The year of holiday thrift
More consumers than last year say they'll look for bargains. Thrift shops are in.
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Thrift and resale stores also are expecting a merry holiday season, a continuation of a strong year. In a recent survey of its members, the National Association of Resale & Thrift Shops (NARTS) found that September and October sales increased an average of 35 percent over last year for 74 percent of those surveyed.Skip to next paragraph
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One shopper at Goodwill in New London, Conn., is Julie Wernau, who purchased a Roomba vacuum cleaner for $15. "My husband needs to do some repairs on it," she says. "You can find good bargains at Goodwill, but you have to go often or someone else will snatch it up," advises the Quaker Hill, Conn., resident.
When they can, people are opting for something that's already been used and is free. Swaptree.com, a Boston-based company, connects people trading books, CDs, and video games for free. "Our growth just exploded in July," says Mark Hexamer, one of the founders. "We're saving our customers $40,000 in what they would have to pay for books, textbooks, and other media every day."
Mr. Hexamer has used the service himself to cut costs on videos for his young daughter. "She started out wanting everything about Dora [the Explorer]," he says. Now, he's traded the Dora videos for Cinderella, her latest interest. "I figure we've probably saved close to $1,000," he says.
A rising number of entrepreneurs are finding it profitable to show people how to cut expenses, including during the holidays. On Monday, Clarky Davis, a Raleigh, N.C., woman who bills herself as the Debt Diva, released a video on YouTube that demonstrates how to put together a "s'mores" gift basket – skewers included – for under $10.
Ms. Davis, sort of an anti-Martha Stewart, got her start in the business after getting into credit-card trouble. It took her 2-1/2 years to pay off her debt, and then she became a credit counselor. From there, she's become a disciple of finding ways to economize. "I felt people needed something basic about how to get through the day and not spend any money," she said Wednesday while on her way to a Philadelphia TV station to be interviewed by a consumer reporter.
Another entrepreneur, Samantha Chapnick, runs a website called kidcityny.com, which she says tries to help families find less-expensive ways to maintain their lifestyle. One recent recommendation for the holidays: Go to a website called RetailMeNot.com, which posts coupons for more than 20,000 stores. "Last weekend, the Gap, Williams-Sonoma, and other stores were giving 30 percent off if you printed a coupon," says Ms. Chapnick, who says her website hits are up 400 percent in the past three months.
Will the nation's newfound frugality lead to something else? A nation of cheapskates is a scenario that turns economists' knees to jelly.
"We had the same thing happen after the 1930s," recalls economist Dennis Jacobe of Gallup Inc. in Washington. "There was a change in psychology, where savings had a higher priority and spending a lower priority. It's not a bad idea for the individual and their balance sheet, but for the economy, it means a whole lot less spending and slower economic growth."