How Custom Vans Shook Me From my Cave of Cheapness

by Katy on December 14, 2012 · 35 comments

You all know that I am Sultana of Savings, the Chancellor of Cheap, the Secretary General of Scrimp and Save! (That was fun, I could have kept going all day long!) But when it comes to spending my hard earned dollars, I tend more towards the Cheapskate of Chattanooga. I hate spending the big bucks. I know it’s because I know too well that $20 spent here and $5 spent that could have bought an $15 antique bookshelf, or even a gorgeous $1 vintage painting.

It skews your perspective.

Like a 1930’s hysterical movie heroine, I sometimes need a good hard slap across the face.

My one and only nephew is turning thirteen on December 23rd, and I wanted to make this year’s gift something special. Becoming a teenager is a big deal to kids, and having a birthday two days before Christmas is always going to be kind of awful. Especially for a Jewish kid. So in the name of being the awesome aunt that I am, (this is fact and not arguable) I splashed out on an expensive birthday/Hanukkah gift that would knock his socks off.

Design your own custom Vans.

My son and his cousin have spent many happy hours on the Vans website designing their dream shoes, without ever getting to actually order a pair. Because the completed shoes cost $65 plus seven bucks in shipping. And when your mother normally spends around $5 for shoes at Goodwill, $72 ain’t gonna happen.

Nowhere, nohow, nuh uh.

These shoes will be my nephew’s one and only December gift from me, but the sound of his voice when I talked to him about his gift was was worth every penny of that $72, maybe even $73. To say he was pleased would be the understatement of the century.

The spending out was painful, but I am really happy with my decision. My nephew will get an awesome pair of self-designed shoes, and I know I hit the ball out of the park.

The only problem is that my 14-year-old son is now wickedly jealous.

Do you have to force yourself to spend more money, force yourself to spend less money or do you fall somewhere in between? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Elaine in Ark December 14, 2012 at 9:37 am

I have insanely strong sales resistance, so most shopping is for things I have already decided to buy. Barnes & Noble used to be my toughest store, though. I stay out of there, mostly.

I think I’m somewhere “in between”. If I need something, I try to find the best price to quality ratio. I also see all costs in terms of “units”. One unit is my take home pay for one hour (2 week paycheck divided by 80 hours). It’s amazing how much stuff is not worth a unit to me.


Karen December 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

You get what you pay for. Those cheap shoes you buy are functional, but unremarkable. These custom ones should last a long time, and will be remembered for a very long time.


Katy December 14, 2012 at 9:57 am

I disagree about “you get what you pay for.” The $5 Goodwill shoes are almost always like-new and are name brands.



kris December 14, 2012 at 9:45 am

Heading to the Van’s store tonight – my son wants some ‘skater’ shoes (to go with his skateboard he wants for Christmas). His birthday is tomorrow so the shoes are his b-day present. I don’t normally buy new except for b-days & Christmas, otherwise it’s Welcome to the Goodwill!


Katy December 14, 2012 at 9:58 am

Dang, I should have put in an affiliate link. 😉



kris December 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Got them ~ on sale! Yay me! lol


Carolyn December 14, 2012 at 10:24 am

Your post reminds me of how Gretchen Rubin writes about spending out (regarding using things up). You literally spent out with your money. I think it is great. You are being generous with your family and I assume, not spending beyond your means.

This is a big reason why I choose to live frugally. When we aren’t burdened by spending beyond our means, we can be more generous in so many ways.


Amanda S December 14, 2012 at 10:28 am

Personally, I try to be frugal in general in order to have the money for things that matter. I agree that an awesome custom gift like this is worth the expenditure. What’s the point of scrimping and saving if you don’t ever spend the money? Plus, it’s just plain worth it to make a kid happy every now and then.


Rachel W. December 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

I’m somewhere in the middle. My biggest weakness is indulging my daughter in certain aspects. Her love of most things Japanese (and Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, etc) tends to be where I spoil her when I can. Hence, my spending 30 dollars on a Japanese language limited edition volume of a manga she is currently in love with.

But I usually have an easier time spending on other people, anyway.


