love, war and resale

A reader asked the following question:

What do you think about what I’ll call the “trickle-down economics” of thrift and yard sale shopping? My meaning is this: should Mrs. Jones with 2 children and a 6-figure household income shop resale and thrift because she wants to be a good steward and a frugal homemaker? Or is her shopping resale and thrift selfishly taking inventory from Mrs. Smith who is clothing 7 children on a small family-business venture? Does Mrs. Jones have an ethical dilemma in buying up inventory as well as holding back inventory by not using her means to buy retail? Or maybe there’s plenty to go around and all is fair in love, war and resale!

Here’s my take. I don’t see anything wrong with a well-off person using her money carefully by buying things used. In my area of the country, there are lots of thrift stores, consignment stores, AND yard sales. I just don’t see a shortage of goods in America. Plenty of good stuff goes into the landfill every year too.

The sad truth is that wealthy people often become wealthy partly by making frugal choices, whereas many people in poverty remain poverty-stricken partly because they would rather shop at Dillards than Goodwill. (No, not everyone…this is not a blanket statement…)

Some may argue that we are stimulating the economy when we buy things. Sure. But let’s face it. Most of us in America (even those of us living moderately) buy so much more than we really need. I applaud a person who is willing to step back and decide that yard-sale designer jeans will serve her just as well as ones bought brand new and full price. Even better to take that extra $50 she would have spent on the new item and look for a place to benefit someone.

Hire a hard-working college student to mow your lawn or watch your kids now and then. Find a struggling single mom and pay her (well) to clean your house. Sponsor a child through Compassion International. Give someone in a 3rd world country a loan through the KIVA website. There are so many different ways to stimulate the economy (someplace) that don’t have to involve big retail stores.

Don’t get me wrong— I buy things new too, and I am not suggesting giving up every ‘luxury’ in life. But I do believe that we all could enlarge our ability to do something good in the world if we looked at our potential purchases with a discerning eye, and tried to leave our money in places where it will really benefit others.

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  1. In England we have many charity shops, in which the stock is all donated, from people who don’t want it anymore, and the shops are run by volunteers, so that the money goes to the charity. I think they are great, these clothes and other items would have ended up in the landfill otherwise, when they are good quality stuff. I think the western countries are very wasteful. If we live by fashion then we would spend a fortune on clothes, most of which just fattens the pockets of the people at the top of the fashion stores. If I am looking for something particular, then I will look in high street shops, especially when it comes to shoes (which are much harder to find in charity shops). I can often find just as good stuff in the charity shops, and for a fraction of the cost – in a high street store a pair of jeans would cost at least £20, in a charity shop they are £5 at the most. It amuses me how I find it easier to find short length jeans I like in charity shops than in high street shops. If I take the item home and decide I’m not so keen on it, I’ll take it back and donate it to the charity shop, because it only cost me a few pounds, and the money goes to a good cause.

  2. In our area, we also have a clothing bank type place that works with people who don’t have money to get them and their family clothing and some other things as well.

    As you mentioned, there’s plenty to go around. On Saturday’s after yard sales are over here, the thrift shops bring their truck up front because the donations are so thick. If that’s your primary means of shopping, no shortage available.

  3. Mary, you have such a way with words. You sum up in one short post what I struggle to explain whenever people ask me a similar question.

    Thank you for your insight.

  4. Wonderful post! Totally agree!

  5. Marsha (Multi-taskingmom) says:

    Absolutely Mary – we all need to do more to help.

    I like to ask folks to think about it this way. For 1 average monthly car payment you can sponsor a child in Ethiopia (through our agency) for a whole year, or to break it down even further the price of an average meal at a local pizza place (for us about $30) would sponsor a child for a month.

    There is much we can do. Even buying an extra can of formula for your local food pantry a couple times a month will help.

  6. Excellent post Mary. I agree. Though when living frugally is a necessity rather than a choice, it’s hard not to go off on the six figure woman who shoves you at a nice resale event to get to the booty. Yeah, that happened.

