Saturday, April 4, 2015

What Goes Up ... ???

I love going to the thrift store. In fact, for a year or two, the only clothes we bought new were underclothes and socks. Everything else was from the thrift store or hand-me-downs (mostly for my daughters).

The thing about thrift store shopping is it's kind of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get, and good thrift store shoppers (i.e. one's who always find the best price on what they really need) make frequent visits, but never buy what's not on the list. A good thrift store shopper will have a list of items that they are usually looking for, be willing to wait to find that item, and rarely, if ever, make impulse buys.

I'm a mediocre (at best) thrift store shopper, but mostly that comes from not being a very good shopper in general. I tend to buy what I need when I need it (or buy what I want when I want it). Sometimes that instant gratification is what I need more than whatever ended up in the bag at the register. I fully recognize that shopping that way is bad, and so, my solution is to spend as little time in a store as is necessary.

Today, after taking Little Fire Faery and Big Little Sister to the dance school, Precious and I took a detour through the local Goodwill. I've been looking for a pair of flats to wear at the theatre when I usher, and since the shoes will only be worn occasionally, I didn't want to buy them new.

The first thing I noticed when we walked into the store was that all of the prices have gone up. The cost for children's clothes has almost doubled (from $1.99 for everything to "$3 and up" for most items - those not marked are $3 - most of the things we saw today were marked at $5 or more). Adult clothes are "$5 and up", which is a $1 increase). They still have the half-off-color-of-the-day deal, and a thrifty shopper would take advantage of that deal.

The other day, we saw an Old Navy ad for women's cotton "tees" (just a regular fitted shirt with no logo or design) for $5. Sometimes they even have better deals than that, and it gets tough for me. New shirt at Old Navy or used shirt at Goodwill for the same price?

Back in the day, *the* reason we started shopping at thrift stores was because the clothes were second-hand. We were keeping clothes out of landfills, and we were decreasing the demand for cheaply made clothes manufactured by near-slave labor, mostly in third world countries, by purchasing used clothes.

But what we've found too much of, over the years, are so many of these same cheaply-made-in-China (or wherever) clothes at the thrift store, and it's become a quandary, because sometimes the used stuff doesn't really last very long, which makes it not much of a bargain. So, we can get it new for about the same price we can get it used, wear it out to the point that it can't be resold at the Goodwill, and then repurpose it into a rag or some other usable item. We're still keeping it out of the landfill, and also it would take a bit longer for us to wear out the new one than it does to wear out the used one.

Or we can buy the used one and stick to our ethics, but we end up spending the same amount of money, or maybe, more, because we have to buy 1 1/2 x as many shirts to replace the one that wears out too quickly. And then, there's the question - if we are so willing to buy these cast-offs, does that encourage those other people (people who don't care about overflowing landfills or slave labor in Indochina, or downtown Los Angeles) to be crazy consumerists knowing that they can just donate their stuff to Goodwill (for a tax write-off), and then, buy the new stuff anyway.

Is a shirt worn by more than one person for about the same length of time more ethical than a shirt worn by a single owner until it's no longer wearable?

I guess, I'm wondering if there really is any savings - either to my pocket book or the environment.

Some things are great for finding at the thrift store. I still wouldn't buy new picture frames, unless I needed a very specific size that I couldn't find second hand. I wouldn't buy new plates or glasses, because there are so many choices at the thrift store. Curtains, cloth napkins, table clothes, and baskets are all thrift store finds.

And cool little gadgets, like manual coffee grinders, will always be something I buy used.

And some clothes, too. Like my wool pea coat, was a very good purchase. I bought it years ago, and I'm still wearing it. In fact, I just replaced the buttons that fell off, and so I think I'll probably be wearing it for a few more winters - assuming it still fits.

I was a little surprised ... and maybe a bit disappointed ... to note the pretty sharp increase in the prices at the thrift store today, but I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, as prices have been going up every where for a long time. I guess I was just taken aback by discovering that it might, actually, be less expensive to get a women's fitted tee-shirt new at Old Navy (if price is the only consideration) than to get the same item used at Goodwill.

The positive is that, maybe, these increases in prices will, finally, force me to pull out the sewing machine and start making some of these ideas in my head a reality - like my plan to repurpose some old tee-shirts into a skirt.

Have you noticed prices going up in places where you didn't expect them to increase?


  1. My daughter buys a lot of clothes at charity shops and I look for vintage china. We have both noticed the prices are quite high now. And some of the clothes you could buy for the same price new. It has taken all the enjoyment out of searching for a bargain..
    Happy Easter.

