Could paying retail for off-the-rack clothes be immoral? Sure, why not? Everything else is. I expect it won’t be long before Joanne Woodward urges us to look for recycled logos on our shirt tags before we buy. But the idea of recycled clothes is something I won’t scoff at too much. In truth, I think it’s a dandy idea and I’ve been doing it for years. Not only have I saved a fair amount of my too scarce discretionary income, I’ve also managed to dress better than I have since my college days when Pop picked up the Marshall Field’s tab. (Another time I’ll rant about the name change from Marshall Field’s to Macy’s, that tradition-sniper in my beloved Midwest.) What prompted my descent into shopping heresy? Lots of things, but a commercial ad about a Rolex watch sent me over the edge.
About ten years ago I began seriously thinking about saving for retirement. Queasy stuff, especially when you’re headed for starvation if you lessen your paycheck by more than a worthless red cent, let alone if you shrink it considerably with a matching 401K contribution, no matter how much sense it makes. It’s a harsh reality that a lot of us out here are stupid when it comes to money. Ask Suze Orman. (She’s great, by the way. Sure, she made herself rich on our stupidity, but she is also lighting a path out of financial darkness as well.) Although Ms. Orman underscores often the need to value money over things, an admonition I’ve heard from her dozens of times, it was the ad about the Rolex watch that sparked my epiphany.
For years I’ve lusted, gracefully I hope, for a Rolex. As a stunning one, of the richest golden hue and sparkly diamonds, flashed full screen on my TV one evening, I made no attempt to turn from temptation. Since I was eating my supper, a napkin to catch the drool bubbling over my lip was handy. The velvety voice began its pitch: “When you’re 25 years old, there is nothing that says success like a RolexÃ¢Â?Â¦” (something like that), “but if you put that $5000 into a retirement fund, you’d be a millionaire by the time you’re 60.” I’ve butchered the ad copy, but the message is clear, right? Does a Rolex speak to success or does having a million bucks in the bank when you’re 60? If you already have your million dollars, (according to Republicans, there’s plenty to go around), perhaps you don’t fit my target audience. On the other hand, as Jack Sparrow, make that Captain Jack Sparrow, beg pardon, might grin, fortunes do change, savvy? At any rate, the message remains clear: before you spend, even if it’s $5.00 for a burger, let alone $5,000 for a Rolex, question the wisdom of the purchase by weighing it against the reality of your retirement. Which brings us back to the clothes on our backs. Let me urge you to read my ten good reasons NOT to buy retail clothes. All ten examples are fact-based from personal first-hand experience.
1. On my last trip to Goodwill, I bought five cotton stretch camis, all next-to-new. Pink, red, yellow, white and brown. The pink and white ones were Liz Claiborne, the yellow one was from Express and the white one was from Old Navy. (I admit that the brown one, just the right color, was not a name brand and might even have been from Wal Mart.) The $17.50 I spent for all five items would not have gotten me even one Liz Claiborne cami. Conservatively speaking, I had $50 to bank. At retail prices, let’s face it, I personally would never have bought five shells in the first place. At least not in the same trip.
2. My weakness is jackets. The Salvation Army is my salvation and it can be yours as well. Admittedly the $8.00 I spent for the London Fog slate-grey and black lined jacket, NWT (New with Tags) was a splurge for me, but it fit too perfectly to ignore.
3. How about that EBAY? My daughter loved the black nylon, NWT Donna Karan sport utility pants I sent her for Christmas. It was a gift; I spent $20.00. Sure, it takes some time to find these bargains, but time, in this case, is truly money.
4. Speaking of eBay, I think it’s fair to add to my retirement kitty the $60.00 I made from selling two Christmas sweaters from ten years ago and a pair of Levi 501 Blues my son had hardly worn. Size 36/36. A hard to find item. There’s profit to be made from other people like myself who aren’t afraid to shun the retail stores. If you haven’t already done so, buying and selling on eBay is a trip worth taking, regardless of your financial peg.
5. As to profits, it warms the heart to remember that Goodwill, the Salvation Army, along with most second-hand boutiques, are not-for profit businesses. Patronage does make a difference to the well being of our society as a whole. If you’ve ever had the bad fortune to be in the after-wrath of a natural disaster, you know that the Salvation Army is your pal.
6. Even second-hand stores have their “exclusive” aisles. A boutique section at Goodwill may hint at oxymoron, but it’s a legit way to find great bargains and save time as well. All designer clothes, either next-to-new or NWT, are separated out for easy finding. The price often doubles however. I paid $7.00 for my favorite Ralph Lauren turquoises blouse with the RL on the pocket.
7. Not all sorters at the second-hand store know their labels. I give myself a double bonus in the savings account when I find designer pieces hanging out on wire with the commoners. Because JJill is not in everyone’s shopping lexicon, I spotted three of their skirts for $3.49 the other day in the non-com section. Size 6. Not sweet. I would have bought them for gifts, but I know no one who wears an underfed shrimp size 6.
8. If time is money to you, as it is to me, when you’re in search of a pair of black crop pants, could anything be quicker than going into a store where clothes are sorted by color? Before I took off on my annual December trip to Arizona last year, I spent 15 minutes in Goodwill and walked out with a pair of black-cropped Ann Taylor pants. In this case, the $85 I saved went toward my trip.
9. Kids. Kids grow like weeds. Kids want shirts with characters on them. Knock yourself out getting all types of cute and stylish outfits for your kids.
10. How about convenience? There is a Goodwill Store, Salvation Army, second-hand boutique, or discount store like Steinmart or Value City “right around the corner.” Within 10 miles of where I live on the north side of Indianapolis, there is a large Goodwill store and nifty Salvation Army store, both of which draw donations from the rich northern suburbs; additionally there is a Steinmart store 5 minutes from my house. Even though their designer clothes (all new) are bargains, their sales are fabulous and they draw me in the door time and again.
In ten years I have saved $4,000 on clothes and I have put that money toward my company retirement account. Thanks to matching funds and appreciation, my $4,000 has become $10,000, all based on the common sense decision to forsake buying clothes at retail. I’ve been slumming in the bargain bins for so long I no longer wear a wig and glasses when going into a second hand shop. I do, however, admit to having a gold Rolex watch with diamonds. It’s from Bali and it took me ten minutes to get the vendor in front of the Bounty hotel in Kuta to come off his $5.00 asking price. In the end, I paid $2.50. That barter took place before Islamic militants blew up the Bounty Hotel. Today I would gladly pay the $5.00, but I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back there. I keep a bit of my saved booty under a figurative mattress now, because you never know, do you?