Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don’t splurge! Purge! You’ll feel much better.

I value emails and comments from readers. This email came in last Saturday after the September 25th post, I’m sorry major retailers, say what?

Dear Thrifty Chicks,

On my job, we were invited to have old papers shredded in exchange for donating food for the Food Bank…I took 9 big boxes of old paper to the shredding truck!

Tossing out the old paper was like Atlas getting a chance to take the load of the world off his shoulders!

It felt so good that I sorted through the clothes in my closet and found 50+ garments that were the wrong color, size, fabric, or style and took them to three or four of my favorite thrift stores. Not only did I feel good about recycling the garments for those who can use them and get them at a reasonable price, but I also appreciate the tax write-off. I also had a defiant, courageous feeling, "You call this a recession! Hah! I can afford to let go of these clothes!" [Like Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn].

Clearing the clutter made me feel much better than if I had just acquired new things. What is left (of the clothes, at least) is harmonious with each other, and I can better see what garments I need than in a crowded closet. I still have plenty.

This process has been one of the most uplifting events I have experienced in years!

Karen A. McDowell

Denver, CO

Three points need to be highlighted:
  • Clearing the clutter made Karen feel better.
  • She can now utilize her closet because it's not stuffed and her wardrobe mates, meaning she can build more ensembles from less.
  • She still has “plenty.”
Compare that to a trip to the mall to engage in some retail therapy and a few more items that would have been lost in the mix of an overstuffed closet.

We need to wind up that donation cycle and jump start this reuse economy. When economists study sales indicators and make statements about the condition of the national economy, I’m not certain thrift is tossed into the mix. But, it’s high time it is.

How about us take all the stuff we’ve been buying for the last 30 some odd years and put it into the reuse market and make it explode! Good grief America, the inventory is sitting unused in your homes, filling up rooms and closets.

Thank you Karen for such great testimony. And, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a favorite book of mine. I have a vintage hardback copy for my library that I bought for $1 at the thrift store. Last night I began reading to my youngest daughter Little Pie. It's a long book and will require some editing while reading but I figure it's a story she should know. Little Pie was very intrigued how the children of the neighborhood salvaged gum wrappers and bottles to take to Carney's to sell for pennies on Saturdays. It's hard to imagine that Betty Smith based this book on her childhood and was published a mere 66 years ago. So much has changed.


alanna rose said...

Purging always feels so much better than splurging.

Anne~fiona and twig said...

You are my hero. I SO need to purge right now!

Kristina said...

I love your blog! I gave you a blog award - stop by my blog to grab it! :)

elena-lu said...

i used to keep way too much and many years ago i started take a step back and see that i dont need all that i have i just want it! but am i using it? does it bring me joy? do i have room for it? if the answer is no to these questions then hey out it goes! someone else will love it and use it! but i still do have tons of things its just that what i have i really use and whats just for display well it makes me happy when i see it so i think its ok to have it around. its a personal thing about how much to have/ keep around but ultimately i do think we spend too much and hoard too much! am i rambling? i think i might be rambling but ok you got the point right? ok i go bye bye now! (first time commenter and boy did i write too much eh?!)

Saver Queen said...

Less IS more! A few weeks ago I did a purge in my closet. I was actually thinking of writing a blog post on the same topic because now that my wardrobe is half gone, I can't believe how much better I feel! Now I can actually FIND and SEE the clothes I like. I can pair outfits together now and it takes very little time to decide what goes together or what I want to wear.

When you are on a frugal budget, a great strategy is to take good care of what you own, and actually use and showcase what you've got. Very often it's more than you realize.

Plus, this makes you realize what you need and it makes shopping easier. It also reduces how much you spend because you know what you need and don't end up with stuff that's all the same!

Bee Balm Gal said...

I recently heard author Richard Russo on NPR talking about some books he recommends, one of which was Revolutionary Road. Today, I hopped on the Internet and found that I could get a good used copy from Goodwill in San Francisco for 38 cents, plus postage.
Here are the advantages to me: I spent no money in gas driving to a mall bookstore to purchase a much more expensive new copy, which they may or may not have had in stock. And in a few days, a perfectly good copy will arrive at my doorstep here in upstate New York. And maybe Goodwill hired someone who needed work to mail it to me. (They sure didn't make much profit at 38 cents otherwise!) And we all kept one more item out of a landfill. Win, win, I say.

Anonymous said...

