Sunday, February 20, 2011

When Frugal Becomes Fun

I often times find it difficult to write about frugal living practically. I'm more drawn to the philosophical and reflective side of frugal living and that's probably why I tend to write long, analytical posts as opposed to simply listing a bunch of stuff I found on sale or providing clear, impersonal how-to posts on saving money. It could be because I'm young and in college (busy "finding myself" as the cliche goes) that I prefer to focus on reasons why one should care about living frugally versus how to actually live frugally. I had a conversation with some friends about actually putting ideas into practice as opposed to pretending that simply having the idea is enough. In accordance with that discussion, I'm going to shift focus today. In this post I'm going to discuss some shopping I did last weekend that actually meets the standards I set for myself regarding personal finance and finding ways to save money.

Photo: Dauvit Alexander, via Flickr

Though I don't go there enough, I've always been fond of my local flea market, USA Flea Market. I had fond memories of the place from my childhood, as my brother and I used to love their fake ninja swords. I don't remember when I first decided to go again as an adult, I think probably on some occasion with my father (one of the many notorious cheapskates in my family) in search of a cheap wallet. I came to realize that the flea market had a lot to offer and have since gone whenever I happen to be free on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoon. This particular flea market is closed the rest of the week.

There is a lot of overlooked treasure at the flea market. I've picked up some exceptionally fresh sunglasses at some of it's shops. These pairs are similar to the high-end fashion pairs you see rock stars, actors and models and such wear except because they don't say "Oakley" in small print somewhere they cost two to five dollars instead of one hundred dollars. I can already hear someone saying "Yeah, but I've had my Oakley's for years and they are still in perfect condition". Well my five dollar flea-market sunglasses are still alive and well two years later, and I'd have to have broken them and repurchased them a whopping twenty times (I don't know anyone that careless) in order to justify having purchased a name brand pair instead.

This past Saturday I visited the flea market because I was in need of some new belts. I had browsed new ones at various stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, Wal-Mart and a Levi's store but found that it was pretty much impossible to find a belt for under eight dollars. In true tightwad fashion, I put the belts down immediately upon seeing the price and begin to think of where I could find a better deal. Eventually, my cheapskate dad's voice came into my head saying "El flea market tiene correas por cinco pesos". My father, like the rest of my family is Puerto Rican, so when his voice pops into my head it's either in Spanish or heavily accented English. So to translate his statement quite literally, it says "The flea market has belts for five dollars". One of the first stores I saw upon entering the flea market had a two for five dollars sale on belts. I found two I liked quite a bit and purchased them.

Finding those belts reminded me that saving money can actually be kind of enjoyable. I got a sense of satisfaction from knowing I protested the retail price of a product while simultaneously supporting a more independent business (most the flea-market shops are run by individuals and/or families). My wallet was also happy as I only had to part from five dollars to acquire two belts. Had I gone the retail route, it would've been more like sixteen dollars.

On top of the good feeling I got from saving money, I also tend to enjoy the flea market's atmosphere. In an article by Mishri Bhatia about the Waldo Flea Market in North Florida, Bhatia uses a lot of quotes from customers and vendors, alongside her own observations, to portray the flea market as having a friendly, social and personal spirit. I agree that the flea market has such an environment because my experience at my local flea market confirms it. The shop owners are generally interested in you as a customer and are more than happy to field any questions you may have. The customers stroll through the aisles at a relaxed pace, taking in the sights and sounds and browsing tables of goods for anything that catches their eye. You get a look inside the world of hobbies that you won't encounter in a retail setting. It's much different for example, to see action figures in the context of a collector's store full of adults searching for obscure toys is a lot more fascinating than to see a lifeless isle full of toys at Walmart. There is a certain personal touch to each store that welcomes and attracts customers.

Next time you're in need of something, try your local flea market. Aside from aforementioned products, most of them have electronics stores, furniture stores, pet stores, fruit stands, a food court, used video games, music and movies for sale, discounted clothing and just about anything else you might need. I know one thing's for sure, you're guaranteed to walk away with that great I-just-found-a-bargain feeling more often than you ever will at your local mall or retail store, something your bank account will thank you for later.

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