Saving and Spending: Confessions of a Chronic Underspender


Downsizing, going frugal, cutting spending – everyone’s doing it these days. It’s part of a huge wave of consumer empowerment that the mainstream media seems incapable of grasping, instead simply complaining that ‘retail spending is down’.

Partly as a response to the GFC, the frugal movement ties in beautifully with another trend – people who, empowered by social media, are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and the amount of goods going to landfill while ceasing to purchase goods that exploit others.

Many of the frugal are reformed overspenders and shopping addicts who took control and are now paying back debt and learning to live richly on a much smaller (and saner) budget.

But I’m not one of those people. It took me ages to figure out that in fact I have the opposite problem. I’m not a reformed overspender. I’m a reformed underspender.

Before I became an underspender I was a spendthrift. For most of my twenties I simply spent everything I earned. But even then I wasn’t extravagant; I didn’t even have a credit card (come to think of it, I’ve never had a credit card, apart from a temporary one for an overseas trip; I now have a debit card). Nor was I particularly into shopping, or good at it. I just never saved anything because I didn’t realise I could.

When I started stingeing, I overdid it. It was a correction that went too far. I couldn’t tell the difference between necessary and unnecessary spending. For example, for about four years I went without a car; yet during that time I wouldn’t spend money on taxis to get home from a party, even though I was saving hundreds of dollars a year in car expenses.

I wrote my book, The Inspired Shopper, as an attempt to work out how to spend money wisely and how to buy the things I really needed.

The book has helped me to do those things, and most of things I buy these days are right for me. I imagine it would also be of use to reformed overspenders who want to spend in moderation.

But it doesn’t entirely take away the anxiety about spending. It just means that most of the time I don’t have to act on it (or fail to act because of it). Fear of spending money runs deep. It’s a basic distrust in the process of life. Giving money away to get something in return requires a degree of trust – that the object is not faulty, that it will work for a reasonable amount of time, that you’re not just throwing money away.

Usually I think I’ve worked through this. And then one bad buy and bang! I’m back to underspending hell again.

The lure of underspending 

The extreme end of the frugal movement is compacting. Compacters commit to buying no new non-perishable goods, apart from necessities such as underwear and health and safety items, for a year. They can buy secondhand goods, barter, and receive gifts. Compacting seems to be less popular now, but the Fashion Challenge has taken over where compacting left off.

In some ways the Fashion Challenge is more extreme than compacting. For a year you commit to not buying any clothes at all, including underwear, socks, material for making things, or secondhand goods. You can swap clothes with others but you can’t receive clothes or undies as gifts. When I’m in underspending mode, the Fashion Challenge actually sounds quite tempting. No difficult decisions to make!

It’s not that I don’t enjoy shopping these days. I love it. I just don’t love spending. They’re not the same thing.

Underspending is actually quite painful. It can lead to compulsive buying because you end up holding out too long for something you really need. You may hurriedly buy something without checking that it has all the features that you require because you’re so desperate to purchase a necessity.

Neuroscientist Gregory Berns has found that when we have money in our bank accounts (or pockets) it means more to us because it offers unlimited possibilities. We don’t have to commit to spending it on one thing. Twenty thousand dollars could fund an indulgent trip to Paris that includes sampling a series of five-star Michelin restaurants, go towards a down payment on an apartment, or pay for one year of a law course.

When you spend that money, it’s gone. Committing to one or more things means that all the other possibilities fall away. If you’ve been saving for a while, it may become difficult to let a large slice of money go.

Frugality doesn’t mean a miserly approach to life. Most people who write about budgeting recommend building small treats into the process. And many frugal people make it their policy to buy quality goods when they do buy. Ethical purchases make even more sense in this context. Of course, for many people frugality isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity.

The habit of saving

Even if you don’t come from a history of underspending (and I understand that in our consumer society most of us don’t), is it possible to become addicted to frugality so that we become afraid to spend? Could too much compacting be bad for you? Or, once you’ve curbed the overspending, is it relatively simple to get the balance right without too much pain?

I would love to hear from readers about this. How do you know when to save and when to spend? How do you treat yourself? Is it possible to get addicted to saving? Is it hard to spend money when you’ve been saving too long? How do you get the balance right?

