Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

by Katy on December 18, 2013 · 20 comments

As much as I try to stay within a very strict budget for everyday life, the gift giving winter season is always a difficult challenge. It seems like I do great figuring terrific gifts, and then suddenly end up losing steam and spending more than anyone who calls herself  “The Non-Consumer Advocate” ever should.

But I realize that it’s a two steps forward, one step back kind of situation. In other words, it’s still progress.

I find a huge bag of high end (and never used) rubber stamps at Goodwill for $4.99, perfect for my nine-year-old niece, and then I fail at finding a thrifted winter coat for my fifteen-year-old son, and end up shelling out $89 for one at the Columbia Sportswear outlet store. (I can’t let my frugal leanings outweigh my son’s need for warm winter wear, especially since we just completed a week of low teen temperatures.) I looked through four, count ’em four thrift shops plus the Buffalo Exchange consignment shop, and still came up empty handed!

Brrr . . . 

Grrr . . . 

Sigh . . . 

I know it’s not realistic to think that I can be frugal 100% of the time, but it still really bugs me, as I just know that buying new will guarantee that I find a great used coat the instant I give up.

Oh well . . . 

My son now has his warm winter coat, and I can move forward and into my eighth year of following The Compact and trying to only buy used.

95% is still better than 0%.

Ninety five steps forward, five steps back.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Auntie Karen December 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Don’t give up on the potential of your new Columbia coat. You might run across a great thrifted coat, snap it up, sell your gently-used new Columbia gem on ebay or Craig’s List, and perhaps come out ahead–even after giving your son a commission for “storage”.


Megan M December 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Never a bad decision to invest in good quality winter wear for your kids! Living in WI, I don’t look at it as a choice. Keep up the good, inspiring work Katy! Knowing you, you’ll find the next need at one of your awesome Goodwills very soon and that will ease the sting! Merry Christmas!


Jessica December 18, 2013 at 4:30 pm

$89 for a Columbia is still a pretty good deal. Hell, it’s Christmas. Relax, ya cheapo 😉 Much love.


Daisy December 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm

I have a Green puffy Old Navy winter jacket that I bought my stepson a couple years ago. I don’t think he wore it more than a few times. I can check the size and if you want it you can just pay me shipping and you can have it.


Linda M December 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm

I think you are a stellar example for us! If you look and look and don’t find something used and by quality new….sometimes that is fine! Ninety-five steps forward and five back….pretty darn awesome in my book. But….I do get your frustration. I feel it often also….it is part of being human. Be kind to yourself, Miss Katy:)!


Madeline December 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I have a friend from Chicago and I am from Philly. We “shared” a winter coat!! And boots! For years! We live in Phoenix where we do not need such items.. so, we had one coat and one pair of boots between us, (luckily we wore mostly the same size..) and when she travelled to see family, or I did, we traded back and forth.


Kathleen December 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm

What a great idea! You are lucky to have such a good friend.


Cheryl December 18, 2013 at 6:13 pm

You obviously needed one pronto but I bought my son’s coat on eBay last year. It was more expensive than goodwill but still kept a coat out of the landfill, was cheaper than new AND came with snow pants and great long underwear. It went so well, I bought my daughter a Patagonia puffer this year!


Vivian December 18, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I had a very 2 steps backward day and no steps forward yesterday but today I was rewarded by having a very pleasant time teaching my son how to make an elastic bracelet for his friend and thus saving money because I had all the supplies and two showed him he could make a beautiful gift for his friend. Additionally I was inspired to make some gifts myself. Yes it’s bit late to make a lot… but the spirit of Christmas is with me. Saving and being a non consumer is a daily challenge for me but I would not have it any other way.


AnnDenee December 18, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I had the joy of sharing my thrifty ways with some new friends at the playgroup I hosted today. As all my daughter’s toys were spread out on the living room floor, I shared the story behind nearly every of her thrift store finds! (Because there is always a funny story when a 3, almost 4 y/o is buying toys at the thrift store.)
One friend commented that she really HAD to shopping the thrift store for her children’s toys when she heard about the building blocks for $2 and the twin marble mazes for $2.50, the quacking duck on a stick for walking for 50 cents and the recorder for 20 cents.
All of this to offset the $50 jack in the box we bought new at the shopping center. I would have preferred to get one at the thrift store, but we had looked for a long time and this one was exactly what we wanted — metal, bright colors with a clown inside and plays pop goes the weasel.
So yes, we win some and lose some, but overall, I’d say we’re winning the game.


