Monday, September 13, 2010

On Being Thrifty

Thriftiness doesn't come easy for me. It's not how I grew up. For my parents, being "thrifty" was the equivalent of being poor, which they both were as children. They wanted more for me and my sisters, and we did ... have more, I mean (which is to say that our things were newer and more abundant, but not necessarily better than what they had as children). In fact, we had just about everything we wanted, eventually. It's probably a good thing we didn't want a lot, though ;).

I remember a couple of years ago, Deus Ex Machina and I were watching this film about a man who was hired to be the basketball coach in an inner city school. He really shook things up quite a lot when he started imposing very strict standards of conduct on his ball players with one of the worst requirements being that the players wear a tie on game days. Some parents complained that their son did not have a tie, but when the coach suggested the Salvation Army, right up the street, the parents balked and exclaimed, "We're not that poor, yet!" The movie, based on a true story, took place about the same time I was growing up, and that was the attitude. We don't patronize Salvation Army, because we're not that poor, yet.

Growing up, we never shopped at thrift stores, that I remember. We didn't buy clothes second-hand (gasp!), and there wasn't a lot of going to yard sales. There was no such thing as FreeCycle, and my parents would be absolutely mortified if they thought I would even entertain the thought of dumpster diving (which, if you read the comments at the linked post, you'll note I did do ... sort of ... when I was in college - and yes, at that time, I was indeed that poor ;).

I grew up in pre-Wal*Mart days, although we did shop at K-Mart back then, and if my mom could find a sale, she'd take advantage of it, but bargains were end-of-season sales - not thrift finds.

So, thrifting does not come easy to me. I am really impressed reading some other people's anecdotes of their thrift store treasure hunts. The ones that impress me most are people who find fabulous clothes or items that they repurpose or recreate into something new. I always wonder why I can never find things like that.

I know it's not because my thrift store doesn't have them. I'm certain it does. It's just that I don't know what to look for. I'm accustomed to finding what I need at the closest retail outlet when I need it. I'm not accustomed to waiting and searching.

I've been doing much better, though. It actually started last year, when I wanted a salad spinner. See, I learned when I was working in a restaurant that the best way to keep the salad crisp is to soak it in cold water and then store it in a cool place. The problem is that leaf lettuce needs to be really dry when it gets stored in that cool place (like a refrigerator) or it gets slimy too fast. The one at the grocery store was some crazy expensive price, and so I waited, and I looked, and eventually, I found one for $4 at Goodwill.

I had similar luck today. For a couple of years now we've been de-electrifying our kitchen, and I've wanted to replace my electric hand mixer with a manual one. Today, when Precious and I went to Goodwill, I found one.

I also found a few other things that looked like they might be useful. A couple of glass stoppered dressing bottles (for $2 each) to put the apple cider vinegar we've been fermenting. I'm thinking if I steep some herbs in them and then strain the herbed vinegar into the bottles, they'd make some very nice gifts. It's something I've always wanted to do, but never did do, because I didn't have the pretty bottles.

I've also been meaning to get some picture frames for the girls' recital photos, and I found three, identical frames today. It was like providence, like those three frames were put there ... just for me to find, because I've had these photos sitting on my desk waiting for frames for months, and I'd resolved that I wasn't going to slide the pictures into a drawer until I could get a frame, that seeing them every day would give me that little push I needed to be more proactive. Two dollars each. And they're perfect.

The ultimate, though, was, as the young man in line in front of me called it, the old school coffee grinder.

It's just the sweetest looking thing I've ever seen. I was a little nervous when I bought it, because Deus Ex Machina and I are really watching our pennies (and it's kind of become a little contest between us since we started writing all of our cash purchases in our little notebooks to keep from spending any money at all - I know, why was I even in a store if I wasn't wanting to spend money, right? ... anyway ;). I never know how he's going to react, but I was pleasantly surprised when he thought it an awesome deal. We even bought some coffee beans, rather than the pre-ground stuff, when we were at the grocery store ... just so we could try it out.

Precious found a couple of mugs she liked, which was quite a change for her. Usually, it's clothes she wants, even though she has mounds of clothes that she never wears because they're buried under mounds of clothes that she never wears. Or it's videos, and as I'm trying to phase out and move out the VCR, I was thrilled that she was happy with mugs - something we can, and will, use every day.

I'm still not entirely comfortable that I know what I'm doing when I go thrifting. I guess it's one of those things that takes practice and patience, and I guess I'm getting there.

