Recently, my laptop pooped out. The four-and-a-half-year-old computer had been through thick and thin. I had traveled the country with it, and even dropped a glass of soy milk into the keyboard. It helped me create graphics, write graduate papers, and start Frugaling.org. The device was essential for my new book, too.
Not having a computer sent me in a tizzy. I needed one for nearly everything I do from work to play to school. My book wasn’t finished either, and I needed a dedicated computer for proofreading and formatting. Immediately, I investigated my options and surprisingly sold my old, broken one for a tidy sum.
My previous computer was an Apple. The laptop was reliable considering what I threw at it. In an effort to be frugal, I looked at Google Chromebooks. Unfortunately, certain academic and work responsibilities would necessitate a real computer – whether Mac or Windows.
Considering resale values, reliability, build quality, and my own knowledge base, I decided to get another Apple. Because it was “Back to School” season, the company had a special sale. Buy a computer, get an education discount, and receive a free pair of Beats headphones.
Regularly $200, the headphones would be shipped with the purchase. When I agreed to the payment options and clicked order, I planned to sell the headphones. They would ultimately lower the real purchase price of the computer.
I ravenously opened the boxes. Despite everything I preach about immaterialism and anti-consumption, my computer was a necessity. There wasn’t another way for me to write, publish, comment, and work on Frugaling. And I was lusting over the product.
Then, in another box, were the Beats headphones. I left the box sealed – brand new and ready for auction on eBay or sale on Craigslist. As the days ticked by, that unopened box stuck out like a sore thumb. It begged to be open.
So, I did.
As I ripped the shrink wrap and took the shiny headphones out, I felt this guilt. If I’m supposed to be frugal, am I allowed to own Beats headphones? Furthermore, can I truly afford them if my budgets are still so tight? The frugal friend on my shoulder said, “you can’t afford this.” The baller on a budget said, “maybe you can.”
When I put the headphones on my head, I looked in the mirror and saw Lebron James suiting up for his next basketball game. I was a walking, listening ad for Beats.
With their iconic lowercase “b” logo on either ear and a red cord dangling down, I was embarrassed. The look, fit, finish, and advertisement-like design bothered me. I felt like a hypocrite. How could I spout frugally inspired words and wear these?
The next day I took the headphones to school. Everywhere I went, people asked about them. In fact, someone in the Iowa City community who struggles with homelessness that I’ve interacted with regularly approached me.
He grabbed ahold and said, “Wow, nice headphones!”
When I heard that, I felt shame. How can I walk around with these bulky Beats that flash status in the face of those with less? How can I reconcile the decision to keep/accept flaunting $200 sitting on my head, while he struggles to find shelter?
In these moments, I think many people ignore this dissonance. They rationalize their ownership by stating that those with less get what they deserve. This is our capitalistic society working as it should.
For me, I balk at symbols of excessive wealth. These are unnecessary reminders of classism that pin rich against poor – privileged against disenfranchised. I don’t need to look like Lebron James walking to game time. Likewise, I don’t need to look like I’m better than anyone else – because I’m not.
But is there ever room for something like this in a frugal lifestyle?
What would you do? Would you keep the brand-assailing Beats headphones or sell them off?