Growing Up Frugal – The Rag Store

by Sandy L on March 24, 2013

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.)

The Mart

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

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.

 

 

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos March 24, 2013 at 8:20 AM

Mrs. 101 is still a devotee of thrift stores and garage sales. It helps on time to have a mental shopping list, and not necessarily be looking out for any one particular item. Yesterday she found the *perfect* little lidded pot for the dinner table parmesan cheese. Two handles, close fitting lid, pretty flower pattern (her comment, not mine) and only two bucks.

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Sandy L March 26, 2013 at 7:44 AM

101 – I love those little finds…especially when it’s not something you can easily find in the store anymore.

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Cynthia March 24, 2013 at 8:55 AM

What a vivid post and how amazingly frugal and clever your mom was! I grew up with a dad with Depression-era mentality and I ended up marrying someone similar who hordes like crazy.

I’m trying hard to keep a balanced approach and hand that down to my girls. I love thrift shops too and I try to follow a similar “hierarchy” of shopping (love that — what a great sentence!). For most things, we swing by the thrift stores and at least see if we can find something likeable because there’s nothing wrong with used clothes. Then trying to buy things on sale. Craigslist and Ebay are also helpful. But I’m grateful that we can buy things new when the moment is here.

But I find the biggest thing, is not buying but throwing away. I’m getting better at it because I’m the main housekeeper, but find my husband struggles with it and my kids are picking up on it too. That’s tough.

Love the image of you in your treasured 8-year-old jeans, and so glad prison sheets are a part of your past!

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Sandy L March 26, 2013 at 7:47 AM

Cynthia – I think that once I realized that an item may be more usable for someone else if I part with it sooner, it became easier to let go of stuff. Perfect example. Someone I know had a brand new wedding dress that had big puffy sleeves. She didn’t end up getting married, but held onto it for 10 years before she was finally ready to part with it. Well, by then, it was way out of style and not as usable as it would have been if it was let go sooner.

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nicoleandmaggie March 24, 2013 at 6:04 PM

My father still doesn’t know how to spend, so he mostly gives his money away. More power to him. Now that my sister and I both make lots of money he’s even a little encouraging in terms of us spending money on things.

My parents did not sew other than mending (and my mom didn’t have time to mend and my dad said it was woman’s work, so mostly mending didn’t get done until I hit age 7 or 8, though my mom did a lot of iron-on patches for pants). My clothes growing up came from off-season sales at Sears when we were living in the city and K-Mart and later Walmart (clearance racks) when we moved to a small town. Walmart clearance was often less expensive than the Salvation Army. My mom had her own issues regarding clothing (she was the oldest of 7 and always had to wear boys clothing that she could hand down), so she didn’t let my father get too out of control with us.

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Sandy L March 26, 2013 at 7:48 AM

Nicole&Maggie – Oh your poor mom…but I’m sure that made things a little more bearable for you as a child. Do they still sell those iron on patches I wonder?

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Jacq March 26, 2013 at 11:02 PM

I’ve seen / used iron on patches so they were still around about 10 years ago. IIRC, they didn’t actually make specific-to-girls jeans until about 1975 or so.

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Kellen March 29, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Oh they definitely still sell iron on patches in all craft shops. I need to try one out since I just realized on my drive in to work that my friday-jeans need patching!

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Linda March 24, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Going to private school and wearing uniforms every day meant that we didn’t need as many clothes as other kids on our block. I’m not sure if my grandparents paid for our uniforms, but I do recall getting an appropriately colored cardigan sweater for Christmas every year from them. (Plus a savings bond. Grandpa was big on savings bonds.) Most of our play clothes were purchased at KMart on sale.

I didn’t get to thrift stores until I was in high school, where I needed more clothes since I was no longer in private school. Once I started working at 16, I was expected to buy my own clothes. I’ve never heard of a rag store. Wow.

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Sandy L March 26, 2013 at 7:50 AM

Linda – how many kids these days do you know have play clothes? For us, it’s one in the same. I do make sure to try to send the boy into school with the patched pants on the days of gym though. That’s helped a bit. Like N&M said, I think the rag stores are fairly common in the Northeast.

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nicoleandmaggie March 25, 2013 at 9:57 AM

In grad school we’d occasionally go to the Clothing by the Pound store. I think they may still be pretty common on the East Coast.

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frugalscholar March 25, 2013 at 9:02 PM

In days of yore, thrifts weren’t too good. People didn’t have as many clothes and often wore them out. Now I can’t believe what shows up in thrift stores, lots of almost new stuff of recent vintage. Says something about overconsumption.

I have never found a good thrift shop in your neck of the woods–are there any? You may remember, I visit Stockbridge most summers, though I had to skip lat summer, alas.

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Sandy L March 26, 2013 at 7:53 AM

Frugal Scholar – no..the thrifts out here are overpriced and quality of the stuff is pretty low. It’s one of the things I miss most about living in a bigger city.

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Fernando R March 26, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Thrift stores are the best spots to ad a little funk to your wardrobe. I think the different styles you can find in a Thrift can be so unique.

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Jacq March 26, 2013 at 11:09 PM

You / we should write a post about waste. That’s a big thing for me in getting rid of things – I can’t stand to think that they might be wasted / end up in a landfill. I also end up getting rid of things quickly because of this. When I don’t think that I really should have to suffer through having crappy things. :-)

My grandmother had this fur coat of her mother’s (her dad had been a trapper – probably during Hudson Bay days) – she kept that thing for 80+ years talking about making a throw or blanket out of it (I think she still thought people would drive a horse and buggy and use a fur wrap on their laps). It hit the landfill when we had to move her after my mother died. Not before the moths had eaten it though…

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Sandy L March 30, 2013 at 2:58 AM

Jacq – that’s a perfect example. Ugh..the waste..like seeing those piles of VHS tapes at tag sales that people hung onto way too long. Now you can’t give them away.

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Caesar F March 27, 2013 at 2:28 PM

So where do you go now to buy your stuff?

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Sandy L March 30, 2013 at 3:01 AM

Cesar – craiglist is my first stop for most household and much of my kid stuff. I have to shop at stores that carry tall sizes, so sadly, I mail order much of my stuff from places like Eddie Bauer. It’s not the hippest stuff, but it fits and at my age, that’s more important than being trendy. Overstock.com, Amazon.com, Sierra Trading Post are a few other sites I like a lot. I don’t shop that much though..only when I have to.

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Mutant Supermodel April 1, 2013 at 4:59 PM

I love these posts. I find some habits really die hard. My mother was a hardcore Ross, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx shopper. And let me tell you, she’d get AMAZING deals. So that’s stuck with me and they are my go-to stores when I need to shop BUT we are both aware they are not as good as they used to be. I keep trying to get into Goodwill but it’s HARD.

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Rosa April 5, 2013 at 12:25 AM

We have a by-the-pound store here, it’s a Goodwill outlet or something – def. Goodwill, we used to call it Diggers because you’d dig through the big bins.

I don’t have the magic eye, but i used to go with a friend all the time in the late ’90s/early ’00s. She could always find amazing “vintage” things to resell at the nicer thrift store, so we’d often find things we needed (including wearable clothes, at least college/punk kid wearable) and make a profit. We were not alone – a lot of African & Haitian immigrants would be there stocking up on things to resell or take back on visits.

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