I probably won't ever be on Farmgal's level, and to acheive Soulemama's level would require more years than I probably have left to live, but it's something to aspire to, and my hope is that someday I'll have a house full of useful thrifty things that we use all of the time rather than just a house full of stuff.


  1. I am with you on this. I have a hard time knowing when I find something good. Example... I bought a coffee grinder also but there was/ is something wrong with it. (when you turn the knob it unscrews itself and the entire thing falls apart. :( If there is a bad egg I will find it! lol

  2. Uh oh! I haven't tried out my new coffee grinder (very busy weekend and no time to make sure it was clean ;), but that would be my luck. It seems to turn okay, and hopefully, when we add beans it will not fall apart ;). I guess you have to wonder why people get rid of these really cool things, and too often we discover why ;).

  3. Things like that can be repaired, often with a new screw & nut. So if you get something sort-of broken for $2, and repairs cost 8 cents… well, $2.08 isn't so bad! BTW, some less-strict Amish communities run their kitchens on compressed air, and there are businesses built around converting electric appliances. The compressor is electric, but is in the shed or some other outbuilding (and if you don't run power into the house, you're okay!).

    Mrs. Fetched grew up poor, and I mean the kind of poor where she crossed the creek on a footlog to use the toilet until she was about 10. So she avoids certain activities — like camping or picnics — because I'm pretty sure she associates them with being poor. I just think they're fun, so there's some friction there. It took her a long time to get used to my preference for ratty cars (cheap insurance, nobody bothers them) — "aren't you embarrassed to drive around in that?" (Um, no… I don't measure myself by the car I'm driving.)

  4. Lol, Wendy! I've been looking for a hand-crank coffee grinder for over a year, and you find one without even trying :)

    I like how you've thought of the dressing bottles for the homemade vinegars. Thanks for the idea. I need to find some nice bottles for the vanilla I'm starting (Rob's instructions). And the three frames are perfect. It's wierd how sometimes all the stars align and what you need/want is there waiting for you.

    My folks were lower-middle class but we never shopped at thrift stores or yard sales when I was small. We did shop at cheaper stores that sold good quality stuff. (There were stores like that, years ago) My early married years were frugal out of necessity, so long ago I got over the stigma of thrift-shopping.

    I think there's a bit of a "thrifter" in the "Thrivalist" ;)

  5. Wendy, don't forget the fabulous costumes you found right when you needed them.

  6. I have my good days at the thrift stores and days when I walk out empty-handed. I grew up rummage sale-ing, dumpster diving, thrift store shopping and digging through other people's trash cans the night before trash day. Mom and I would walk through the neighborhood when it got dark and she'd lift the lids on the cans, sometimes I'd be embarassed and hope none of my schoolmates saw me, but that all went out the door when we'd find something cool. Like once, someone must have cleaned out the toy box, 'cause we found all kinds of cool games and toys.

    Sometimes, I'll go in thrift stores and never look once at the clothing racks, just make a beeline to the hard goods, like kitchenware and dishes. But yesterday, something inside me told me to check the jeans and the first pair of jeans I looked at were my size and nearly new! Tried them on, perfect fit, and took home a nice pair of jeans for $6. I'm happy!

    Congrats on your cool finds!! I hope you'll have good finds again and again! :o)

  7. FARf = My father grew up just like Mrs. FARf - having to walk up the hill to the outhouse. He lived with his ten brothers and sisters in a four room house. What's funny (and a little sad to me) is that rather than feeling empowered by the fact that they were independent and could, essentially, do as they pleased, because they weren't tethered by dependence on the money economy, they felt trapped in poverty. I hope that when poverty happens to those of us still in the "middle class", we'll embrace the new freedom we have rather than feel as if we're always struggling.

    Farmgal - Yes, I agree. There is definitely some "thrift" to "Thrivalist". Afterall, Kate, the one who orginally coined the term here on my blog, writes at "Living the Frugal Life" :).

    Deus Ex Machina - Yeah, those costumes were rather "divinely inspired", weren't they? *grin*

    Jenny - I always want to find some of those really great 100% wool sweaters other people always seem to find, but no such luck ;). I was thrilled with the things I found that day, though, and I hope I'll find cool stuff again and again, too. It was actually a lot of fun, and I don't ordinarily enjoy shopping, because of the sticker shock, but I do like going to Goodwill, and it just so happens to be my girls' favorite store. Go figure ;).