoliate, moisturize, etc.

Gym membership: When I first came to Canada, I bought a membership at the YMCA. Unfortunately, working out in a gym setting isn’t my thing, plus the monthly fees add up. Now I stay active by biking, walking and running after Mark (figuratively and literally).

Haircuts: I already wrote about my poor experience with hair salons in Canada. Now I only get haircuts when I really need to, and most of the time I’ll do it when we are abroad (my last one was in France).

Magazines: I’d buy them if they were cheaper. But for now, I read them at Chapters.

Cookies: I found the most expensive/fancy ones weren’t necessarily the best. One of my favourite is Food Basics’ store brand!

Staple foods: I buy cereals, oatmeal, canned tuna, rice, pasta, etc. in bulk whenever my favourite brand is on sale.

Software: I mostly use free or open-source software, plugins and apps such as Calibre (for my ebook library), Filezilla (FTP), Skype (free or very cheap phone calls), etc.

How about you? What do you splurge on? What do you buy cheap?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Like you, travel is one of my big luxuries. I don’t stay in particularly upmarket places (although I’m prepared to spend a bit more than I used to to be comfortable) but I will pay extra to avoid flying and travel by train if I can. For hiking gear, especially shoes and waterproofs, I sometimes buy the more expensive brands because they make a big difference in comfort and can potentially save your life. I’m also trying to go upmarket on T-shirts and other basics, because I’m sick of buying things which are unintentionally see-through before I’ve even washed them once. I guess I also splurge a bit on coffee and chocolate, because I try to buy fair trade and ethical products.

    My steals are fruit and vegetables, which we get cheaper and better at the market than in the supermarket, English-language books, which my friends and colleauges tend to pass around, and, like you, software. I’d love to spend more on tech hardware and have it last a bit longer, but apparently that’s not possible – you pay for the features and not the longevity, which annoys me.

    As for sandals, I could spend the whole summer in plastic flip-flops, but people look down on you in France if you do that when you aren’t at the beach!

    • Oh yes, French people are a bit weird with shoes. I would wear anything, really, in the summer, but I feel underdressed if I wear “des chaussures de plage”.

      What are your favourite clothing brands?

  2. I hate buying sandals, too. I don’t know what it is, but I am so self-conscious in them. I wanted to wear my other, non-sandal shoes yesterday when we met, but they look too fancy and I knew you would be wearing sandals. The ones that I wore yesterday were the ones my mother-in-law bought when she force-brought me to buy some sandals. Anyway, I really like your new sandals.

    Most of my splurges are for food, surprise, surprise. Going out, buying certain ingredients, hosting people at our place – this is where a lot of my money goes. Not to mention travel. But the rest…

    I think you should be spending a lot for good quality winter gear if you live in Canada. I hate cold, wet feet so much and I think that I will splurge for a good pair of rain boots.

    • I like the ones you were wearing. Otherwise, try Globo Shoes, they are having a big sale right now, hence my new purchase.

      I’m weird with food. I do enjoy good food but good food isn’t necessarily pricey food. I mean, take pasta. Pasta dish range from $6 to $40 in the most upscale places, but really, it’s pasta plus sauce and meat/fish. A $40-dish isn’t always better. “Microwave meals” are surprisingly expensive considering how crappy they are. Basically, I spend money on food too but I try to spend it wisely 🙂

  3. Ooooh, I love this meme! Maybe I will expand on it over on my own blog – if I can think of enough splurges. In general I only have one major big splurge, and that’s books – I buy a lot of them (too many!) and if it’s a title I really want, I will even buy hardcovers rather than waiting for them from the library. I KNOW, I should knock it off.

    Other splurges: LEGO (I’m an enabler – I’m supporting my son’s desire to own every set ever created, and only the real name-brand stuff will do); bathing suits (have learned my lesson about cheapy ones falling apart in the pool after two wearings); craft supplies (no name markers will not cut it – I want my Crayola!).

    Savings: um…everything else? I’m totally with you about clothes and shoes – other than winter boots, I always buy stuff that is on sale, at the cheapest stores, because everything I wear winds up stained and torn within three wearings. I’ll have to think of some more!

    • I used to buy many hardcovers, then I got a Kindle. Now I still buy books, mostly ebooks, but I borrow a lot too. I always buy the hardcover version of the Lonely Planet of the country I’m visiting though, both because reading a travel guide on a device feels weird (you can’t really bookmark maps!) and because I collect them.

      If you get a chance, please do expend the meme!

  4. Martin Penwald on

    Fortunately, my mom doesn’t live in Canada, because I can keep clothes largely after they are worn out. I don’t buy expensive t-shirts (or shirt or everything else), because after a few monthes, left shoulder broke, due to seat belt friction.
    For the shoes, I buy only 1 model of boots from a Canadian company (don’t remember the name, cost around 220 dollars), and I can keep it nearly 1 year before the sole broke and the heel is diminished on the outside (I don’t walk flatly).
    And when I came in France I try to get some fabric espadrilles (same kind as Gaston Lagaffe wears), because I can’t find that in Canada, and it is the best thing to wear when I drive.

