Sunday, February 8, 2009

What's Your Flinch Point?

Are you familiar with the thrift effect? No? Spend about two to three months in a regular thrifting routine, visiting two to three stores for a quick 15 minute recon mission a piece, and you’ll understand the thrift effect and the incredible value it adds to your life. It stems from a rich and seasoned knowledge of what one can find in the store and for about how much money.

After years of shopping thrift, I have a $5 flinch point. That’s the thrift effect. Setting reasonable limits. Anything over $5 requires my thoughtful consideration. I don’t care if it’s a bed frame or a dresser. If I can purchase a Limoges porcelain covered dish, a Wedgwood cake stand, 100 year-old rare books, a new sweater from Sundance, a Jos. A. Bank suit, sterling rings, vintage Emile Henry bake ware, bamboo chairs, and much more for under $5 - I better give serious thought to anything over. Sometimes it’s an easy choice like the Flexible Flyer sled for $6. Other times it requires more thought like the J.Crew tweed jacket with the cute grosgrain ribbon tie for $7 or the heavy copper oval au gratin that’s never been under for $9. Many of my $5 thrifted items would retail at the mall for hundreds of dollars more.

What is fascinating about this economic phenomenon is that it doesn’t happen in the new goods market. My $5 flinch point won’t buy me much, maybe some mascara or lip-gloss. It’s really weird to think about a new Banana Republic Jacket with its $99 tag still dangling purchased for $5 at Goodwill versus a tube of mascara purchased for more. Clearly, America’s retail priorities are whacked.

I do set a percentage limit on sales in the new product market; it has to be at least 50% off. But even with that, I end up spending way more than my $5 flinch point.

Last week I went to Anthropologie to check out the heavy sales. I stood in line holding my treasured box of perfume, 70% original retail. I paid $15 for it. The woman in front of me purchased a pair of jeans and white cotton (looked like poplin) blouse for $278! Wow. She clearly doesn’t have a flinch pont on items. There was absolutely nothing unique about the shirt or the jeans, which is weird because one has too look pretty hard at Anthropologie to find something that's not unique.

Now comes the blessed irony, after visiting Anthropologie, I went to The ARC Thrift Store and bought a darling Anthropolgie brand cardigan sweater for $4. It is like new or new. Poe, my oldest daughter, and I will have to flip a coin to see who wins it.

I pass up cashmere sweaters for $3-$5 almost every week because I don’t like the color or style. One could probably tailor the ugliest cashmere sweater in the world, stamp a sale price of $8 on it, hang it on the racks at a department store, and there would be a brawl over it – that Bargain Rage I’ve written about. Perhaps the pianist that sometimes plays Nordstrom could launch into some western bar fighting music! And, customers could throw pies!

Do you have a flinch point on items in the thrift market? In the new goods market? Or do you just spend with no inhibition? If so, the retail market flings an invisible pie in your face every time you make a purchase and you aren’t even aware enough to see what flavor it is. I prefer Banana, but not in my face.


Anonymous said...

Not exactly a price point, but ....

Hardware; DH's work office clothes; household items that DH wants changed; most gifts -- I go ahead and pay retail on these.

For craft supplies that I buy with MY allowance, I watch for great sales. (Destash board on Ravelry, for example).

My clothes, kids' clothes, most 'household' items, books, cloth napkins, down comforters -- I probably have around a $2 price point for run-of-the-mill; and a $5 price point for really-nice.

BTW, funny that you should ask this question today: Yesterday, I was at a used book sale, and I rejected a nice $5 gardening book as 'too expensive.' It probably costs $20-$25 new, but $5 for a book that I'm not sure we'll ever read seems too expensive!


Anonymous said...

Ooops; forgot to say that we BUDGET for the things that I pay retail for.

For example, if one of my kids/teens has a best-friends' birthday coming up, I'll give them a $25 or $50 limit -- a and I try to guide them into choosing wisely. (I know that sounds high-priced, but these kids would prefer a mass-produced retail gift instead of a high-quality thrifted gift. And I try to give presents based on the recipients' preferences.)

Hardware/house repair supplies are expensive, but, then again, we work within a budget.

AND, if DH is happy spending his allowance on new clothes, well, that's what his allowance is for. And if he takes an interest in new towels, I won't fault him for picking out a set at retail cost. I'm just glad he's involved.


Anonymous said...

Ugh. I see that a spammer got in a with a comment....

BTW, since you're a knitter: Did you ever consider unraveling thrift-store sweaters for the yarn? I have just started that, and there's a lot of good yarn to be found in those sweaters!


The Queen of Fifty Cents said...

I was having lunch with a couple of colleagues a few months ago and this very topic came up, only it was phrased as "your flinch point." Thinking about it, my flinch point actually is about a dollar, and I'm actually choosy about what I'll spend a whole dollar on! But of course there are great finds that it's not hard to decide to spend on, like our 40s vintage rattan 3-piece sofa that I paid $20 for. Don't think I even bargained, it was so worth it. Nearly $300 for a couple of pieces of plain clothing...not a chance!

BTW, is that a new blog header? I like it!

Shopping Golightly said...


No, I have never thought of unraveling a sweater for the yarn! This would be the PERFECT thing to do during life re-evaluations or transitions. Unravel a sweater and – like the Phoenix rising from the fires – knit a new one! How completely poetic!

On the home repairs front, do you have a Habitat for Humanity thrift store in your area? I’ve heard nothing but glowing remarks about them. Someday, I’ll be going to ours. Well that is if I can pull myself away from the standard thrift.


Shopping Golightly said...

Your Majesty! It’s been awhile!

Yes, that is a new header on the blog. It’s a thrifted paperweight bought at your price point of two gold fish. The little fish represent our daughters with their astrological sign.

