Aspen Princess: Money, money, money | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Princess: Money, money, money

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

Until like, yesterday, I was horrible with finances.

It has taken me almost half my life to figure out how to manage my money and to find some semblance of control over our budget.

For years, I was the girl who didn't open my mail. I'd just stuff it into a drawer. If I didn't look at something, like a bill, then it didn't exist. The only numbers I was interested in were the balance of my checking account and how much money I had left on my credit cards. Things like interest rates didn't interest me; I was all about minimum payments, credit limits and living paycheck to paycheck.

I've also always been a big spender and had very expensive taste. I would inevitably gravitate toward the most expensive item in any product line or selection.

"Of course I like that one," I would joke with the salesperson, with a little toss of my hair. "I must have good taste."

I think the worst advice my mother ever gave me was "you get what you pay for," because I have used it to justify numerous purchases that should have been well out my reach.

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When I first moved to Aspen, one of the things I loved the most was how the sales people in all the high-end boutiques treated me as if I actually deserved to be there. This was a far cry from where I grew up on the East Coast, where the air was so thick with snobbery and pretention that the sales girls literally turned their noses up in the air.

I remember going to Soho in New York City with my mom when I was a girl, before it turned into a giant shopping mall, and most of the stores we frequented had buzzers on the door so each customer could be evaluated upon entry. My mother was always beautifully dressed. She had a personal shopper and a boutique in West Hartford, Connecticut, who would pull clothes for her to try on, based on her size and taste. It was the exact opposite of shopping online.

I never cared about clothes until I was in my late 20s, choosing to spend the first half of my life shuffling through the day half asleep in what could pass as pajamas. In college, I was all about my Bavarian wool clogs and a worn pair of Levis and my teal fleece pullover from L.L. Bean. It wasn't until I moved to Southern California that I discovered my love for clothes.

Then came Aspen.

I'll never forget my first designer purchase. I'd gotten a gig tutoring that paid way more money than I thought I deserved, considering the kid was super-smart and absolutely did not need a tutor. Every time I'd go over there, her mom would literally shove fistfuls of money at me, even though I insisted it was too much.

One day I walked out of there with $700 in my pocket. I was walking down Galena, and in the window display at Louis Vuitton sat a tiny pink purse. I walked in and bought it right then and there, and for years it was my most prized possession. I used it until the hardware wore out and the clasp failed.

Another one of my favorite ways to justify a purchase is "the cost per use" argument. Like, each time you use a garment, the cost goes down. That's how I justified spending almost a thousand dollars on a Post Card jacket with a fur-lined hood back in 2005. As soon as I put it on, I felt transformed, it's superior tailoring hugging me in all the right places, the thick material and ample lining deliciously warm. I wore that jacket for 10 seasons, until it was so trashed that even the consigner wouldn't take it. In the end, that jacket was a better value than buying a new coat from say, Burton, every two years and spending the same amount. I haven't been able to find an adequate replacement for that jacket to this day, and if I could I would buy it again.

Naturally, things changed when I became a homeowner, a wife and a mother. Even though I still care about how I look and try to take good care of myself, it's nothing compared to the near psychotic ambition to look my best when I was single and also shopping for a good man. And now that I'm no longer a size 4, shopping just isn't as fun as it used to be. I'm no longer feeding the vanity that motivated me to run 6 miles a day, do two yoga classes and squeeze in a circuit training class at Jean Robert's Gym. These days, I'm lucky to squeeze in three yoga classes a week when Levi is in school, and I've traded Highland Bowl for the sledding hill at the park in Willits.

But I did make a few good decisions along the way. We decided to make the move downvalley and bought a house on the free market, an investment that's paid off. Our odd little house had a mother-in-law apartment that, unbeknownst to me, would provide us a nice little income on Airbnb. And when we recently started thinking about renovating our kitchen, a prickling anxiety that kept me up for half the night was a wake-up call I'd never experienced before: I realized I wasn't comfortable spending money we don't have, especially when I am still catching up on other debts.

What a strange sensation it was, doing the right thing. I'm not going to lie: My baby walks around in designer clothes and I still have a major shoe fetish and may have made a late night purchase or two on Zappos. But at least now, finally, after all these years, I've got that stiletto on the other foot.

The Princess is thinking about selling her designer shoes online. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.