Since the month of February is all about the focus on love & happiness, this week’s adventures have made me think about those things I love that bring me happiness.

From friends and family (on Valentine’s Day) to ME days, here are the things I’ve discovered this week.

1.  The Love of a Really Good Meal.  Over these past two years, I’ve learned to appreciate really good food.  I’ve become a bit of a foodie, which also means that I’ve been cooking up a lot of amazing recipes from Food & Wine. 

This, of course, has been a bit strange, especially in terms of the “Losing 100 Pounds of Unhappiness” venture.  When something is taken away from you, you don’t realize just how much you miss it until you’re sitting in a doctor’s office and they’re telling you that they’re getting ready to admit you into the emergency room.  Why?  Because the tests are coming back as red flags (all of them) and the reason why…because they’ve discovered you’re taking in (at a maximum) 450 calories per day and had been for a long time…meaning…your body is shutting down. 

While the answer would be to EAT MORE.  For me, it’s not that simple.  The body rejects so much food that it’s taken me 2 years to discover what it’s not going to reject.  I’ve had to learn how to eat in a different way.  What have I learned?  Eat only what you crave, and if you’re going to eat, make sure it’s organic, fresh, and not processed. Only eat what will make your tastebuds squeal with delight.

If the body is craving pizza…pizza it is.  What I’ve learned is that the body wants something that will make the tastebuds sing…like a real Italian pizza that makes you feel like you need to go all the way to Naples to have your very own margherita pizza.

If I’m going to eat pasta, I want it to come from a real Italian restaurant where the ingredients are fresh and every bite just makes your body go “Mmmmmm.”

If I’m going to be happy with food…I want it to be the type of food that makes my entire body go “Mmmmm.”  That’s my deal with my body.  If it’s going to eat…I’m going to have to do this right.

Learning to eat food has been no easy task.  It’s something I hate doing, but I have learned to do it the right way by only eating the types of food that make me feel happy.  [Now if only I could figure out how running can make me happy!]

2.  A Girl Loves to Shop.  I learned a few days ago that I received a promotion, as well as a pay raise and a fat bonus.  So what’s the first thing on my mind?  What in the hell am I going to do with all of this extra money?

If the Meditation Center has taught me anything…you share the wealth.

Since I live by the 50/30/20 principle [50% goes to MUST HAVE expenses, 30% to the wants and 20% to savings], seeing that the 30% budget has all of a sudden gone up, I’m left to wonder what I’m going to do with all of this extra spending money.

As in…what am I going to do with that 30% allotted to me to spend however I want to spend it…GUILT FREE???

After my little trip into Anastasia Brow Studio at Sephora (the best place in NYC to get your brows done…expensive, but they do it right…they’re experts), I went into Saks Fifth Avenue.

In the past, I always felt insecure about going in there.  You can never find anything for under $100.  Their clothes are for those size 00 models.  Good luck finding anything nice if you’re bigger than a size 12.

Knowing what the new GUILT FREE budget was like, I decided to start buying investment pieces for my wardrobe.  I have all of the basics (x4) in my wardrobe already, but I have only a few investment pieces…those classic, designer pieces that will last a lifetime.  So I decided to take a look around and see what I could add to my collection.

I bought a bottle of Hermes eau de toilette and they handed me a teal bag, because apparently the beauty event included free tote bags.  🙂  My kind of event!

Next stop were the handbags…more specifically…Valentino.  I wanted to see the new straw/lace bag (retails at $1395) that Jennifer Love Hewitt has been spotted carrying around.  It looked nice on her, but my concern was if I invested that much money into this bag, would the straw part unravel?  If so, it wouldn’t be worth my money.  The salesman at Saks said they would repair it for the first year for free, afterwards, I’d have to pay for any repair to the Valentino bag.

I said, “I have to think about it.”

Why?  Because this is a major investment.