The unfortunate part of this exchange is that Goodwill's online book selling seriously undercuts a well-established and extremely viable used book market filled with small, independent business owners (and their staff) who struggle to make a decent living. Short term and long, supporting small businesses is what's going to put our economy back on a solid footing. The book industry operates on a thin margin as it is; when we purchase online thru a virtual Walmart goliath whose real costs of being in the book business are subsidized by all its other used merchandise sales, we're getting a deal at a huge social cost. Please consider exploring other online (as well as bricks and mortar) used dealers who are committed to the book business. It'll make things better for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Not your main topic, but just a thought about hair color: beauty schools.

DD, DH, and I went to the beauty school a few weeks ago:

I had my hair cut, roots colored, and an eyebrow wax.
DD had a manicure.
DH had a haircut.

Total cost (after tax): $57 (plus tip).

I do tend to tip well ... for example, on my $8 eyebrow wax, I tipped $3. The students don't get a lot of money from tips. (Most people seem to tip around $1 for their $7 haircut).


Bee Balm Gal said...

To the anonymous writer who criticized my online used book purchase from Goodwill:
How does my purchase differ from buying a dress or a tchochke from a thrift store? Why don't you worry that all the Thrifty Chicks will put Macy's out of business? Or Fifi's Local Boutique on Main Street?
I, too, love books and good used bookstores and I'll bet that Internet shopping has kept a good many of them going...

Frances said...

I really love reading your blog and have given you an award over on mine!

Shopping Golightly said...

I believe that what our retail system needs is balance over excess. That being said, we have a HUGE reuse market that has: 1)economic advantages both for individual and local economy; 2)serves a civic purpose by supporting charities that benefit the society at large by helping people in need get their lives back on track and; 3)provides an easy to use venue for low carbon impact shopping.

I believe the ultimate goal is to balance the retail market with healthier and fair expectations from consumers while using the reuse market in tandem to make for less consumer waste and debt.

I think it fine for Goodwill to participate in the online market. Remember folks this is charity.

And, it can't be more clear than it is now that our system needs a serious overhaul and the retail system should not only report to Wall Street, but the NEEDS of their customers and the well being of our planet. If we cannot do this, we will be killing ourselves, our pocketbooks, our economy and the planet.

How many recessions, jobs lost to overseas, crap we don't need, layoff, piling credit debt must we go through before we learn this simple lesson?

Over and out.

Shopping Golightly said...

This is good guys, for this is the new dialog we need to have about the future of a healthy retail system that doesn't crash every some odd years.

Anonymous said...

The are a couple of important differences between buying dresses (or tchotchkes) and buying books from thrift stores. For one thing, the thrifts themselves represent the primary used market for dresses, household items, and the miscellaneous things we fill up our lives with. (I’m assuming your Fifi’s sells new and isn’t a consignment shop.) With books, though, things are quite different because there is a large viable (if struggling) used market/economy for books quite apart from the thrift channel. Don’t get me wrong: I salute your bargain. I really do! However, it’s really tough to profit in the used book business as it is. When would be “competitors” sell books for pennies online, it’s pretty much impossible to beat the price much less make any profit. Your 38 cent deal on that book was a bargain and a half, for sure. But didn’t it strike you as odd that you don’t see those ridiculous prices in the stores themselves? You were right to wonder about the profit Goodwill was making on the sale. There probably wasn’t any to be had. But in the process of marketing their donors’ books for pennies, Goodwill is undercutting the small used bookseller operating from a storefront and or online. How can Goodwill do it effectively? It can’t, that is not just by selling books. Nope, Goodwill is leveraging its profits from clothing, tchotchkes, etc. to prop up those pocket change book sales. Now that’s something “real” used booksellers can’t (and don’t) do. Hence my “Walmart” reference; it was a nod to a way of doing business that has a significant social cost attached to it.

Bee Balm Gal said...

Anonymous is an articulate writer in support of used books stores. But the purging owners of too many ill-fitting clothes also have choices, as do those shoppers looking for bargains. Where to donate our excess? Where to shop for good deals?
Sell at your own garage sale and make money? Buy from one’s neighborhood garage sale?
Donate or shop at a privately owned for-profit consignment shop?
Or at a local charity thrift, run by a small church or local hospital?
Or at the big name places like the Salvation Army or Goodwill?

Is one or another of these choices really more morally correct than another? Am I obligated to worry about the effect of my thrift shopping on the employment of sales people at Wal-Mart or Armani? Or is it my primary obligation to be a good steward of my family’s (and the world’s) finite resources, not to waste time, money, gasoline? And then to use my carefully saved pennies for charitable donations to causes and needs I feel called to support?

