Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Saving Tips: Look for Free Clothing Bins

I was reminded about something that we use to do in college that I thought would make a great saving tip for you today. By the time I graduated from college my wife and I both had bachelor degrees, a two year old who my wife stayed home with, and a net worth of about $80,000. Of this, we had $50,000 set aside as the down payment for our first home. We did a fairly good job of saving money while in college and here is one of the ways that helped us do this.

Look for Free Clothing Bins

This is a trick that my wife learned when she was a 17 year old freshman in college. Her parents weren’t very happy or supportive of her decision to graduate from high school a year early and move away from home to start college 18 hours away. Part of the deal was that if she choose to go through with it she would have to find ways to finance her own education. Needless to say, she had to work very hard and find ways to live very cheap in order to make this happen.

When she lived in the dorms she noticed that so many of the other freshmen girls were out there with semi-free reign to mommy and daddy’s credit card. It was their first look at “freedom” and used it liberally. She would watch many of them go on frequent shopping trips and they seemed to be always wearing new clothes. They seemed to have no regard for frugality and treated themselves to whatever they thought they needed at the moment.

Fast forward a few months to the end of their first year away at school. As finals ended and people began having to pack up for the trip home for the summer they started to notice a problem. Not that their finances were in a wreck, but that they owned too much stuff to fit into their luggage. Imagine that, they came with fully suitcases, bought a new oversized wardrobe, then couldn’t keep all their crap due to a lack of space.

This is when that big bin in the laundry room, the one with the “Free” sign, started to fill up, and up, and up. My wife and some of her more frugal friends realized that this was their opportunity to cash in on their patience and revamp their wardrobe. For years to come, as soon as finals week started each semester, her and a few friends would make “shopping” trips to the basements of the dorms and student apartment buildings around campus to sort through the poor financial decisions of others.

After we got married I was amazed at some of the things that she would find to bring home. Everything they would rescue looked like it had only been worn a few times at most. Sometimes they would find clothes that had never been worn and still had the price tags on them (why they didn’t just return it to the store is beyond my ability to comprehend). On a good finals week these girls would be able to completely replace their wardrobe (probably not socks and underwear though, thankfully those weren’t really donated).

A few times I remember her bringing home men’s clothes that they had come across that she wanted me to try on, I think there were only a few shirts that we found that would fit me. This was rare though because all of the dorms and apartment buildings associated with that school are not co-ed and they would only go into the female ones.

After about a week or two the university would send some big trucks around to clean out all of the free bins and take everything down to the local thrift stores. And our season of plenty would dry up again for a few months.

Did we ever feel guilty about taking things like this? No, we didn’t. I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to go dig through the stuff that is left on the Goodwill donations dock because those are items that are intentionally being donated. The free bins were just a convenient location for them to unload their stuff, I’d be surprised if half of them ever realized that they would end up being donated, and the other half probably didn’t care what happened to them.  


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