Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The time we spend shopping

Does shopping at yard sales take too much time?

I was thinking about this question this past weekend, when my friend Jessica told me about her own recent shopping expedition.  She spent 12 hours at the King of Prussia Mall, looking for a black dress she could wear to an up-coming fancy event.  She eventually found one she liked, for about $150.

I've spent probably about the same amount of time -- that is, about 12 hours -- this summer at yard sales shopping for my son's school outfits.  (This estimate is a bit fungible; I'm also Christmas shopping and looking for items my friends want, all at the same time.  But I'll err on the high side for the sake of argument).  I don't know what's typical for other people -- how much time does a parent usually spend doing clothes shopping for the kids each year?  I figure it's probably more than 12 hours, from what my non-miser friends tell me.  Shopping takes time.

I've spent about $30 on clothes this summer.  I've gotten a lot more outfits than Jessica did, but there are ways in which I'm a lot less picky.    Not everybody spends 12 hours looking for the perfect dress, of course -- and that illustrates my point.  How much time you spend at yard sales or at the mall depends on a lot of factors, including these.
  • How specific do you need to be?  Jessica couldn't have told you in advance exactly what she was looking for, but she definitely had standards of classy-ness that informed her choices.  In a similar vein, I was looking for a specific kind of clothing: our school uniforms require, for example, that pants are either tan or navy blue.  I won't consider buying other pants. 
  • How common is the thing you're looking for?  Jessica was looking for a classy black dress.  I have no idea, really, how easy it is to get a good-fitting dress like she was looking for.  I'm looking for school uniforms, which many people in my area have.  But boys' clothes are relatively scarce at yard sales; it takes me longer to shop for my boys than it does to shop for girls' uniforms or women's clothing, which are ubiquitous.
  • What's your deadline?  Jessica's event is coming up soon, and she really needs the right dress NOW.  I started searching for school uniforms back in May, and by now I've pretty much found all the clothes we'll need.  I could afford to pass over those high-priced $2 pairs of pants back in May and early June, knowing I'd find the 50¢ or $1 pairs later on.  And I was right.
  • Do you know your shopping venues well?  I would be completely lost in a mall.  (True story:  I once needed to get in touch with one of my students.  I called his mom, who told me he was working at the mall in a store called "Truck Shore"-- at least, that's what I thought she said.  I wandered all over our local mall, and finally found my student working at a fancy men's clothing store called "Structure".  Go figure.)  On the other hand, I've gone yard sale-ing for enough years that I've developed an intuition for which kinds of places are likely to have the kinds of clothes I'm hunting for.  My friends often ask me to take them along with me, and I can guide them to the "right" kind of places for what they're looking for. 
  • What is your tolerance for shopping?  To me, being in a mall for a half-an-hour is a special kind of Hell. I can't even imagine spending a day in one.  But other people find malls entertaining, I know.  On the other hand, to many people not like me, seeing the junk left over at yard sales is the worst kind of depressing.  But I love shopping out doors, looking at what people bought and no longer want -- it's a grand experiment in psychology, from my point of view.  
Because I've figured out an organized "system" for yard sale shopping, I spend less time at it than other people might think. So, yes, yard sales can take a lot of time -- but so can shopping in stores.

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