Being-wealthy things that I don’t yet take for granted

I need a suit. When I lost weight last year, I donated all of my jackets, slacks, etc., and never bought anything new because I so rarely need to wear those kind of clothes. But now I have two weddings in the next 6 months and I need something appropriate to wear.

Even though I could afford to spend more, I don’t want to spend much on a suit because I wear it so rarely and I also have no desire to wear a suit on a day-to-day basis anymore.

After a bit of research, I decided to go with the Bar III suit from Macy’s. Cheap and decent, and I could get it tailored so it fits me perfectly. A well-tailored cheap suit will always look better than an ill-fitting expensive suit.

I measured myself, and I used Macy’s TruFit tool to figure out what size I should wear. But when the pants got here, I discovered they were 2-3 inches too small!

Here’s the part where I feel crazy wealthy: I just ordered three more pairs of pants in different sizes so I can find the one that fits best.

I’ll return the ones that I don’t want for a full refund, so I’m still only out the cost of a single pair of pants (and because Macy’s has a ridiculous sale on, they’re only $40!). But just being able to order these now and get refunds later… that’s some financial privilege right there.

When I was a freshman in college, I spent some of my student loan money to buy a nice suit. I think it cost me $300, was made of gaberdine wool, and I wore it primarily for Model United Nations competitions. Weddings, funerals, work interviews, and eventually multiple times a week for work. I wore that suit for years until it fell apart.

Getting a new suit was out of reach for me financially for a long time. Now I could afford one, but don’t really need one… still, I’m grateful that I have the option of ordering online (because the Bar III isn’t actually carried in our local store for some reason), trying things on, and returning them.

And maybe someday I’ll go to my tailor and have him make me a custom suit. It’s actually not that expensive–$300, the same as I paid for that wool suit from Men’s Wearhouse back in 2003–but it takes months and I currently only have two pairs of jeans and I should probably get more of the things I wear everyday first. I only recently reached the milestone of having more than two pairs of socks that I like to wear. Jeans are next on my list.

(And I’m tired of my jeans dying after a year, so I’m thinking about saving up for raw denim.)

The Pressures of Antiquing

April and I celebrated our second anniversary over the weekend and decided that we would spend it here in Springfield doing the touristy things we never do. Since we live here, there’s a lot to the city we take for granted and never experience, so we wanted to spend the day seeing the sights, such as they are, and eating really fancy food. Two of the places we visited were little shops we had walked past on occasion, but which had always been closed when we were near. On Saturday, they were open.

The thing about little shops, the really frustrating and unavoidable thing, is that you’re easily noticed in them. The shopkeeper sees you right away, says hello, offers to help, hovers nearby, suggests you look at and perhaps even purchase things. This is all well and good–their job is to sell things, after all–but let’s be honest here: April and I had no real intention of buying anything. We just can’t afford that much. We especially can’t afford it in shops that are horribly overpriced and stocked with garbage.

But we felt guilty, and we hemmed and hawwed and wondered if we ought to buy something after all. Here was this nice old man, just trying to make his way in the world, with a shop filled with crap and nobody buying anything. Antique shops are like the slightly-less-poor beggar’s tin cup.

We left, because if we bought antiques then we’d soon have to open a shop of our own just to get by in this crazy, filled-with-overpriced-garbage kind of world. But we felt bad about it, and here I am two days later still thinking about it. Man, I have got to lay off the antiquing…

Being a Good Client

Here is something I do not understand: in general, we as consumers know very, very little, and yet we subscribe wholesale to the mantra, “The Customer Is Always Right.”

Businesses train their employees in customer-centric policies, forcing sales associates to bend over backwards for the ill-educated slobs who demand their attention. Meanwhile, people who don’t know a thing about the subject of their desires often make unrealistic demands because they simply don’t know better.

It doesn’t matter whether the subject is a vehicle, a house, new shoes, a set of clothing, or a web site design, few of us are experts on the things for which we shop. Yet we treat the people whose jobs it is to help us as if we know better than they.

Of course, in some settings, those sales associates are just trying to earn a paycheck or rip you off, and consumers must educate themselves and be wary. But in many professional fields, the person working to help you knows far more than you and their job is to do right by you. If they treat you unjustly, you won’t go back to their store and you’ll tell others about the poor experience, so it is in their interests to make sure you get what’s best. The problem is that, regardless of setting, we continue hearing “The Customer Is Always Right,” and we believe it.

