Hot Boredom, or Why Trying to Save Money Sometimes Causes Me to Spend More

Photo credit: Nicola Romagna, CC BY 2.0.

This story starts innocently, as many do. I stopped into Sephora to get a new tube of tinted moisturizer, a product that is unique among my many Sephora purchases in that I use it basically every day.

Then I saw her—JLaw, resplendent and backlit and photoshopped just to the edge of recognizability, wearing a Dior lipstick in a shiny strawberry color. The magpie part of my brain fell off its perch. PRETTY. PRETTYPRETTYPRETTYPRETTYPRETTY.

As so often happens in the rarified atmosphere of Sephora, PRETTY turned into I WANT IT. I tried the tester, then put the lipstick into my basket while I wandered around the store and attempted to decide. Upbeat techno music marked the beating of my heart. Am I really going to buy a $35 lipstick?Will I or Won’t I? Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Then the rational part of my brain piped up. Psst. You know this lipstick isn’t going to make us look like Jennifer Lawrence, right? We’ve got almost twenty years and at least a hundred pounds on her, and also we are brunette and would like to retire someday. For Pete’s sake, put it back!

But by then my palms were sweating and I felt out-of-breath and clammy and overcome, and also tired. It’s not a new feeling. In fact I’ve felt it so many times that I have a special little name for it now—hot boredom—and it’s largely about dithering. Sephora supplies the euphoric previsualization of a shiny new purchase, I supply the cold hard facts about why I absolutely do not need this particular shiny object, and the two sides battle it out in my skull.

It makes me wonder whether people who don’t care about saving money have it easier in the heat of this particular kind of moment, because the discomfort of my back-and-forth inability to decide is oftentimes the exact thing that makes me buy the coveted item. Hot boredom is, to me, a pretty gross feeling, and a good portion of the stuff I buy is simply an attempt to make it go away.

Now, I do understand that hot boredom is not a particularly authentic emotion, but one that retailers ruthlessly try to create within me. The music, the lights, the dazzling black and white countertops and colorful packaging and shiny silver mirrors—all of it is designed to make me itch in a way that only can be scratched in one way: sliding my credit card across the counter, getting those VIB points, and walking out with the tiny black bag.

Sephora’s not the only place that makes me feel this way—but it’s the worst. Clothes shopping is too fraught to be quite as enjoyable, and as a fat lady I don’t have a lot of places to do that in the real world anyhow. Art supplies sometimes get me going in a similar way, but I think the extra frisson of “this lipstick is going to make you PRETTY” makes the Sephora experience a little more high-stakes and exciting.

As I get older, I’m becoming more aware of the hot boredom feeling when it arises, and being aware of it sometimes allows me to sidestep it. I walk in, get my tinted moisturizer and another sample of the $100 exfoliating lotion that I can’t bring myself to buy, and walk right back out again. Or I’ll just stay out of Sephora for as long as I can manage. For me, shutting unnecessary purchases down completely works better than budgeting or buying in moderation. (In Gretchen Rubin’s terms, I’m an abstainer, not a moderator.)

But old habits die hard, as I learned when the beauty of JLaw plus some great art direction got me to spend $35 I knew damn well I didn’t need to spend.

At least this story has a happy ending—I didn’t need the lipstick, it’s true, but unlike all the Naked eyeshadow palettes that I splashed out for, which are now sitting prettily and largely untouched in my makeup basket, I am wearing this Dior lippie quite a lot, and it does look pretty nice.

Megan Dietz wrote the book on how to Be Less Crazy About Your Body, and she blogs at

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