Thrifty

Cookie Jars, LostBefore the fire, Russ and I were frequenting thrift stores and estate sales to find things to up-cycle, re-purpose or re-sell for our vintage and handmade business. Our treasures were available (and will be again) online at Etsy.com shops Six Degrees and Lost Vacation and in booths at local Antiques and Interiors stores. Woodstock Antiques and Queen of Hearts in Marietta
We love the manufacturing standards of older things as well as giving new life to things that might otherwise be lost forever. The treasure and bargains that you can find are amazing, especially in an affluent and densely populated area like the one we live in.

We also find things that friends and family are looking for. When I see something that makes me think of them, they may get a “Hey do you want..?” call, text or photo. Some of my stories of bargains sound great, just like those shows on cable. Sometimes I see a sofa or a trinket that I have… scratch that…had, or that my grandmother had. Finding those “usta haves” will be important now. But, it is a take what you find kind of pursuit. In a full price store, you know what to expect and have a reasonable idea whether or not the thing you want might be on the shelf. In a thrift store, you can find great bargains, but the stellar price may not be on the something that should take up space in your own life, business or hoarder home. So, how practical can it be to rely heavily on a commitment to thrift store purchases for replacing the must haves?

If you are up-cycling or reselling there’s a lot in knowing what things are and what they are currently worth. But it is hit or miss even then. Some thrift stores charge as much as some retail stores (I’ve even seen things priced as much as double retail), but they don’t offer returns or warranties, believing that dedication to their cause will get enough customers to buy their wares. And there is all of the time and gas involved.

After the fire, Russ and I wondered how much of our world we could put back together in thrift stores, estate sales and auctions. We’ve had some good finds, but are they good enough to justify the time and expenses as anything more than a hobby or an amusement? We were working on finding out if what was primarily my pursuit born of unemployment could grow into a realistic replacement career. We had built our stock and planned for a strong and busy holiday season that would boost this pursuit into a full fledged business, but it is not a metaphor to say that it all went up in smoke.

And then there is the time component of the up-cycles. It makes great entertainment to see a save on a show like Storage Wars when a cast member makes a great up-cycle from old junk into cool stuff, but they never talk about how much time that takes, especially if you don’t have a team of helpers to get it done on the filming schedule. Those shows give the numbers people want to consider, actual purchase price versus potential sales price without regard for time, gas, storage, marketing or other expenses. In other words, they ignore all of the inconvenient real costs for the camera. There are clear winners on the occasional miss in the pricing departments of most thrift stores, but do the bargains come often enough? That is our experiment. To call it a success, we believe that it has to justify the time spent, just like work. If I put a year into this and haven’t saved at least as much money as I would earn working at something else, then I would have been better off doing something else.

Few people have a fire sweep their lives, and adding up the real costs? That doesn’t make as good a show as just looking at the fun and interesting parts, so why would I put all of this time into writing a blog about this stuff? Even though a fire isn’t the most common thing, many people do have to start over for any number of reasons and when they do, it’s pretty daunting. So many decisions, and no time to make them be the best ever. So whether you are overloaded by a reboot, or just looking for some weekend project or entertainment, I hope that I can share something fun or interesting with you.

So that is what we will find out, that is what this blog is about now.

How much of our lives and our business can we recreate second hand through thrift stores, estate sales and any other source out there in three R land?

Soon we will have the name and look that my tech advisor recommended, but all the old content will still be in the background.

Goodwill and the Economy Co-Evolve

by Karen

Thomasville, GA Television Display

Thomasville, GA Television Display

As a long-time supporter of Goodwill, both as a donor and as a customer, I was glad to see some of the savvy marketing and new technology that they are using. I was shopping Goodwill and other thrift stores long before Shabby Chic was chic. Back when the economy was growing and conspicuous consumption was the nation’s modus operandi, I was still shopping for a good cause while also recycling unwanted household items for that same good cause. The deals were better for a shopper when I was not in the majority and the demand was lower, but they are still good now, and given the same deal at Goodwill and an overstock store, I will give the business to Goodwill or another non-profit when I can.

Russ and I have been on a big Goodwill kick lately. We have opened an account with Etsy for some of our current crafts and plan to expand with time. We have seen a few crafts that are “green” using recycled items from thrift stores to become something else. We are looking for that unique breakthrough idea that sings, and when it sings, it needs to sing “art” and nothing less.

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

Media shelves, Thomasville, GA

It has been a blast so far. We sought out the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on our recent trip through the area. Would this Goodwill be different? What might we find there in the Secret City? It was a nice store and there was a much larger Science Fiction book section than I have ever seen at any other Goodwill Otherwise there was not too terribly much to distinguish it from other locations.

