I recently bought $29 worth of clothes at two thrift stores – Salvation Army and Goodwill – and each time I made my purchase I felt like I was taking advantage of a service that was meant for people earning much less than I earn. Not that I’m a Rockefeller, but I make a decent living.
On both shopping trips I saw people who fell into two camps:
- those shopping there out of necessity
- those wanting to get incredible prices
The presence of other bargain hunters didn’t make me feel any better about the shirts, dress, pants, and belt I paid $1.74-$4 each for. Shouldn’t these clothes be going to someone who really needs them? As opposed to me, who was looking for an all-yellow outfit for my Frisbee tournament this weekend (above, team colors).
In the past, readers have commented that if in my gut I feel I have done something wrong, I have. But I’m not so sure this time.
My uneasiness is less about committing a wrong than feeling like I was sucking up a limited resource. I can afford to pay more for clothes, therefore I should, leaving the Salvation Army and Goodwill selection to the poor.
Case in point, after purchasing a pair of black long johns ($4) and a pair of black sweat pants (also $4) from a man who compulsively snorted, I paid $10 to ice skate for 45 minutes, $2 for a bottle of water (forgot mine in my car), and $6 for a beer at a karaoke bar at a friend’s farewell party.
What do you think? Is it unethical to shop at thrift stores intended for poor people when you can afford to pay more?
UPDATE: Readers chimed in to say, for the most part, that my guilt was nonsense.
Living Doll said:
Release your guilt Bargain Babe. You are doing something good by shopping at thrift stores because you are helping support an organization that isn’t in it entirely for profitability. Most of these stores have loads of clothing that is reasonably priced for those less fortunate to purchase. You are not taking from them.
Laura admitted to twinges of guilt:
I love shopping at the thrift stores, and now my boys, away at college, do the same. I must admit though, I do feel a bit guilty, I take off my diamond ring before I go in, and I park my Volvo down the street! I do donate to them also.
Mimi questioned my aptitude:
You cannot be serious about this question. I think you are pulling our collective leg. Do you also feel guilty buying at garage sales, swap meets and flea markets? This has got to be a joke on readers who are ethically and morally challenged. I don’t believe you are so naive to ask the question with a straight face. But I could be wrong.
Actually Mimi, I was serious!
Audrey is succinct:
I agree with most of the posters. The program is not intended to provide clothing to the poor, but rather to generate funds for the outreach programs they provide.