I walked around all of the floors looking at the various spring collections to find some sort of inspiration.  I was on the fourth floor when I noticed an elegant dress by Josie Natori.  I picked up the dress and thought…no, it can’t be. 

I asked the saleslady if I could try it on.  She led me into the fitting room.  I tried it on and just stood there in shock.  This dress fit me perfectly.  I probably needed to go down a size, but it looked amazing.

The saleslady came back to check on me and I told her I needed to think about it (it was $495).  I told her I was just in shock that the dress fit me so well. 

That was when she gave me an education on Josie Natori clothing. 

Josie apparently has women in a variety of sizes in her office.  All of her designs are meant to fit women from the smallest size to the biggest size in her office.  Josie is a tiny woman, but she understands that all women want to feel beautiful, so all of her designs are made to fit all women.

Knowing that, and the fact that the specialist is now my personal shopper that will let me know anytime a new Natori item is available (including Natori sales), I am sold.  Natori will be my new investment go to as I upgrade my wardrobe.

You see, you can have all of the Gap and Ann Taylor in your closet…but those are just the basics.  You can stock up and wear that stuff forever.  But a true fashionista…she has her investment pieces too.

What is also nice about the dress…it will be perfect for the Sahara desert.

I headed up to the 5th floor after that and discovered RED VALENTINO.  I didn’t know there were Red Valentino handbags.  I saw the pricetag and said, “Do my eyes deceive me?” 

Now, it’s a matter of picking the right bag.  Red Valentino retails between $295-$650.  That’s about 60-75% cheaper than the Valentino bags on the first floor!

While I was looking at the Red Valentino bags, a salesman came over to assist me.  Gotta love the staff at Saks…he tried on all of the different purses to help me decide which one to get! LOL.  His Latin accent, carrying around these purses over his shoulder…so funny. 

I just have to decide which Red Valentino bag I’m going to buy.  It’s a cross between the classic Valentino bow or the ruffles/sequins.  Classic versus GIRL POWER!  Who knows, with the lower cost of both bags, I may end up getting them both.

By the time I saw the spring shoes, I decided, my pleasure senses were in overdrive because of all of the eye candy.  That was a sign to call it quits for my adventure that day.

As I was walking towards the escalators, I realized…Saks is where I belong now.  As in, wow…I can afford this place with my GUILT FREE money.  I can build a whole new wardrobe one piece at a time.

As I was heading out of Saks, I noticed a line of parfum I’d seen recently in a magazine.  I stopped to try their scents out…and I ended up walking away with another bottle of parfum (for over $100) and another tote bag.  The salesman was so kind, he said he’d give me samples of any of the other fragrances I liked.  So I told him to hook me up with the Gardenia scent…he gave me 3 samples!  I love Saks…

When I got home and started putting my new purchases away, I opened up the teal tote bag and discovered a bag filled with SAMPLES.  I about fainted…

I quickly opened up the other bag to find even more samples!  I was even more excited because I wasn’t expecting this.  I was just thinking…cool…I have two more handbags I can use that are the perfect size for me.  Little did I know there were some freebies inside.

All of the perfume I didn’t buy, but was considering buying…I have 2 samples of each…Jimmy Choo, Cartier, and Chloe.

I went through all of the samples (with the dear cat watching to see what was going on) and separated out what I knew I absolutely could not use and took them in for my co-workers to keep.

The day before, I gave a co-worker a dress I forgot to return.  Brand new, tags still on it. 

This is what I mean by sharing the wealth.  When you buy something for yourself, make sure you can share some of that wealth with your friends and family.  Amazing how some free samples from Saks could lighten up everyone’s day.

 I’m going to explain why this adventure to Saks made me so happy.  First, I love clothes.  I love the designer clothing as much as the next New York girl.  We’ve spent the last ten years watching Sex and The City thinking…I want to wear what they’re wearing. 

