Honestly, we would be hard pressed to think of a book that has influenced us more at thredUP than Be Thrifty, Pia Catton and Califia Suntree’s encyclopedic handbook on how to live better with less. What really hooked us was the sentiment that being thrifty is smart and not cheap. That the noun thrifty is actually derived from the verb thrive. Wait, thrifty is thriving! Being thrifty is your ticket to the good life. It was a true Oprah-worthy Aha moment.
We are so thrilled to introduce you to one of the authors of this life-changing book. Here, co-author (and thredUP fan!) Califia Suntree breaks it all down. Thriving in 2018, here we come!
Explain a little bit about the premise of the book and what inspired you to write it:
Be Thrifty was published way back in 2010, but we started writing and compiling it at the beginning of 2009 when the country was in the grips of the Great Recession. We saw people losing jobs, losing value on their homes, wages shrinking, the emergence of the “gig economy” and realized that there was some serious belt-tightening happening across the country. Our main goal was to show that being thrifty and being cheap are NOT the same thing—thrift is wise spending, going for value and quality and improving your life, not depriving yourself or being penny wise and pound foolish. It’s encyclopedic, and covers everything from pet care to cooking to cars, babies, self-care—everything we spend money on.
How has the Be Thrifty movement changed since the book was published?
I feel like the Great Recession caused people to really stop and look at their spending, and values around that time changed, I think for the better, because we weren’t just in this bubble mentality of outsourcing everything and thoughtlessly spending, going into debt, disposable fashion and everything else. Unfortunately, I see us taking a few steps back now that we have mostly recovered from that downturn, and, to my view, there’s a lot of wasteful spending going on again. Holiday spending is a very good illustration of this point—in 2001, average spending on Christmas was over $1,000. In 2009, that number was just $400. Now we are back up to $1,000. I do think that there is a lot more awareness now of things like packing a lunch for school or work, consignment shopping, and the “green” aspects of using less. Thrifting and flea markets are now a mass activity, not a niche. But unfortunately, I do think that we have a short financial memory.
The terms and language used in the book are revelatory. It’s like a light bulb just goes off. But the concept of thrift still seems like a well-kept secret in 2017. Why do you think it’s not talked about more?
Budgeting and thrift were huge topics during and after the financial crisis, and have just sort of gradually retreated from our minds…It’s always like this; after the Great Depression came the consumer craziness of the 1950s. As a group, we like to spend, even if we can’t afford it. Being wise about money and not just spending for the sake of spending should be thought of in the same way that buying organic vegetables might be, for example. When I go buy a secondhand dress, I’m doing just as much for the earth and our precious resources as someone buying some environmentally friendly soap or whatever—only I’m spending less rather than more on the thing that I want. We are a consumer society, and unless or until we are forced to think about our budgets, the unfortunate truth is that many people don’t. Our argument, which is timeless and irrespective of stock market booms and busts, is that no matter how much or how little money you have, it is best for yourself, the planet, and society to be thoughtful of how you spend it, save it, share it. For example, if you value travel, and that’s what makes you truly happy in life, then spend your money on travel, and don’t waste it eating at restaurants 5 days a week. You will be healthier, more in control, and will be able to take a trip every year, instead of every other year, for example.
How much of your wardrobe is thrifted?
I was curious about this so I actually did a count, and it appears that 70% of my wardrobe is thrifted or consignment. I actually thought it would be more! But things like jeans and shoes and T-shirts can be hard to find used.
Why do you think secondhand first?
I definitely only buy new after I’ve exhausted secondhand options. For me, it’s an ethical issue first and foremost. There’s just so much STUFF already in the world—whether we are talking TVs, phones, clothes, books—I would much rather use what’s already here than participate in the making of more stuff. So, the environmental consequences of being a consumer are foremost in my mind. But also, I’m a snob about quality even though I am on a budget, so I can get the quality I want at my price point if I look to used first. People get rid of stuff, nice stuff, and I’m happy to be there to take it off their hands.
