Thriftstyle Spending: Make it count!


There are lots of ways to get carried away with spending, even when you’re only buying things at thrift and dollar stores. You’ll find yourself thinking: “What do you mean don’t buy that ill-fitting, sequins-covered, bright red sweater with crazy-huge shoulder pads! Its only $4! And I’m TOTALLY going to wear it ALL THE TIME!”True story. And I wore it once. To an ugly sweater party. But I keep holding on to it because I don’t want to think I wasted my money. And $4 isn’t all that much, but $4 multiplied by a whole closet full of crap I don’t wear is a lot. A lot of money I could have spent on delicious cocktails instead.

No matter how cheap it is, if you buy something you never use, its still a waste of money. 

And here at Thriftstyle Living the rule on spending is to “make it count!”

That being said, don’t use “I’m making it count!” as justification for purchases you don’t really need. Rachel Jay over at Suburban Style Challenge has some great things to say about using the “Cost-per-wear” method to justify the value of buying expensive clothes (based on how many times you think you’ll wear them). Check out her views on when “cost-per-wear” works and when its just an excuse to splurge on things you shouldn’t (or can’t) be buying.

The idea I want to get across is that you should ONLY be buying things you can #1 – afford, #2 – fit into your existing wardrobe and #3 – maintain. Here are some tips I’ve developed to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my buck. Hopefully you can learn from my years of wasteful spending – although sometimes you just need to get burned to learn…

  • Never underestimate the power of lists. Always plan ahead. If you go into a thrift store with a rough idea of what you want/need, you won’t be as tempted to buy that ugly grandma sweater because your hunting instincts will be focused on other things. I always keep a couple lists in my wallet so I can keep the things I want/need the most at the front of my brain. At the moment I have a “fashion” list and a “things for the new house” list and I am “not allowed” to buy anything other than what’s on those lists. Of course I buy things that aren’t on those lists sometimes. I’m only human (and a sucker for a really great [enter most pieces of clothing/accessories here]). Whether or not I am buying something from one of my lists, I always make sure to follow…
  • The rules of buying. After successfully and unsuccessfully buying things throughout my life, I’ve come up with a few “rules of buying” that I follow every single time I buy something. If an item I’m thinking of buying doesn’t make the cut, I don’t buy it. Plain and simple. I want to make my spending count! So here are the rules of buying :
  1. Always try it on. Always. I don’t know how much crap I’ve bought because it was AWESOME and then I get home and it looks horrendous on me. So now I make sure I try everything on. EVERYTHING. Most thrift stores don’t have fitting rooms, so I usually fill my cart/arms with lots of stuff and then hunker down in front of one of the full-length mirrors throughout the store. Dress appropriately for the occasion. I usually wear some combo of leggings and a tank top with a easily removable boyfriend shirt/tunic over it so I can try things on. You are looking to make sure that things not only fit, but that they hang well on you. Just because you can pull those pants up over your hips doesn’t mean they’ll look good when they get there. So spend some serious time considering everything you try on.
  2. Think about what buying that item will entail. If its a decorative piece, do you have a place to put it in your home or will it just lead to more clutter? If its something from housewares, is it something you can microwave and put through the dishwasher or is it cheap plastic junk? If its a piece of clothing (the area where I personally am most likely to blow money on stupid purchases) can you wash and wear it right after purchasing? Or does it require mending/tailoring that you either can’t or will be too lazy to do yourself or will wind up costing a ton to have someone else do? Try to either buy a complete outfit or think about how each purchase will fit in with whatever you already own. For instance, I bought the Old Navy blue Oxford shirt, the summer scarf, and the thick brown leather belt to make a complete outfit but all of those pieces also fit with lots of other things in my wardrobe = great purchases. On the contrary, I bought a beautiful vintage lace dress one time but wound up spending SO MUCH MONEY getting it shortened, buying underclothes (it was cream colored and semi-sheer), and buying matching shoes. So spend a little time thinking about what will go into wearing/using the item you want to buy. If its going to fall apart after one use/wear or its going to cost a ton of time, energy, or, most importantly, money to use/wear, it might be best to put it back.
  3. This one might seem obvious but its something I used to overlook all the time: do you really, actually, honestly want/need this item? If its something  that makes you cry with joy or do a jig in the middle of the store like no one’s watching, then absolutely buy it (if it also passes the other rules). If its something you like, its fine, its only $3, who cares, but when you get home you know you’re going to bury it on a shelf or in a closet and forget about, then definitely put it back. I’ve bought a lot of stuff I had no feelings about either way because, whatever, its cheap. This is wasted money.
  • Shop around! I am a huge believer in making a day/night out of thrifting. The more you shop around, the more sure you’ll be about purchases, the better your purchases will be, the better your spending habits will be! If you set yourself a limit for the day/week (I’m going to these x number of stores before I make a purchase) you’ll wind up making better decisions and also training yourself not to spend recklessly. Patience is the ultimate virtue in Thriftstyle Living – if you require lots of instant gratification this is probably not the lifestyle for you. Perfect example: I was on the hunt for non-plastic bowls that would last me a while. I went to one store after work on a Monday and found some cute bowls that would match the kitchenware I already had decently enough. But I decided to hold out. Tuesday after work I went to two more stores. And at the first store I found nothing. At the second store I found bowls that were a perfect match for the rest of my kitchenware. How disappointed would I have been if I had bought the bowls from Monday night and then found these bowls later on? Pretty effing disappointed. So hold out until you find that perfect purchase! Your bank account and your sense of long-term fulfillment will thank you!
  • Wait for discount days! Tagging onto the last tip, the more patient you are, the less you will pay in the end. If you follow the major thrift store chains (Village Discount Outlet and Unique) they often have special discount days where everything is half off (and they also have certain colored tags that are half off everyday – there really isn’t any rhyme or reason to the colored tags as far as I can tell, but its awesome when something you want ends up with one!). If you’re looking for something you want but don’t immediately need, it might be best to wait for a discount day. For instance, I am looking for a set of unique vintage wine glasses. This is something I want, but don’t need by any certain time. So I am going to wait for the upcoming “Back to School” discount days at the Village Discount Outlets (August 11th and 12th). Most of the ones I’ve seen are 90 cents a glass, but since I don’t need them immediately, why not wait until they’re 45 cents a glass?

