Friday, January 24, 2014

Jewelry Swap

I've heard of a toy swap and clothing swap, but not yet a JEWELRY SWAP. A friend recently hosted a jewelry swap at her home to get the girls together and drink wine, and clean out any of our unused jewelry. What a fantastic idea! That's what this project is all about - if I'm not going to use it, maybe someone else can!

Simply, we each brought 3 pieces of unused jewelry to the swap, and then laid it all out on the counter. We then drew names blindly to determine the choosing order. Then we each chose a piece of jewelry to take home, and repeated the process until everyone had 3 pieces of jewelry. A fun, cheap, practical way to spend time together!

What else can we get together and swap? Tools, foods, fabric or yarn?

Pending. Taking. Backups.

Pending taking backups.  For someone shopping for a home, these 3 words can either be a source of relief/excitement, or they can be a source of disappointment.  For those unfamiliar this means that the seller of a house has accepted an offer from a potential buyer and the two parties have entered into contract for an "option period".  The potential buyer basically pays a security deposit to lock themselves in and get all their ducks in a row for the purchase, and the seller has the freedom to take backup offers in the event that the original offer falls through.  Given how hot the market is around here right now, it's pretty unlikely the buyer will back out.

Now that Elijah is 15 months old and we're getting the hang of this whole parenting thing, the idea of having another child is starting to sound pretty appealing.  Having a house (or in our case, a secondhand house!) that can support a growing family is something we have been discussing, and we considered ourselves to be "casual shoppers".

On Saturday morning we received the daily email with newly listed houses in the area, and one of those houses caught our eye.  We went back and forth about going to see it, and 6 hours later we bit the bullet and called up our realtor to arrange a walk-through the next day.  Just 6 hours after we set up the appointment, however, the house was under contract with a potential buyer.  We still kept our appointment, but the entire walk-through was filled with disappointment - not disappointment that we had lost the house of our dreams, just disappointment that we didn't even have the chance to make a decision.  A home is the most expensive purchase that many people make in their lives, and in just 12 hours this home was off the market.

We learned a pretty valuable lesson this past weekend:  In the housing market, and in particular the housing market in Austin, there is no such thing as a "casual shopper".  When you're "ready" to buy a house, you have to be prepared to buy a house.  There are 3 big ways, among many others, that you can prepare to buy a house:
  1. If you aren't lucky enough that you can "make it rain" to pay for that house, get a pre-qualification letter from a lender.  This makes you legit to a seller, and many sellers won't even consider you unless you have one.
  2. Know your spending limit and have the discipline to stick to it.  If you're taking out a loan, you're placing financial risk on your future self, likely for 15-30 years.  It's going to be hard to enjoy the home you're living in if you spend too much and constantly worry about how to pay for it.
  3. Be willing to pounce on an opportunity if it comes up.  In a competitive housing market, this has to be a buyer's behavior.  Identify the top wants/needs, and if those are satisfied within your budget, be ready to put an offer on the table.
In general we aren't in a rush to buy our next home because we are blessed to already have a roof over our heads.  However, we know that there will be spikes of haste as the year progresses.

Pending taking backups.  When you have an opportunity to buy the right home for your family, do you want to be a backup?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Recent Finds at Goodwill and Salvation Army - Which Store Do You Prefer?

To do my shopping, so far I've stayed within my comfort zone of our local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. Hands down, our closest Salvation Army is more clean, cheaper, more organized and has a better selection than the Goodwill stores near us. Which do you prefer between the two secondhand stores?

Melissa & Doug Geometric Stacker - $3 at Salvation Army ($16.87 on Once piece was missing when I got it, and another couple pieces were missing when I took the picture due to toddler who likes to hide things in our shoes. 

Dog puzzle originally from Target - $3 at Salvation Army (approximately $13 new). All pieces were present at the time of purchase, not when the photo was taken. 