We did find interesting differences in other Tennessee towns. We found some with new stock as well as the regular recycled donations. I asked if new stock was becoming typical and the storekeeper told me that all Goodwill stores in her district carried new stock, that employees went on buying trips and that some merchandise had come from “the shopping network.” This was news to me, though I did not find anything at this location that moved me to the point of purchase. There are a lot of shifts taking place in charity and overstock outlets as the current economic conditions have a larger segment of the population looking for discounts, bargains and other forms of frugal spending options. These shifts have some charity organizations scrambling to replace good that were once donated as seconds, but now have a market in discount stores. At the same time, the price gap in second hand and second quality stores closes in to reflect the greater demand. New marketing techniques in Goodwill are well timed to fit in this shifting marketplace.

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

Custom Shelves with End Cap Racks

The best store set up that I have seen since this renewed purpose to my old passion has taken hold was in Thomasville, Georgia, a part of the Big Bend (Florida) district. Shelves were custom made here to fit above the clothing racks so that while shopping for clothing, household items and nick knacks were right there calling for attention. In electronics, the televisions sets were running just as they would be in a retail outlet allowing comparison. The aisles all had end-caps with merchandise, just like a regular retail outlet. The video, music and other media had shelves custom fit to their size so that the display was easier to process visually and took less space than it would otherwise. I bought a white ceramic owl container because it reminded me a little bit of Woodsy Owl. When I went to the checkout and complimented the college student clerk on the set up as the best lay out I had ever seen at a Goodwill (or any other thrift store) he was really psyched. He spoke enthusiastically about the manager responsible for the set up. Apparently he puts these features in all of his Big Bend locations. The part I couldn’t tell just by looking is that this manager keeps track of what is selling and makes sure that there is a proportionate amount of display space dedicated to those items. I was already impressed before the clerk talking!

After returning home, I found some other interesting Goodwill news. I saw an internet link to some items that had been donated by the newest owner of a cabin that had once belonged to June and Johnny Cash. The claim to fame caught my attention, but it was also clear that there was no claim that the items had been owned by the Cash family. I followed the link until I saw a site with a set up that looked very much like ebay. There were categorized items with photographs. I did not know that I could shop at Goodwill on the internet! Fantastic!

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Effective display and effecient use of space.

Their 100th anniversary was in 2002 and long before that date, Goodwill became to thrift stores what Kleenex is to facial tissues and Coke is to soft drinks. That is, people often use those brand names as generic, even when they mean to refer to other brands. At seven years into their second century, they seem to be looking forward very well, maximizing their market niche and continuing to do good works. In an ever changing marketplace this is no small task. As fads come and go some things are worth keeping. I hope that after Shabby Chic and “Green” have peaked there will be some follow on that will keep people using common sense to shop at economical places where they can recycle while at the same time support a worthy cause. It just makes good sense to support institutions that meet multiple goals and needs the way that Goodwill and other thrift stores do… and when we figure out that amazing new art form, you’ll be sure to find out about it right here!

Writing, Networking and Technology on the Road

by Karen

In the realm of potential future work, I’m in love with the idea of going off grid, taking off on the road and seeing what is out there. Research, writing, the “journey”. That is what my bliss would look like if I were to take that age old advice “Follow your bliss and the money will follow.” I wouldn’t have a problem finding a question to pursue. I have so many questions to answer that narrowing things to one question, then narrowing that one question to a manageable scope would be the challenge.

Is that the practical advice to follow, though? I have many things that could be my bliss and most of them bring no money. While some consider it a superior attitude to value intangibles above money, there is the practical side. Money is necessary to sustenance. I can clearly see both sides and how life could digress into a slow painful death if the right balance is not struck. So for the time being, I remain on a tight rope seeking solutions.

I write to you now from a mini-test and I am learning a lot. I am on a three week adventure. The motivating event is The International Story Telling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. This is a place that is both worthy of blogging, as well as a place to better learn the craft of story telling and writing, and the price is low compared with other learning opportunities of similar quality. Before arriving at the festival, I had confirmation that it was a good decision. It seemed a bit of a push as I was trying to decide whether of not to come. Part of my tight rope experience is that I am devoting equal time to both of the directions that I might go. I am spending time blogging, writing, and seeking education on writing skills. At the same time I am devoting a lot of time toward seeking more traditional employment. I was afraid that in coming here, I would not be able to do justice to the search for employment.