In my recent role as the client of a web designer, I felt for the first time what it was to be a relatively clueless customer. When it comes to shopping for cars, I know enough about them to have a decent idea of what I’m looking for. And my mom is a real estate agent, so when we were looking for a house, I knew the questions to ask and what to avoid. But when it comes to building a new web site, I barely know where to begin. I have no sense of colour or form, no artistic creativity, and so I can give the barest of guidance.

In this situation, I decided that my best bet was to make some brief suggestions and then get out of the way. Ryan is a professional with a great deal of experience in web design, so I felt that I could trust him to do right by me. In looking around this site, I’m sure you will agree that he did.

I feel that we should adopt this posture of humility and patience more often, and after working with Ryan, I think that I will do so. The results were very positive, and it makes me want to try this again.

Step 1: Figure out what you want

In conversations with Ryan about some of his other clients, it seems like a lot of people skip this step. Clients often don’t think enough about their desires, and so what they give the professional is too little information for the professional to do what is needed. The professional will do what they can with what they have been given, but there’s a high chance that they will return with unfavorable results if you don’t help them help you.

Be thoughtful and do some work before meeting with the professional. You’ll both be happier.

Step 2: Keep an open mind

There is an extremely good chance that the professional will come back with something different than you had expected. That’s because they’re better at what they do than you are. When Ryan first showed me what he had come up with for my web site, I was taken aback. It looked nothing like what I had expected (my initial thought was, “This isn’t what I wanted”), but that’s because (again) I don’t know much about this.

What Ryan came up with didn’t seem like me or what I wanted because it was so good. It was better than anything I could have dreamed up… but wasn’t that the idea?

And the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. Ryan took my suggestions and made something beautiful, and he was able to do that because he knows what he’s doing.

Step 3: Be nice

Throughout the process, you need to make sure to continue giving guidance to the professional. Chances are that some things will need to be changed, and you shouldn’t hesitate to point those things out, but these conversations need to be in the context of a professional rapport that recognizes their intelligence and dedication. In short, be honest, but don’t be a dick.

Whatever it is you’re working with a professional for, you’re the one who has to live and be happy with the end result, so don’t let the professional run away with an idea you don’t like. You may need to clarify points initially made in step one, or you may have had additional ideas that need to be worked in. Get those to the professional, but recognize as well that the proper time for that was step one. If they can’t make changes at this point, or if it costs more or takes more time, be forgiving. It is reasonable that additional work would take additional time/money, so don’t act like it shouldn’t.

When we were looking for a house, we gave a short list of criterion to our real estate agent for him to put together properties for us to visit. After a couple of weeks, some of our criterion had changed, so we let him know about what we wanted now.

I’ve known people to get upset with real estate agents who “wasted their time” by showing them properties in which they weren’t interested. In reality, the real estate agent was basing their recommendations on the client’s requests, and it wasn’t the agent’s fault that those recommendations weren’t quite accurate. We need to be patient and give people time to do the job we asked of them.

In my personal experience, I would say, “The customer is.” No one is always right, but if we as customers work together with the professionals, we can achieve something great. We must not forget our place in the cycle, because we certainly shouldn’t make ourselves non-existent, but we should also remember that it is a cycle. We’re in this together, and both the client’s and the professional’s success depends on the positive outcome of a given project.

For more examples of what a good professional looks like, I’d encourage you to take a look at Ryan Burrell’s web site.

San Francisco, USA

He’s murmuring into his beard,
Curses or prayers, falling
To the stone under his feet.
Crouching by the road, jaundiced eyes
Darting from their hands to mouths,
He whispers to those who would hear,
“The end, the end, the end.”

Clutching his jacket, eyes rolled back,
Whites turned to overcast skies.

Another demon takes him,
Convulsing at Hyde and Sutter while
Shoppers walk past, clutching
Stained glass dreams.

Expect some delays

I finally got around to writing the next story in The Stormsworn Saga. It was a bit delayed because our weekend was 1) very relaxing and 2) surprisingly busy.

April and I started attending open houses (where a Realtor is at a house and it is open for just anyone to walk in and look around, ask questions, and check out the house) a few months ago, just for fun. We weren’t planning on buying anything until next spring because the lease on our apartment isn’t up until May, 2009.

Then we walked into a house I absolutely loved. It was too expensive, too big, and the utilities were ridiculous, but we got bit by the house-bug. We started looking more, and I thought I might go ahead and talk to a bank, see what our options might be.