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like In with the Old and Out with the New - Shopping and the Search for Perfection.
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Clearing Out Clutter: A Goodbye Ritual for a Loved Object

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We alll know that clearing out unnecessary clutter is good for us. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Some of the items we hold onto, whether they’re a favourite T-shirt, an out-of-date knick-knack, a trusty old couch or a once-cherished piece of jewellery, have such strong memories and emotions attached to them that it’s hard to let them go, even when they’re well past their practical use-by date.
Perhaps we associate them with a past relationship, or a version of ourselves that we’ve outgrown; perhaps we fear that the fond memories will disappear if we send them off to the op or thrift shop, or put them on the curb for the council's next hard rubbish collection. One way of preparing yourself to let go of a cherished item is to conduct a simple farewell ritual. This gives you the chance to acknowledge your feelings for the item, and makes it easier to give it up. Think of it as giving your loved object a send-off! 
You’ll need:
  • the item itself
  • a plastic bag or cardboard box suitable for storing the item ready for disposal
  • a box of tissues.
Set aside 10 to 15 minutes. Go somewhere quiet and warm where you can be alone. Sit on a cushion on the floor, in front of the item you need to let go of. Place the bag or box on the floor behind you. Close your eyes and think about some of the emotions and memories you associate with the item. Experience what the item means to you. Let yourself feel any feelings that come up. Do this for as long as you need to.
Open your eyes. You’re now ready to say goodbye to the item. For this part of the exercise you will need to speak out loud. This can seem odd, but remember you’re doing this for your own benefit, and no-one else is watching!
The exact words you use will depend on the item and its role in your life, but the following will give you an idea:
You’ve been an important part of my life, and meant a lot to me. [Include some words on why the item has meant so much, and its role in your life.] But now it’s time for me to let you go [either ‘to a new owner’ or ‘for the next phase of your journey’]. Thank you for being a part of my life.
Now pick up the item and experience its energy. If you want to, you can touch or hug it. If the item is associated with especially sad or happy experiences, you might want to have a bit of a weep.
Now slowly and symbolically place the item in the bag or box. Put it somewhere ready for disposal, such as the garage, a spare room or even your car (but don’t put it back in the cupboard).
Deal with any feelings of grief that arise by treating yourself gently.
You can easily adapt this ritual for a group of items that have particular associations for you. If the item is particuarly large, conduct the ritual where the item is located, and symbolically throw a sheet over it, or simply shut the door and walk away, when you've said farewell.

Until next time!
If you enjoyed this blog post, you might like Staying Mindful at Sale Time.
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How to Be Frugal When Your Friends Aren't

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Years ago in my spendthrift days I shared a house with someone who was frugal in the extreme – but she was also very conscientious and caring towards her friends. I admired the way she was able to maintain friendships with people from a wide range of backgrounds and incomes while remaining frugal.

Since then I've become frugal myself and I really struggle with maintaining my stingey habits in social situations. It's hard being frugal when entertaining or going out with friends – there's always the danger of looking cheap.  So here's what my housemate did, and some of the things I do. Many of these tips revolve around food and drink, because that tends to form the basis of our friendships.

*  Be prepared to cook, and stock up on food staples. Inviting less frugal friends over for a meal is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your friendships with them. Vegetarian meals are usually very cheap to prepare, and if you cook a flavoursome cuisine, such as a Mediterranean, Asian or Middle Eastern dish, your friends won't even notice it's vegetarian. You may have to stock up initially on spices and flavourings but once you have these in your cupboard, vegetable curries, tortillas and so on are very cheap. Ingredients like creamed coconut for curries last quite well in the fridge. Olive oil, rice and pulses can be bought in bulk from health food stores and Asian grocery stores. Coffee beans can be kept in the freezer and then ground in a grinder for freshly brewed coffee.

*  Arrange some in-house entertainment. If you don't want to spend money on film tickets, invite your friends around for video evenings. Create some atmosphere with freshly popped corn or home-made dips.

*  Combine a free event with something that costs money. If catching up with friends who like to go to cafes and restaurants, arrange to do something that's free (eg an exhibition or an outdoor concert) and then spend the money on a restaurant meal, or just have a drink with them at a cafe.

* If you're meeting up with friends for a drink, don't buy alcohol – it's much cheaper to sip on a soft drink or soda water. Pay for drinks separately so you don't end up paying for your friends' expensive cocktails. If buying alcohol when you entertain at home, buy in bulk (but there's no need to drink in bulk!). If you like to entertain, consider having the makings of cocktails at home – it's much cheaper than buying them. You could even type up a little cocktail menu for special occasions!

* If you're frugal and your friends aren't, be prepared to do any legwork required to organise cheap entertainment. For example, Melbourne has a booking agency that sells cheap theatre and concert tickets, Halftix, but you need to buy the tickets in person. If your friends don't care about frugality but you do, putting the extra effort in yourself will ensure that everybody pays less.

If your friends like to meet up for a meal, scout out restaurants that are both cheap and of reasonable quality. The internet has loads of food blogs that provide guidance to the best cheap food in different parts of the world – this
list of cheap New York eateries is just one example. Some cities have hard copy reference guides that you could borrow from or consult at your local library; the Age newspaper's Cheap Eats Guide is a Melbourne institution.

