You may remember that one reason we wanted to try our 2014 Buy Nothing Challenge (BNC) is that we felt our spending was getting out of control, even though we already bought most of our stuff used. We wrote that "during garage sale season we still look at shopping as a form of entertainment, and we go a bit crazy impulse buying more than we need (because it only costs $1!). Then some of our new purchases clutter our house for weeks before we find a use or a place for it all.”
This weekend was the Mt. Horeb Village Wide Garage Sale days, which we've been going to for over a decade, and we found that, in spite of our BNC, we couldn't resist going this year either. Even though it's true that we overbuy at garage sales, it is also our only opportunity to get some really useful things at prices we can afford. For us, it’s often either buy it used or we're not able to afford it at all.
So our compromise was this: we would go to the garage sales, but anything we bought would have to come out of our $300 allowances. Since I'm holding tight to what's left of my $300, this made me feel confident that I wouldn't buy anything that I didn't really need, or that at least I wouldn't purchase a lot of unimportant little things that were cheap individually, but added up to a lot of money at the end of the weekend.
I took Friday off, picked Bear up from work at 1 pm, and we headed to the more than 100 garage sales that were being held in Mt. Horeb. We both realized that we weren’t nearly as excited about it this year since our spending was limited. This year would be more about getting things we needed, which is not as fun as feeling the thrill of impulse buying (why exactly is that thrilling?). We also found that as we drove around town we were much more selective about which sales we were willing to get out of the car for. There is certainly a lot of stuff at garage sales that we do not want and that likely nobody wants, and finding the good stuff is like a treasure hunt. So unlike previous years, we only stopped at sales that looked like they had a lot of stuff to choose from, and that weren’t the houses that held a sale every year (how much good stuff can they have to get rid of year after year?). Bear says that after working 8 hours (and because of the BNC restrictions) the sale had to look very interesting for him to drag his tired butt out of the car.
Nesting glass mixing bowls with plastic lids
(Somehow we broke all our mixing bowls this year. These are $25 new)
Futon chair bed (for unfurnished attic room)
Hot dogs, treats (I was too busy gardening
in the AM, so didn’t take time to eat lunch)
Down pillow (Bear's pillows were losing
feathers at an alarming rate) $5
Four Guided Meditation CDs (I am trying to meditate more) $1
A book on making Chicago Style pizza $1
Bear bought 12 Ultimate Fighting
For me, it was the pizza book. Even though it was only $1, I did debate with myself about whether or not I needed it. I was introduced to this particular style of pizza when I went to college in Chicago. We thought we were in heaven if we could afford to buy a stuffed pizza on the weekend. I’d unsuccessfully tried making it myself before, and the book had procedures I hadn't tried, so I got it. To prove to myself further that it was not a wasted purchase, I went home that night and made a stuffed pizza. It did not taste like I remembered from college, but it was the closest I'd come so far, and I can work on adjusting the flavor to match what I remember.
We weren’t supposed to go to garage sales on Saturday, but I managed to talk myself (and Bear) into it. It was supposed to rain on Sunday, so I planned to stay home and garden on Saturday. But there was a really chill breeze in the morning, and I was really tired because the cats had woken me up early, so I convinced myself I should wait until the afternoon, when it would be warmer, to work in the yard. After all our analyzing of reasons to go or not go to garage sales, I remembered that last year during garage sale weekends I had bought a weather station that we had never installed. I pulled it out and found that I needed some pvc and lithium batteries to install it. This necessitated going to the hardware store in Mt. Horeb, so naturally I decided we might as well stop at some garage sales at the same time. So I used this as an excuse to wake up Bear (at 9 am), and we were off again.
Bear here: What Theresa didn't know was that I was watching dumb but entertaining videos on YouTube Friday night and didn't fall asleep until after 3 am. So... on little sleep I could choose to do garden work in the cold or drive around and treasure hunt most of the morning. I would rather drive around, but I coudn't really build up too much enthusiasm about shopping because I already got what I wanted on Friday (those DVDs).
Saturday there were a lot of "might be useful later" opportunities I passed up because I did not want to use up my $300 allowance. Chances are I will find a use for the stuff I didn't buy and kick myself later. For now, I'm not kicking myself because this is how a lot of money gets wasted without really understanding it's been wasted.
Bear's question: There's so much stuff that could be useful at garage sales that is easy to store, it's hard to resist buying it. But is it frugal to buy something you might use because it's cheap now, or is it more frugal to not buy it and take a chance of having to pay full price for it it when you need it in the future?
cutting board, sketch pad,
notebook with lined paper, bamboo garden stakes, sturdy small cheese grater,
broiling pan, shelf liner
netting- possible use for new catio, if not, can use as garden trellis
alarm clock designed so that when the cat sits on it the time does not change itself
fencing, artwork for new catio,
box of wood screws,
bird house in good shape,
PVC for weather station,
3 prong electric cord
pressure cooker $5
large gallon jar for pantry storage $.25
a better feather pillow $3
foam wedge for leg elevation during sleep $1
portable CD player so I can listen to the meditation CDs I bought yesterday
during my commute to work $1.50
Saturday Total: $12.40 each
GRAND TOTAL SPENT BY BOTH OF US BOTH DAYS: $79.50
These were our best bargains:
T-fal Calipso stainless steel pressure cooker for $5 is selling for $80 on Ebay- or if you buy a new one of this quality it looks like they’re well over $100. The person selling this said he got it from a garage sale, but had never used it. I also have a very old aluminum one from a garage sale I’ve never used because I can’t figure out how to cook safely with it. But this one looked newer and appeared to have the safety features I've read about. I was able to get a manual for it from this website: hippressurecooking.com.
