“Thrifting is Good, Regardless of Uneducated Opinions” is a post by freelance writer, TimelessFinance contributor, and author of Blue collar / Red lipstick, Adina J.
Before you cozily settle down to read this article about thrifting (and its detractors), I fear that I must warn you that it’s going to get mean. Not, like, Joe Wood-mean, but inching that way. Maybe the company I keep is starting to rub off on me, or maybe I’m just getting crankier as my dotage approaches (Editor Joe’s note: I just learned the word “dotage”). Ready to continue?
I recently came across a blog post about thrift shopping; thrifting is dear to my heart, so this was a post I was excited to read. (The blog shall remain nameless. You could probably deduce its identity if you wish, but it’s really not all that material to the discussion.) I was mildly disappointed to find out that the writer had actually posted about why thrifting wasn’t her cup of tea, and that I wasn’t going to be picking up any useful tips in the process. At first, I was prepared to swallow my disappointment, mutter “different strokes for different folks” under my breath, and move on. But then, I started to get annoyed. Like, really annoyed.
The reasons listed by the blogger were mantras I’d heard before – thrifting is harder than mall shopping, the clothes are not all nice and – eww! – they’ve been worn before. I’ve heard them so often, in fact, that until now, I never gave them a second thought. After all, people are entitled to their opinions, and their irrationality in this particular context means that I can continue buying hundreds of dollars’ worth of barely used designer clothing for pennies on the dollar. At first blush, an anti-thrifting attitude seems harmless. After all, it doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with a spendthrift mind-set (semantic roots aside). The anti-thrifting person need not be mired in credit card debt, frittering others’ money without heed. They might be responsible, debt-free people, earning a good income and saving diligently for retirement; at worst, they would be spending their own money buying things at a premium. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
My first instinct was to say “no”. After all, one of the perks of having a positive net worth is not having to listen to other people tell you how to spend your money. And then I remembered that cardinal rule of personal finance: “Buy assets, sell liabilities
”. Since they don’t generate income or appreciate in value, clothes are (by process of elimination) liabilities. Obviously, they are also a necessity, unless you happen to live in a nudist colony. Thus, buying clothes is unavoidable, at a minimum; some people also happen to enjoy clothes, as a form of self-expression or what have you. There is nothing wrong with buying clothes per se – even when your closet requires its own postal code. Considering that they are liabilities, however, shouldn’t the goal (of a person seeking to increase their wealth) be to spend as little as possible acquiring them? And by that, I don’t mean buying as few clothes as possible, or buying the cheapest clothes possible – though, I suppose, that would be one way to go about it. What I mean is: wouldn’t the rational thing be to avoid as much retail mark-up as possible, spending the least amount of money possible acquiring the highest quality goods you can get?
I can’t speak to the American retail experience, but the proliferation of outlet stores here tells me that they are obviously profitable to their parent companies. A logical conclusion would be that whatever prices they charge people still include enough of a mark-up to make it worth their while to incur the overhead associated with the operation of the store. Same deal with sale prices at regular stores; don’t be fooled by the “60% off” banners into thinking you just scored the deal of the century. A chain like Winners is premised on the idea that you can sell something for up to 60% off “suggested manufacturer’s retail price” and still make a killing. Before I move on, let me see if I can head off some of your likely rebuttals:
- The difference between something that is technically “new” – do you ever really know what happened to an item before you plucked it off the shelf? – versus something that is barely used is negligible, in terms of durability, when it comes to clothes. Care for your clothes properly, and they will last; a couple of extra washes won’t make a difference. Buying retail, you are paying a premium for what is, essentially, a psychological concept of “newness” that has almost no additional practical benefits.
- Thrift stores (and consignment stores even more so) are filled with high end designer goods. The $200 jeans you can buy at the mall will cost you under $10.
- The more expensive an item, the more value it loses once you buy it. All clothes and accessories immediately depreciate upon purchase – which is why the secondary market offers such great deals – but designer goods tend to suffer a greater drop because of their higher retail prices. Buying second-hand goods means that someone else is on the hook for most of the depreciation, not you.
- Thrift stores are starting to carry a larger selection of sizes, and many of the clothes they sell are not more than one or two seasons old. We’re not talking ‘80s polyester muumuus here. (Not that there is something wrong with such attire, should it happen to be your choice of sartorial effect.)
- Thrifting takes patience, it’s true; sometimes the time investment isn’t worth it (see my next point). But unless you’re one of the rare folks who shops out of pure need – hole-in-your-last-pair-of-underwear kind of need – and/or your regular retail routine consists of hitting up the aisles at Walmart (or, ahem, the Dollar Store), the chances are that the extra hour you might spend shopping at a thrift store will be far more profitable to you than if you’d spent it elsewhere.
- Some things will either not be available second-hand, or the price differential of new-versus-used won’t necessarily justify the effort of trying to find them on the secondary market. Or it might just be a shiny new thing you just have to have. In those instances, shopping retail may well be the better option. Look, I don’t hate malls, honest!
The bottom line, for me, is this: if I bought all the clothes I own at retail prices, I would be thousands and thousands of dollars poorer. For others, that might translate into thousands and thousands of dollars further in debt. Evidently, some people will never change their minds about thrifting; bless their hearts, for they make my closet possible. Advertising their irrationality on a PF blog, though, seems completely counter-productive. If I wrote a post detailing the deep-seated, idiosyncratic anxieties preventing me from investing in anything except GICs – and wrote it as anything other than a desperate plea for help – would you bother reading it? Would it be adding anything of value to any discussion, save perhaps the one with my therapist? If you have nothing more than individual psychology to back up your economic behavior, is it time to pick another topic for your post?
Or is the purpose of PF blogs simply to validate any and all financial decisions, irrespective of the nature of their contribution to the person’s finances? If you adopt the view that social approbation is a psychological need whose fulfilment is, no matter the circumstances, a worthy goal, then blogs of this kind serve an important function; as a bonus, they’re cheaper than a therapist. But are they really Personal Finance blogs? Or are they merely Psychological Panacea blogs?