After finally getting invited to the cool kids’ annual Harry Potter-themed party in junior year, I managed to stay for a grand total of 7 minutes before running home in tears.
They made fun of the red dress-golden shawl ensemble my mom lovingly put together for me, even though we both agreed it made me look like the fiercest Gryffindor senior to ever walk the halls of Hogwarts.
Sabrina, the nicest girl in the party, a.k.a. the Karen Smith of my high school’s Mean Girls squad, pulled me aside and told me quietly that I could stay, but I couldn’t join the group picture, since everyone else was wearing official HP merchandise.
True enough, I had marvelled at their shiny robes, wands, and scarves that bore official tags the moment I arrived at the party. Still, I never thought I didn’t measure up until it was pointed out to me that my creative outfit just wasn’t in-theme enough.
They asked me to take the group picture.
I ran home, hot tears running down my face — which had gotten as red as my dress.
Their picture got a retweet from J.K. Rowling that same night, even though it was slightly blurred because my hands had started to shake when I took it.
They didn’t even mention me in the photo courtesy. They used up Twitter’s character limit to thank @warnerbros for their awesome outfits and props instead.
Suddenly, I was eight again and the only kid who had shown up with a DIY lightsaber to a classmate’s Star Wars birthday party.
The Beginning of My Fan Girl Journey
Just to be clear, my family was never really poor.
In fact, my parents bought me good books and took me to watch good movies every chance they got. They’re the very reason I grew up to be a fan girl.
When it came to merchandise, though, my mother would rather spend the better part of a weekend helping me make props at home instead of just buying me some. Together we’d sit cross-legged on the living room carpet — cutting up construction paper, mixing poster paint and painstakingly working with glitter even though we knew it would take weeks to get the sparkle out of our hair — just so I can have my own version of Light Yagami’s Death Note, or Lucius Malfoy’s Death Eater mask, or Percy Jackson’s Anaklusmos.
In retrospect, I realize I had a very special, enviable childhood surrounded by adults who loved me enough to shower me with something more valuable than money: their time.
But back in the day, I was young and impressionable. The makeshift costumes and DIY props just made me feel inferior to my peers.
So when I got my first paid internship at 18 years old, I felt like a woman on a mission. I wanted to avenge my younger self for everything I foolishly thought I was deprived of.
It started with one Taylor Swift album — and I will defend that purchase all my life because Speak Now was one heck of a record.
But one album soon became seventeen.
I bought every single version of each album: the early releases, the deluxe versions, even the vinyl copies. In case you’re wondering, no, I did not own a turntable – a fact which seemed irrelevant at the time.
I have also purchased every official accessory, litograph, and hoodie from her merchandise site. Add that on top of concert tickets and sing-along gig entrance fees, and my grand total would land somewhere between a thousand and I’m-too-embarrassed-to-say-how-many thousand dollars. It was insane.
But I’ll let you in on my single most expensive splurge from that time in my life. Of course, it was for Halloween.
The Halloween Saga Continued
It took me 8 years to finally want to attend another Halloween party after my “traumatic” experience in high school, and I was determined to exact vengeance on the brutal holiday.
I spent days looking for an iconic Taylor Swift outfit to mimic for my company masquerade. In the end, I went with the Versace blazer she wore at an awards night.
Don’t freak out. Of course, I didn’t shell out close to $3,000 to buy one directly from Versace. I scoured online shops selling pre-loved signature pieces, and found one for $800.
Considering the original price of the number, I thought I was already getting a pretty good deal. Never mind that I was only getting paid $350 a month at the time.
Still, I thought it was worth it to blow about 80% of my savings on the blazer. I told myself over and over again that I deserved to splurge a little — that I deserved to treat myself every now and then — and that a single good Halloween would surely negate all the bad ones that came before.
Besides, I loved Taylor Swift. That, for me, was enough justification to spend an extortionate amount of money on an outfit that would transform me into her for one night.
On the night of the party, I was so excited I showed up an hour early and waited eagerly by the door for my workmates to show up. One by one, they arrived, and I recognized the inspirations for their costumes from a mile away. There was Lady Gaga in a meat dress. Here comes Michael Jackson with a solo sparkly glove and a black fedora. Right behind him was Elsa in a lacy ball gown.
I greeted everyone using their characters’ names with a big smile on my face, hoping they’d feel awesome that their dress-up efforts were recognized, and reciprocate the gesture.
But all I got in return were confused looks, sparse compliments about my make-up, updo and the $800 blazer, and about eight variations of the question “and who are you supposed to be?”