I've always wanted one of these! I see yummy recipes on Pinterest for popsicles frequently, so hopefully I'll actually use it when the weather warms up. $3 at Salvation Army - $8.95 new

A string of hanging lanterns, another thing I've been wanting but just never got around to purchasing them…original price from Target $17.99, for $8 at Goodwill. *I need to find more just like this*

Photo album $2 at Goodwill, with my best guess if purchased new $6

Rough looking basket. I'm going to take those gnarly handles off and paint it and then use it to store Elijah's stuffed animals. $2 at Goodwill, best guess at original price is $15.

I also found some stylin' new sunglasses for myself, which still had the price tag on them, for $2 at Goodwill originally $9.99. Andrew and I decided that we could occasionally buy "new" stuff (i.e., items with the price tag still on them) as long as it comes from a secondhand store. We won't make it a habit of always buying "new" stuff from secondhand stores, thus defeating the purpose of our project. 

Year-to-Date Numbers
Secondhand Item Expenses:  $41
Cost Savings from Purchasing Secondhand:   $170
Handmade Item Material Expenses:  $0
Cost Savings from Handmaking Items:  $0

Note: Handmaking items requires time, and time is extremely valuable. However, handmaking things happens to be a hobby we enjoy, so we don't consider it an expense. The expense of handmaking items is derived only from the materials needed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Foreseeable Challenges

After only a few days into our 2014 resolution, I came across another item to add to our "exceptions list." Photo prints. Because I need tangible prints of my precious baby boy to hang on my walls and distribute to his adorers. This item is now listed on the exceptions to buying new for 2014.

I foresee some challenges for myself throughout this year of secondhandedness. First of all, I'm going to miss convenience shopping. When I want an item I'm not going to be able to go to the store to get it. This happens often when I see a craft I want to make or an outfit that I can put together with the addition of just a new piece of jewelry. Perhaps this year will help me catch up on all of the crafts that I have already started but not yet finished, and force me to dig through the back of the closet to recycle clothes that I've forgotten about.

Also, I'm not going to be able to sale shop. This is a big one for Andrew and I both, as we subscribe to clearance and sale website such as Zulilly, Amazon Deals, BustedTee and other "deal-of-the-day" websites that offer too good to pass up merchandise on the cheap. I always enjoy browsing the clearance aisles at Target and cleaning up on after holiday merchandise also. Perhaps all this extra "deal" and "sale/clearance" merchandise is simply unnecessary and better off not bought in the first place.

For those wondering…we always have and will continue to thoroughly clean all secondhand merchandise brought into our home. Sure this involves a little more work than buying new products, but that's what this mission is all about. We won't risk cleanliness and health for the sake of this project.

Well, like any other challenge, I'm sure there will be rewards for overcoming the challenge. We shall see what other challenges and rewards this year will bring...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Some detail behind the title

Our family is blessed to live in a "first world" country.  You'll find a few definitions for this term out in the depths of the Webbernet, so I'd like to clarify the definition the title of our blog is based upon (from Merriam-Webster):

first world
noun, often capitalized F&W
: the countries of the world that have many industries and relatively few poor people
: the rich nations of the world

We live in the United States, and therefore we live in a first world country.  In addition to the buying and selling of services, the U.S. economy is primarily driven by the buying and selling of goods.  The value of a good is derived from its usefulness, or in economics lingo, its utility.  Utility technically has no unit of measure because a purchased good can satisfy an infinite number of needs or wants.  Some people buy goods to make tasks easier to complete, others buy goods to (attempt to) gain happiness, etc.  A good is "done" when it is considered to no longer provide utility.

Goods can be either new (i.e. fresh off the assembly line) or secondhand (definition also from Merriam-Webster):

: having had a previous owner
: buying or selling things that have already been owned or used

New goods are generally being referred to when one speaks of "goods and services", because it is the creation and selling of new goods that fuels the majority of the goods labor market.  It is also a widely believed perception that new goods are the only type of goods that can provide utility.  This is true for some types of goods, but for a large majority it is completely false.  As mentioned previously, utility is based upon the perception of the individual and it has no unit of measure.  Therefore, the utility that one person obtains from a good may be entirely different than the utility that another person obtains from the same good.