If your friends tend to buy food whenever you go out, let them know that you're comfortable simply having a drink while they're eating. I have a friend who rarely cooks, and whenever we go out for a coffee she always buys food, even if it's mid-afternoon. We are both used to this – it's no big deal for her to eat a meal while I sip on a drink.

* If your friends spend money on you, pay them back in kind. Help your friends out when they're painting a room or moving house. Offer to walk their dogs, collect their mail when they go on holiday, or babysit for a special occasion such as a birthday or wedding anniversary. I often help family and friends with small editing jobs.

* Pay your friends back with freebies and discounts. Use coupon deals such as two-for-one offers to treat them. Sites with daily deals like Groupon and Jump On It have cheap deals that can be given as gifts. There are many online opportunities to obtain free tickets for various events, eg some film review sites offer free film tickets.

*  Rewrite the rules for gift giving with your friends, or plan ahead. If you usually exchange gifts with friends, curtailing this arrangement can be difficult.  You could try simply discussing it with them – they might actually be relieved not to have to exchange presents. If they tell you that they enjoy buying you presents, start buying or making thrifty gifts in exchange. If you're not the crafty type, organise cheap gifts in advance – create a list of friends that you buy presents for (and their children), and be on the lookout for cheap, suitable presents throughout the year, particularly at sales.

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like Need an Alternative to Retail Therapy? 18 Low or No-Cost Ways to Treat Yourself.

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Where to Start in the Search for Ethical Fashion? A Guide to the Guides

Hemp wrap by Viridis Luxe
Ethical fashion – including fair trade fashion, sustainable fashion and, a term I admit to not being crazy about, 'eco-fashion' – is huge. You'd never know it in the mainstream media (in Australia at least), but this area is burgeoning, with new brands and online stores appearing, it seems, by the minute. (Of course, the handmade, thrifty, upcycling fashion movement is also having a huge influence.)

Because there is so much choice out there now (assuming you're willing to buy online), this is not a guide to individual brands but a guide to individual guides and lists – a metaguide! (I've also included some particularly informative blogs and magazines.) If anyone knows of any good guides or lists I've missed out on, from any country, please let me know and I'll add them. I've grouped these lists according to country, and at the moment it's confined to the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. However, most of the stores are online so in many cases you will still be able to buy from the overseas ones.

As far as the Anglo world is concerned it does seem that the UK is well ahead of the pack. But the more information about ethical fashion that's out there, the more its popularity will spread in all countries.

Hope you enjoy my guide to the guides.


Eco Fashion Guide

A searchable guide to sustainable, ethical designer brands and online eco-fashion stores. You can search by brand, store, eco criteria, category or country – 15 countries in all. It's far from comprehensive but worth a look.


A great list of eco fashion and beauty blogs from around the world


PETA’s guide to animal-friendly brands and stores

A huge list of companies that sells cruelty-free products



Marie Claire’s list of top ten UK sustainable fashion brands

The UK has some fantastic ethical and sustainable fashion brands, and they’re not all at designer prices. Here is Marie Claire’s list of the best 10.


Feze Fair Trade

The webpage below includes a list of websites that sell women's fair trade clothing. The website also includes a list of men's fair trade clothing, as well as information about other fair trade products.


Ethical Consumer magazine's guide to clothes shopping


Guardian Ethical fashion directory

The Guardian's own ethical fashion directory


Style with Heart

A portal to a wide range of websites selling fair trade, ethical and sustainable clothes and accessories


Ethics Girls magazine

The Ethics Girls website sells a wide range of ethically sourced fashion. It's a cooperative with a commitment to selling fairly produced fashion.


The Ecologist's list of top ten ethical labels


Style Will Save Us

This website sells a wide range of ethical fashion, beauty and gift products, and also has an ethical fashion and lifestyle magazine.



One Green Planet list
A list of ethical and sustainable designers in the USA and elsewhere from a website promoting a vegan, sustainable lifestyle



A website that promotes sustainable fashion


Socially Responsible Style

A guide to green and ethical buying including ethical fashion brands (the webpage also has a very good blogroll)



A range of eco fashion at sale prices


Treehugger fashion and beauty blog

This is based in the US but includes some overseas news.


Behind the Seams blog

A very newsy blog about the latest in ethical style


Sustainable Sartorial blog

A personal journey by an aspiring ethical designer



Ethical Clothing Australia accredited brands

A list of Australian fashion brands accredited through Ethical Clothing Australia (note that these may not be sustainable, and some sustainable brands aren't listed).


