Updated on 01.01.10

A Day with My Wife

Trent Hamm

Last Tuesday, I spent an afternoon shopping with my wife.

On the surface, it sounds like something we would have done five years ago, charging out to the stores, credit card in hand.

Things were a little different this time, though.

For one, we came home with fewer items than we left with. For two, we spent less than ten dollars all afternoon.

What did we wind up with? A newly refreshed living room, materials for another handmade toy for our child, and some adorable clothes for our rapidly-growing daughter.

Here’s the big shopping secret: we went thrifting.

That morning, my wife and I went through all of our children’s toys and reduced the total volume by about fifty percent, getting rid of items that the children simply didn’t play with that we felt wouldn’t have a ton of resale value at a yard sale. We filled up a large tub with the items and departed, dropping those items off as a donation.

Of course, while we were there, we also looked around the store for clothes for our daughter, as she’s rapidly jumping up in sizes. We found several very nice items for her – including a few that still had tags on them, including items from Baby Gap and similar places.

We also went through their true bargain basement items and salvaged a few sweaters. Why? We utilize old sweaters to make Silly Snakes for our kids (and for other kids, too).

We came home with two small bags of items, having spent less than $10. We also came home to a much emptier family room, one that has more than adequate space for the new toys our children received for Christmas. We also got to spend a (rare) afternoon together, just the two of us.

This is how frugal people live their lives. It’s not weird or uncomfortable or un-fun. We do the same things everyone else does. We update our children’s wardrobes. We work on craft projects. We spend time together shopping.

The only difference is that we start our children’s clothes shopping at the secondhand store instead of at the Baby Gap – and we often wind up with the same exact items of clothing. We focus on projects that utilize materials that are extremely inexpensive to begin with. And when we go shopping, we consider it a virtue to get a lot of bang for every dollar we spend – and the most important part is the time we spend together.

The real trick with frugality in modern life often isn’t figuring out ways to spend less. It’s getting past the mountains of marketing messages and cultural norms that revolve around spending.

There’s almost always an inexpensive way to do the thing you want to do. The question is whether or not you can see it through all of the mixed messages.

Luckily, on a day with my wife, we work together on it.

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  1. Christina says:

    I actually prefer to shop at thrift stores, in a way. I love the thrill of finding great deals. And I also love leaving a store without the guilty feeling of spending too much money.

  2. kat says:

    The only thing I would have done differently was to sort the toys before Xmas, and donate the ones in really good shape to a local shelter for the kids there.

  3. Jenny says:

    I love it! That sounds like a great afternoon.

  4. I love thrift store shopping. But you do have to be careful.. it’s easy for those little expenditures to add up fast. I like to keep a list of things I’m on the lookout for, so that I don’t do too much impulse buying at the thrift store!

  5. Bonnie says:

    Wow, Trent, this was probably one of the most enlightening posts I’ve read from you. I really enjoy these types of posts, because it really shows how people manage that balance between frugality & consumerism. Now if only I could get DH on board. He’s the typical type that thinks only poor people shop at thrift stores and it would be awful to be perceived as poor. I wish our thrift stores were as well-stocked where I live. Here, people have large extended families and kids clothes/toys get passed around among children and families until they’re only good for rags, so very little of it makes its way into thrift stores. On the other hand, I’ll also inherit all of my nephews’ hand-me-downs for my own children, so it pays not to be the first in your family to have children.

  6. Auntielle says:

    Great post, Trent. Really nice to know that you and Sarah were able to have some time out just for the two of you.

    There’s a thrift store in my area that has TONS of clothes, including racks upon racks of Levis – or, I guess I should say “blue jeans” of all brands. The thrift shop does a beautiful job; it’s obvious that the jeans have all been washed and well pressed. The normal price is around $4.00, but they have Half-Price Days – so it’s very possible to scoop up jeans (including designer labels), jean skirts, jean jumpers and denim overalls for only $2.00 each. Many of these items have YEARS of wear left in them, too. Can’t imagine why anyone would want to discard those comfy “broken-in” jeans, but I’m happy to bring them home. At that price, you could pick up enough denim to use in craft projects as well: blue jean purses, quilts, etc.

    It pays to check out ALL the thrift shops in your area; some tend to have a terrible selection of, children’s toys, for example, but a fantastic supply of something else – such as the jeans described above. There is a thrift shop in East Long Beach (CA) that obviously receives donations from “well-to-do” sponsors (it is a charity-run shop), and I’ve picked up some GREAT decorative vintage pieces for my home.

