A Buyer's Market

Emily Prawda (Communication Coordinator, School of Visual Arts; Part-Time Bookseller, Barnes & Noble)
Income: $27,000 (1998)
Health Insurance: covered by employer
Rent: $1000/mo.
Utilities: $30/mo.
Phone:$304/mo.
Food:$150/mo.
Transportation:$60/mo.

Every time I go shopping— this is whether I'm in a mall or outside on the street— I'll get this high feeling at the beginning of the trip. I don't get hungry, nor am I thirsty. Of course, then I'll come down at the end," said Emily Prawda, 24, speaking from her office at the School of Visual Arts. "I have 25 credit cards. I just got a second job, seasonal sales, at Barnes & Noble at night to support my shopping."

Most every Sunday, Prawda makes her way from her apartment, "on the Upper East Side, all the way down to Old Navy. As I go, I hit Bloomingdale's, Coach— well, just to browse— Victoria's Secret, Urban Outfitters, Banana Republic. I can't forget about Pottery Barn. I'm obsessed with household items, since I just moved into my first apartment two months ago. I'll also look in Bendel's. I'll go to the cosmetics counter.

"The whole time I'm looking for free samples. This is another part of my shopping. I go up to counters and say my skin is dry, do you have anything I can take with me and sample and then I'll come back and buy the bigger size? Then I'll walk down to Saks and Lord & Taylor and do the same thing.

"That will be the day, picking up free samples and buying things and returning them. Once a button popped off a shirt. I returned it to Banana Republic. I didn't have a receipt. They gave me a credit for full price, 50 dollars. I think I had only paid 20, because the shirt was on sale. But I lost my receipt along the way. You know there's going to be a warrant in all these stores with a picture of me on it."

Prawda is not sure how she got this way. A graduate of the State University at Albany, she grew up in Trump Village in Brighton Beach. Her parents divorced when she was five. Her father, a paramedic, bought her toys every weekend. But it was her mother and grandmother who might have been more influential.

"Once, my mother said, 'I have something for you to do. Grandma got this plate from Bloomingdale's for her anniversary 25 years ago. It still has the tag on it. See if you can return it.' I go to Bloomingdale's. They proceed to credit my charge for 40 dollars. I was very lucky that they still carried the china pattern. If they didn't, I would have had an argument with them. Or get a credit. I love credits. That's free money!

"No, it's not fun to get the cash back. I don't carry cash because I'd just spend it and I don't know where it's gone and I won't like that feeling. If you spend it on a drink or salad, it just kind of wastes away. I like to see things for my money, products, something I can feel. I hate taking cabs. I go to museums when there are free nights. I can't stand paying for movies. I get free tickets from the Voice. Lately they're giving out tickets at five at night instead of six. Who can get there after work? If my boyfriend wants to see a movie and he pays, I'll hate the movie because I could have seen it for free. It'll just rattle my nerves.

"I don't really like to go out to dinner. When I do, it's an unwritten rule that my boyfriend pays. He's very generous. We love Gotham Bar & Grill. I met him seven months ago over the Internet. He works for Grayline, those red tour buses. He's a financial analyst. I'm trying to turn him into a shopper. He bought my mom Fiestaware for her birthday. He did well. He got it on sale. He got me a gold heart from Saks."

Her dream is to "have an ultimate day, when I could shop during the week when nobody is in the stores and you don't have a million people waiting for someone to help you. You get served right away. Then you can go on to the next store."

 
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