Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the archives

When reviewing old posts or interviews hindsight can be a curse. In this case, I think, it was a blessing. This piece from Thrift Culture Now delivered a message worthy of running again.

It’s a myth that frugal people never shop. People often think that to be thrifty one must swear off all spending unless it falls into the basic necessities sections of their budgets, and even then they must buy the cheapest versions of those basic necessities. I know I would often find myself battling my conscience, trying to resist the urge to spend while stifling my love for quality, stylish clothes and house wares. Then I found the blog, The Thrifty Chicks.

The Thrifty Chicks was created in late 2008, when four friends decided that they needed a creative outlet for their thrift shopping expertise and their desire to “build a more robust reuse market.” With the pen names, Ms. Shopping Golightly, Ms. Gently Used, Ms. Goodie Wilhelmina, and Ms. Modern Mommie, these women write about shopping in a way that dispels the falsehoods of frugality.

According to Amy (aka Ms. Shopping Golightly), people often confuse frugal living with great sacrifice and zero fun because they don’t understand the real meaning of the word.

“It appears that many misconstrue ‘frugality’ with ‘miserly’ which means to compromise, be stingy and parsimonious, connoting unhappiness in saving money. To be frugal, by simple definition, is to not be wasteful,” she explains. “By living thrift, we are not depraved.”

Just one read through the pages of this fun, informative, and thought-provoking blog, and a quick glance at the fantastic photos of Ms. Shopping Golightly and her family modeling their thrift store finds, and you will see that they certainly aren’t deprived. It’s shocking to read that the beautiful, quality clothing (Amy and her family often where brands like, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Banana Republic, and Hannah Andersson), furniture, kitchen wares, and toys that would cost one a small fortune to buy new, have been purchased for a few dollars at a variety of reuse venues including, thrift stores, garage sales, or online.

But don’t think, even for a minute, that this blog is only about light and fluffy shopping fun. Along with the great tips on how a frugal fashionista can find great deals, a strong and important message is conveyed; where you shop and how you shop has significant environmental and economic implications.

Amy explains that The Thrifty Chicks’ goal--to create a more robust reuse market--is heavily rooted in a desire to lighten the impact that the American new product market has on the environment. “Our current shopping behaviour costs a lot more than the price tag we see. It carries a heavy carbon footprint that no one’s fully deciphered. We know the calories in one stinkin’ pickle because the FDA regulates food labeling. But we’ve no idea the cost of manufacturing and shipping of a new pair of blue jeans made in China across the world to the U.S.,” Amy says. “The carbon footprint of our shopping is undeniably large and it continues to grow, even during a devastating recession. This makes no sense. Product reuse can significantly help lower the flow of cheap, new, energy intensive goods into the country.”

Making a conscious effort to buy from the reuse market not only helps to keep more stuff out of landfills and decreases the demand for goods that are environmentally damaging to produce, but the reuse market is also a lot easier on our wallets, and that’s good news for anyone who’s looking to save money.

Amy says she thinks that consumerism is completely out of whack in our society. We no longer give careful thought to our purchases, considering the quality and price of a particular item, but instead, we give in to impulse and buy things because they’re trendy or we think that it gives us a particular image. She refers to this consumption epidemic, and the marketing that draws us into it, as a dumbing-down of our culture. These days, even frugality is marketed.

“Save more, buy more. That is not a frugal practice,” says Amy. “For the honest frugal-natured consumer, money saved is just that--money saved, not spent.”
The way in which we’re spending—largely without thinking—has fueled the “economy of crap,” as Amy calls it (check out Amy’s thought-provoking post entitled, The Harbingers of Decline). Companies produce more and more stuff that adds no value to our lives and eventually ends up in landfills. The environment is more polluted and ravaged of resources, consumer debt rises, and the only ones who gain are corporations and Wall Street.

“Sometimes I dream of a rush of angry consumers tossing Homer Simpson Chia-Pet Heads, plastic singing fish, and chocolate fountains upon the trading floor in protest to all the crap that is created with a cause for profit, not need,” says Amy. “That’s my dark side.”

But even though it’s easy to point the finger and blame the producers of the crap, Amy knows that it’s consumers’ poor spending habits—what and where we buy--that ultimately keep the latest versions of the Chia-Pet in production. The ‘buy-more,’ or even ‘buy-more-than-you-can afford,’ mentality has definitely contributed to the growing levels of consumer debt in our society.

“It wasn’t that long ago credit cards were a hard-earned badge of honour and debt was a sign of disgrace. Now, credit cards rain on us like a ticker tape parade,” Amy says. “I cannot count the number of times my underage daughters have been pre-approved for credit cards in the mail.”

The Thrifty Chicks aim to wake-up consumers and teach them how to make better decisions when it comes to spending; where to spend and how to decide what’s worth spending money on. In particular, Amy says that she and the other women behind The Thrifty Chicks hope to “help young consumers learn more about being resourceful so that they will spend less and save more for something lasting in life like a home or advanced education, rather than the alleged ‘latest styles’ that change as soon as the clothes hit the racks.”

Amy offers some sound advice for how to improve your spending habits:

1) Learn to honour the value and not the cost: Amy says that this means stopping to consider whether or not an item fills a legitimate need or whether you’re only thinking about buying an item because it’s inexpensive. “Put an end to the super size, the more is better mentality and you’re off to a good start,” she says.

2) Learn how to identify quality: Amy says that “an ignorant shopper will spend more money,” so getting to know the feel of quality materials and looking for well-constructed clothing is a great money-saving skill. She recommends starting at the thrift stores, where you will find quality cashmere and silk, as well as less-desirable rayon and acrylic. You can feel the difference in the materials and will be more discerning when deciding what to purchase. Amy says she wore a black dress (that she purchased at a thrift store) inside out, on more than one occasion, because the quality was so high that she couldn’t tell which was the right way to wear it. She paid $5 for that dress.

3) Determine your ‘flinch point:’ Amy has a system that she uses when she’s thrift shopping to help her decide what she’s willing to buy. She says that her personal flinch point is $5, and if an item costs more than $5 then she thinks long and hard as to whether or not she will buy it. Only at thrift stores could the $5 flinch point makes sense. Compare that to regular, new market retail: “Imagine what it’s like to pick up a new jacket from Banana Republic with the $99.99 price tag still dangling next to the $5 Goodwill tag, only to stop at a major retailer on the way home and buy a tube of mascara for $9,” Amy says.

4) Purge: Amy says that a good look at the items in your closet could help to put your spending practices into perspective. Plus, if you haven’t worn something in a year, then chances are you’re not going to. Donate it to go Goodwill where it will resurface in the reuse market.

I’ve always been pretty good at saving, but it was spending that I needed to work on and I don’t mean that I needed to spend more. After reading some of the Thrifty Chicks' posts, I realized that I wasn’t always fulfilling my thrifty living mantra, not to mention doing my part for the planet. The cheapest option isn’t always the best option. The best option and, therefore, the best use of my money, is the clothing and the wares that are good quality and going to last. Only in the reuse market can you consistently find items that are both good quality and inexpensive.