I’m currently sitting in my office, with Franz Ferdinand blaring from the stereo. Ron Swanson’s bobblehead guards the one corner of my desk, while the other part is guarded by Jamie and Adam from Mythbusters, along with a couple of extra Diet Pepsi bottles.
In case that first paragraph wasn’t depressing enough for you, allow me to continue. I’m currently shoeless, wearing socks, jeans, and a dress shirt from The Hudson Room, which is a brand sold by Hudson’s Bay.
Such a dress shirt normally sold for $59.99. I picked mine up for $12–a discount of 80%.
How did I do it? Magic? Thievery? Charming people into giving me a deal? Nah, especially the third one. I can barely charm more than two napkins out of the Subway attendant. WHY ARE YOU SO STINGY? THEY’RE JUST NAPKINS. EVIL BASTARD.
It’s simple. I buy my dress clothes second-hand.
It all started back in about 2009.
I used to have a very specific clothes buying strategy that consisted of me going to the hottest employee in a store and telling her to find me some cheap, not ugly dress shirts in my size. This worked pretty well, actually. Most of the time these ladies seemed glad to help.
I was then dragged into Value Village by my grandmother, who was looking for a new dress. Because shopping with your grandmother is worse than death, I made a mad dash to the men’s section. I browsed, really not expecting to find anything worth buying. After all, Value Village is full of reject clothes.
And there it was.
It was a brand new dress shirt, a good brand that has long slipped my memory. It still had the price tag on it. $70.
I could buy it for $10.
I examined it closely, determined to find the fatal flaw. After all, I’ve been investing long enough to know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There had to be something wrong with it.
I checked the stitching up and down the sides, looking for loose threads. I checked the armpits and the neck for that gross brown sweat stain that builds up over time. Each of the buttons was examined and reexamined.
As far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with it. So I went to try it on.
It fit, so I decided to buy it, mostly as a science experiment. I wore it to work the next day (this was back when I was a mortgage broker/realtor), and just sort of hung around the office’s two women. I awaited their feedback with all together too much enthusiasm.
“Hey Nels. Is that a new shirt?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“It looks nice. Where’d you get it?”
“Seriously, where’d you get it? I want to buy one for my husband.”
“Well, I bought it at Value Village. It was $10.”
“Good choice. It looks like a $100 shirt.”
And that was all the encouragement I needed. I became a Value Village devotee.
There is one exception. I don’t buy my underwear there. That’s just gross.
Not just Value Village
Value Village isn’t the only place to buy second-hand stuff. The internet has made it much easier to to through other people’s junk.
20 years ago, going to yard sales was a morning-long affair, even in my small town. Dad would load up the kids in the car, cut out the list of sales from the local paper, and off we’d go.
I didn’t hate going to yard sales. I liked going browsing through the unique items, and I knew my chances of getting my parents to buy me something was much greater if it was 80% off retail.
Fortunately, yard sales really aren’t a thing anymore. You can accomplish the same thing on the internet in a fraction of the time using Facebook and Kijiji.
Here’s how you do it.
First, find your city’s buy and sell page, and its auction page. Trust me, they exist.
Now there’s two ways you can go about buying stuff on these pages. There’s the easy way when you’re looking for a specific item, and the hard way, which is browsing for deals. Feel free to use one or both, depending on your goals.
The easy way is to use the “search group” function. Type in what you’re looking for, and go to town. Use the same strategy on Kijiji, although be warned, there aren’t that many people who still use Kijiji. Facebook has taken over the market.
Case study: used washer
Used appliances are probably the most inefficient market I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing.
No buyer trusts someone selling a used washing machine. Why would the seller replace a perfectly good washing machine? Even if it does work, the average person doesn’t have the tools needed to transport it home, and most want that sweet, sweet one-year warranty that comes with buying new.
Because these barriers exist, you can make bank buying used appliances.
A friend sold his used washer a few months ago. There was nothing wrong with it; he just replaced it because he got a free front-loader from his parents, who decided to replace their whole set.
So he threw the old one on the Facebook bidding wars, with an opening bid of $50.
He didn’t get a bite, so he lowered the opening bid to $30. After a furious 24 hours of bidding, he got… wait for it…
Naturally, he was pissed. Sure, it was 10 years old, but the thing still worked. He never had an issue with it.
His story sealed it. When my washer dies, I’m buying a used one. If a new washer is $600, and I buy one for $50, I”m saving 92%.
The browsing method
The browsing method is the most similar to going to yard sales. At least you don’t have to put on pants to do so.
Basically, you go on Facebook and scroll…
Looking for stuff to buy. Some of this stuff might be things you need, but most of it will likely be stuff you can flip. Take advantage of markets you know well to make a little extra cash.
The big problem with the browsing method? It’s easy to get sucked into a Facebook wormhole, emerging 45 minutes later with disheveled clothes smelling vaguely of gin. Even if you already smell like gin, this isn’t a good use of your time.
And there you go
Embracing the second-hand market has saved me a lot of money over the years, even if the average person assumes I’m poor for buying my dress shirts at the thrift store. Go ahead. Make fun. I’m getting the same stuff as you, for 50%, 75%, even 95% off. Who’s laughing now?