Australian designers producing sustainable fashion

A very good list from RMIT


How Big Is Your Eco

A website that is a guide to Australian and ethical fashion

Blue Caravan

Based in Australia, Blue Caravan sources and sells independently made, ethical and sustainable fashion, homewares, beauty products, homewares jewellery and other items.


Peppermint Magazine

A hard copy magazine and blog with a focus on sustainable, ethical fashion and lifestyle


Wardrobe Wonderland

An Australian ethical fashion blog


Style Wilderness

A Melbourne blog that combines sustainable fashion and style with thrifting and handcrafts



Fashion Takes Action

A list of members of an industry group for sustainable fashion


Until next time!

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy Be an Ethical, Frugal Fashionisa: How to Shop Ethical When You're on a Budget.

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In with the Old and Out with the New - Shopping and the Search for Perfection

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What are you really looking for when you shop?

Shiny, upmarket boutiques and department stores drag us away from the imperfections of life, promising an eternal present where things never get lost, get old, wear out or break down. 

Their gleaming surfaces and stark cream walls offer a tantalising backdrop from which to ogle an array of items that are pristine – never used, unmarked, tags still on.

When we enter a retail temple we succumb to the illusion that the goods it displays are a kind of virgin territory waiting to be discovered – by us. It’s as if they appeared on the designer shelves fully formed. The seductive store fit-outs urge us to forget about the source of their manufacture. And they beg us to believe that we too can be renewed, and our very lives made over, by this pure, unsullied world.

When we shop, there’s often something in particular we need to buy – something practical. No matter how frugal we are, shoes wear out, jeans tear, gadgets take early retirement, fridges break down. Sometimes buying something new is a necessity, not a hobby or leisure activity. But there are many reasons for our buying that have nothing to do with practical considerations.

A common reason we go out on the hunt is that we’re really seeking something new. One reason why we crave new things is that we're searching for an elusive perfection that's missing from our own lives.

I was backing my car out of the drive and noticed just how untidy the front garden was looking. The art deco style unit I rent is over 70 years old and the outside walls, which are cream-coloured and roughly rendered, are cracked following Melbourne’s recent ten-year drought. The weather has been too miserable for me to garden – well, too miserable for my version of gardening, which basically consists of weeding – and the front yard really needed a mini-makeover.

Easier, of course, to go to the mall and buy something shiny and new.

The same goes for my car, a little emerald green Toyota Starlet. It’s now well over ten years old and is beginning to show its age. There is some loss of colour on the roof, and plenty of scratches. Yet there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Once a year it gets a service. The mechanics charge like wounded bulls but are finicky to a fault – the sort of mechanics who change the spark plugs regularly. I would love to buy a new secondhand car, a little Echo or Yaris, and I could afford one. But there is absolutely no justification beyond the look of the car, and the need for something that is less worn and in better condition that my trusty Starlet.

Many of us have been taught from an early age that it’s worthwhile to seek perfection, and that if we try hard enough we can attain it. Yet in our lives, so many things are unfinished, unresolved, worn, imperfect. Our relationships and jobs are imperfect. We home in on our physical ‘imperfections’. The problems of the world remain unresolved and seem to get more serious by the day. We are chronically imperfect beings living in a chronically imperfect world.

Clinging to the ideal of perfection can sometimes affect our ability to make good choices – choices that are right for us – when we do have to buy something.

Below are some pointers for combatting the need for perfection that sometimes drives us to buy, and can also adversely affect how we buy.

1. Give your existing possessions some TLC. Think of making your things and environment better rather than perfect. Polish your shoes and boots, reorganise your cupboards and drawers, handwash your sweaters, get your mending up to date or do some handyperson tasks around the house. This kind of self-maintenance can be extremely rewarding – it makes you feel looked after and makes your things seem newer and more valuable. You’ll gain an appreciation of what you already have, and how it is serving you, and you’ll have less need to seek the new. I know that when I get around to weeding my front yard the cracked walls won't bother me as much. I always feel much better about my Starlet when I’ve lavished some attention on it – taken it to the carwash, vacuumed the seats and carpet, polished the windows.

2. Celebrate and highlight the worn and used aspects of possessions. Old can mean full of character, lived in, loved. Part of the frugal and thrifty movement is to play up and enhance the ‘old’ aspects of objects. We already do this for some things – jeans come to us prefaded, and some homewares stores proudly display their ‘shabby chic’ furniture. Repurposing, such as stacking old trunks to make a table, is now a craze. I’ve already placed plants in large terracotta pots against the cracked outer walls of my unit to create an olde worlde look, and I intend to add more, working around the cracks rather than trying to hide them.