I’ve been thinking of you visiting yard sales. None of that to be had in Denver at the present. It’s freezing!

I like the “flinch point”. Perhaps we should start a Thirftionary.


Anonymous said...


We do have a Habitat Store, but we seldom find the right thing for the project we have in mind.

However, we did pay $400 at the Habitat Store for my double oven. New would have been about $1600.

And ... I think I chose too low a price point for down comforters -- $5 is more like it.


Songbirdtiff said...

I don't do the specific math, but I typically stick to 90% off retail prices on things that aren't an absolute NEED. It's actually pretty easy to do.

I still need some practice with the thrift stores around here, but I'm learning to find some good stuff.

Cathy said...

Mine is about $7-$10, but here in Boston, most of the thrift stores have raised their prices. Jeans are regularly $6 at Goodwill and Salvation Army and Savers, tops are $5, and sweaters run $5-$7.

But it depends on the item. I'll pay $15 for a winter coat, but I won't pay more than $2 for kitchen goods.

Anonymous said...

I think the $5 rule is a great tactic, but not for every trip.

Sometimes, I too shop with a limit in mind - but of course I tend to break my rule for the right item.

It depends upon whether I'm doing my standard routine, visiting around 1-2x a week, or going for a specific purpose.

But you're right, there's so much to be had for under $5, and I think you had a previous post about how much you can get at (er rhymes with "Farget") for five bucks. Great lessons for kids.

Mara Rogers said...

We haven't personally met "virtually" yet, but
I wanted to let you know that I recommended your Blog
and linked to it in my article today
"Secrets For Money's 35 Great Personal Finance Sites and Money Blogs You Should Know About"
On the Home page of my site Secrets For Money in "Recent Posts"
I look forward to hearing back from you!
To your prosperity,
Mara Rogers
Secrets For Money

Anonymous said...

I so love this blog! I too have the $5 limit & I stick to it 90% of the time. My daughter is in pre-k & @ least once a wk a parent or teacher tells me I have the best dressed kid. 89% of her wardrobe is thrift. Gap , Diesel jeans Hannah dresses, LL Bean jackets & sweaters, tons of gymboree outfits. I actually try to stay under $4 per a item for her. When she outgrows her items, I sell them on ebay for 50-75% more than paid for them. I do know it's not the best behavior to do the label whore thing. But some of the quality is very high. I'm a 32 yr old stay @ home mom & most of the parent's @ my daughter's school have larger incomes than us. So it feels good to have her be the best dressed. And make a profit on her used clothing.

Shopping Golightly said...

Dear Mara Rogers,

A heartfelt thank you for including The Thrifty Chicks in your list. I had to laugh because I saw several of my new-found blogging friends in your list too!


Stephen Lacey said...

I have to admit, I don't really set a limit. Sometimes I go hog wild in the thrift store, buying things I don't really need. I'm not a compulsive buyer, but I can't help myself in the thrift store! Maybe I should set a price point or an overall limit.

Frugal Babe said...

I'm with you on the five dollar mark. That's my limit over which I have to really deliberate about buying something. Which means that shopping anywhere but thrift stores is pretty much not happening!

Anonymous said...

My general price point is also $5. Very few things warrant more than a $5 spend. Although...I found a beautiful, new condition suede COACH bag at my local Goodwill for $29.99 this past weekend. I carried it around for a LONG time ... just considering. My husband, who has purchased the retail store COACH bags in the past asked me why it was even a question. I told him that I'd never paid $30 for something at a GOODWILL before! I did take it home, and I love it... but it was a splurge for me.

Clothes for my boys have to be $2 or under for a shirt or pants... I will go a little higher for a nice coat or a special outfit. I bought my 4-yr-old a corduroy "suit" for his Christmas program and paid $8 for the set. Since it was 2 pieces and a great brand, I thought it was still a deal. Anything over my price point causes me to walk around with it in my cart for awhile... carefully considering!

Jessica said...

I think my "flinch point" is about $5 for clothes. If I LOVE LOVE LOVE something I will easily pay $5 for it, but if I'm just considering it...well, I'd say it's more like $2-$3. Amazing, isn't it, that some people will actually pay $300 for something these days? I can't remember the last time I bought something clothing/household wise that was retail!

I too, have found Coach purses ($10) real cashmere sweater in my favorite color/size ($6), and leather shoes/coats for under $5. Why would you buy any of that new?

My daughter also dresses in good quality, brand name clothing, and I have purchased less then 10 new items for her, ever. My flinch point for her is $2. People constantly comment on how well-dressed she is!

And for my home, I have compliments all the time and 75% of things in my house are thrifted! In terms of furniture and larger household goods, my flinch point is $10. And with smaller goods such as dishes, etc, my flinch point is about $1.

Christina said...

I don't have a price point exactly, but here's what I do...
when I am looking at an item, and either can't see the price tag or can't find one, I set a limit of how much I would feel comfortable paying for the item. If it's more, I forget it!

Anna said...

I'm a new reader, thanks for a fun blog. I totally understand this "flinch point" principle. Yesterday hemmed and hawed and finally turned down a beautiful basket based on the oval shaker box design. Price: $20 at Goodwill. Just too much for me to spend at Goodwill, even for a beautiful item. Well, and I didn't really need a basket.

And my husband has a similar principle for shirts. I can't get him to consider a $40 shirt on sale for $20. He responds that he can get great shirts for $4. And when he found a beautiful brand new Armani button-down for $4 I had to agree. The only problem is that sometimes he needs clothes but I can't get him to shop unless we go to thrift shops! :-)

Dawn C said...

I would say my price point for clothes and housewares is $5 as well- but the total amount for whatever I buy is $20.