In a technologically connected world those connections seem more like a lifeline than anything else. Reading books like “What Would Google Do?” has given me a few ideas, but a lot of my search has been on the internet. The job front has been a challenge and anything that appears to be fun rather than work might be seen as frivolous to friends, relatives or potential employers, but mostly to my worst critic, myself.

What I have found so far is that the trip has been better for my job search than I could have thought possible, and even though I brought laptop and phone, it has been harder to keep up with the writing than I expected. On the employment front, I am meeting people because I am out and about. Meeting people is always networking on some level, whether you are making connections on a human level or whether you have specific things in common, those connections make us richer. I’ve been really surprised how easy it has been to network on the road.

Many of my favorite people live somewhere else and I only see them rarely, so I had always had distance connections, but now my connections can have employment relevance. I am willing to move, so anything I learn has potential. I just underestimated exactly how much that was true. In REI in Franklin, Tennessee, I was looking at the clearance shoe rack and mentioning to Russ how much I’d like to find work that allowed me to wear what I wanted to work. Three of us who were trying on shoes at the same time had strange fitting problems and we struck up a conversation that ended in a stranger telling me that she had close friends in my home town, asking for my professional information and offering to pass it onto her friends.

The following day as we headed west toward the story telling festival, we saw Oakridge, TN and decided to visit the historic landmark. We pulled up at the facility and asked about the visitor center, looking for the science Museum. The woman we asked mistook us for people seeking employment and ended up telling us that there was potential for stimulus jobs and where to find the listings. This was interesting on two levels. First, the obvious interest in new sources for job listings, but second, it is interesting to see that stimulus money is actually going somewhere. For someone who has lost employment directly due to the downturn, it seems like there would be a better likelihood of finding something else through stimulus spending. After all, part of the stated intention of that funding is to preserve or replace lost or at risk jobs. In Atlanta, the stimulus jobs that I have found are for police officers. I don’t really qualify for an enforcement job, so that cuts me out. We were laughing optimistically and saying that if we keep this up, surely we would both be employed before the vacation was done.

Conversely, the writing has been unexpectedly inconvenient. The challenges to writing are primarily technological. My laptop is equipped with wireless, but I am not equipped with any frills in my phone package. We are focusing on parks and more remote locations. Most people who take off for the great outdoors will know that remoteness is not usually an issue in phone signal, but as someone who has spent her time on the road with people who were more connected, I have never needed to overcome connectivity issues for myself. I have a basic service plan with testing blocked and that means I need to learn the ropes about finding connection spots (as well as recharging issues, we are car camping). I love my Camry, but car camping is not the most convenient way to do it.

I now sit at Books A Million writing this, but do not have connectivity because I apparently need to be a member to enjoy the privilege of connecting here. There are no stores near my home, so the membership fee is not useful past today. If I had personal connectivity, I could avoid these complications. I also could have taken care of travel needs in a more organized manner and it would have allowed me time to visit a prehistoric archeological site with a new museum, a great blog subject and I would have two blogs to write here before I seek a place where I can connect to upload those blogs. Spending more time finding that spot may limit opportunities further. Some of the things you do don’t turn out to be blog worthy, so missing an opportunity matters and as those missed chances add up it clearly becomes worth it to purchase a personal connection to the internet.

So, in taking this trip to pursue some of my writing goals, I am, in fact, closer to my employment goals, and for budgetary reasons, challenged in my writing goals. My own personal feasibility study is proving very fruitful.

Compounding Benefits in all Walks of Life

by Karen

I read a book on Human Resources recently. It posed the question of whether of not there would be a workforce shortage in the coming years. In fact, more than one book posed the question. In light of the current unemployment rate, automation, the increasing life span and the accompanying need and/or desire to work later in life, the question was a surprise. I’ll even say it, it seemed almost silly in the current atmosphere, but the book did address the issue of a workforce that would work later in life, a “longer living workspan”. The author considered the availability of older workers to fill this expected gap in available employees to be overestimated and used numbers from the United Nations (UN) World Health Organization (WHO) for Healthy Life Expectancy (HALE) to support the argument, saying that though the United States had a long lifespan, it had the lowest workspan in developed countries. While we here in the United States are expected to live longer than people in many countries, we are not expected to spend as much of that time healthy enough to work. There is a gap. As an American I have an interest in the gap and I do not like the expectations at all.