3. Hide an imperfection you can’t easily live with. There are some imperfections that are simply irritating rather than endearing. We’re visual creatures, and it’s easy to forget what isn’t in front of our eyes. Cover up a mangy carpet with a bright rug. Cover the fading on a piece of upholstered furniture with an attractive throw. You may sometimes have to buy something new (or secondhand) to do this, but at least you’re dealing with the imperfection rather than blindly buying something unrelated in a bid to ignore it, or spending thousands on new fittings or furniture. This is especially worthwhile if you’re renting your home and can’t make significant changes to the decor.

4. Replace the concept of ‘perfect’ with ‘right’. This goes for all areas of life as well as objects – partners, friends, work, home, and even suburb. Instead of thinking about things as not being perfect, ask yourself whether they are in fact right for you at this time. Of course, not everything will be – when something isn’t right, making changes is not just worthwhile but vital. But when we’re measuring the things we have – both materially and otherwise – why not try to replace the measure of perfection that we often have in our minds with the measure of rightness?

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like Inspired Thrifting: What Makes a Good Find at the Op Shop or Thrift Store?
(Picture courtesy of oh my goods!)
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Need an Alternative to Retail Therapy? 18 Low or No-Cost Ways to Treat Yourself

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When I joined Tweetdeck, I set it up to search for tweets on the topic of retail. Now I’m bombarded with tweets about retail every few seconds. A huge proportion of these tweets consist of either ‘I need retail therapy’ or ‘I love retail therapy’.

There is often a hidden logic in our reasons for seeking retail therapy. Perhaps we feel we deserve a treat, or something bad has happened that we need to process. Yet we don’t usually get what we really need when we use shopping to mediate our emotions. On the contrary, the short-term high from the hit of dopamine when we buy can lead to long-term buyer’s remorse and a serious debt problem.

It’s still important to reward and treat ourselves sometimes. Perhaps you’ve done a solid stretch of work and need time out. Perhaps you’re a bit down and need a pick-me-up. Perhaps you’re just feeling needy or bored.

Below are some tips for ‘rewards’ and treats that are either cheap or free. Some of them are absurdly simple, but they may be hard to put into practice. Society not only gives us permission to shop, but presents it as a virtue. Governments panic when consumers stop buying. After 9/11, George Bush told Americans that shopping was a patriotic act! Self-care and nurturing don’t make the big corporations any money. It can feel a bit self-indulgent to look after yourself, while hitting the streets and scoring a bargain feels more like an achievement. Giving yourself permission for non-retail treats and rewards is the first step in combating the need for retail therapy. Here are some options.

* If it’s a nice day, grab a rug, a water bottle, a hat and a good book or newspaper and head down to the nearest park. Sit yourself under a friendly oak and wile away an hour communing with nature and your favourite author. Or simply set yourself up in the backyard on a sun lounge with your iPod and a good book.

* Schedule some serious down time. (This will be hard if you’re a workaholic or have kids, but if you can arrange it with your spouse it’s a great way to regenerate your batteries.) Allot yourself a set amount of time on the couch. Set up your supplies (hot drink, healthy snack, books and newspapers) or simply have a nap. Alternatively, retreat to bed with said supplies. A ‘doona day’ (or half a day) may sound lazy but can be incredibly replenishing.

* Stake out a public art gallery holding a free exhibition in a neighbouring or rural town, pack a lunch and head on down – make a day of it.

* Find out from the internet or your local paper if there are free or very cheap architectural/historical tours in your area. Profit-making tours are expensive but sometimes local history societies hold walking tours for as little as a $2 donation.

* Enjoy a relaxing bath, complete with bath salts, essential oils and gentle music.

* Give yourself a pedicure, including a foot soak, in front of your favourite TV program.

* Plan a low-cost ‘date’ with your spouse or partner. Plan a frugal meal, buy some cleanskin wine and candles and choose some romantic music. Or simply go for a stroll along the beach or a river followed by a coffee.

* Visit a flea market and allocate yourself a small amount of spending money. Tramp around and soak up the atmosphere.

* If you’re into gardening or just like viewing gorgeous gardens, visit a garden show – these vary in price but can often be quite cheap. Find out if your local area has any open garden schemes, with owners of beautiful gardens opening them to the public for a small entry fee.

* Arrange to stay with a friend in another state, town or region.

* Arrange to have a Skype or phone chat with an out-of-town pal that you haven’t heard from for a while.

* Take advantage of any free summer concerts held by your local council.

* Schedule some laughter time. Hire a stack of comedy DVDs or Blu-rays. Choose shows and movies that you can rely on to make you laugh. Alternatively, borrow comedy DVDs from your friends. (Note: you don’t have to wait to the weekend to do this; it's often cheaper to hire DVDs during the week anyway.)

* Schedule some crying time. Borrow DVDs or Blu-rays that you know will give you the chance for a good bawl.