There was once a time when the US economy actually made things: railroad cars, clocks, shoes… Now we make sales: Santa coffee mugs made in China, doggie sweaters made in Bangladesh. Turns out this sort of economy has some flaws…

Anonymous said...

Walmart is certainly occupying some curious slots in this discussion. In my post I referenced the retail King Kong (which has warm and fuzzy side, too, because it has a widely acknowledged reputation for forcing small retail competitors out of the marketplace. It seemed to serve the used bookstore businesses vs. Megathrift face off quite well. Think about it. In many places, W coming to town turns Main Street into a graveyard in very short order. So why should thrift-minded consumers steer clear of Walmart for this reason? As you point out, it’s not easy: low prices matter to all of us. At Walmart, we stock up, trusting that overall, we’re getting the best possible price for the value and quality we’re willing to accept.

As a long-time W shopper, this was my mantra until a little over a year ago. But after four months of unemployment, I found I had to scrutinize everything I did and bought--no matter how insignificant. As a consequence of that austerity boot camp experience, I’m no longer a Walmart customer. Here’s why: During my sojourn in the desert with other highly skilled but discarded workers, I found that by watching prices and using print and online coupons in tandem with sales, I could do a whole lot better by staying out of Walmart. Now fully employed, I find the little extra planning and detective work required to be confident about getting the best prices on what I buy is well worth the time it takes.

Another part of the Walmart story, of course, is its business model of relying on part-time, low-cost, low-fringe workers. Judging by the many lawsuits from women and others trying to work their way up the management ladder, Walmart’s model is designed to offer only very limited advancement to even long-time employees. So in answer your question, I say here again that yes, as consumers our choices matter: some of those choices are going to be more socially responsible than others, as when we opt to say “No” to usurious labor practices.

I hope this clarifies my position on Walmart. It should also explain why I’m not concerned that by choosing to frequent my locally owned hardware store I might be threatening a Walmart worker’s jobs. Shopping locally (for a whole host of reasons) is a simply the better choice. I know that as a disposable and interchangeable cog the Walmart machine, even the laid off W employee is likely to have greater opportunity almost anywhere else. The bottom line is that fair employers and small businesses (and here I include resellers and used goods folks) have a lot more to offer the economy as a whole than Walmart does--more jobs, more different types of jobs, and taken together, more opportunity for both employees and consumers.

Shopping Golightly said...

I believe we can say that Bee Balm Girl’s book find was indeed a “find,” one that a used book dealer had the same opportunity to snag. Just like when I bought a signed Kokeshi doll for $0.99. Perhaps more research needs to be applied to Goodwill’s online pricing structure. I do know that Goodwill does play a part in used booksellers acquisition of inventory and that Goodwill competes and has always competed with used book dealers. I’d direct more frustration towards the Wal Marts and the larger chain booksellers. I believe they do – by far – more damage to used dealers and the indies than Goodwill could ever do. Perhaps if we weaned the American public from bad television programming and x-boxes this might help the book market, no? I am a bibliophile and my entire family reads every night before bed.

Anonymous, a struggle is going on and obviously, this $0.38 book struck a cord. Perhaps emotional. Perhaps not. I do believe you share more in common with Bee Balm Girl, otherwise you would not be reading this site, and I am so honored you both do.

Hard times make for emotional times. So many of us find ourselves in frightening situations, teetering on great loss. I speak from the heart because I too have these feelings and fears. I feel like my family was screwed by greed on Wall Street. Though we’ve tried to be economically responsible for our decisions throughout the years, we’re being exposed to financial ruin in a country that doesn’t give a damn and values money over people. (Those are my emotions.)

We need to have more understanding of how our shopping impacts not only our social codes, but our environmental codes for every new product has a cost of energy attached to it. Better to learn to buy what we need and understand the difference between cheap and cheap crap. But I believe I’m preaching to the choir.

It angers me that so many companies answer to Wall Street instead of the people they rob of: 1) fair employment; 2) environmental resources; 3) American jobs; 4) risky money management and lies. And, all the while, these companies pretend that they are advocates for the consumer. What a slap in the face!

I’m so glad to see this dialog on this blog. It helps me believe that, our readers are thinking, active and motivated to change the American retail system. I need that to stay motivated myself. It’s easy to sometimes wonder if you’re just writing to the sound of crickets.

Thank you both! And, please keep reading.

Serena said...

