Blessed are the Thrifty

I know how to pinch a penny. I've been thrifty long enough, I recall the ridicule in middle school because of it.

The Tightwad Gazette. I can't
recommend it highly enough.
Several years ago, my brother's mother-in-law recommended The Tightwad Gazette to me, but, figuring I could've written the book myself, I brushed it off. There's something about hearing a suggestion twice. When my sister, working mightily to save for an adoption, read The Tightwad Gazette and insisted I do likewise, I devoured all three volumes in a few blissful days of non-stop reading. While others might scoff at the offbeat money-saving techniques, I took notes. With The Tightwad Gazette author Amy Dacyczyn encouraging readers to shop secondhand, I bought a needed pair of sweatpants in practically my first trip to a thrift store since childhood.

Yet I didn't eschew the Kohl's clearance racks entirely; my nascent secondhand sensibilities hadn't fully taken hold, and it still seemed superior to purchase new when steep discounts beckoned. But I experienced buyer's remorse frequently. I found a cute knit dress, which pilled and shrunk, unpresentable after its first spin in the Maytag. My husband bought a seemingly indestructible metal garden trowel, but the tip broke off. Our must-have cookware gradually lost its nonstick coating, which I assume we ingested. Most new items promised more than they delivered.

But the more I scoured the secondhand market, the more I appreciated the quality difference between new and used. With Goodwill's shelves teeming with vintage merchandise, I learned I could avoid new item failures. The phrase, "It's brand new!" started to irk me.

I love quality vintage cookware.
Used items have undergone rigorous quality testing. If the clothing will pill or shrink, it already has. If the trowel has dug decades of holes, it's unlikely to break no matter how hard-packed the soil. If Zia Francesca made her famous pasta sauce in the pot ever since her wedding day back in 1946, likely I can put it through a few more decades of home cooking, then bequeath it to my dear ones, along with the family recipes

Certainly, some items of yesteryear lacked quality, too, but they're already landfilled. Even if a used selection doesn't serve me long, I find solace in its life with the original owner and its comparatively low price. Unlike new goods with "no user-serviceable parts," it's likely to be repairable. When a new item bites the dust, I'm left with not only a fuller trash can, but the improvident feeling of pure, unadulterated waste--money and resources squandered in equal measure.

I'm glad some people appreciate quality vintage items,
or my shop, Laura's Last Ditch, would be out of business.
Dollars spent at a garage sale, thrift store, or estate sale stay in the local economy and compense the item only, not additional resources used to create and transport it. Buying used online supports a small business owner such as I, or assists in another's decluttering. But, purchase at a typical store, and money goes overseas, enriches a CEO (not that I begrudge the CEO, but still...), and may contribute to forced child labor or degradation of God's beautiful creation.

Buy used, and I see and feel the item, unimpeded by packaging, allowing me to detect how it has held up under normal conditions. I've prevented mounds of waste, and cut the time spent nagging my son to take out the trash. Plus, I adore the amusing unpredictability of thrift stores.

You know packaging is bad when they
sell a tool just to open it. Instead of buying
Open It!, I vote to avoid packaging altogether.
With myriad reasons to purchase secondhand, it's no wonder "It's brand new!" rubs me wrong. I don't use the phrase, lest I give the impression I consider new items superior. Children hear this and learn, if it's not new, they've received less than the best, when the opposite may be true. Really, how much is a tag worth? How much for a curse-eliciting, impenetrable plastic package? Will the $2.99 clearance shirt from Target equal the $2.99 quality shirt from Salvation Army? Even when a store price equals the used price, it doesn't mean the new one deserves a spot in the cart. Instead of considering 'new' the standard of quality, 'tested' makes a worthier standard.
My new ad for Laura's Last Ditch,
celebrating vintage quality.

Do you shop secondhand, or do typical stores still tempt you? As a new year dawns, consider joining "The Compact," or simply commit to avoiding recreational shopping, choosing used instead.

While I pinch my pennies, I'm pinching myself: rather than cursing my things as they fail, I feel blessed to have quality at a reasonable price.

Those middle school friends who ridiculed my frugal ways had a point: thrift can be ridiculous. Ridiculously good.

Next: When my 83-year-old grandma receives her first computer as a surprise birthday gift, she's not the only one Wowed.


  1. Compelling reasons why we ought to buy used. I tend to purchase clothing and household necessities used but never gave it much thought about WHY they hold up so much better than the "brand new" items until reading this most-excellent blog post.

  2. I grew up on the Tightwad Gazette! When it was still being published in newsletter form, a friend of my mother's subscribed and would give Mama "hand-me-down" copies. At some point Mama bought all three volumes, and they are certainly a source of inspiration for living with thrift.

  3. I'd never quite thought of used items as having been tested for quality. Thanks for the new perspective!

  4. Amy D. will always be in my library, the frugal faithful can always find a tip or two even though her books are now a bit dated. I saw an interview with her from within the last two years and she stated the internet is the top way to save money these days - finding deals, advise and free entertainment. Great Blog!

  5. Ok, excellent point: Will the $2.99 clearance shirt from Target equal the $2.99 quality shirt from Salvation Army?

    I ask myself this all the time. Our perception of quality is really in the process of the purchase, isn't it?

  6. i went to a thrift store and bought a coach purse with a broken handle that my boyfriend fixed for me and only paid $1.80 for it and that's all that was wrong with it. i love thrift stores and yard sales and even trash day. i got an antigue marble end table in the trash and it had a loose leg and my boyfriend tighten it nothing else wrong with it for free..


I'd love to have your comments and reflections!