* Schedule some time to bake one of your favourite dishes. When I was a kid we didn’t make biscuits (cookies) much, we made slices – hedgehog, brownies, coconut ice, and my personal favourite, the three-layered caramel slice. If you’re trying to steer clear of sugar, bake a favourite savoury dish or experiment with Italian, Thai, Indian or Mexican food.

* Get some pet therapy. If you don’t have your own dog, borrow a friend or relative’s dog and take them to the local dog park. Not only will you get lots of doggie energy and probably enjoy some friendly chats, but you’ll earn the unconditional love of a faithful friend. Or connect with the local wildlife: a friend of mine lives opposite a park with a pond, and on most days he finds time to check in with the duck family who live there.

* Put some music on and dance around your lounge room.

* Plan a cheap beauty therapy afternoon with your pals. Make beauty masks from common ingredients, and/or dye your hair and paint your nails.

If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy Are Any of These Negative Beliefs about Money Holding You Back?

Until next time!

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Inspired Thrifting: What Makes a Good Find at the Op Shop or Thrift Store?

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Finding something wonderful in an op shop or thrift store can feel a bit magical. This is when serendipity happens – you’re pottering around the store or walking past a shop window and suddenly you spot a special item that seems to have been waiting for you to arrive and claim it as your own. But how do you know it’s a genuine bargain and not just a cheap piece of junk that will clutter up your house and give you a short-term dose of retail therapy?

A bargain is something that feels right at a gut level – even if your emotions and rational mind aren’t quite sure – doesn’t cost a lot of money and will enhance your life in some way. It doesn’t have to be something worth a lot of money that you pick up for a song, although it can be.

This sense of rightness isn’t just about the item itself. It’s about the way it ends up working with its adoptive environment to produce a kind of alchemy that transforms the environment, even if that transformation is subtle. Together the item and its environment become more than the sum of their parts. There’s an uncanny fit between them.

When I saw the framed print above in the window of a Salvos store in the prosperous eastern suburb of Camberwell a few weekends ago I was a bit dubious. Sitting in the midst of a window display featuring the usual assortment of stilettos, hats and semi-formal dresses in eye-catching colours, it looked like just another example of late nineties or early noughties kitsch. Which essentially it was.

Price-wise it wasn’t a huge bargain. It was $25, half the original price of $50, which I discovered when I went into the store to have a closer look at it and saw the original label on the back (impossible to say if this was the original price or an earlier Salvos price).

The piece was essentially tacksville. Yet something about the boldness of the colours and the cartoonishness of the design screamed ‘buy me’. So I did, unable to think of where I would put it.

Given that it was probably over ten years old it was in quite good condition. The stained wooden frame, possibly pine, had very few marks or nicks. The picture had a twin, with an almost identical print, displayed in similar fashion in the other shop window. Its condition was clearly inferior, with significant scratches on the frame and a few marks on the glass. It didn’t take much willpower to decide to leave the companion behind.

When I come home with this kind of item – something I’ve pounced on without much pre-planning – I sometimes engage in a bizarre ritual that would look quite mad to an observer. I walk around the house carrying the item and saying to to myself ‘where does this go?’ If I try to be too rational about the answer to this question, the process doesn’t work.

I finally settled on my office, easily the most boring room in the house and boringly festooned with testaments to my achievements. Did I really have to keep reminding myself and anyone else who walked in that I have a Masters degree? I think it’s sunk in by now. Same with the framed arts degree. Both were relegated to storage and this little beauty hung up instead.

And it has been a bit transformational. It now takes pride of place on a large patch of wall that is to the left of, and above, my desk. Because of the expanse of wall around it, the fact that the picture is square and the frame is dark and plain, the placement of the picture suggests a window through which you see the oversized flowers. The striking colours are the first thing the eye notices when you walk into the room, instead of the files, papers, books and office paraphernalia that would otherwise dominate. Because it’s just to the left of my computer I can see it out of the corner of my eye and glance at it any time. I like to think that when I'm writing, its fiery colours stoke my imagination.

Already I’ve grown incredibly fond of this picture, yet like many of my inspired finds it’s certainly not what I would have envisaged. Now I can't imagine life without it!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Sole mates, or a Gift That Suits Me Down to the Ground.

Until next time!

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Top Tips for Inspired Supermarket Savings

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Supermarkets are alluring spaces. Bright and colourful, with invitingly wide aisles, a feast of seductive aromas, and a soporific atmosphere that invites you to linger, they are designed with your weaknesses in mind, and primed to capitalise on them. The tips below will help you stay on track and save your precious dollars.

* Use cash - it's easier to stay aware of how much you're spending. If not, a debit card or credit card with a very low limit is a good way of curbing overspending.