So I visited my mom’s old boss, who is now a lending agent at Great Southern bank, and we discussed our (mine and April’s) financial state, what price of house were looking for, etc. The meeting was somewhat comical because when I told him what price of home we were considering, he practically laughed at me. “That’s all you want?” he asked, and showed me how very much money he was willing to give us. Of course, as these things tend to go, if I took that amount we’d be bankrupt in a year because we’d never be able to make the payments and still eat food. But his reaction was somewhat comforting. The payments were reasonable for the price of house we were considering.

When I told my mom that I was meeting with Dave to discuss a loan, she told me she was going to call Scott and refer us to him. I told her that we weren’t necessarily going to buy a house right now, but she thought it prudent to get the referral in now, and since Scott had been highly recommended to us (first by our pastor, and then by my mom who had apparently trained him back in the day), I acquiesced.

April had found a house online she wanted to look at, so we did. Then we got together with Scott and looked at some more houses. And then even more. All told, between open houses and what Scott has shown us, we’ve probably been to about 25 houses in the last few months.

But last Saturday, we found one we really liked. I’m not one to throw around words like “love” too freely, so I’ll avoid that term for now, but we really, really liked this house. It was a bit further from campus than we wanted, and not exactly what we were looking for, but at the same time it was almost perfect. And it had some features we hadn’t been looking for, but which were definite perks and, if we had thought about them in advance, we definitely would have had them on the “preferred” list of features.

We decided that it was a great house, easily the best we had seen (even compared to more expensive ones we’d visited) and that we wanted it. So, we bought it.

That’s still sinking in for me. Our closing won’t be until early September, at which time there will be a move-in party with a 6-foot sub sandwich. Housewarming party to follow on my birthday. I’ve been making calls pretty much all day to set up the home inspection and get my insurance agent out to take a look, rescheduling a meeting with a financial consultant, talking to our lending agent so I can meet with him later this week, going to our savings account and transferring money around… my vacation has certainly started with a bang.

To make a long story short, I was later getting today’s story up than I had intended. This won’t be the last time; my mind has been elsewhere 😉

If you’d like to see perhaps-too-detailed pictures of the house, there are some on my photo gallery I took so I could send them to my mom (who has been in real estate for probably 30 years now). Also so I could remember what the house looks like and gaze at them for long periods of time. April and I rode our bikes up there yesterday morning to discover that it will only be about a 15 minute ride to work (depending on traffic; might be a bit longer), and began making plans for finishing/remodeling the basement and what furniture we wanted to buy.

It’s all pretty exciting. Nothing’s definite and done until the closing in September, so if the home inspection turns up some really serious flaws in the foundation or something, this might all fall through. But we’re pretty hopeful; the house has been lovingly cared for and is in fantastic condition, and it has been completely updated as well. It’s 90 years old but, except for the styling, it looks almost brand new.

April and I will be in Branson with her parents pretty much all day tomorrow, so Wednesday’s story will be late in the day as well. Still, I’m hopeful that you will forgive me 😉

Bordering on Neurotic

While I am not against Change or its many avatars, I admit that I have become a creature of habit. My life has been tumultuous for so long that I began to cling to what bedrocks I could, however minor they may be. Though everything else in my life would be in a state of flux, I still had my books. The words greeted me the same today as yesterday, and those worlds were known and safe because they were unchanging from the time ink was set to page. When my life is particularly fluid, I cling to the same cereal, the same side of the bed, the same route to work… I find what stability I can in the little things so as to face the bigger things with a stronger stance.

So when I go grocery shopping, I have a routine. I always go to the same Wal-Mart and I always buy the same things. I have a relationship developed over the years with these particular foods and brands, so imagine my distress when one is discontinued, or even if the packaging is changed. If an item is even just out of stock, I start to worry that I will never see it again. And, as was the case with April’s tortelloni, I begin to hoard.

What if I never see this food again? I’d better buy a lot of it, just to get as much out of it as I can while it’s still here…

Subsequently, when I went grocery shopping last week, I bought a fair amount more than I probably should have. The pasta sauce I prefer, Bertolli’s, had been moved to an end-shelf the previous time I had been at Wal-Mart. What if they were trying to get rid of it all as a precursor to dropping the brand? I bought five jars, just in case. I think I spent around $20 just on tortelloni.

Of course, one can never find true stability in man-made constructions, routines, or packages. I recognize the neurosis as ludicrous, but it strikes me as a relatively minor vice, akin to my love of coffee. It would be better to not indulge, but if I am going to indulge at all, at least let it be something minor like this with so little impact on my life or the lives of others.