This book was using 2001 figures and I wondered if there were more recent numbers. I went to the WHO database website. In fact, there are numbers updated in 2003. This page has a convenient filter on the side so that you can isolate only the countries of interest rather than page through all 191 internationally recognized countries. Not knowing exactly which countries this researcher chose as “developed”, I picked the G-7 nations of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and the United States According to the 2003 data the United States has improved the healthy life expectancy a bit, however, we still lag behind all of the other G-7 countries in healthy or working life expectancies and Japan remained on top, improving by a much larger proportion. The HALE expectancy for someone in the US born in 2003 is 71 and the same number for someone in Japan is 78. Let’s put the workforce shortage question aside for a moment and focus on something that I find enormously disturbing. Weather or not I am fortunate enough to be able to retire when I wish, I still want to be healthy enough to work because healthy enough to work is also healthy enough to play.

I have been to Japan twice and I love it. What ever they are doing I am likely willing to adopt. So, what is different in Japan and how can I get 7 more years of healthy life expectancy? Stress is known the “silent killer”, but that would not be the difference because they have equal if not greater levels of stress when compared to us.

One thing they do have that we do not is widespread public transportation. What difference does that make you ask? In Japan they use the public transportation and that means that they walk. People walk from the train station to home, to the market etc. They also bicycle a lot. In some places there are bicycle garages. Some are even quite large and resemble American parking decks in many ways.

Is their solution to commuting the answer to my health question? It could be. There are countless articles and studies from reputable, unbiased organizations showing the benefits of walking. Here is what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has to say on the health benefits of walking, or other “moderate intensity aerobic exercise”. The minimum level of recommended exercise is not optional for them, it is built in to every day.

That’s not all though, there are compounding effects when using public transportation. When you take Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit (MARTA) you change your carbon footprint and help to increase the number of summer days when Kennesaw Mountain is visible from Stone Mountain and vice versa. You decrease the number of days when ground level ozone is above healthy levels and reduce the number of SMOG alerts. This also helps us to keep our federal funding for road projects, so public transportation even benefits motorists (in more ways than one).

Change is scary though and we Americans love our cars. I have had more than one friend who didn’t like public transportation and didn’t want it to be funded or built. One couldn’t even really articulate why, she just liked her Suburban and didn’t want to consider anything else for anyone else. I have argued that one doesn’t need to use public transportation to support it or benefit from it. If drivers could support my ability to have public transportation, I wouldn’t be on the road competing for space in and we would both spend less time commuting, and have an over all lower tax burden per capita. Sometimes working through a change in attitudes is worth the work.

So, if you are open to a committed relationship with public transportation what would that be like? It is something I can only dream about. I chose my current home for reasons that at the time were more pressing than access to MARTA. That meant moving into a public transportation black hole, at least as far as commuting into Atlanta is concerned. However, I know people (outside NYC) that do not own, and never have owned a car. One of my grandmother’s never learned to drive. I really thought long and hard about Granny’s decision. It would be easy to see it as a weakness, a disability. My grandmother was born before 1919. In other words she was born into a world that did not consider a woman eligible to vote by reason of gender. She wasn’t weak though. She was really quite independent. In her home town there was a single taxi. She had to plan because there was only the one. If someone was using it, she was out of luck. But she did plan. She went where she wanted to go and had her groceries delivered (from two blocks away).

Pamela and her walking shoes

Pamela and her walking shoes

I know someone much younger though, Pamela, who has a committed relationship with public transportation. A friend and former co-worker who is also quite independent, she never chose to learn to drive either. I don’t know if I could be that committed, especially in a country with the limited options we have here in the US. I would need at least one car for the household. Occasionally I just need to get out of the city. Ironically, I need my car to get away from all the cars! But, Pamela doesn’t feel limited any more than my grandmother did. She does what she wants to do, and I’ll admit that there are times when I’m fascinated and a little jealous of her decision. She has no auto expenses. I love the sound of it, No auto expenses! Do you know what that means?

The average person (not the high end person) spends a little over $600 a month on auto expenses once insurance, fuel and maintenance are considered. Many companies subsidize public transportation for their employees, but let’s look at the numbers for someone who doesn’t work for one of those companies. Let’s take that over six hundred number down to $500 so that it allows some money for both local and occasional distance travel. What happens when your budget gets a monthly $500 shot in the arm? Let’s say that you were able to save that money and get the proverbial average of 8% return on it. Over a 40 year work life that comes to $1,757,147. Yes, better than 1.7 million dollars. I could give up my car and my lottery habit for that kind of money! Yes, a change could do me good.

So to recap, if you have the option and become totally committed to public transportation, you can feel better, reduce health risks, increase healthy lifespan, reduce carbon and other emissions, breathe easier and when it is all done have a big pile of money! It is time for a change isn’t it?

I used the savings calculator here if you would like to check your own figures and see what could happen in your own situation.