I left even before the party officially started. I didn’t cry, thank God, but I felt utterly stupid in my overpriced blazer that no one even recognized. Instead of going straight to the studio unit I was renting at the time, I got an Uber to my parents’ place — the one place I knew someone would at least recognize the costume.
“Hey, Taylor,” were my mother’s first words to me. I bit my lip to stop myself from crying, but the lump in my throat was harder to suppress.
“Did you make this? Ay, you make me proud, it’s beautiful!” she said while caressing the colorful fabric of my blazer — the stupid, expensive, silly blazer I got off the internet. “You inherited my creativity,” she said in the vernacular.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth; I knew it would break her heart. She taught me to be responsible with money, yet there I was, 23 years old and spending more than I made in a month just so my closet could resemble a Taylor Swift souvenir shop.
Worse, all my life she had been teaching me how to love, yet there I was, unhealthily obsessing over an idol I claim to love.
Saying Goodbye to My Old Spending Habits
I started to see my shopping sprees and ‘occasional’ splurges for what they really were: manifestations of an early-onset addiction.
Sadly, they don’t have Fan Girls Anonymous in my country — not even Shopaholics Anonymous. If I wanted to stop spending my hard-earned money on fan merchandise, I had to do it alone.
This realization was a tough pill to swallow, but once I had it down, I knew exactly what I needed to do.
I ransacked my rental apartment and applied the same minimalist principle I was brought up with: anything that has not been used in the last year should get sold, donated, or thrown away.
I did not bargain with myself, nor did I do it gradually, because that is not how you nip an addiction in the bud. I was determined to make a big change to the way I “stan”. In the end, I sold everything. Well, almost everything.
The only piece I couldn’t part with was the very first one I bought:
Spotify wasn’t a thing back then, but I was old enough to remember downloading music from a program called Limewire.
But nothing compares to finally having the money to buy my own CD. I remember crying when I first held Speak Now in my hands — I was ecstatic. I listened to it day in and day out, never skipping a track, until I could sing along to every word. I slept with the lyric booklet underneath my pillow until the pages started falling apart. Every scratch in the surface of the CD and every chip in the hard plastic cover could attest to my love for this album.
Now, I don’t know what changed, but none of the other albums I own looked like that. Everything else was kept neatly stacked on a shelf, with no other purpose than to look pretty and impress guests.
I guess that’s the problem. The first purchase made my heart leap with joy, but everything else was bought simply to add to a collection. In other words, none of the others sparked joy, so off they went.
Once I’ve purged my official merchandise collection, I promised myself I would never buy anything as a fan girl unless I’m 100% sure it would make me feel the way I felt holding that Speak Now album for the first time.
I Became a Conscientious Fan Girl
It’s been a year since that promise was made, and I’m glad I was able to set myself on the right path before I got into BTS. You know how expensive those K-pop merchandise can get!
Yes, I’m still very much a fan girl, and yes, I am now making so much more than $350 a month. Technically, I could spoil my fan girl self rotten if I wanted to — I can buy all three versions of BTS’ light bombs, an army of BT21 plushies, and all their albums, including the Japanese versions! If I were to wipe out my savings account and bring my credit card with me, I could even follow the boys on their global tour for 3 months.
But so far, I have spent a grand total of $0 on BTS merch.
No light sticks, no hoodies, nada. I guess I have yet to find something to buy that would make me truly happy.
But that’s not to say I don’t spend money to support my K-pop idols at all. In fact, every month, I set aside $50 to donate to UNICEF’s #ENDviolence campaign, an advocacy my beloved Korean boy band actively funds and supports.
Funds raised through this campaign are used in projects and programs that empower communities to protect their youth against all forms of violence.
Needless to say, spending money to support a fandom has never been this guilt-free.
Don’t get me wrong though — I do plan on eventually catching a K-pop concert, but I’m in no real hurry. I’ve got my priorities set, and until I’ve saved up a substantial rainy-day fund, I’m holding my horses.
For now, I’m content consuming (and fan-girling over) their music and videos through YouTube, Spotify, V Live, Weverse and social media, alongside my K-pop loving friends who look up to me for supporting a great cause.
My mother is mighty proud of me. She says I have found true love with 7 Korean boys.
To be frank, I’m proud of myself, too. I have found the perfect balance between being financially responsible and being a good fan to my idols.
Oh, and Halloween parties? I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I am starting a brand-new October 31 tradition: Every year on that date, I’d gather my family and we’d all sit cross-legged on our living room carpet, cutting and painting and folding away, trying not to spill glitter on each other while we make costumes for our four cats. Last year, they strutted around the house as the Mean Girls.
This year, I’m thinking they could dress up as the Marauders. Who knows? We might get a retweet from J.K. Rowling this time, too!