* Shop in the early evening if possible. Supermarkets often start discounting stock that is nearing its use-by date at this time. Look for discounts on meat, bread and other perishable items.

* Buy fresh fruit and vegetables rather than packaged, processed foods. Choose vegetables that are in season and on sale and and plan your meals around them.

* Avoid the supermarket if you're hungry or tired, as you're more likely to buy food. Of course you can't always do this; if you're hungry, bring along or buy a healthy snack (eg a piece of fruit or a packet of raw cashews).

* Write your shopping list out before you go. Write your list slowly and mindfully. Check your pantry. As you're writing your list, note how you're feeling - perhaps there are some items you think you need when you actually don't. When you get to the supermarket, confine your shopping to what's on the list.

* Be realistic about future plans when you're writing your shopping list. An interesting fact unearthed by Brian Wansink and fellow researchers back in 2000 is that many items that consumers buy at supermarkets but don't end up using are purchased because of overly optimistic plans - eg a party that wasn't held or a dish that was never made. To avoid a pantry full of mouldering obscurities, substitute a more versatile item for one that is specific to the recipe, for instance buying honey instead of molasses.

* Get to know the supermarket layout so that you don't have to go up every aisle, but only to the aisles that have the goods you're planning to buy. Supermarkets have dozens of devious ways to tempt you to buy extra items. To get to the milk, for example, you may have to go to the back of the store, and therefore pass at least one aisle of merchandise. If the store has a written guide to the location of different types of products, use it, or ask a staff member for help.

* Be willing to crane, stoop and search the shelves when you're comparing prices on different products. Supermarkets want you to preference the items that are at eye level, and easy to take from the shelf, so they place the more expensive items on these shelves. Also, we read from left to right, so the more expensive items are positioned on the right - a good reason to focus on the goods positioned on the left-hand side.

* Pay attention to the tricks supermarket use to make you buy.
On your next shopping trip, focus on the way the goods are marketed to encourage you to buy them, and take note of your emotional reactions. Goods at either end of supermarket aisles are displayed in eye-catching ways; the stock bins dotted around the store don't always contain cut-price goods, although they may appear that way; gourmet foods are sometimes displayed in attractive small baskets, while vegetables may appear in display bowls conveniently located at eye level. Staying in the present and being aware of your perceptions means you notice the merchandising aspects of shopping and your reactions to them without being seduced.

* Beware of the shopping 'shoulds'.
If there is an item on your shopping list and something tells you not to buy, obey! This is really difficult when you're planning to entertain, as you're probably terrified of not having enough food. Trust your inner guidance: it knows better than you do how much food you will need.

* Remember that there are alternatives to the supermarkets, and they are often cheaper. Asian groceries sell dried goods such as rice, pulses and spices in bulk. Greengrocers and organic grocers also sell dried goods. Farmers markets are wonderful places to get fresh goods at cheap prices. Vegetable markets are the place for cheap fresh veggies and there's great atmosphere as well.

* If shopping with tired toddlers is unavoidable, plan your strategy in advance. Bring along some toys and healthy snacks, and have distraction plans at the ready for when the inevitable requests for junk food arise. Try not to let your child handle a junk food item because once they've done this it's much more likely you'll end up buying it. Also, once you give in to one tantrum, you're setting a dangerous precedent.

Want to find out how to save money and uncannily locate the groceries and other items that are right for you? Priced at just $6, The Inspired Shopper is your indispensible guide to fabulous budget shopping with soul!

If you enjoyed this post you might like 11 Positive Money Beliefs That Can Help You Save.

Until next time

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Be an Ethical, Frugal Fashionista: How to Shop Ethical When You're on a Budget


Many of us who adore fashion – me included – want to move towards more ethical ways of buying clothes. But that’s not an easy ask if you’re a budget fashionista. Despite the inroads it’s making into the mainstream, to some extent ethical, environmentally sustainable shopping is still a niche market for those who can afford sustainable designer threads, or those who can happily confine their wardrobes to organic cotton T-shirts, trousers and hoodies. (An exception is the UK, which is miles ahead.) So how do you shop ethically if you're also living frugal and on a strict budget?

If you want to buy new clothes cheaply in fashionable styles, it’s easier to source clothing that is ethically produced than clothing that is both ethically produced and completely sustainable. It is possible to combine the two, but your choices will be more limited. If you want both and your budget is low, you may be better off focusing primarily on secondhand clothes and supplementing your wardrobe with a few well-chosen new garments.

Having said that, there are some exciting options available, and they’re growing in number. The sustainability area is relatively new and very dynamic, with new brands and techniques coming on board all the time. Online stores offer some reasonably priced options, although of course you’ll need to take postage costs into account.

