Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thrifty Habits

I am a hard core second-hand shopper.  Now that my girls are teens and have their own money to spend, I occasionally get to a mall.  But except for the last year or two, during the previous 10 years, I had been in a mall three or four times.  I hate to see the high prices in "real" stores when I know I can get a better deal at the Boys' Ranch or the ARC thrift store or whichever one I visit.

We almost always stop at thrift stores on vacations.  Some of you have seen how we travel for vacations.  We vacation with twelve people in a twelve passenger van, all of our personal effects to last a couple of weeks, and usually camping equipment besides.   Not much extra room.  But we always find room for a few Goodwill items.

About twice a year we go into Grand Forks or Fargo for shopping.  For us that means we quickly get any "real" store stuff out of the way, so we can hit the thrift stores.  There are three we frequent, the Dakota Boys' Ranch store, Valley Thrift Store (ARC), and The Home Place (proceeds for the mentally ill).  We stop at Salvation Army occasionally.  I recently, discovered St. Vincent de Paul, and also got directions to the Goodwill, but we ran out of time so didn't get to Goodwill.  I hadn't even known those two existed.

When we lived in Madison, we had a home improvement second-hand store we'd shop at.  Contractors or anyone could drop off any usable home improvement type items they might otherwise throw in a dumpster.  People would come in and browse through the chunks of drywall, partially filled paint cans, lumber of all shapes and sizes and even used cupboards that had been ripped out of somebody's house during a remodelling project.  Very cool for those homeowners such as ourselves who are perpetually on a tight budget.

Some like-minded friends from our college years visited us recently.  One of the days they were here, we drove the 70 miles into Grand Forks, and thrift store shopped.  Char is at least as much of a second-hand junkie as am I.  Possibly more so, but I don't have a second hand store just down the road like she does, so it's a bit hard to get an accurate comparison on that.  I was tickled that she tried to get photos outside the various places we stopped.  It shows how near and dear to her heart is this whole lifestyle.  (Although it might also make for some pretty good jokes about North Dakota culture when she shows her vacation pictures to her Wisconsin friends and family.)

I have been known to patiently wait for small appliances after one breaks down, waiting for a chance to get to Grand Forks, hoping to find that mixer or popcorn popper or whatever that I need.  It drives my kids crazy that I won't just go into Wal-mart and buy one for $15.  But I've been there and done that.  If I buy a new one, I will hate it.  It will not be hefty enough to get the job done.  It will fall apart or the motor will burn out immediately.

But if I wait patiently until one pops up a thrift store, I can find an older model from "back in the old days" when they still made things that last.  My mother-in-law still has the mixer she got for a wedding shower gift almost 45 years ago.  I've been through about six of them in the 21 years of our marriage!

So to me it just makes sense to shop second hand.

I have another, less noble reason that I like to shop second hand.  And that reason is an offshoot of my competitive nature.  I hate when I hear someone say that I'm ruining the earth with my family size.  It drives me nutso crazy.  I know how frugally I live and how few things I actually purchase.  I also know how most mainstream Americans go through things.  Tossing things in the trash simply because they want new.  And at some point, I just made a commitment to try to be an "anti-consumer".

I must admit that back in the dark corners of my mind, I know that one of these days, if the right person catches me in the wrong mood, and questions me about "Mother Earth" and how I could treat her so poorly by inflicting all these extra people on her...well, I'll leave my response to your imaginations.  But suffice it to say that there is an evil little corner of my brain that can't wait for an opportunity to compare my style of living to theirs and see who really consumes more stuff.  (See, I got a little nutso crazy, even just writing about it.)

OK, but really, there is a reason I was thinking today about my second-hand purchasing habit.  Last night with Wednesday School, Soup Supper, and Lenten Service, there were several people trying to call the church.  But all anyone got was a busy signal.  I don't know if somebody drove over to the church to investigate, or if there was someone down at church who tried to make a call, I'm not sure.    But eventually, it was discovered that the church line was dead.  The internet worked fine and our parsonage line was fine.  But the church was dead.

Today, when the young fix-it man from Garden Valley Telephone got here, he checked everything out, starting down at the main junction and gradually working inward.  Everything checked out fine until he got up to the parsonage.  He knocked and asked if we had a church line up here.  And yes, we do.

So in he came and tested that out; and low and behold the phone up here was dead.  The phone itself.  The, uh, second hand phone.  I was kind of chagrined, since I am so adamant that used is better.  Shoot.  Maybe it got knocked off the counter.

I ran back to my more recent bag of "have on hand in just in case" purchases and pulled out another phone.  This one is a lovely, sleek looking, silver and black model complete with a Hello Kitty sticker on top.

The thorough Garden Valley man didn't want to leave until he made sure this "new" one was going to work.  So he tried it out and didn't think it sounded just right.  He tried switching cords and various other tricks to get us the best sound he could.  As a last resort, he offered us a $15 phone they sell at the phone company.  Now, I've priced new phones, and compared to the last time I did so, $15 sounded pretty reasonable.  But Joe explained that we probably had others around and we'd find something that would work.

After the Garden Valley man left, Joe played around with the original thrift store phone to try to figure out whether it could be fixed.  (We're also very into fixing things.  It's just another little thing we do for our "Mother".)  As Joe was working on the phone, we were joking about our second hand phones and Joe mentioned the Hello Kitty sticker.  I mentioned the price sticker that was still clinging stubbornly to the phone, ruining the style lines of the Hello Kitty sticker.

I asked him if it said $3, since that is generally what I pay for a phone.  What do you know?  Yes, that was the price.

Joe then pointed out that the other phone, the one he was working on, also had it's $3 tag on.

Oh, boy, what did that repair man think?   That he had landed among a passel of hillbillies?  Joe and I just laughed it off.  When one lives so far outside of the mainstream, sometimes one's choices seem a little outlandish to others.

Joe did eventually fix the first phone that was causing all the trouble.  I'm embarrassed to even say this...

Apparently it has a little "Hold" button on the side that someone's little fingers had switched.  Who would guess?  I didn't even know there was a "Hold" button.  And to think the church was without a phone for about 20 hours and the repairman came all the way from Red Lake Falls, all for a button that was switched the wrong way.

May I just crawl under my rock now?


madhenmom said...

For the record, I wouldn't be joking about North Dakota culture in itself. It's just that the idea of spending spring break going to thrift stores in North Dakota is about as opposite of most peoples' ideas about spring break as you can get. That idea tickled me. :)

I also think that raising many children to be good stewards of the land and their possessions is better for the environment than raising one or two children who have an always-need-something-new attitude. (But, I'm thankful for them when they donate good stuff to thrift stores - :-) )


Erica J said...

I love the Deseret Industries thrift stores in Salt Lake City. Whenever we visit the Hamiltons, they always watch the kids so I can go by myself and revel in the shopping experience.

pvc windows northern ireland said...

good thing that there are still thrift stores available in some places. i agree with madhenmom we should teach our children to save and not to buy things that are not needed.