The website also seems to have a lot of information about why pressure cookers are so great, how to use them, and recipes. I've been wanting to try a pressure cooker because it cooks so much faster. Dry beans that take 1 1/2 hours on the stove cook in less than 30 minutes in a pressure cooker. It may revolutionize the way I cook with bulk items from my pantry. And because it cooks so much faster, it saves resources.
Futon bed chair, cushion and wood frame, for $20- I had trouble finding a price for this online- similar ones were in Euros, which converted to between $100-$200. We've put this in our somewhat unfinished attic retreat room. We currently have no comfortable seating there, nor any beds. The futon chair will help me be able to take retreats before we get around to completing the renovations.
Keyboard arm tray for $15- would be at least $100 new. This will bring the keyboard to the right height to be ergonomically correct for me, which will help the pain I have in my shoulders, arms, and wrists when I type too much. I’m cheating and calling this computer equipment, which is part of our list of exceptions, so it doesn’t have to come out of my $300.
Greg Garious here (Bear's alter-bargain hunting-ego): You can't save money in stores by asking, "Can you do any better on this?" or "What's the best you can do on this?" but at garage sales you can get away with it. Bartering can be fun. It's nice to find bargain prices on items I'm looking for: what are $6 DVDs in the resale store I find for $1. Theresa tells me that I should mention that I am totally shameless when it comes to bartering and will make outrageously underpriced offers on anything, which people are willing to take. Even if something is priced really cheap at a garage sale, you can often make an offer for less and still take your find home. People often seem to be happy just to be rid of it, at any price. Theresa is sometimes embarrassed by my ultra-bargaining- to which I say "Wah."
Greg was very subdued this year because of not wanting more crap around the house and the BNC, but he did have business cards for our website to hand out, so got to use his gregarious super powers to chat without being greedy.
From Theresa: Village wide garage sales are wonderful places to shop for deals if you don’t get out of control. Obviously, you can save a lot of money and buy things that are in perfect or near-perfect condition, and often still in the unopened original box. Each town in our area holds theirs on a specific weekend each summer (see their village or chamber of commerce websites for dates).
We met someone this weekend from Arizona who was quite amazed at the village wide phenomena and wondered if it was a Mid-West thing. She seemed very excited, but also overwhelmed by the opportunity. There are so many sales taking place at a time that there are often several near each other on a street so you can park and walk to them. It’s sort of the used shopper’s version of a mall. Here's the map of the 100 official sales in Mt. Horeb (with a few in nearby Blue Mounds), and there are many more unofficial ones not listed:
Some people might find shopping for used items beneath them, but I’m good with it. I'd rather other people's unwanted items end up in my house than in the garbage. It's a great form of recycling.
Bear notes that garage sales are also good because it gives our cats new stuff to sniff.
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Why Garage Sales Can Be Bad
From Theresa: On Sunday morning I felt like finding storage space for all the stuff we bought was more a chore than fun. Some purchases can take up space for a long time before they get put to use, or end up in your own garage sale. It took us a year to finally install the weather station I bought, and to use a very large stuffed alligator that Bear bought in last year's garage sale finds.
When Bear tried to talk about this year's purchases, he couldn't remember very many of them. I also find that when I return to work after garage sale weekends I can't remember what I bought when my co-workers ask me. I always take this as a sign that we bought more than we really needed.
There's also a danger of overbuying because you can garage sale on multiple weekends in each town's village wide garage sale. In previous years we've given ourselves a set amount to spend for the season, but ended up spending that amount each weekend instead.
We did buy some things on Saturday that we didn’t strictly need, because they were so cheap, and we were both surprised that our grand total for the weekend was $80, showing that the little purchases really do matter because they add up unexpectedly. It would have been easy to double our total if it wasn't for the BNC, and we both acknowledge that we've probably spent hundreds of dollars at garage sales in previous seasons.
When I tell people that I'm not buying something because of our Buy Nothing Challenge, including people at garage sales, they often respond with something like, "But it's okay to buy a little something for yourself sometimes" or "you need to splurge on yourself sometimes." But why is this true, I want to ask? It seems a peculiarly consumer driven attitude. I agree that most of us probably need to treat ourselves better than we do, but why does that mean we have to buy ourselves something? Wouldn't it be better to give ourselves time? Why can't it mean we decide to take a nap on Saturday afternoon instead of cleaning the house, or relax in long, hot candle-lit bath, or cuddle with our partner in front of the fire instead of watch TV on Friday night? I think we're taught that buying things will make us happy- but I don't think it's true. I think all the little somethings we buy for ourselves add up to a lot of money that hurt our budgets and make us unhappy.
Like many things, garage sales are good in moderation. We got some great deals, and we didn't use up the $300 allowance we each have for the year. Here's where we currently stand with our Buy Nothing Challenge- the year is more than one third over and we've spent:
Theresa $ 117.40
Bear $ 145.53