(BTW, I welcome any news from readers in this area. I’d particularly welcome any info about mainstream brands from non-Anglo countries that combine ethical manufacture and sustainability as well as offering great style. Because of time constraints and where the majority of readers are, I tend to confine my (limited) research to Anglo countries. If there are any stand-out brands that you think deserve a mention please let me know.)

Some of the options below, then, focus on ethically produced fashion in terms of workers’ rights rather than environmental sustainability. I’m not a full-on ethical shopper, although I’m moving nearer to it at a glacial pace. The tips below are advice to myself as much as to anyone else for shopping ethically on a budget.

* Don’t give up if you fail to be completely ethical and sustainable all at once. Make changes gradually.

* If you want to find ethical fashion on a budget, being proactive is the key. You can still rely on serendipity – great accidental finds – at op and thrift shops, but you’ll need to think ahead if you want to source the fashion you enjoy at a good price. You’ll also need to be a bit of a bowerbird, buying clothes from an eclectic range of sources. Don’t focus on just a few favourite brands or stores.

* Stake out upmarket secondhand clothes shops and designer recycling stores in your area and visit them regularly. In Australia, for example, Red Cross stores focus exclusively on selling secondhand clothes and accessories at cheap prices.

* If you love online shopping, explore the options for buying secondhand clothes online. No longer is your choice confined to eBay! Secondhand Posh sells recycled designer fashion in Australia. The Clothes Agency is a UK-based website selling secondhand (and new) clothes for a minimum listing fee. Etsy is a US-based marketplace specialising in handmade goods and vintage items, so you get a huge array of choice when it comes to both handmade and vintage clothes, and a great philosophy to boot (the handmade goods won’t all be sustainable).

* Ethical and sustainable fashion stores with high-priced clothes can still have great sales. One UK brand with online sale items at mainstream prices is Bibico. This brand is World Fair Trade certified, and the clothes are stylish. World Fair Trade certification focuses on ethical standards, but it does have a sustainability factor.

* Independent clothes stores in edgy, hip parts of town often have alternative fashion brands that are relatively cheap and yet aren’t mass produced.

* Some mainstream brands are committed to ethical manufacture, and are no more expensive than non-ethical, but they may not be green. In Australia, some of these brands don’t want to associate themselves with the move to ethical fashion and therefore don’t use their accreditation in their marketing. Sillies! I think they are grossly underestimating their customers. In Australia, these brands include Bardot and Cue, both known for their great style. A full and growing list of Australian accredited ethical fashion – only some of it proudly so! – can be found on the Ethical Clothing Australia website.

In the USA, American Apparel is an institution, offering middle-of-the-road, reasonably priced clothes that are ethically produced in the USA (according to their website – they don’t have any formal accreditation, but the info on the site is fairly thorough). Apart from some organic cotton options, most of the range isn’t necessarily environmentally sustainable.

If you live in the UK, you’re way ahead of us in this area. It really seems to be a vanguard of ethical and sustainable fashion. As more people buy ethical fashion it moves into the mainstream and the prices go down. People Tree in the UK has pioneered fashion that is both committed to fair trade standards and minimises environmental impact. The prices are a little higher than mainstream but they have excellent online sales.

* Clothes swapping is a wonderful way to reduce landfill as well as your carbon footprint. Threadswap is an Australian website that enables you to swap your unwanted clothing for credits that you then use to ‘buy’ clothes online. The Clothing Exchange runs regular swapping events in all Australian capital cities except Darwin and Hobart. The Swapaholics team holds regular fashion-swapping events in the USA, while details of UK events can be found on the Swishing website.

* The USA has a new, comprehensive accreditation system for fashion that takes sustainability into account as well as ethical employment practices. It’s early days yet and there’s not much choice offered by the retailers on the web page, although it’s good for basics.

* Visit flea markets regularly, as well as markets specialising in recycled fashion. In Victoria, markets selling recycled clothes occur periodically; for example, Take 2 Markets runs regular events in Geelong, Darebin and Hawthorn. Conduct an internet search to find out if events like this take place in your area.
* Finally, vintage clothing is such an obvious inclusion in this blog entry that I almost forgot it! But where do you start if you’re on the hunt for vintage threads? The Vintage Fashion Directory is a great guide to bricks-and-mortar vintage stores in Paris, London, LA and New York, and it look as if it will soon be enabling stores to sell online through the website. The Vintage Vault is a US online vintage boutique that offers a very long list of online vintage stores. And there is an Australian vintage fashion directory on Facebook.

Good luck in your quest for fair fashion, and remember I'm always thrilled to receive any news on this topic.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like Great tips for successful op and thrift shopping.
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