  7. Roxanna Meiske says:

    I think you are right. Amreica has always been the ‘land of plenty’ and it does not matter if a person with a net worth of millions shops thrift, or retail. There is more than enough to go around.
    I shop both retail and thrift. Always looking for the best buy. I think that is being the best steward of our money. Roxie

  8. To the people who claim that frugal-living folks are not sufficiently stimulating the economy, I say . . . what, and all those bankruptcy claims are GOOD for the economy? That attitude reminds me a bit of NYC right after 9/11, when (then) Mayor Giuliani urged us all to “do our patriotic duty and start shopping again.” Since when has shopping become patriotic? And I dont think he was talking about thrift-shopping, either!


  9. What a nice phrase “to leave our money in places where it will really benefit others.”

    The main thrift store in our town is run by volunteers for the hospital auxiliary. Folks who donate can ask for a receipt for tax purposes.
    The money earned goes into equipment for the hospital and college of nursing. Both these resources serve the whole community for medical needs, meaning all the humans of the area benefit in some way.

    There is another thrift store across town, in an area of low-income and homeless people. Donations are also tax deductible.
    There are so many donations that the need came up to pay a director who is savvy with re-sale on the internet.
    The amount of income went up because of a wider audience.
    The money still goes into charity programs, such as an after school homework tutoring center.
    The stores benefit all of us, one way or another.

    A yard sale means the host is getting a direct return on investments. I remember a young mother selling baby equipment to buy her daughter’s braces.
    The ‘circle’ seemed complete when I bought stuffed animals for the playroom at church.

    My husband and I are finally at a comfortable place in earnings (children grown, a retirement plan in place), yet I still love the thrill of finding nice clothes or gadgets at the thrift store or yard sale.

  10. I completely agree with you!

    If I spend less on our family’s clothing, then I can give more or use money elsewhere.

    We sponsor a child, and gave up one of our restaurant nights to do it. Is it fair to take business away from a restaurant in this situation? Sure.

    It is true that many thrift stores are run by charities, who directly benefit from their sales. Think of ARC, the Salvation Army, Goodwill. My eldest daughter and I love going to Goodwill. We find great stuff! And look at all the people working there, bettering their lives.

    And here’s something really cool: I have found clothing for my children at Goodwill in excellent, sometimes brand new condition. They wear the clothing for a season or two, then if it is still in good shape, I donate it back to Goodwill or give it to a friend with a child that size. I think this is a smart way to distribute resources, actually. The more people who benefit from an item of clothing, the better.

    I also like to support yard and garage sales. You never know why people need to sell their things—job loss, a sudden move, divorce, overwhelmed by bills, a person died…things that aren’t good. Lighten their load a little, if you can.

  11. I agree with your conclusion. We shop thrift and second hand even though we can afford new. I would much rather gift the extra money to a worthy cause, then spend it in the mall. It just seems like good stewardship, not to mention common sense!

  12. Wasting money never stimulates the economy. Wealthy people, on the other hand, often *do* stimulate the economy by spending wisely. Mrs. Six Figure Income is quite possibly married to Mr. Business Owner, who employs many lower income families. The more money he has to invest in business opportunities, the more people will benefit – especially if his ventures are successful. So his wife’s thrifty buying habits are benefiting others in that way as well.
    It also helps to remember that most thrift stores are run to benefit charities. Whether Mrs. Six Figure Income is donating or buying, she is probably contributing to a good cause.

  13. We shop thrift and yard sales because can’t afford too many new especially since my kids are VERY hard on clothes. I would suggest that there are plenty of people who donate used items (and we redonate anything they grow out of or just don’t like) and that buying used is being a good steward of what God has provided, but also a good way of reducing and reusing. We don’t recycle or do many other so-called “green” things but we do feel that we need to be good stewards of the earth and reusing something someone else decided they didn’t want is a more efficient way of doing that.

