Pleather vs. leather

A scary side effect of being a personal finance writer is that I’m way more likely to nag my daughter about her spending habits than her outfit choices. (In my defense, I’ve spent years talking to people whose financial lives were ruined by overspending.) I try to teach Becca, who is 14, to make her own decisions. But sometimes it’s hard.

Case in point: We were at Urban Outfitters last month, when Becca reached for a leather jacket that was—to use her word—perfect. Everything from the cut to the feel was beautiful, I had to agree. The only not-perfect-thing was the price, which was $128. Despite what you’ve seen on Gossip Girl, a leather jacket is not a necessity for a 14-year-old New Yorker. At least not in our family.

Plus, Becca and I had just been to Forever 21, where they had an almost identical jacket—in pleather—for a third the cost.

Pleather versus leather?

I’m often torn in these moments when shopping with my children, and I imagine other parents go through the same thing: Keds or Nike? Juicy versus JC Penney? Sometimes it’s easy. Others are more weighted. You know the feeling… I never got name brands as a kid so maybe one pair of True Religions wouldn’t be harmful… Of course you may or may not be able to afford the item, but it’s not only about that. (In some ways, having it be just about money would make the solution simpler: Sorry! We can’t afford that right now.) What I’m really talking about now is the values we’re imparting to our kids. If we’re spending more money than we normally would, is it for something that our children will cherish and respect—or is it just one more way to create closet clutter?

I cycled through my mental pre-purchase checklist: Does she love it? (Definitely.) Does she need it? (Not really. A leather jacket’s not exactly a substitute for a winter coat here in NYC.) Will she get so much use out of it that if you add up the cost-per-wear, it would come to pennies? (Probably, but what if it gets torn? Or she loses it? Although it’s in fashion now, next year who knows?) Will she grow out of it in twelve months? (Hard to say…)

I took a deep breath. As much as I wanted Becca to make the prudent choice, I wanted it to be her choice. I say no a lot, and this time it was a fairly close call—one I wanted her to make.

“It’s a nice jacket,” I said, as neutrally as possible. “Do you like this or the one at Forever 21?” I added, reminding her of the less-expensive option.

“This one’s way nicer,” Becca said, touching the leather. She paused thoughtfully. “But I don’t need a leather jacket. That other one for $38 is just fine.”

I smiled, thinking I’d clearly taught her something … this time.

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Comments (1)

BusyDad | Respond
October 29, 2009 11:38 PM PT

Seeing as my kid is still too young to really care about brands as a factor of social acceptance (ugh, I remember wearing Sears shirts when other kids were wearing Ralph Lauren Polos in 5th grade and feeling SO embarrassed!!) this hasn’t been a problem yet. But kids these days watch TV, and brand hierarchy is something that’s inevitable, so I know I’m going to have to deal with it someday. The problem is my wife and I (albeit unconsciously) gravitate toward certain brands and we talk about them (I neeeeed those Lucky Jeans!) so I’m sure the kid picks up on that stuff. Hey, we’re consumers living in a consumer culture. I’m in marketing and I get brand loyalty. I live and breath brand loyalty. What are we going to do to reconcile that? I have no idea…

But for now I’m ok. All I have to say is “if we buy this cheaper one, you have enough left over to buy this Lego set too.” I don’t know for how much longer the Lego argument will be relevant, though.

So we’re screwed. But that’s why I’m reading this blog :)

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About Beth Kobliner

Beth Kobliner

Beth Kobliner is a personal finance expert, magazine columnist, and commentator who offers practical advice and insight on a wide range of economic and financial matters. She is author of the New York Times bestseller, "Get A Financial Life: Personal Finance In Your Twenties and Thirties." A graduate of Brown University, she lives in New York with her husband and three children.

Beth Kobliner

"Get A Financial Life." Beth Kobliner’s New York Times bestseller. Get more info or visit Beth Kobliner's Web site.