Linda in Indiana December 14, 2012 at 10:41 am

I agree with being able to “spend out”….I think it is so awesome that you could mark your nephew’s milestone birthday with something with a huge “Wow” factor…definitely will be remembered with fondness henceforth. You temper this with not doing it everyday and therefore means so much. We can get numb to “treats” when they are everyday things. You did Good!
I think I am somewhere in the middle….old dog still trying to learn new tricks. But I try to be thoughtful about how I make my purchases and think about how long it took to earn, will it get good use, do I need it etc. Sometimes I do better than others. But I do know that new doesn’t always mean better by any means…like you referenced in your son’s Goodwill tennies. But special treats are just that “Special Treats!” Happy B’Day to your nephew…you are an awesome auntie:)


Megyn @Unstuffed December 14, 2012 at 11:03 am

You pretty much described me to a T. My husband just bought a $70 pair of shoes, which I often scoff at…until I remember that this man has ONE pair of close-toed shoes that he years for generally 3 years. We are in this dilemma yet again since we have to get a new (at least to us) car. Go with something cheaper or get brand new with a warranty? I think part of me loves money too much to ever spend it when truly needed. I think you made a wise investment in those shoes…Vans last FOREVER!

As for those that think you can’t get good shoes at Goodwill, the majority of our boys’ Converse Chuck Taylors, Etnies, and Vans all came from the GW for $4 or less. They’ve held up remarkably.


lindsey December 14, 2012 at 11:27 am

Here is how I know you made a good choice: My sister is younger than I am and when she was about 12, I took her to a fancy store and bought her a really expensive (to me!) skirt that she had been swooning over. She is now 30 and a few weeks ago told me how much it meant to her that I bought her exactly what she wanted, even though she knew I thought it was a waste of moeny and didn’t care for the style. I had completely forgotten about the skirt, but am so very happy that I did it (and it is out of character for me to spend this kind of money on anyone). Years from now your nephew will be telling the story of the shoes.


cathy December 14, 2012 at 11:37 am

HAHAHA!!! I’m such a dope…I started reading this and nearly had a stroke thinking, “Katy has gone over the edge!” My first impression was that you were buying your 13 year old nephew a custom VAN…not shoes! Whew….


Bauunny December 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Oh my gosh! That is what I thought initially too!


AFS December 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Me too. I was picturing a shiney airbrushed design on a 1980’s econovan.


Stephanie December 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Your nephew is probably always going to remember how special this gift was to him – especially since he knows it’s a splurge for you. I have no wise words for your son’s green envy . . . it’s nice to treat your kids to something nice every once in a while. especially when it’s a treat and not an expectation. No one is going to judge you if you go ahead and order him a pair too – maybe you can ‘save’ on shipping and only pay that once? 😉


Megan December 15, 2012 at 8:53 am

Great job Auntie Katy!!! I agree with Stephanie that perhaps when your son does needs his next pair of shoes, those are ones to consider…. especially since they have bonded in this way creating their own custom pairs. To answer your question, I have to force myself to spend less this time of year because I tend to spend out of emotion and want to “treat” a lot more people this time of year. That is good but can be bad.


Lynn D. December 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I’d be reluctant to spend a lot on kids’ shoes if their feet are still growing. When my son was about nine his feet were the same size as mine. He got some pretty nice hiking boots that year which I still wear, probably last the rest of my life. I do think you’d better get your son a pair too unless there’s something else he’d honestly rather have.

I’m really enjoying the etsy ads.


Bauunny December 14, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I force myself to spend more money than usual occasionally when I take a special trip. I find that sometimes you fall in love with something unique that will always be a memento of a special time. – and then it IS worth the splurge. This fall I bought my daughter a birthday/Christmas gift that was more than I would usually spend (I am a mostly thrift or consignment shopper). But I think it will be totally worth it because when she wears it she will always think of that rainy afternoon in Amsterdam and the cute little shop on the canal where we found it and a special mother/daughter trip together.


kim December 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm

hey — i live in chattanooga and my birthday is dec. 23rd. hear the twilight zone music yet? 😉


Katy December 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm

And . . . I went to the same tiny college (Antioch) as Rod Serling.



Sara December 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I usually have a really hard time spending money and I don’t enjoy shopping; I have to force myself to spend when it is actually worth it. It is my twins’ first Christmas and we bought them cheap stockings, then came across gorgeous locally handmade stocking that cost 4 times as much. My husband reminded me that we’ll only buy them once and they can use them for a long time; we bought them and I’m glad we did 🙂


Cheapchick December 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Hubby forces me to spend more money – I hate spending it. I will splash out for things that are important like family and gifts but rarely spend it on myself – with the one exception being travel. I hate shopping retail – when I know I can get the same thing (eventually) at a thrift store for 10% the retail price.