  14. OK, here’s a discussion I had with a friend…
    A woman whose blog I read found a bag of vintage FP Little People at a garage sale for something like $1. She bought them for her child and brought them home, but then discovered that they were selling for WAY more on Ebay, so she sold them and made a tidy profit. My friend was horrified that she “took advantage” of the person who sold them at the yard sale. I thought she was pretty clever. Thoughts, anyone?

  15. I own a resale store. Please do shop with me!

    Shopping at these stores of course helps the economy. People get paid to work there and owners try to make a living there.

    I’d rather give my money to a small business owner than a big corporation if I can help it.

    The small business owner cares much more about you personally. I send cards to my customers, pray for them, know about their children. Do big stores do that for you?

    About the Little People, well she paid the price they asked and that is completely fair.

  16. I liked this posts’ emphasis on the fact that there are ways to stimulate the economy that don’t involve consuming things, and thus encouraging the production of more . . . things. There is WAY too much wasteful stuff being manufactured, and it behooves all of us to use what’s already been made by thrifting, re-selling, recycling, and freecycling. I propose that the “ethics” of secondhand living are quite the opposite of the idea that people who can buy retail should do so. I propose that even those who CAN afford to buy retail have an obligation NOT to do so when they can meet their needs through a second-hand method.

  17. I agree with so many of the previous commenters who pointed out that the “wastestream” in the U.S. is so wide and deep that there likely is plenty of second-hand merchandise to go around for those who wish to purchase it. Myself, I *like* being a Second-Hand Rose, preferring the quality and styles of all kinds of household items, toys and tools.

    As for being a good steward, that doesn’t always follow that the only path in this regard is spending the least amount possible on every item. Perhaps Mrs. Six Figures buys her kids’ clothes at thrift and yard sales (since kids tend to outgrow before destroying, it makes no sense to her to buy new for most things) so that she can purchase her own professional clothing at a boutique owned by one of her fellow preschool moms, where she pays a bit more than she would if she went to the Anonymous Department Store in the mall. Spending less *here* so that one might spend more *there* (along with outright giving) is a really good stewardship model that transcends a single household.

  18. sahmof3qts says:

    Interesting topic. Well written. I agree with you, and agree that we can all make better choices.

  19. This year I have declared a Crafted, Thrifted or Regifted Christmas. I haven’t asked others in my family to join me, but I have declared that this is what I will do. I enjoy the crafting so where that works it’s a gift to me as well as the recipient. I have found great cookbooks at thrift that are either timeless or so vintage they are priceless. I am sending my mother something that I recieved as a gift that I know will bring her far more pleasure than it does me. And, when I do need to buy, I am buying from Etsy and other online independent crafters. I just decided that I want to support someone other than the Gap this year. It’s not only about the money, because it may not end up being cheaper, but really about time and wanting to give meaningful origional gifts. With Gap and Target in every town, I want to do something different.

  20. I was always told that when you made a purchase you were responsible for it. How was it made, where would it end up (i.e fair labor and the landfill). Now I try to buy used whenever possible because I believe that it promotes being a good shepard of the earth. It is about money, but it is also about consumerism and human rights and even the environment.


  21. This is a tough one to relate to since I need to shop secondhand, but I have quite a few relatives who don’t need to and simply don’t. Most of us know that it takes effort shopping this way. It also takes more time and most people who have money would rather spend their time differently. So for the few who do thrift shop for fun, I so go for it. My mother constantly visits crafts fairs and in the past she found herself always saying ” oh I could make that myself, and for less money” but then she realized she never found the time to “make it herself” and now she says heck with it and pays the retail price and gets what she wants right when she wants it. But I certainly would not want her to feel bad if she came upon a steel of deal simply because she doesn’t need it to be “cheap.” We all deserve a great find for are hard earned money now and then.