  7. Kathy says:

    Looks at the comfy broken in jeans that no longer fit and wonders why she hasn’t donated them to Goodwill yet.

  8. Great story. It is a law of thrift store karma that you will find good and needed items after you donate. If you don’t find what you need, that means you need to donate more!

  9. Little House says:

    I love the “Silly Snakes” idea. You could probably also make sweater/sock puppets for your kids to play with and help them create a puppet theater with painted cardboard. I know your kids are still little, but even kids under 5 like puppets!

    I don’t have kids, but I’ve noticed that you can get great baby clothes as thrift stores for 1/4 of the price. Babies grow so quickly they don’t out-wear their clothing!

  10. Leah says:

    I did this over christmas with my dad! We hit a few thrift stores, spent an afternoon together, and didn’t spend a crazy amount. I get all my jeans from thrift stores. I favor Gap and American Eagle jeans, and I never have a problem finding a pair or two in my size.

    to Bonnie, you might try looking at thrift stores when you travel. I live an hour away from the Twin cities, and the thrift stores in my town aren’t the best. My boyfriend and I make time to thrift when we’re already headed up to the cities to visit friends or go to an event, and I always thrift when I go visit my parents in Seattle.

  11. deRuiter says:

    Look for those special items! In Dublin you can buy lovely fisherman’s sweaters in the thrifts because the people want new, and different stuff. I bought a suitcase full of the fisherman sweaters (each family knits a different design so when a fishing boat went down and bodies washed up on shore you could identify who was whom after a long while in the water, by the knitting pattern of the sweater) in that lovely ivory colored wool. Wore one there, it was cold. When I got home I had them cleaned at the discount dry cleaners for $3.25 each and sold them on ebay. Ditto 6 books bought for 3 Euros for all, which sold for $9.99 each for 5 and $60. for one from 1907 about tea plantations in I think it was Maylasia. Always LOOK in the thrifts! Great bargains!

  12. Nancy says:

    Has anyone tried the Silly Snakes pattern? There are no instructions, just some PDFs to download and use as patterns. I’d love to try to make some but would like a little more guidance than simply black and white patterns with no instructions at all! Thanks.

  13. Money Funk says:

    I ditto that message about get past the mountains of marketing. Once you realize that message you see how sucked in media has the average consumer.

    Great job on the thrifting and spending time with the wife.

  14. Louise says:

    I LOVE thrift-store shopping! I discovered this when my son was a baby; it’s crazy to pay full price for something that may be worn only a handfull of times. Also, after my son lost 2 jackets at school, I resolved to only buy them at thrift stores. There’s a great store here where I find Ralph Lauren shirts for him (look like they were never worn) for less than $2! In fact, I now do most of his clothes shopping at thrift stores, and he’s one of the best-dressed kids in his class!

  15. Louise says:

    Another thing: I find that a lot of thrift-store stuff is something that was “too good” for everyday use (bought by an indulgent grandma, perhaps), and was outgrown before the kid even wore it. That’s why my kid wore very expensive Kitestring sweaters when he was little, bought for $4 – $5 each.

  16. Annie Binns says:

    I just wrote about a similar experience. I thrift shop regularly and at least every OTHER trip I find an absolute TREASURE – something totally unexpected and perfect for either me or someone I know (last time it was a book for my sister). In my family, you are considered a much better gift-giver if you do NOT purchase a new item.

  17. Steffie says:

    I found that when my man and I go to the thrift store we often talk about stuff that we don’t/can’t talk about when we have the children with us. And sometimes an object at the thrift store will trigger a memory which helps us learn more about each other and where we came from, why we think the way we do or why we do something the way we do it. Plus he is tall (6’6) and can see the top shelf of the knick/knack section!

  18. Griffin says:

    Your sweater snakes idea gives me an idea:

    Take a sweater, cut off the sleeves, cut the chest/back area in half and use that to stuff the sleeves. Sew the ends and you have a draft/door/window snake. Voila!

  19. Danielle says:

    Honestly, my favorite thing about this post is that it sounds like you had a fun date with your wife, rekindled your relationship, and paid nothing for it other than the cost of a few items needed for your family.

    This, for me, is like grocery shopping with my husband when the stores aren’t busy. No direct cost for the time together, but special to our relationship nonetheless.

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