KrisND December 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Depends on what and who I am spending the money on. My husband and I are in the position for the first time in our lives to be able to spend quite alot of money. We are purchasing plane tickets for my brother and his family to accompany us on a trip. My sil has cancer(third re-occurrence) and it brings me nothing but joy to be able to gift them with these tickets. I will be honest and tell you that thinking about the cost(because we are talking about seven people here including my own family) of these tickets gives me a bit of a nervous tic 😉 but I can think of absolutely nothing I would rather be doing with this money than giving them the opportunity to take what might be a last trip with their children.


patti December 15, 2012 at 7:27 am

I am frugal to a fault but I still like to spend when I feel like the occasion warrants it. This Christmas I bought all my girlfriends personalized Tervis Tumblers – which are quite pricey but worth it to see them jump with joy when they open them. I have one that was given to me and I use that cup EVERY DAY. I decided this was something that is worth the extra bucks and it was easy to order them all and be done with my shopping (and no gas expenses except to the store for the order). I bought them locally and the store gift wrapped them beautifully so it was a win-win situation for all. Sometimes it “pays” to be more generous!!


Suzanne Percy December 15, 2012 at 7:39 am

I have to force myself to spend less money, unfortunately. I’m a bit of a spender, especially around Christmas.


Leilani Disbrow December 15, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Ok, you scared me at first….. I was seeing a custom van as in auto when I read your title. Once I started reading the post I could breath again 🙂

I am in the middle on spending but becoming more and more of a tightwad everyday 🙂 I will pay more for made in america and will frequently put anything nonessential that is new and not made in america back on the shelf. I don’t hold to this on second hand purchases. I figure if I am buying second hand the good I am doing buying used outweighs the fact the item was made elsewhere. Besides buying used keeps me from needing to buy a new made elsewhere item (in the cases where it is hard to find american options)


Chris December 15, 2012 at 7:39 pm

What a precious memory you are making for your nephew. Knowing your views on money, he will know that this is truly what you want him to have. There will be a time, too, that feels right for your son. Thank you for the smile!


jeanine December 17, 2012 at 5:41 am

I scrimp and save so that I can spend where it most matters….
>to me<

I am not very concerned about every room having different color tile, (they are all in the tan/beige family), or only having two sets of matching towels (for guests) or even scrubbing my thrifted Emeril pots, as much as I am concerned about spending money on a metal roof or spray foam insulation, or a 75.00 oil change, or my siruisxm radio subscription, or even the occasional $150.00 dollar pair of shoes.

I love goodwill. Adore it. But unless the Rapture has occured and there are no more new shoes in my size…..I will NOT purchase used shoes. For me, the gross factor is right up there with used panties, bras, and even mattresses.

I think it's a balancing act.

In your case, your nephew will remember those shoes for the rest of his life….and after reading the reviews, he just might be able to wear them that long!!!

I don't see placing a number on making a memory like that.



Kailey December 17, 2012 at 10:05 am

I’m not the most frugal person out there but I have made some changes and really enjoy tracking what I’m NOT spending (your website has been more than useful!). Whenever I get locked into a frugal state of mind and find myself struggling with really wanting something (either for me or someone else) I always ask myself if I’m going to miss that 50 bucks in 5 years? If in the grande scheme of things that 50 bucks matters? (it also works vice versa, if that item matters in the grande scheme of things which has helped me pick out more worthy gifts).
Now this obviously only works if all your actual needs are met like food, rent, etc. but it really helps knock me out of being a miser.


Kailey December 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

*Sigh* It told me there was an error so I commented again.
Please delete one Katy 🙂


Katy December 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm



Kailey December 18, 2012 at 9:32 am

Oops! It told me there was an error so I posted again…delete one please Katy 🙂


Lacy Cooper December 20, 2012 at 8:41 am

Honestly I would MUCH rather spend a little more and make their whole freaking day then spend less on something that is meaningless to them….I say this as lady who for the last 5 years has gotten probably hundreds of dollars worth of cheap lotions & perfumes from various family members which I will never use….I think being mindful and purposeful of your gifts is key. Also can you imagine him walking into school once break is over? That memory for him, with that confidence inspired by those shoes is gonna be beyond money. Its gonna be epic.


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