  22. Martina Fahrner says:

    For me it’s more a question of reducing and reusing… and I hope that the lady with the 6-figure income supports some worthy courses with her spare change!

  23. I like your perspective on this topic. I personally (just me personally, not universally) just don’t see a lot of six figure income women out there buy up all the yard sale stuff to the exlclusion of the needy. Most of those I see at garage sales are immigrants trying to keep their kids clothed.

  24. Well have you ever wondered why rich people dont spend money? They are rich because they are thrifty and dont waste money like less fortunate people.

  25. This is a great post on so many levels. Buying second-hand is good for the environment, raises money for a good cause, and allows you more of your hard-earned money to be spent on other things.

    I don’t think there will ever be a dearth of second-hand clothes, either.

  26. Hi again. I just read your personal bit. 10 KIDS? You should buy a television the next time you go to a yard sale!!!!
    he he

  27. My Southern California neighborhood is crawling with garage sales, and you see Ms. 6 Figures right alongside Ms. Welfare Mom. I think the supply of used clothing is so plentiful that it really makes no difference, and if Ms. 6 Figures is using the money she saves wisely, she is still stimulating the economy and helping others– it’s all good. HOWEVER! I do have a problem with Ms. 6 Figures attending a clothing drive (giveaway) specifically intended for the less fortunate. Our PTA puts on an annual clothing drive and it’s not meant to be free clothing for people who can afford to buy clothes. If Ms. 6 Figures wants to go to the thrift store that gets all the things that are left over from our event and purchase something there, that’s ok. But don’t pull up in your Mercedes at a free clothing event meant to benefit needy families and start looking for the ROXY girl jeans and the Limited Too tanks. You might get your a** kicked.

  28. I know a woman who runs a ministry to homeless and slum dwelling people in a major city. She teaches a workshop about justice, in the biblical sense of the word. She talks about how righteousness is to keep the covenant, and then she spends time dealing with the modern equivalent of widows and orphans and the alien among you that is referred to often in the old testament. The thing that I remember most clearly is her discussion of gathering crops and how it is commanded in the old testament to not go over your fields twice to get every drop from it, or your trees, vines, etc. but to leave those for, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you. She then goes on to discuss what it might mean to go over your fields twice in a modern day context and she uses examples like taking in your empty bottles for a refund, or selling your old clothes instead of donating them or giving them away for free. She talked about the guys that go through her recycling every week, and how she just started putting the refundable items in their own separate bag to save the people, who work really hard to get their money this way, from having to dig through it.

    Anyway, I am still fascinated by this idea of what is my extra and do I squeeze every last drop out of what I have or do I use it to benefit the poor. She really got me thinking.

  29. Rather than get angry at someone with a 6 figure income for shopping at yard sales, I personally admire them. I think they’re setting an example for people that says to use your resources wisely. It also makes it less socially negative for people to shop second-hand. The social stigma of buying (and the horror, wearing) “used” clothing is ingrained pretty deeply in many of us. So anything which helps us as a society, and as individuals, move past that really idiotic mindset, is in my opinion, a good thing.

    It would be the decent thing to do for the wealthy woman to let the other woman have the pile of clothes for her kids, but I certainly don’t think she’s obligated to. And besides, unless you *know* that wealthy person? You have no idea what their finances really are like. Could be that they are buried under medical debt, could be they lost all their investments in some market crunch, could be they are buying things for families in need, it could be that they believe it is morally wrong to not buy used when the earth is in crisis. You just don’t know. Judging people isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing, anyhow.

  30. And I find I have one more thing to say. I would rather pay 5 dollars fro a second hand t-shirt in excellent condition than I would for a brand new one. The only way we are getting t-shirts for new for 5 dollars is because someone somewhere in the third world was paid $.30 to make it. As long as we in North America continue to feed our rampant consumerism and demand to lowest prices we continue to indirectly contribute to intractable poverty around the globe taking advantage of someone else’s need being exploited.

