So Single Mom Rich Mom is posting again too..Hurray. She wrote a funny article about the similarities of Chuck Norris to Mr. Money Moustache. The article was pretty funny, but in the comments, it even got more interesting. You see, MMM is big on living the extreme frugal lifestyle..or at least talking about it as the one true way.
Folks like Single Mom and I know what extremes look like and we’ve been working for most of our lives to find a center ground that won’t make our kids as whacked as we are. Yeah, it’s nice to have a boat load of money as a cushion for emergencies, but at some point, the worrying and obsessing over money all the time can become crippling. It’s not that big a leap to suddenly be living in a falling apart house on falling apart furniture and eating rotting food because the stuff you have is still good enough and you can’t bear to throw something away that you spent good money on. When you’ve been raised in an extremely frugal or miserly environment, it’s impossible to buy anything without thinking about the impact it will have..You think about it’s impact right now, at the end of the month, to your retirement, to your estate when you die. It’s sort of there all the time like a veil over your consciousness.
For people who have been raised on next to nothing, you learn that you can go without spending on non-essentials pretty much indefinitely. I loved and still love tag sales because this is where we got our little indulgences for $1 or less BUT at some point, especially if you earn a decent wage, you have to train yourself to let go of that hold money has over your life. This is why those extremist views kind of rub me the wrong way..even if they’re wildly entertaining to read about. That’s why one of my goals was to try to always earn enough where I don’t have to be thinking about money all the time. (Now, I’ll always say if you’re drowning in debt, you’re at the other extreme and you really should be training yourself to think about it a lot more than you do.)
On that note, I’ll do a quick flashback to my childhood to talk about the hierarchy of how we bought stuff growing up. As a reminder to the newer readers, we always lived a debt free lifestyle even though my immigrant parent’s earnings were below poverty level. Here’s one of the ways they did it.
The Rag Store
Back when I was little, there was a distinct order of where we’d go to buy stuff and what spending was allowed. First, it was the rag store. I don’t know if they still exist, but it is a thrift store that has giant bins of stuff that you pay by the pound for. It’s essentially the thrift store’s cast offs. Growing up, the sheets on our beds were old hospital or prison sheets from the rag store. I could tell because they had little numbers and names spray painted on the corner. My mom would buy certain items just to get the zipper or buttons off of them. She also made comforter covers from curtains or sheets from the rag store. There usually was remnant fabric or curtains that could be made into other things. Usually they were damaged or stained. Sometimes you’d find usable clothes there, but that was rare. My mom was handy with the sewing machine though so sometimes, she could make a pair of shorts out of damaged pants and what not. Lots of our household linens and “raw materials” like fabrics, zippers, buttons, snaps, etc, came from there and you could make anything from a tablecloth to a dress from the cast offs. It was sort of like that scene from The Sound of Music where the kids were found in their “play clothes” by their dad, but in my case the curtain fabric came from a hospital or nursing home instead of a mansion. It’s not nearly as romantic as it sounds and my clothes were always horrible. People mistook me for a boy til age 12. It was pretty awful.
The Salvation Army’s of the World
The next level up from there was the charity shop. These were the Goodwill’s and Salvation Army’s of the world. What my mom couldn’t sew, which sadly for me wasn’t much, we would buy there. I remember, when I’d outgrow a pair of shoes, we’d go to the salvation army to get the next pair. I loved outgrowing shoes because it meant a trip to the salvation army. My mom would sigh. She was never as excited as I was about it because it meant spending money again. When I was about 8 I remember finding a pair of jeans there that fit me and I was allowed to buy them. I wore those suckers every single day for as long as they fit. They were so awesome. They even had a little gold bar ironed onto the back pocket. I felt so cool in those jeans. It was a sad day when I outgrew those suckers because I couldn’t get my next pair until I was 11 (which is when I started earning my own money from babysitting.)
Back when I was growing up, there were no Walmarts in our area but I do remember a store called “The Mart.” It was in a sketchy part of downtown and it was the place where we bought socks and underwear. I actually don’t remember buying anything else there ever. It wasn’t a nice store, but I distinctly remember the “new” smell of stuff and how awesome it was to own something for the first time. The rag and thrift stores had a sort of musty + mothball smell to them. Not so with The Mart.
Yard sales and Flea Markets are where we bought ALL of our household items. Dishes, small appliances, furniture and tools were all bought here. These days, it’s where my kids get toys and some clothes. I actually don’t ever remember buying toys when I was little. We had a very small house and I didn’t really have toys. I remember playing with a deck of cards a lot and rocks in the yard. I used to take a chalky rock and color the concrete sidewalk with another rock. I spent hours doing that and riding my bike. My cousin bought me some board games one year and my mom gave them to the neighbor’s kids because they were taking up too much room. I’m still kind of mad at her for doing that. Still, it was super fun going to the flea market on a Sunday and just looking at stuff.
Consignment Stores and Upscale Thrifts
Once I hit high school and college and I was earning my own money, I upgraded to the Upscale thrift Stores. My two favorites were called “Easy Pieces” and “The Council Thrift of Jewish Women.” Easy Pieces is sadly long gone. It was a chic little boutiquey place that had stacks of perfectly faded Levis jeans for sale. They were often $10 which was a lot for me back then but SO worth it. They also had kitschy jewelry and all kinds of fun accessories. It was run by several over-tattooed and over-pierced goth hipsters. Interesting music was always playing in the background. The Jewish thrift store was a gold mine too. I found all kinds of designer clothes there, sometimes never worn for next to nothing. I remember buying a sweater there for $8 that I wore for years. I constantly got compliments on the clothes I bought there. I had loads of outfits and people were always raving about my finds and amazed when I told them they were from a second hand shop. The Jewish store has a facebook page, so I guess it’s still around. I wonder if it’s as good as it used to be. I haven’t been there for years because it isn’t open on weekends and well, I don’t live in that city anymore. I fondly remember a rugby shirt I got there that was indestructible. I loved that shirt. It was cute with leggings. Back in the 90’s that was actually kind of hip.
In college, I actually invested quite a bit of time into thrift store shopping. I’d try to go every other week at least to hunt for some new good item. Time and patience was required because some weeks there was nothing, but others were great. I did have an awesome wardrobe for next to nothing. These days I don’t have as much time, so my clothes are decidedly utilitarian and boring but I’m working on it. I’ve stepped up the accessories which makes a huge difference and I have bright colored winter coats that I get a lot of compliments on too, so I’m slowly starting to get hip again. I hit the shoe jackpot and got some winter boots and work shoes for 75% off at Macy’s. That was good and I just took about 7 trips to the cobbler to mend all my other shoes in disrepair. You know, come to think of it, I probably was better dressed in college than I am now because I took the time to find the stuff that really suited me, plus I had an 18 year old’s body. That sure helped a lot too.
So that’s my story about being on the extreme end of spending and how we bought stuff. I still love getting things second hand but I’m glad I don’t have to go to the rag store anymore or sleep on prison sheets for that matter.