  2. I do share your dilemma. Some charity shops have ridiculous prices. I get around this by trying to only buy good brands at op shops (Australian for thrift shop), which makes them much more of a bargain, and they tend to last longer as well. Although I must say that I too have been looking at my t-shirts and underwear recently and thinking... how hard could this be to make? The answer, for me, is very hard indeed. But surely over time I would get better at it??

    1. I made boxer shorts for my husband for Christmas last year. I took a pair that had worn out, cut them apart at the seams, and used them to make a pattern. Then, I sewed all of the pieces together. They looked AWESOME! Just as good as the commercially made ones. I only made one mistake ... the commercial ones were made using a kind of stretchy fabric, and the ones I made were flannel, which means they didn't have any give. So, they were a bit too small. :-(

      But it wasn't hard to make them. I just need to modify the pattern or pick a different fabric ;).

      It's a learning process, but it's not tough to do. My next project is to try to make a pair of underpants for myself out of some old t-shirts. That will be fun ;).

  3. I am terrible at shopping in thrift shops - maybe because I've only been in two over the past ten years or so that we actually found useful (to us) items. My oldest child is a big fan of Goodwill shopping and finds the cutest things by her.

    I too have been looking at clothing and hoping to make my own. I took a sewing class this winter but now I'm stuck in the mode of trying to figure out what fabric and notions I need for each thing I want to make - and of course whenever I go to the fabric store there's a huge line and no one to ask for help. (Murphy, meet Thrifty/Crafty. LOL) I'm really hoping to make some PJs for my son soon though. My sewing teacher said that is a great way to start. We've been buying him Land's End jammies for years now and they are excellent quality, and I combine as many discounts and rebates as possible to get the best price I can, but recently they had a recall so he's out THREE pairs of pajamas now. Since they are made overseas, I'm really hoping to get on making some instead.

  4. I've been thrifting for years. I tend to buy better quality clothing (if used) as I want things that last. I do buy some things new/used thru eBay, like LL Bean, as they were forever! I hate cheap clothes that fall apart after a few washing, or shrink. It's dilemma...

    1. Some of the stuff at the LL Bean store is pretty good quality, but their clothes (regular t-shirts, etc.) are really not much better quality than what you'd get at Old Navy or other chain "mall" stores. I will say that you can't beat LL Bean shoes, for quality, and they have a lot of really quality gear - like backpacks. But if I'm looking for shirts or jeans or something like that, in my experience (at least in the last ten years or so), what I get at Beans isn't really worth the higher price tag.

      Don't get me wrong - as a Mainer, I'm a huge Bean fan, but if I'm going to pay $12 for a t-shirt, I want it to last longer than the $5 tee I bought at Old Navy. You know?

  5. I find carboot sales a lot cheaper than charity shops (thrift or op shops). A T shirt may be £3 at the charity shop, but only 50p when you rummage through someones clothes at a carboot sale. It is firstly because you are buying it directly from the previous user in general, and they may not necessarily be sorted or labelled. Also, people like me, tend to load up their unwanted junk once or twice a year to sell and really you want to get rid of as much as possible in one morning, so you don't have to take it home again. It really gives an incentive for haggling and getting bargains. This morning I got an Abercrombie T shirt for 50p, along with a new unused baking tray for 50p and cake tin for 20p. I also got tracksuit bottoms for my son identical to some I had bought him previously which are £20 -£30 in the shop and I paid £1.50.

    When I buy new I go for fair trade when I can and generally pay more for a better quality product. I avoid cheap clothes shops like the plague, because the quality is poor. I wish paying more meant that the workers got more, but there is no guarantee of that unless it is fairtrade.

    Do you have anything like a carboot sale in your area? Like a jumble sale, bring and buy sale, garage sale?

    1. I think the closest we have to your carboot sales would be a flea market, but to participate (i.e. be a seller) one usually has to purchase a table space, and so only those who are pretty serious about selling will be sellers. Sometimes there are good deals, but mostly, flea market stuff falls into three categories -
      1. really cheap dollar-store crap someone bought wholesale and is trying to turn over for a profit (this usually appeals to our summer visitors/tourists);
      2. well-made, antique kinds of things in questionable condition that are usually over priced for the condition (but occasionally, there's a good deal); and
      3. craft items.

      We have "yard sales" or "garage sales", but typically it's one family's stuff, and it requires driving all over town to find the sales.

      There is a community yard sale coming up this month, though. It's a fundraiser, and they're also going to have a "free swap" table. I can't wait to see what kinds of deals I can find at this sale. It should be fun :).