So, after much patience and deliberating, you’ve finally made it home with your purchases (and, more importantly, left a good deal of stuff at the store). Now what?

Well, just as important as making sure your purchases are good ones is making sure that you take good care of your purchases so they last as long as possible. And, as you may have guessed, I have plenty of tips on that as well!

  • Properly protect everything! This means spraying special fabrics with protective sprays (especially leather and suede); putting heel-pads on shoes so you don’t wear through them in a week; wearing aprons while you cook or clean so you don’t get unwanted stains; covering tables with table cloths; properly wrapping and storing kitchenware so it doesn’t break before you get home; putting padding on the bottoms of furniture so it doesn’t scratch hardwood floors, etc. Do what you can ahead of time to avoid having to repair or throw things out later on.
  • Try not to wash clothes as often. Washing your clothes helps with smell but harms your fabrics. Over time, washing your clothes leads to pilling, stretching or shrinking, fading colors, snags, and more. I don’t sweat very much throughout the day so I try to wear clothes 2 or 3 times before washing them. Air-cleaning clothes (letting them hang overnight) and Febreeze should become your best friends.
  • Properly wash and dry your clothes. When I do finally wash my clothes, there are some tricks I use to extend their life. I make sure all the hooks are hooked and all zippers are zipped to avoid snags. I turn anything with lots of details (sequins, glitter, special buttons, etc.) inside out so the details don’t get ruined. I wash all my clothes on the delicate/energy-saving cycles. ALL of them. I also wash everything on cold to avoid wearing out fabrics and fading colors. I use as little detergent as possible and I avoid bleach at all costs – chemicals of any kind add stress to fabrics. I put extremely delicate fabrics in washer bags to avoid them getting snagged or stretched. I try to air dry my clothes as much as possible (when I have the time) – not only does this help to extend the life of your clothing (I’m looking at your expensive, fancy, Victoria’s Secret undergarments, ladies – nothing more annoying than a bra that gets bent out of shape) but it cuts down on your energy costs as well! I don’t really have clothing that requires ironing (this is on purpose, believe me) but I plan on buying some wrinkle reducer and a steamer in the future as these do less harm to your fabrics than your trusty old iron does.
  • Properly store your clothing. I highly recommend getting some plastic storage bins from Target or the Container Store and storing all  your clothes by season so you have as little as possible in your closet at all times. This will help by not having clothes constantly rubbing against each other and wearing each other out ([insert all your stupid sex jokes here] – we all saw them coming). NO WIRE HANGERS. Joan Crawford knows what she’s freaking talking about, people. Get some plastic or wooden ones and use padding whenever possible to avoid stretching or making permanent hanger outlines at the tops of your shirts. And properly store your shoes on racks or in one of those things with the pockets you can hang over your door. This makes sure shoes don’t get kicked around on your floor. Its well-spent money to get some closet organizers to properly store everything you have. The longer the life of your clothing, the less you have to spend later on.
  • Mend what needs mending or else throw it out. If you don’t get it fixed, it will either not be worn or get broken further. So get off your butt, do what needs to be done (or take it to someone who can do it) or toss it.
  • Get rid of some stuff. Seriously. The less stuff you have, the more you’ll pay attention to the stuff you actually use/wear. And if you don’t use/wear it, why are you keeping it around?

Also, just because you’re shopping on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t look great! You just have to know what you’re doing. J’s Everyday Fashion has some awesome advice on how to not look cheap. Check it out!

So remember, make your spending count, my lovely Thriftstylers. The less you spend on stupid knick-knacks and camel-toe pants, the more you can spend later on traveling and going out. Smart shopping (not necessarily sacrificing) for the greater good!


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