The point we are trying to make with our year-long socioeconomic experiment is not that new goods are unnecessary.  They are absolutely necessary (I mean, a secondhand good can't be secondhand without first being new!).  The point that we are trying to make is that secondhand goods can provide some, if not most, of the utility demanded in a person's life.

Ok I'm done nerding out for this post, now on to my secondhand find for this week (Becky has some additional ones coming in a later post)..

It has become a fun activity of mine to attend the weekly live auction that our nearest Goodwill store conducts.  At this weekly auction, the store takes a selection of donated items and tries to sell them for more money than they could otherwise get by putting them on the floor.  There is a silent auction component to this that runs the whole week, and then on Saturday the silent auction ends and a live auction is held.  Toys, and a wide variety of them, are essential in our house now that we have a child.  In my visit this past Saturday I managed to snag a pretty sweet lot of Mr. Potato Head toys for my son, Elijah.  Included in the lot were 3 "standard" size Mr. Potato Heads with an entire basket full of Disney-themed parts.  Also included in the lot were 2 "mini" size Mr. Potato Heads with Chicago Cubs gear (watch out Chicago friends, these may become presents for you later in the year!).  In the minimal research I did to figure out a comfortable bidding range, I found the following:

  • The Disney-themed Mr. Potato Head parts are available at Disney parks.
  • One can purchase a Mr. Potato Head "Cram-as-many-parts-in-as-you-can" box at the Disney gift shops for ~$20.
  • Mr. Potato Head has come a long way since I was a child.

Because there are 3 standard Mr. Potato Heads with enough parts to outfit each of them plus extra, I assume these came from 3 of the "Cram-as-many-parts-in-as-you-can" boxes, a total of $60 if purchased new.  Additionally, the mini Chicago Cubs Mr. Potato Heads can be found new online for ~$20 each, making a total of $40 for those.  Had I purchased this entire lot brand new, I estimate this purchase would have been $100.

Year-to-Date Numbers
Secondhand Item Expenses:  $18
Cost Savings from Purchasing Secondhand:   $82
Handmade Item Material Expenses:  $0
Cost Savings from Handmaking Items:  $0

Note: Handmaking items requires time, and time is extremely valuable. However, handmaking things happens to be a hobby we enjoy, so we don't consider it an expense. The expense of handmaking items is derived only from the materials needed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Who, what, when, why, and how...

Welcome!  This blog is my wife's and my brainchild for documenting our year-long attempt to avoid the purchase of brand new products.  This will be accomplished mainly through buying secondhand items from Craigslist, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, eBay, and other common marketplaces where brand new is faux pas.  We pride ourselves on being pretty handy and resourceful, so building or making items will also serve as an alternative to purchasing brand new, ready-made.  In extreme situations we may actually avoid buying altogether (Crazy, I know!).

Why the heck would we consider such a deviation from the culturally established consumer lifestyle of “I want, therefore I buy”?  Well, there are several reasons:

  1. With the arrival of our beautiful baby boy Elijah in October of 2012, we became a single income family so that Becky could quit her day job to stay at home and care for him.  Although we have been successful with this transition, we obviously do not save as much nor have the financial freedom that we did when we were DINCs (dual income, no children).
  2. We want to record and share how much money a family can save by buying goods secondhand.
  3. We want to decrease our environmental impact.
  4. We want to decrease the amount of discretionary spending that we do. That money could be better spent on experiences, vacations, food & drink, charitable giving...the list goes on.
  5. We want to demonstrate how easy (or difficult) it is to find and buy “everyday goods” secondhand.
  6. We want to challenge ourselves.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably got a list of items in your mind that you consider to be darn near impossible to avoid buying brand new.  We’re right there with you, and that’s why we’ve made a list of exceptions:

  • Food & drink products
  • Cleaning & hygiene products
  • Medical products
  • Car maintenance & repair materials
  • Home maintenance & repair materials (including outdoors/yard)
  • Some clothing items (i.e. undergarments)
Most of these categories could fall under a general guideline: if buying an item secondhand could pose a significant risk to our health and/or safety, we will purchase brand new.

As we progress through the year, both Becky and I will post updates as well as high-level thoughts about living simply.  We hope that you enjoy following along with our journey!