The moment you realize that you can finally afford those things, it’s like a coming of age for any New York fashionista.  We know that we can still shop at the Gap, but we can also buy a piece of art to grace our bodies.

In my twenties, I always went into these stores just flabbergasted at the price tags.  I could only walk by and think…this is so out of my reach.  But now, I can pick that dress up and say, “Can I try this on?”  Next thing you know, I have a new personal shopper.

I don’t buy on credit.  This is my guilt free money that I earned.

I turn 35 this year.  That’s about the age that the famous New Yorker four started buying their investment pieces.  It is like a coming of age for any fashionista.  That’s what made this journey so special.

3.  The Love of a Signature Piece.  I love handbags.  I don’t kid when I say that.  I have to restrain myself because in one shopping trip I could walk away with 2-9 handbags (case in point, last night at Saks…they gave me 2 for free, prevented me from buying 1). 

My collection is growing steadily from one designer to the next.  From Valentino to Kate Spade to new designers to the no names…I’ve got them…and I love them.  Handbags are less torturous than shoes.  Shoes are beautiful too, but I like being able to feel my feet after ten steps. 

Due to my overgrowing collection, I have to switch bags every two weeks.  Today’s bag happens to be last night’s free Saks tote bag equipped with a Tiffany & Co. classic blue scarf.  Trust me, the scarf is worth more than the bag.  😉

But what I love about this bag…it’s teal, it’s big, and it’s easy to carry…not to mention it was FREE.

I’ve become a fan of various blogs like “The Looks For Less” and “Your Next Handbag.”  What I love about both sites is that they feature the designer handbag, and then they’ll show you how to get the similar look from a different designer (or site). 

I’ve been carrying around a black bag these last two weeks.  One of my bosses saw it and exclaimed she had to get one.  I told her that I saw the exact bag on Looks For Less and it directed me to a site called HandbagHeaven.com.  For less than $50, that bag was mine.  Vanessa Hudgens had been toting around a similar bag.

Ends up, the design is the same as the FENDI bag.  Of course, I discovered that two weeks later.  But I liked the style…I could care less if it were a Fendi or not.

That Valentino bag with straw and lace, BCBGeneration came out with a similar bag (but cuter) for $108 (versus the $1395 for Valentino).  YourNextHandbag.com featured that bag…and guess what?  Good luck finding it anywhere.  I just grabbed the last one off of Zappos.com. 

I’ll also be picking up the Big Buddha version for $89 because it’s more reminiscent of what I loved about the 2010 Fall collection from Louis Vuitton (can’t find the lace bag anywhere…not even at Louis Vuitton). 

Between Handbag Heaven and MurvalParis.com I’m set on the various no name handbags.  Modnique.com, Ideeli.com, Gilt.com and BeyondTheRack.com are also great to pick up new designers as well as the big designers at the sample sale cost.

Every person needs a signature style…that piece that everyone compliments you on.  For me, it’s jewelry, handbags and scarves.  It’s the accessories you can play with that will go with just about anything. 

For Carrie Bradshaw, her signature look was all about the Manolo Blahnik shoes.  I may have adopted Natori, but it’s only a matter of time before we see if she becomes my new signature look.  Until then, the accessories have it.

4.  The Love of Fashion.  This being Fashion Week in NYC, most fashionistas are looking to see what they’ll be wearing in the fall.  Right now, the Spring Collection is starting to make its way into stores.

The fun thing about fashion is that you can create your own signature style.  You can mix and match pieces that you’ve acquired to create a new look…your look. 

I can’t stand watching a group of women together dressed exactly alike.  You can tell they’re under 30 years old and have no concept of what it means to wear clothing.  They’re just following the trends.  They wear what their friends are wearing.  So instead of 5 unique individuals, you have one HUGE woman…as in, all 5 meld into one person because they all look alike…all the way down to the hair and nails.

There’s no individuality to separate one woman from the next. 