If someone were to pick up this book today, which chapter would you hope they focus on first?
The reason we made the book so encyclopedic, and divided up into “areas of life” like leisure, kids, cooking, is because each person really has to find their own way of being thrifty. Thrift is truly about each person’s relationship to their life, values and resources; not everyone will read every chapter, and that’s by design.
How do you practice being thrifty in your own life today?
As we write about in the book, I focus on quality over quantity, fixing things rather than replacing them, DIY whenever I can. I was a thrifty person before writing the book, of course, but the process of writing and promoting it made thriftiness sink into my very cells. It’s reflected in everything I do now, without even thinking about it! I am very conscious about everything I buy, I focus on quality and keep things forever (I have shoes that have been repaired many, many times), I do things like monitor sales closely, check back, and pounce when the price is lowest; I buy different grocery items at different stores (supermarket, Costco, ethnic markets); I buy secondhand first, whether it’s clothes, furniture, or appliances; I make my own face oil and follow the advice in Be Thrifty about what personal care products to shell out for (foundation) and which to scrimp on (mascara); I make gifts whenever I can…Most of all, I focus on quality and durability in things I buy, and don’t heed fleeting trends or buy things just because they’re inexpensive.
What’s the biggest reward to having a thrifty mindset and lifestyle?
Many people find the thrifty lifestyle really liberating because they feel more in control, they know where their hard-earned money is going, and they are able to spend more on what they value because they are spending less on things they don’t. For some, the fact that mindful spending is better for the environment is really rewarding, especially in our heavily consumer society. We are told a million times a day to buy stuff, so it can feel good to resist that, to be the boss of your money and decide where it goes. It can also be tangibly rewarding when you do a budget and start implementing the thrifty lifestyle, and suddenly “discover” money that before was just slipping away in ways you weren’t even aware of. Paying down debt, going on trips, buying a car—saving is rewarding in all kinds of ways, and thrift is really what makes saving possible for most of us.
What advice would you give someone new to the world of secondhand?
Patience is a virtue. You have to enjoy the hunt! I buy a lot on Craigslist, and what I hear so often is “I looked for X item and it wasn’t there, so I’ll just buy it new.” And I say, “You have to check back every week! Give it a chance!” Whether it’s thrift stores or online or flea markets, you have to enjoy the process of looking, or secondhand will not be as fun. Personally, I hate going to the mall but find an outdoor flea market a really fun time. That said, the internet and sites like thredUP do make the hunt a lot less time consuming. You can just check the site, search, and it takes a few seconds. Still, physically going out and hunting around, if you know what you’re looking for, doesn’t have to be too time consuming (unless you want it to be!).
What in life do you believe is worth splurging on?
Spending less on what you don’t care so much about, or can easily spend less on, in order to have more money to spend on what you truly value. This is really different for everyone! The best thing to splurge on is something that you care about and that brings you a lot of happiness. Many people argue (and studies have shown) that this is often experiences like travel or services (like massages, house cleaners or other time-saving services) rather than objects. In my experience, this is very true. Creating happy memories or more time to do what you like doing, or just to be less stressed out, are to my mind the best things to spend on.
In what areas are you surprisingly or unexpectedly NOT thrifty?
This one is easy—my car. In Be Thrifty, we write about all the ways you can take car maintenance into your own hands and save a bundle, but I just don’t do it! I pay someone to wash my car and fix my car, even minor things. Sometimes my boyfriend (who works on his own car) can’t stand it and will make me do something like change a headlight bulb myself, but really, I spend way too much because I’m intimidated. I go to what is probably a very overpriced mechanic because it’s convenient and they have the cleanest floor I’ve ever seen in a car repair shop. That said, I don’t take it to the dealership for repairs. That’s too wasteful even for me!
We would love to hear your thoughts on being thrifty! What do you do to live a thrifty lifestyle? Also, check back soon for Califia’s tips on how to have a thrifty holiday (it’s easier than you think!).