Friday, December 19, 2008

Good boots will see us through bad times

With the grim economic news in the headlines, we're cutting back probably as much as anybody is. My family has never been extravagant with gifts, but we've all pulled in our horns even more this year. Aside from gifts, we're taking it easy on other purchases, canceling vacations, cutting my wine budget down to Yellowtail, and making things last just a little longer than we had planned.

Along those lines ...

With the winter weather this week, I threw on one of my foul weather outfits the other day, consisting of wool pants and shirt, and a sturdy pair of leather hiking boots. The shirt is only a few years old and promises to be indestructible. The boots date back a decade, accompanied me through the Grand Canyon and on trails in Alaska, and have years of life left in them, though they need new soles. And the pants are Australian army surplus dating to 1951. I bought them 15 years ago and they look good as new.

If you're willing to pay for it upfront, there are things that last and save money over time. That shirt and those boots weren't cheap, but the boots have outlasted several pairs of light hiking shoes, costing me less overall. I expect the same of the shirt, which replaced an earlier wool shirt which still does woodcutting duty.

Even if you're not willing to pay upfront, some things last and really save money. I paid $12 for those wool pants. What a bargain. I should have bought another pair. But I still see similar deals here and there. Stuff that's going to last.

A few years ago, I got fed up with the cost of razor blades. The last straw was when they started putting batteries in manual razors so they'd vibrate. Oh cool, another thing to buy. No thanks. So I bought a straight razor and the accompanying gear.

You know, there's a reason most men gave up on straight razors. Jesus, they take some effort to master. And thank you, whoever invented the styptic pencil. But I mastered the damned thing and began to enjoy the morning ritual. With replacement razor cartridge refills going for ten bucks a pop, the straight razor paid for itself in less than two years.

The clippers I bought for $15 in 1996 paid for themselves in haircut savings in about a month. Of course, I have fairly uncreative ideas about men's hair styles. So far, my son does too. I use those same clippers on him.

My leather bomber jacket is twenty years old. The fabric trim could use a little work, but the leather just has a great, distressed look. It'd look even better if I hadn't virtually lived in it for five years. I'll bet my son inherits the thing.

It's possible to fetishize all this, of course. You could live a pre-war life of brass, wool, leather and wood. Most of that stuff would last for quite a long time. But there are tradeoffs.

Backpackers and hikers don't usually wrap themselves in wool and leather anymore for good reason: the stuff weighs a ton. Seventy pounds on your back or thirty pounds on your back? Which do you prefer when you're climbing out of a canyon? And, frankly, nylon tents do a far better job than canvas tents (I've slept in them both).

Not everybody wants to Sweeny Todd themselves to save a few bucks down the road. Straight razors and hangovers really don't mix. Trust me on this.

And the savings in durable items are dependent on good care. Drop that razor and ding the blade and you're just out of luck.

Not everything has to be built for the ages. My wife likes fashionable clothing that changes from year to year. I'm really glad that it's inexpensively made and priced. Her handbag, on the other hand ... gulp. But it's a classic piece that should last for decades.

But fashion is for prosperous times. When times get tough, it's worth sticking with durable items that will last and see you through to the other side.

Good times will come around again and so will the ability to buy fashionable clothes and disposable toys. Until then, my wool pants will keep me warm.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the old saying "I bet you squeeze the last drop from a tooth paste tube".

Well I do. I squeeze it till none is left.
Not because I'm cheap, but it just seems to me the last bit is the same as the first, and I payed for it to use it, not throw it away.

December 19, 2008 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

always wanted to shave with a real razor but couldn't figure out how to, seemed every possible angle i tried was gonna slice my throat or some facial part. do you go with or against the grain? at what angle? guess i could google this....oh and i do the same thing with tooth paste for the same reason.

December 19, 2008 4:54 PM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

I have probably saved thou$and$ on haircuts, since I just use scissors to snip off the ends when I start tripping over it. OK, slight exageration. That's a "fairly uncreative idea[s] about men's hair styles", too.

As for shaving, I have used the same electric razor, supplemented by my extremely sharp pocket knife when I am bored, for 30 years. And both were gifts that cost me nothing.

December 19, 2008 5:49 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

The trick to shaving with a straight razor is ... well, honestly, you're just going to cut the shit out of yourself for the first few weeks.

It's all about technique and a good, sharp blade. I make two passes with the grain first, and then either one or two passes against the grain, depending on how stubborn my whiskers are that day. The final result, after much practice, is comparable to whatever the Gillette Vibro 12-blade uber-razor promises to deliver the first couple of days with a new cartridge.

December 19, 2008 6:55 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

I use those standard cartridge razors and, while I agree the replacement packs are expensive, I've found a single cartridge (blade) can last for months so I only buy replacement blades every couple years or even less often.

One change I made years ago that I've been really happy with is I don't buy shaving lotion anymore. I use shaving soap with a brush.

I first got started on that probably 20 years ago. I developed sensitive skin, or something. When I'd use that old aerosol lotion my skin would hurt like hell when I was done.

So the wife bought me a shaving soap kit for a present and the pain stopped immediately.

I used to buy the shaving soap available at stores for a bit over $2.00 a pop, but that kind didn't seem to last too long. Finally, the wife started actually making round shaped soap that fits right in my shaving mug. Lasts quite awhile, too.

But, I've found I can also use standard bars of soap in a pinch. No more aerosol cans to throw away.

December 20, 2008 6:44 AM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...


You get *months* out of a razor cartridge? I think I'm doing something wrong. I get a decent shave for 1-2 weeks, and it's downhill from there until it's like dragging a cheese grater over my cheeks.

December 20, 2008 6:56 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

Seriously. I can tell the difference when I put a new blade on, but the old one works fine for me for months. Heck, usually when I end up putting a new blade on, it's not because I feel the old one's dull, I just figure it must be time to change blades.

Your response isn't unusual, though. An ex- brother in law had the same reaction when I told him I used the same blade for months.

December 20, 2008 4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that the secret to making your razor blades (of whatever type) last longer (maybe not indefinitely, though) was to keep them dry. Wipe them off after use. Don't leave them in the shower, where they'll be more exposed to moisture. But I'm not a guy... my leg hair uses up razor blades really fast. *Sigh*

December 23, 2008 8:16 AM  

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