To me, there is nothing more embarrassing than seeing another woman wearing the same thing as you…at the same time.  So ladies, don’t let the trends define what you are wearing.  Define what you are wearing by adding what you like about the latest trends and then making it your own.  Let your personality shine in the clothes you are wearing.

Here’s a hint for budding fashionistas…buy quality clothing, not the cheap stuff.  If it feels cheap, has poor craftsmanship, it’s not worth your money.  It’s like throwing it away in the trash can.  It’s a guarantee you can buy the exact thing for the same price (maybe even cheaper) at a department store like Lord & Taylor. 

Forever 21 and H&M are cheaply done.  I went in there once and walked out thinking…what a waste.  Looks pretty, but poorly and cheaply made. 

If you want qualitative, walk into stores like Gap, Banana Republic, New York and Company, and Ann Taylor Loft. Even Target is better quality!  They have great sales (in the stores, not online…they charge more online).  The Natori specialist told me that if it wasn’t for the Gap providing all of her BASICS, she didn’t know what she would do.

Every fashion magazine preaches…go to the Gap, etc. for the basics (tank tops, tees, jeans, pants, and the other latest trends).  Those types of stores are the places where you stock up on the basics.

When you’ve mastered a wardrobe with the basics (which took me 5 years to do in NYC), start incorporating investment pieces into your wardrobe.  Make sure they make a statement…ABOUT YOU.  If you don’t feel beautiful in it every single time you put it on, then it’s not for you.  Buy what you’re going to feel happy in.

The last perfume salesman told me last night…he wasn’t going to sell the product to me unless the scent made me happy.  It was a bottle of $135 perfume.  He reminded me that if you’re investing in something like a scent you’re going to wear…it needs to make you happy every single time you put it on.

Pacifica’s Brazilian Mango Grapefruit perfume makes me happy every single time I put it on…and it’s only $22 a bottle.  I love it so much, I spray it all over the house.  I do the same for L’Occitane’s Green Tea ($46). 

You invest in those products that are going to make you happy each and every time you wear it.  [Word of caution with scents…don’t bulk buy perfume.  Your mood changes, as does the type of perfume you wear.  I bulked up on Coco Chanel over 12 years ago, because it was my scent of the moment.  Big mistake to bulk up.  I haven’t worn it in a decade.]

  5.  It’s a Beautiful Day.  Something you can get for free…go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather when it strikes your hometown.  Today, it’s 65 degrees out.  After storm after crazy snowstorm, the weather has finally started to feel springy.  Go out and enjoy it…even if it is just walking around the block…enjoy the first warm days of 2011.

6.  I <3 My Neighborhood.  I live in the perfect neighborhood.  5 star restaurants line the street.  Cute boutique shops housing so much stuff that you look around trying to make a decision on just ONE item…because everything is just so wonderful!

There’s the movie theater across the street…$5.  A library around the corner where you can check out books, music and DVDs for FREE.  You can even use the internet there (if you don’t have it at home). 

There’s that pizza place I love to order pizza from.  I’ll walk right by the competitor half a block down and show the owner, while he’s outside, that I bought MY pizza from the shop down the street.  It burns him up every single time.  That’s what he gets for refusing to let me buy a pie at his shop a few years ago.  I almost called him a racist bastard when he did it. 

The train/bus to the city and to Newark (for NJD games) are all within walking distance.

The neighborhood is literally crime free.  Police response time is less than 30 seconds. 

This is the kind of neighborhood that you can’t help but fall in love with.  It’s costly to buy a house there, but that’s because you’re buying into what the neighborhood has to offer.

Living in a neighborhood that caters to everything you could possibly need [and if they don’t have it, it’s within ordering distance], makes you love your home even more.  There’s that peaceful tranquility that goes with living in an area that you love, because you can simply say to yourself that you are home.

You should always live in a place that makes you happy.

About Michelle Kenneth

Michelle Kenneth is the voice behind PerfectionistWannabe.com.