I must say, the dialog alone on this blog makes it worth checking out. Thrifty Chicks is my favorite blog because of its timeliness and because, as the above exchanges demonstrate, it gets people thinking and talking about consumerism's effect on our society, environment, and well-being.
I look at it this way, no system is without its flaws. Wouldn't it be great if everything we bought was fair trade, organic, good for the environment, provided jobs for those who need them, and fair to everyone? The reality is, no one single purchase we make fits all these criteria. The important thing is to educate and make people realize how their consuming behavior affects the world around them, and then trust them to make the best decision for their situation. I think everyone who reads this blog is trying to be socially responsible in the best way they know how.
Keep up the great dialog, everyone :0)

Shopping Golightly said...


I am very proud of this dialog and plan to make a post out of it. Our nation needs more dialog just like this.

The Prudent Homemaker said...

To Anonymous,

I buy used books all the time, from bricks and mortar stores as well as online. MANY used bookstores sell online, through Amazon.com or Alibris, for example.

When my husband was looking for an out-of print book a few years back, he bought online from a brick and mortar store in Utah that we had visited (and met the owner). Funny enough, we found the book we wanted through their listing on Alibris, and when choosing a seller, we chose the one that we had visited. This was a book that orginally sold for $30 new, and was now $160. Not a bargain, but a planned purchase of a rare(r) book that my husband had been saving up to get for afor many years.

I am aware of the tiny markup in the book industry, and I understand your pain.

At this point in my life, buying books (even needed schoolbooks for my children, who are homeschooled) is a difficult thing. I have to look for the best price, and it usually means buying used (online).

Now, for the subject of purging:

I really, really wish the no-longer pregnant women in my town would do some serious purging to our local thrit store. In February, there were 5 racks of maternity clothes, including one just for maternity dresses, and it was FULL.

At the time I was not pregnant, but I knew the time was coming again, and I was able to get two summer dresses. Our thrift store is much more expensive than the ones shown on this blog. Most clothes are $4 or $5 each.

Now that I really need some warmer maternity clothes (and I am pregnant), there is one rack, sparsly filled. There are no maternity sweaters, and the ones on ebay are going quickly (but not cheaply--around $35 each).

I know other thrift stores are stuggling to keep enough clothing to sell. Purging can help a lot of people!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Prudent H. Again, the issue isn't about doing business online. These days everybody's online. But when the cost of acquiring books is ZERO (because Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.) receive them as donations, that means there are no costs to recoup. That's a huge competitive advantage ...which arguably hurts legitimate book dealers and businesses. The thrifts pretty much define the market for used clothing and household items. But when it comes to books, the situation is very different: there's a viable market of independents (and big chains) duking it out already. I hope that folks will think twice about their donations being used to compete unfairly with legitimate businesses. A related issue is a philosophy that says donations to the thrifts should be used locally...not taken out of that market and sold elsewhere. Sure, lots of people will say "get what you can from my donation." Others, however, will question the sustainability aspects of that choice. After all, one of the best things about thrifts is their ability to recycle usable goods locally while making a profit to support charitable work that's local. Some of us want to hold them to that mission.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is right. There aren't jobs in my town. I work part time and am in a serious struggle to survive. My bills are late. My rent is late. I owe my parents money and I can't pay it back right now. Selling a few books online was the only way to fill in the gaps and just barely get by, and I haven't sold anything all week. I checked and this week, Goodwill online stores from various places have undercut about 2/3 of my inventory, and forced other sellers to reduce prices, to the point that, as a small seller who doesn't pay the monthly fee and therefore pays $1 extra per book in addition to the normal sales fees, I have had to remove those 2/3 of my inventory because if I lower them to the prices Goodwill has forced them to, I will now break even. If they keep this up, I am in deep trouble because those book sales made the difference between things being shut off or not, buying food the week I pay rent or not. Oh, and the person who said the booksellers can go buy the cheap book and sell it because it;s such a "great find"? How does that make any sense unless they sell it in a brick and mortar store? How would I buy it, pay shipping, and then sell it again at the low price it has been forced down to? Even after Goodwill's book has sold, another Goodwill will get another copy, and even if not, they have forced the prices so far down with other high-volume sellers who are exempt from the $1 fee, that the price will not go back up for some time, perhaps never. So, congrats on your great deal, yay for Goodwill, but I don't care, because I would rather have heat and a basic phone line and be able to buy a loaf of bread and pay my rent than get undercut by a place whose $3 and $5 junk "thrift" clothes I can't even afford unless they end up on the 25 cent rack.