Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Living Richly In Retirement: Getting the Good Stuff-Used!

One of my favorite bloggers on the frugal side is Katie over at the Non-Consumer Advocate. Katie is great at showing how you can live on less and not be “deprived”. Katie is also a member of the Compact. This means that she has agreed to buy nothing new, with a few specific exceptions. The pictures that she shows of her home and then things she’s found, purchased use or gotten free are amazing.

I also try to buy as many things used as I can, for both economic and ecological reasons. Admittedly, my “can’t buy used list” is a tad larger than Katy’s (although not by much-see below). Although I am by no means the queen of buying used, I do have some skill and expertise in this general area. In other words I get lots of seriously good stuff for pennies and dollars. Unfortunately, lots of misconceptions about buying used, as well as buying strategies abound. While I’m not necessarily looking for converts, I do believe that most of us can increase income as well as help the planet when we shop used.

When I shop used, I don’t shop in a single place. I go to yard sales, flea markets and thrift stores. I also search websites such as Craigslist and EBay (see my comments about the safety of this technique below. Most of the “techniques" I use in second hand shopping are the same ones that a typically frugal shopper uses all on a regular basis. These techniques have (recently) allowed me to buy my son like new Tommy Hilfiger and other brand name polos for a couple bucks. They’ve allowed me to buy like new and classic items from Longaberger baskets and Coach purses to furniture and household items. My church youth are having a huge garage sale this weekend and I will get a good, working tiller for five dollars to assist with my landscaping project.

I don’t wait to buy something until I need it. If I do that, it’s always more expensive. This is generally true of food, socks, or anything else. I have a good sense of what I want and need. Birthdays and Christmas come every year. I’ve known for some time that I was going to replace my crepe pan, and since I am continually losing weight, I keep my eyes out for cheap but good quality smaller sizes.

I’m willing to wait for almost anything. Even if my pan no longer cooks crepes, I would wait to find a used one, even if it took a few weeks. The reward is huge and I know I will find the item eventually. I also don’t buy something just because it’s a buck (for the most part). However, there are occasions when I can take a risk on a buck or two that I would not take on ten or twenty.

Most importantly when it comes to sale and freebie shopping, I make it simply a part of my routine. Rarely do I make it a “special effort”. As part of my errand days, I stop at a thrift shop (occasionally two), depending on my route. I used to be slower at perusing; now I have a pretty good eye and pass over much (I also, by nature, scan quickly). Admittedly, garage sale shopping can be time consuming. The question is whether the time is worth the reward in terms of working hours, payback time or anything else. It ALWAYS was when I had kids at home, now the answer is “sometimes”. Shopping through craigslist is obviously the least time consuming choice.

I don’t buy something that’s cheap just because it’s cheap (for the most part). There are occasions when I will risk a purchase knowing that it may be a loss, but that’s much easier to do with a two dollar item than a twenty dollar item. Because I have yucky knees for example, I don’t try on bottoms in the stores. Sure, occasionally I kiss a few frogs. However, I’ve also acquired designer jeans for less than five dollars.

How do I deal with second hand discrimination? Well, first of all I really don’t worry about it. But seriously, if you do, who has to know where you got something? When my kids were high school fashion plates and they got asked where they got their outfits, the stock answer was “I don’t know, mom got it for me”. If someone compliments me, I simply say “thank you”. If they ask where I got it and I’m not comfortable admitting it was used, I may say something such as “Thanks, I got it in Austin”, and leave it at that. Very few people I know as for the genealogical background on things I bought. Most of my family and friends know and admire my scrounging ability. At the moment, I have about twenty designer style Christmas plates of different sizes. These were all bought for pennies, and will be given with home goodies at the holidays. The recipients will know where I got the plates, and be thrilled.

Everyone has to use their own level of frugality. If you have needs or want that are not being met through your budget, or if you are just a bargain hound, used shopping is the way to go. There are things I buy new on occasion and do not feel guilty doing so. But If I’ve only got five bucks, I would MUCH rather get the l
Land’s End top at the thrift store for five bucks than the Target or Wal-Mart thingy for the same price. But hey, that’s just me.

For the record, a not necessarily inclusive list of items I will not buy used includes; underwear and socks, pillows and mattresses, stuffed furniture, shoes (I know people who have had success, but I need a specific brand), quilting fabric and supplies, some craft supplies, and obviously food and health/beauty items. Should I make any improvements to the house, I would probably look at my used options and then move to new.


  1. I agree, a good find is a good find. But buying cheap new is not a good idea. Waiting until that special expensive thing can be found affordably works for me.



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