Buying Used: Environmentally Sustainable, Frugal a Good Habit
One way to reliably fund 529 college savings accounts
Ours isn't a consumer household — it's more a way station for items we need at present, usually acquired used and later given away or recycled. My 12-year-old son just dropped by my desk, wearing his typical winter outfit of jeans, a t-shirt and a fleece, all from consignment stores (two bricks-and-mortar; one online). The Nerf gun tucked under his arm was a lucky find at Goodwill.
In due time, the jeans and fleece will be given to a neighbor down the block. My son will insist we keep the Nerf gun, then forget about it, and I’ll donate it back to Goodwill. So it goes.
My household saves thousands of dollars a year by buying stuff used, a habit that allows us to fully fund two 529 college plans on a tight budget. And we hope we’re instilling a frugal, sustainable ethic in two young minds.
My own motivation to sidestep the consumerist world we now live in is spurred by a sense of guilt: I don’t want to add to a landfill. So, in my office there’s a second-hand couch, an ancient library chair and a thrift-store end table. Not perfect, but I’m happy to have them.
Kids: The perfect consumers of used stuff
Our children have spent lots of time in used-book stores. Used books are perfect for smaller children who will love, destroy and, in short order, toss aside a book. (Luckily, my town recycles paperbacks.) But should you buy someone else’s drooled-upon “Good Night Gorilla”? Lord, no.
My tween twins have very specific tastes in fiction (sci-fi and fantasy, which we buy new, though it pains me) and are offended by any other genre of book I drag home from the Little Library down the street. So I don’t.
Yet I buy them used clothes, now with my daughter looking over my shoulder, cheering me on. A new-to-her down coat (mint-condition Lands’ End, via Kidizen) was less than half the cost of new. If she thrifts as a grownup, she can expect even better deals. Kids grow out of their coats, women grow bored of theirs. Which is why I was able to scoop up two lovely Boden coats at a consignment store at about one-third of retail.
Jeans: Worst for the environment, best for deals
My boy grows into and out of about five pairs of jeans a year — they still fit around the middle but morph into jorts. Here’s the math: I just bought him three pairs for $9 apiece (online, including shipping). Meanwhile, the best deal I found for the same brand, new, was $12 a pair. Is the $20 or so I’ll save on jeans for him this year worth it? Perhaps, but it’s not just about money. It's also about sustainability — jeans are dreadful water hogs.
Where I live, the easiest pickings for resale buys are at the Once Upon a Child chain: shirts and sweaters; jeans and shorts; like-new PJs; dress shirts and suits for boys; winter coats, snow boots and snow pants.
For sporty stuff, gird yourself for a trip through the used ice skates and soccer cleats chaos at Play It Again Sports.
Best deals, during the pandemic: Kidizen and Swap.com. (Etsy and eBay are useless for shopping by size for kids clothes — and are you going to bid on a like-new pair of boys Levi’s? Doubt it.)
Mom jeans and handbags
My Gen Z college students are enthusiastic thrifters. I could tell that retailers would soon be hawking Mom jeans when my students began flaunting their $10 high-waisters. Mintel reports that 80% of this group is up for buying anything secondhand.
Americans spent nearly $11 million on handbags in 2019. Who are these people and what kind of social life requires owning, on average, 10 purses? I’ve not bought a new purse in at least a decade— I’m happy to take my place in the circle of retail life and buy their Baggallini’s and Coaches.
eBay saved my marriage
No matter how hard I try to shovel books out the door, they keep creeping back in. My husband is an enthusiastic collector of media — new and used — which often is made good use of (read, given away) but sometimes ends up stacked perilously throughout the house. Thank goodness eBay makes it easy to sell books, CDs and DVDs. He can scan a pile of DVDs, where the films’ details auto-fill into eBay listings, which he then posts to the app, all while watching football.
We are a home of two postal meters, and, I’m sure, the least popular house on the block for mail carriers. I once broke the news to our postman that I had 80 packages for him to lug out to his van. Long pause. “Really?” he sighed.
Selling’s not for me, however. In preparation for writing this article, I set up shop on Kidizen, aiming to sell some kids clothes. Not a nibble. No sore feelings though; the clothes went to my church’s kids’ closet.
Keep thrifter etiquette in mind. Within your social circle, find someone who’s in need of, say, five pairs of size-12 boys jeans, and don’t stick them with a grocery bag of clothing odds and ends. Make life easier on your local nonprofit thrift store and match your give-aways to their customers. And for goodness’ sake, don’t leave your garage-sale leftovers at the door. Buy used and then give it all away. And be thoughtful.