    That said, when I watched the Corporation, one of the representatives who works with sweat shop workers said, “No one in a sweat shop is saying, please boycott companies that use sweat shops, this money is better than nothing. They are just saying, ‘Could we maybe have a break every 4 hours, I’d like to have one day off a week, I’d like for them to not beat me and make me cry when I make a mistake, why won’t they hire my parents instead of me.” So I think it’s the responsibility of those of us who can afford to buy new things to make sure that when we do we are not supporting exploitation by voting with our dollars. That may eventually drive up the price of new things, but will not very much affect the cost of second hand.

    OKay, REally, I think we should just not have so many clothes. I constantly purge the second hand gifts of clothes for my kids because they don’t need that many, it just makes laundry, we can live with less than half of what they have now, and I’ve just given three giant bags of it away. We have more stuff than we need in this country, more than we know what to do with.

    These are of course, the random disorganized thoughts of a person bumbling through this, not a final solution.

  31. Chinamama–

    The yard sale owner always has the choice to charge more if they want to. I remember at the ONE yard sale we held while I was growing up, a lady snatched up an old metal firetruck that we had priced at 25 cents. She obviously thought/knew it was a great treasure and I knew by looking at her face that she would have paid more for it. But no big deal.

    Once I found a whole box of baseball and football cards at a yard sale. I bought them for $20. My son kept all the baseball cards and we sold the football cards for $50 on ebay. The way I look at it, the guy at the yard sale could have asked more if he chose to, but was glad to get $20 for the box. I personally don’t think there is anything wrong in paying the price the person is asking even if it is very low. (like my 25 cent coats).

  32. Anonymous says:

    Lisamm answered my real concern the best: is Ms. 6-figure ethically compromised by shopping inventory out of the hand of her less-economically-endowed but wealthier (in children) friend who really needs what the resale stores can offer.

    Thanks for taking this on, Mary!

  33. My middle son routinely looks for items at used bookstores, or priced cheap at yard sales, and usually pays whatever the host is asking. On a good afternoon near closing, sometimes that means half price.

    Then son goes to the Internet, lists the items for the going rate, often much more than he paid, keeps track of bidding, packages and ships the merchandise, and seems to earn a price well over his initial costs.

    He’s been doing this for several years.

    He keeps track of costs for supplies (have you checked the price of a bundle of bubble wrap?), profits, equipment (a newer, faster, computer for his “business” became a tax deduction) .
    Our accountant knows all the proper boxes to fill in, and how to deduct tuition for a full-time college student.

    There have been some who criticize him, but I’m quite proud of his initiative. He does most of his work at a nice desk in an air conditioned apartment near campus, and earns enough to live frugally until he has a Master’s degree hanging on the wall.

  34. Mary, thanks for initiating such an interesting discussion!

    (And I have to add, as I was the woman with the vintage Little People, I paid the price that was marked on the item, thinking my children would enjoy the toy. Only after I saw how much they sell for on Ebay did I offer my son the choice of selling them and using the money for something else. So, my intention was not to defraud in any way.)

  35. Frugal practices will definitely be helpful for the society in general at the end of the day. There is no point in finding faults with this.

  36. nathaniellivingstone says:

    Hi, I’m a young guy from India. In my part of the country, things happen too much like you just described. People here have a thing for buying the brand new things that they can do without. Maybe it is the “this makes me better feeling”. And they spend money that they haven’t earned. The banks in our state has one of the highest credit-deposit ratios in the country and that will show how much they are borrowing and how much they arent saving. It seems my people have forgot how to live a frugal life.

  37. Well stated.

  38. Our family finds ourselves in the middle of this. We receive many hand me downs, THAT WE LOVE! I see it as a huge blessings. Some years these hand me downs were the difference between being clothed or not.
    Now we still get some hand me downs but need to fill in with some items. Sometimes those things are bought new. Other times we fill needs at a garage sale or retail shop.
    As for what we do when we are done with the clothing. We give them away, without fail. Mostly at our annual free sale. Blessing others with what we have been blessed.