Emily December 18, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I don’t know about Columbia, but North Face has a lifetime warranty on their coats. We got a good deal on ours, and have replaced it for free–thus beating thrift store prices for having to buy two coats. I know it isn’t buying used, but I hope that it makes you feel better to know that what you bought probably comes with a good warranty.


cathy December 18, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I am a believer of everything happening for a reason, so I’d say in this instance, for some currently unknown reason, you were not meant to find a “thrifty” coat, but were meant to purchase the new one. What is, is, so don’t dwell on it and feel disappointed. Rejoice that your son has the coat he needs and look forward to finding the reason in the future that it was meant to happen this way! Joy to you and yours 🙂


NMPatricia December 19, 2013 at 5:08 am

You are a huge inspiration for us all. And we do know that you are human. You have tried and that counts hugely (is that a word??). I am sure you are familiar with 80/20 rule. So if you do 95% of the time, you are a super non consumer!!!!!! You are awesome!!!!


Diane December 19, 2013 at 5:37 am

I agree with Cathy….sometimes life sends you in a different direction and this time it was for a specific need, warm clothing for your son. I did much the same a few years ago…bought a down alternative jacket at Burlington Coat Factory for myself and have never regretted it. Now on our few cold and freezing winter days in Austin, I am warm and cozy outdoors.

Be happy with your purchase.


Claire December 19, 2013 at 8:22 am

My partner and I share everything from clothes to jewelry to shoes – being a same-sex couple has a lot of frugal benefits! :p Our 3 kids are getting to the ages now that we can “inherit” the boys’ old boots, coats, and soon enough, clothing. Fortunately, the kids love hitting up Goodwill/Savers with us. I have found that buying out of season or far in advance helps for kids – winter coats go for a couple bucks at garage sales in August! If something’s too big we can always tuck it away for next year.

Part of my “patchwork income” includes tutoring and babysitting, and some of my students/kids come from families who could use a bit of help. I have gotten a lot of satisfaction out of showing up with bags of hand-me-downs – it costs me nothing but it means a lot to the parents and the kiddos!

Still, it’s an imperfect process. There will always be times when you have to shell out a lot of dough for the “perfect” present, or if your kids are in dire need. But, as you did, Katy, if you buy things with a potential resale value and take good care of your stuff, it doesn’t sting as much as it normally would.

Love your blog so much! Keep up the awesome work! 🙂


Katy December 19, 2013 at 8:35 am

I was better at buying the boys’ clothing ahead of time when they were little and didn’t have their own specific style. Now that I think about it, this may be the first brand new winter coat I’ve ever bought! This year I am sporting a Columbia Sportswear fleece coat from the Goodwill Outlet that probably set me back a dollar or two.

And I have always thought that similarly sized same sex couple had it made! I used to wear my husband’s clothing now and then, but I haven’t done that for years.

Thanks for sharing!



Tina Taber December 19, 2013 at 9:30 am

I got so lucky buying a winter coat for Michael this year-it was just before the temperature dropped and he happened to be with me at Just for Kids (I no longer shop for his clothing unless he is there). We found a down coat that fits him and he likes enough to wear. He was astounded at how warm it kept him. I totally relate to the grind of the find. But know that with your help and encouragement parents are introducing kids to a secret that is becoming more widely accepted: by purchasing used stuff when we can, there’s more cash for having fun. And he was totally thrilled on the same trip to find unused Nike shoes that fit him perfectly for a fraction of what we would have paid full retail. Just for Kids is down the street from the Hollywood Library, for those of you who live in Portland. I’d say it’s best for kids up to age 12.
Thanks for all you do, Katy! -Tina


Katy December 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

I know that store well, and even have my selling code memorized!



WilliamB December 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm

I don’t think counts as a step back. You tried, putting a quite bit of effort into it.


Lori December 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I don’t see it as failure at all. It just highlights the fact that no system will ever be perfect, but you keep moving forward always doing the best when and where you can. Failure is giving up your lifestyle altogether just because you had to buy one new thing. You are a success because you stick with it.


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