As a millennial managing my personal finances in the wake of The Great Recession, I have had to find creative ways to cut back that I otherwise might not have. This includes buying used things when, in more prosperous times, I may have bought the item brand new. On this pauper’s pilgrimage, I’ve discovered that if you can find what you’re looking for secondhand, you’d be an idiot to buy it for the full price.
Tools, books, cheap sunglasses, furniture, stylish clothing… These are all on my list of things you should never buy new, because you can find them used on Amazon, eBay, at thrift stores/flea markets, or used bookstores, from half price to pennies on the dollar. More importantly, you can feel rich for a couple of hours while directly supporting your local economy! Got twenty dollars in your pocket? Well, well, well—look at Mr./Ms. Fancypants-Highroller!
There’s a reason why the word cheap has such a bad connotation: being cheap means that only the bottom-line dollar amount matters. If that’s the case for you, you might as well stop reading. However, being frugal means extracting a high amount of value relative to the amount of money invested. Who doesn’t want good quality stuff without breaking the bank?
Enriching the Local Economy
With relatively few exceptions, new goods are sourced globally from giant corporations. Putting aside the typical ranting against them, this means that rather than enriching your friends and neighbors, your money supports factory labor thousands of miles away and mostly enriches several hundred institutional shareholders.
Buying used and in secondary markets usually entails going to a local thrift store, which often is family owned (like one of my favorites: Lost and Found in Sunnyvale, CA), or buying from individuals at flea markets. The further your money travels, the less stimulating it’s going to be to your community. Generally speaking, it’s more responsible to spend locally.
Only Got 20 Dallaz in My Pocket
Thrifting is also a fun, inexpensive activity! Half the fun is going with friends to look at all the awful stuff that’s there—like I do (shameless plug). Also, sometimes you will see things at the flea market that were obviously shoplifted and are now being fenced for sale. Some might view this as participating in a legal wrong—cool, keep walking to the next stall. Personally, I play too much Skyrim, so I like think that I’m acting like a member of the Thieves’ Guild or the Ragged Flagon, reveling in the cloak-and-dagger nature of a ‘black market’ (when really its mostly just razor heads and Similac). It’s nerdily exhilarating, and I get a kick from it. Plus, I don’t really know for sure if it’s been stolen, and I can’t exactly go around lobbing accusations. Since the presumption of innocence is the bedrock of American justice, shop away, moral relativists! Besides, what’s more immoral: benefitting from shoplifting, or charging $40 for a hammer made at forty cents per unit by a nine year old Chinese kid?
Things to Never Buy New
Especially the following:
- Any book by Tom Clancy
- Any book by James Patterson
- Any book by Danielle Steel
- Any book by John Grisham
- Any copy of The DaVinci Code (Ew.)
- Any copy of Wild Animus (You’re a sucker if you pay any money for this, they give it away on all college campuses)
- Any objectivist propaganda by Ayn Rand
- Any copy of Shōgun
People are always trying to get rid of their tools—they bought new ones or they don’t use them anymore: whatever the reason, they want to get rid of theirs. You can buy tools at anywhere between 10-20% of what they’d cost at a Home Depot. And if paying a fraction of the cost for tools and enriching your local economy wasn’t enough incentive, you should be aware of the political campaigns Home Depot supports and determine whether or not they align with your own beliefs.
If you’re moving into your first place and you’re looking to build your kit of indispensable tools, look out for these items at your local flea market. You could save a nice bundle of money. The tools commonly spotted:
- Basic screwdrivers
- Razor heads
- Razor blades
- Duct Tape
- Nail clippers
- Saw blades
- Drill bits
Sunglasses. Seriously, unless you’re buying Ray-Bans or Oakleys, all sunglasses are basically plastic shit made in China. Twenty dollars for cheap plastic crap is a crime, and retailers that sell them at that price ought to have bamboo shoots shoved underneath their toenails. At a flea market, you can buy them for about $5 a piece, or cheaper.
Leather jacket. This is important, because a brand new one rarely (if ever) costs less than $150 and they can cost as much as $200-400 or more, depending on the brand. But if you hold out for exactly the jacket you want, you can usually find it between $10 and $40 at a thrift store. These are the real gems of thrifting. If you have a nice leather jacket like I do, you wear it all the time. You will have saved hundreds of dollars and look like you stepped out of a Macklemore music video (can I refer to that song a little bit more? I definitely haven’t done it enough).
Yelp. Google. Seriously.
First, finding the thrift stores presents a logistical problem. You rarely ever want to hit just one. The most fruitful method I’ve found is to Yelp it, and then transpose the positive Yelp hits into a Google Map. From there, I group the stores into sectors, or ‘circuits,’ that I can hit as part of a planned trip or if I just happen to be nearby. This type of informational awareness allows me to attack all the thrift stores with optimal logistical efficiency. No wasted gas, no yo-yo-ing back and forth across town—you will be a precise, methodical, lethal thrifter.
If you choose to hunt at a flea market, make sure you have cash. Since there is no ‘check out’ save the person who is manning the stall, take the opportunity to hone your haggling skills. Some people will be receptive to it; others will not. The method of haggling I have found to be most effective is to hover and look indecisive. An experienced fleamarketeer will sense the opportunity, and swoop in and make you an offer. Make your best “Aaaggghh, I dunno…” face, and watch the price fall. Finally, take out some cash, make sure they see it, and undercut the second offer by about 10% or try to get a bulk deal if applicable. Do not do this at a brick-and-mortar establishment—it is a major protocol breach. Likewise, at a brick-and-mortar store, cash isn’t as important as it is at a flea market or garage sale, since most thrift stores take credit cards.
So support your local economy, save some money yourself, and have some social fun in the process. Thrift, you magnificent millennial bastard children of capitalism, thrift!
Photo by Sara Slattery