    I think America as a whole needs to consume less so if Mrs 6 figure goes shopping at garage sales, sweet. It is a reflection of contentment.

  39. well said!

  40. Hi I live in Australia.
    I can’t fully agree with you as in Au we have a bad tendancy to only supply good quality if any products in the capital cities. The op shops turn down furniture and 2nd hand stores are nearly as dear as brand new.

    I have lived in both these areas and out back Au.
    In all other cities in au its a matter of luck for good will.
    Central QLD is among some of the worst, expecially for those who lack training and can’t get work because of it or for other reasons beyond thier control ( lack of child care is 1 of them).
    Central QLD is a mining region with an attitude that every1 can work in the mines and that theres no reason beyond that persons control as to why they can’t. So they THROW all their good including workin furniture in the dump so no-one else can have it.
    As a parent on a very low income trying to raise a large family on my own and trying to get what work I can (which is not much) with disabled kids I have discovered it is very hard to buy 2nd hand clothes.

    Babies and girls are a little easier to find, but school uniforms and boys clothes don’t exist.

    We need to raise awarness some how to those close minded persons to change their attitudes to improve the lives of others.

    I try the best I can to do so.
    I am a volunteer and teach my kids to give also in hope they will teach others. I also write blogs and am starting up a group on google on top of the other sites I have in various places to try to raise awareness. I’m willing to accept ideas or inputs on subjects and topics from other uses to get the message out.
    Thank you for your time, I wish you all luck.

  41. My Dad grappled with this at one point. He can certainly afford to buy new, but he prefers to buy used. We resolved it by saying he can buy used as long as he doesn’t take the “last one” of anything. If there is only one pair of winter boots in size 12 at the Goodwill, he has to leave them for someone who truly does not have any options.

    I thought this was a good way of addressing it, and it certainly is a fair question to ask.



  42. Chinamomma (#14) I understand your angst about it, and share it, ALTHOUGH I mainly agree with Mary and others who are sort of saying: “Free country, be a wise steward of your resources, take care of your own folk, etc.”
    It would be one thing if those FP Little People were the only toys her child could have, and if she’d spent her last dollar on them.

    Instead, most children (unfortunately) would rather have something shiny and new anyway; also, she won’t mind if her child breaks the new toy, she won’t be hovering over the child playing with the priceless FP Little People, she won’t have to hoard and save them so she can eventually resell later for even more profit. So the resell seems the most reasonable.

    Your comment DID remind me, though, of the wholly unpleasant feeling I have watching people on “Antiques Roadshow,” however. Those people go on the show, having bought something at a garage sale for $25.00 –say, a painting, or a chest– and then get CHOKED UP when the dealer tells them “You have a priceless treasure—valued at $300,000.00.” I always wonder why they are crying.

    I think I know, and it concerns me. Seems to be part of our continuing fascination with and idolatry of material things.

    As far as owing anybody else, I could not in good conscience, resell something without considering the circumstances of the person I bought it from, and renumerating them as well. It’s probably judgmental, but if I bought it at a garage sale in a nice neighborhood I’d be less likely to do anything, than if I bought it from someone who was obviously in need.

    Just my $.02.

    I love Owlhaven, BTW.

  43. Well obviously I can’t quit thinking about this post but I wanted to add that one of my dearest friends is one of those 6-figure ladies and she is all the time shopping garage sales and screeching her suburban to a halt and throwing in something she found on the curb into the back. Why doe she do this? Not for herself. She cleans up and redistributes her “finds” to whomever she comes across who is in need. I guess the lesson here is not to judge the 6-figure ladies motives too harshly.

  44. araceli macaspac says:

    do you buy any used clothes, shows, handbags? we’re thinking of doing a garage sale but if there is anyone who wants to buy by lot we are willing to do it. please respond. thanks.