    I am cheap for almost everything I buy, I don’t like spending money. Moreover, I need it to buy a truck, which will be an expensive model, but I cannot see it as a splurge, because after doing the math, it make sense to pay more for a thing in which I spend most of my time.

    • Feng is the same, most of his t-shirts have holes and he doesn’t care. I don’t mind jeans with holes but tees… for a woman, it would feel weird. Well, unless it’s my sleeping shirt, of course.

      Are espadrille comfortable for driving? They don’t offer much of a grip, do they? I know there are some shoes I can’t drive with because I can’t “feel” the pedals. Mind you, I’m a shitty driver so that may be just in my head.

      • Martin Penwald on

        I used to drive with safety shoes with reinforced sole (anti-fire and anti-corrosive), but I stopped because the Geneva Convention forbid the use and fabrication of toxic weaponery.
        The espadrille is perfect, because my feet can breathe thank to the straw sole. Plastic sole is not as confortable, even if I always wear socks.
        Moreover, I put them only if I have to drive for 2 or 3 hours straight, in a urban area I keep my boots.
        I never had trouble to drive with thick soles, but I understand it can be a problem. I know some truck drivers who don’t like that too.

  5. My big spend was always on beauty products. I don’t like cheap beauty products. Same as you, I will always spend on winter gear. Also I will buy maybe one or two expensive wardrobe staples, but for most things I go to Value Village! My best ever spend was $1 on a pair of foam sandals in Chinatown last summer. They were the comfiest thing I owned and they lasted throughout the whole summer and part of this one. I loved them very much!

  6. My sandals are already starting to get holes in them! They never make it through the season for me either. To be fair, I tend to drag my feet which doesn’t help and I am constantly getting holes in the sole, but still, I feel like they should hold up better.

    I’ve been thinking about this question since yesterday. I’m sure after commenting, tons of things will jump into my mind.

    -Going out to eat. We love restaurants. There’s just something about eating out that we love. That said, our idea of splurging on a restaurant ranges from fast food burritos to a moderate priced restaurant, so it’s not actually that big of an expense.
    – Traveling. It’s sort of taken a backseat the past few years as I’ve had a tight student budget, but I hope once we’re both working that we’ll be able to explore some new places.

    – Books. I rarely buy brand new books unless it’s something that I really really am looking forward to. I usually surf around Amazon Marketplace for cheap used books in English.
    – Clothes. I rarely buy things full price.

    • Like you, I like to eat out but we don’t go to fancy places, mostly ethnic restaurants and food is pretty cheap. And we don’t drink, so the bill isn’t too bad.

      Finding books in your language abroad is always a challenge. I’m lucky that there are French books at the library, it saved me from spending $$$ on imported copies when I first came here and didn’t speak English!

  7. Ahahah! I’ve had my Birkenstock for 4 full summers! They’re just starting to look like I’ve taken them from a garbage can in the street. Though, they’ve done 3 north american walking summers with me! 🙂

    – FOOD. Any kind, and not only restaurant. I will always buy the high quality food, even the pastas, and even when I don’t have that much money. Last year, which was a financially difficult one, I even took savings to eat properly, but I didn’t go out to the restaurant
    – travelling, often goes with food too. I tend to be a very low budget traveller, but I’m miserable when I don’t have the money to travel.
    – shoes, oh boy do I love shoes. I don’t have the means to buy very expensive ones, but I only have leather shoes, and from a good brand (Minelli, Dolfie, Kickers…). I keep them a lot of time! But even with that, I admit that it’s a splurge
    – good quality cosmetics. I don’t put on make up very often, but I have Caudalie, Lush, l’Occitane and La roche posay cosmetics, because they’re the best for my skin. Though, I don’t wear Chanel or stuff like that neither…

    – a pyjama. I had a friend over who had a beautiful gorgeous brand new pyjama. I never had a brand new pyjama. I still use mine from when I was 14 years old, or old shirts and shorts! I don’t have to look good on my pyjamas. I’d rather sleep naked!
    – Clothes in general, I rarely buy new clothes (and when I look at my closet, I maybe should)
    – Things, actually. I don’t buy things. I’m not the consumerist type, and I avoid to buy new stuff when I can avoid it!

    • Do you like Lush? I tried some of their products but I found them very meh. I don’t get what’s the fuss is all about. Maybe it’s just me. I love Nuxe products and some lesser known “parapharmacie” brands.

      I sleep naked or with a tee-shirt. I once bought a very nice and sexy nightgown but I found it uncomfortable (I get tangled into it!).

      • I don’t like everything from them but I do like the solid shampoos (once you find the one that fits, you can’t use anything else – actually it takes at least 2 weeks for your hair to get rid of all the silicon, that’s why it looks meh at first, but after that, it’s perfect, I only wash my hair 3 times a week now and they’re more strong that they’ll ever been!), and the shaving cream saved my boyfriend’s skin. So I guess it depends!
        Nuxe is great, but a tad expensive for me 🙂

        Oh yeah, me too! I remember almost be strangled by a “sexy” gown that went up… I guess I move too much!

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