Frugalistas and Thrift Stores: Winning Big on a Small Budget - Budget Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Mary Kate Polanin

When it comes to shopping, clothing in particular, everybody wants to save money. The trick is, nobody wants to look like they’re saving money. Sure, there is a certain thrill that comes with a co-worker asking you where you got your blouse, and you can tell them “Old Navy – only 14.99 on sale!” Then again, most people would agree that nobody should know just from looking at you that you didn’t spend a fortune on your clothes. Everyone’s personal style is different, whether you dedicate yourself to runway fashion or prefer to make your own style, but we’re all adults here. The derelict look stopped being socially acceptable the moment you left your college campus.

Still, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to look like you make a lot of money. On the flip side of a culture that embraces high fashion and designer brands is a fascination with extreme-couponing and online deals like Groupon and Living Social. People who subscribe to this lifestyle have now been branded the by New Oxford American Dictionary as a “frugalista”, or someone who “lives a frugal lifestyle but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying secondhand, growing own produce, etc.”

Frugalistas love the act of to saving money, but not for its own sake. They would never buy something just because it’s on sale, but if a high-end designer introduces a new line of clothing specially made for Target, you can be sure they’ll wait in line with the rest of the world to make sure they are the first to hit the racks. Saving money and staying well dressed is not a game of either/or, according to the frugalista, and having a budget does not preclude having a discerning sense of fashion.

Specialty lines for commercial store like Target do have their downsides, though. Namely, designers can only produce a limited amount of products. When Italian design house Missoni released it’s line for Target, shoppers flooded both the racks and the Target website bandwidth in hopes to beat out other shoppers. The result: a crashed website and a lot of unhappy customers forced to walk away empty-handed.

Thrift stores provide a sensible alternative to the limited-time-only craze of bargain basement sales and Black Friday madness because they are always in the business of offering discounts. The trick to success is maintaining a balance between an open mind and a level head. Viki Stevenson, the store manager of a Buffalo Exchange based in New York City, says:

“It’s really the luck of the draw, coming in to shop here, because there’s always such a wide variety of clothing we sell.” Buffalo Exchange is a chain of thrift stores that not only offers re-sale and second hand clothing and accessories, but also buys clothing from customers, who more often than not are already regular customers at the store. “We’re known for the quality of clothes we offer, so when people want to sell their clothes to us, we’re very selective. More often than not, we want what they’ve got on more than what they want to sell us, so as a rule of thumb we tell them, ‘We want the clothes you’re wearing right now.”

Stevenson offers a few rules for customers interested in buying and selling at Buffalo Exchange:

Visit the store before you bring your own clothes to sell.

“Come in and take a look around the store so you get an idea of what clothes and styles we sell. It’ll give you a better idea of what we’re looking for in terms of styles we’re looking for. We as employees are told to shop and look around on the street to know what’s in and where the trends are, so we already have an idea in our head of what we want,” Stevenson says. Do your homework ahead of time, and you’ll have a better chance of making a sale.

Inspect the clothes before you buy them.

“We don’t wash or mend clothes before we sell them,” says Stevenson, “so make sure any clothing you want to buy or sell is in good condition.” This is simply the nature of the beast when it comes to clothes people have, you know, already worn before, so keep in mind that the clothes are second hand and need the occasional once-over before you buy.

Saving money still requires moderation; just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

“It’s really easy to get carried away. You walk in and find a cute blouse and another great piece, and another… and get caught up in it. It’s important to practice moderation.” Don’t forget: you came here to save money, and Stevenson shares, “For me, I’ll remind myself that I only need one pair of black boots, not five.”

Once you’ve mastered the in’s and out’s of re-sale and second hand shopping, Stevenson says it’s hard to go back to buying retail, especially as an employee.

“Since we’re required to go out and find what the trends are, that means going into retail stores and seeing what’s out there. It’s hard to justify buying a sweater at J Crew for sixty dollars when you know you could get for fifteen if you found it here.”

Buying and selling your clothes second hand are a great way to refresh your wardrobe without having to spend a lot of money, and thrift stores like Buffalo Exchange prove that second-hand does not necessarily mean second-rate. If you can keep an open mind, you’d be surprised the kinds of treasures that thrift store shopping can bring to your wardrobe. Whether or not you decide to tell everyone where you got that BCBG blazer, however, is totally up to you.

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