Living decently at a low income level takes a certain attitude and skill set, both of which can take years to develop. Sadly, many folks nowadays don’t have that kind of time. Downsizing, foreclosure, and bankruptcy have upended millions of lives, yet these people need to look and feel their best more than ever. How is a member of the nouveau-poor going to stay looking professional and presentable?
The answer is thrift; or, more specifically, T.H.R.I.F.T., an awesome acronym I just developed to help make sense of the strange, new world of low-cost living in which formerly middle-class people may now find themselves. Here’s how it breaks down:
T is for thrift shops.
H is for habits.
R is for redundancy.
I is for investments.
F is for fix-its.
T is for trade-ins.
Allow me to elaborate, and follow up with photographs.
Thrift shops are one of the finest and most reliable sources for good, cheap clothing and goods of all kinds. I’ve written about them before, within the context of subversive commerce, and still believe in them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that everything I’m wearing right now (save for my underwear, socks, watch, and wedding ring) came from one thrift shop or another. Odds are there’s at least one somewhere near you, or on your usual rounds: stop in next time. Then stop in again the time after that; this leads to…
Habits, in this sense, meaning going back fairly regularly to these thrift shops. Their inventory turns over with alarming frequency, and is changeable as spring weather, so it pays to be both persistent and consistent. Having a checklist of things you actually need (topcoat, briefcase, etc.) can help minimize the “impulse trap” that besets even the most seasoned thrifter. We “make the rounds” on grocery days, thus combining trips and saving gas.
Redundancy means having more than one of whatever-it-is that you feel you can’t do without-umbrella, bicycle, rail gun, or what-have-you. That way, if your main thing gets broken/stained/lost/eaten, you can get by with the backup while you patiently look for a good deal on a replacement, instead of having to rush out and replace it at retail. Secondly, it helps reduce wear and tear on things. Take shoes, for an obvious example. If I wore the same pair every day, they wouldn’t last nearly as long as if I only wore them twice a week.
Investments are items that are worth dropping some coin on because they are going to last and stay useful for many years. For instance, I have a pair of Maine Hunting Shoes (modeled below, first picture) from L.L. Bean, lined with Gore-Tex and Thinsulate, that cost me the princely sum of $125 back in 1989. Just last year I had them re-soled for roughly $40. So that’s $165/22= $7.50 per year, not counting the next batch of years I’ll get out of the new soles. Not bad.
Fix-its refers to minor adjustments, alterations, and/or repairs that can extend the life of an object by orders of magnitude. The aforementioned boots are an example, as is the suit I found on consignment for $60 that needed $10 worth of hemming to fit like it meant to. I keep a tin can on the dryer for holding loose buttons until I have time to match and mend them. What? You say you’re a guy, and sewing is…what did you call it? “Woman’s work?” Unlike being an astronaut or Secretary of State? Let me get this straight: you’re willing to spend all day rebuilding a computer or motorcycle but you can’t be bothered to sew a button on your shirt? Well, as King Arthur said to the Black Knight, “You make me sad. So be it! Come, Patsy!”…or something like that. Seriously, if you think this way you need to get over yourself.
Trade-ins are the things you either sell (at a yard sale, on consignment, or on Craigslist) or give away (perhaps to the very same thrift shops), since you’ve replaced them with swell upgrades from thrifting. So, that sketchy old messenger bag can go away once you score a sweet leather briefcase, the cheap disposable ballpoint leaves in favor of the vintage Parker or Cross pen you scored, and so on. “One in, one out” is a good standard, not that we all achieve it. (And I’ll have a “show ‘n tell” for stuff down the road.) This keeps the household clutter level down, which is a great way to feel on top of the game.
So, those are the basics. I’ll go into more detail in future posts about how I transformed from this unbecoming specimen:
into this enterprising man-of-the-world:
For less than $100. (Socks and underwear included.)