Casual Fridays returns: Who's thrifty? Who's REALLY thrifty?

Greta and I are back from a busy summer, the school year has started, and today's high temperature here in North Carolina will only be in the 70s! I can actually wear long pants again.

You know what that means: It's time to ramp up Survey Monkey for another season of Casual Fridays studies.

This week's study was inspired by a memory from my childhood. I always hated it when my mom used to mash the tiny remaining fragments of the old bar of soap into a brand-new bar, so we never got that "new soap" feeling. I realized that it was just a way of saving money, but I vowed that when I grew up and was buying my own soap, I'd toss the residual scrap into the trash and enjoy a fresh new bar.

Greta, of course, thought that was the silliest thing she'd ever heard, so we continue my (and her) mom's practice of mashing the old soap in with the new. Every once in a while, just to be rebellious, I'll throw the old soap away before she gets the chance, and replace it with a pristine new brick.

Anyway, it got me to thinking: How much does parents' thriftiness get handed down to their children? Do we tend to partner up with people of compatible thriftiness levels? Perhaps we'll be able to shed some light on these questions with this week's study.

Click here to participate

As usual, the survey is brief, with just 10 questions. It should take only a few minutes to complete. You have until Thursday, September 3 to complete your response. There is no limit on the number of respondents. Don't forget to come back next week for the results!

And if you have any interesting examples of your own (or others') extreme examples of thriftiness (or wastefulness), let us know about them in the comments.

More like this

I couldn't answer the last question because I'd only heard of 3 of those stores and only ever shopped at 1 of them. (I'm in the UK.)

My late mother-in-law used to wash and re-use aluminum foil and plastic wrap.

My grandmother-in-law, 90, is extremely thrifty. This summer, we emptied an entire dresser full, chiefly, of used dry-cleaning bags & cheap garment bags. We also threw away about 40 used Parkay tubs (saving back a dozen or so.)

My mother-in-law, for her part, had saved dozens and dozens of those green cardboard quart-sized berry boxes in the shed. We let her keep them.

We recycle. I hoard and am not thrifty. My husband is thrifty, but sorts & tosses relentlessly.

We cannot stand all these piles of used tin foil, etc.

for the last question, you did not name salvation army/goodwill .. was that intentional? because i didn't answer that since (guess what?) i don't go shopping at any of those other places, although, if the planets aligned, i'd spend a few bucks at nordstrom's.

My husband won't LET me wash and re-use zipper bags. If I lived on my own, I would do this AND I would dress the baby in gently used clothing.

By A.S. White (not verified) on 28 Aug 2009 #permalink

There seemed to be a pretty wide gap between the stores in the list in the last question. And it leaves a lot of things unanswered--for example, I rarely shop for clothes at any of those places, because I find Wal-Mart's clothes to be crappy (and I dislike their business plans), and the other places are too expensive or don't sell clothes I like. I second GrrlScientist--goodwill or Sal Army, please--or even Marshall's or TJ Maxx!

Grrl/Dr. Kate:

Good point. I've added a "secondhand/thrift store" choice. We're only 58 responses in at this point, plus I noted the time so I can correct for the omission if need be -- shouldn't affect the overall results.

Agree with Dr. Kate on the last question- I chose LL Bean because if I were going to splurge, I'd rather splurge there and get some quality hiking boots than designer dress clothes at Nordstrom's, but none of the choices were realistic. I boycott WalMart but do buy from TJ Maxx and Marshall's.

I use up the last little bits of soap until there isn't any left to combine with the new bar.

It blew my mind once when an acquaintance told me that she "didn't really care for leftovers." 1, that's wasteful. 2, that's nonsense because it's the same food the second day as it was the first day. Certain foods don't do well in the microwave, sure, but I couldn't imagine ruling out leftovers categorically.

One problem I had here was on the questions about my parents; one of which is very very thrifty, and the other of whom is not (as much). Should I have been answering for the one I felt I take after more? For the average? It was a bit confusing.

One thing I noticed about the last question -- you provide options for people who don't live in the US to answer your survey, but a lot of those retailers don't exist outside of the US. I'm in Canada and we don't have Saks Fifth Avenue, LL Bean, Macy's, or Nordstrom's. (I don't even know what "Nordstrom's" is...upmarket? Downmarket? Middle?) We do, alas, have Wal-Mart, but it could leave anytime.

I chose "secondhand store" as the source of all my clothes, but if I really had to pick one retailer, I don't know what I'd do. Any non-secondhand retailer that sells the kind of expensive clothes I like to wear doesn't sell the kind of casual clothes I like to wear, and vice versa, and the local Value Villages are a hit-or-miss proposition even at the best of times. I mostly shop at Value Village, Reitman's, The Bay, and Sears, two of which will probably mean about as much to you as LL Bean and Nordstrom's does to me. :)

By Interrobang (not verified) on 28 Aug 2009 #permalink

My parents had an entire wall of shelving dedicated to saving old containers from yogurt or baby food containers up to multi-gallon tubs. The biggest problem was finding the appropriate lid!

By MiddleO'Nowhere (not verified) on 28 Aug 2009 #permalink

My parents raised 8 children on a school teacher's salary so we all were raised thrifty in the extreme. Interestingly, all my nieces and nephews are also very careful with their money, so thriftyness to the third generation.

I ended up just not taking the survey. I was utterly unable to answer questions about my parents, because:

(a) growing up, one of my parents was incredibly thrifty, the other was horrible with money. It's one of the bigger reasons that they split up.
(b) money isn't nearly as tight now for the thrifty parent, and she's become very conscious about BPA, so she's a lot less thrifty than she used to be.

After my great-grandmother moved out of her home late in life, we found bricks of ration sugar from World War II (over 40 years in the past at the time) and washed, crumpled aluminum foil she had packed into the vents of rooms she did not wish to heat.

We found that particularly thrifty, although I am slightly dubious of its safety in practice.

New Englanders are the worst! I think some of it borders on hoarding.

I had one Aunt who when she passed left 2 kitchen drawers full of rubber bands from lobster claws. She must have saved those for years.

My family has always been "comfortable", but my dad's family (9 kids, 1 salary) is very thrifty, and it has rubbed off on almost all of us grandkids.

My mom has always imposed "standards" on being thrifty: you can be as thrifty as you want until it impacts quality, then just spend the damn money.

(Nordstrom? How about Nordstrom Rack? I love the Rack and all the hunting.)

By JustaTech (not verified) on 28 Aug 2009 #permalink

My parents and I are fairly thrifty, washing out some ziplock bags, reusing jars, etc. But nothing compares to my grandparents. They cut open the tube of toothpaste to get more out. My grandmother washes plastic ware and Styrofoam cups from fast food places. And on one bizarre occasion, they collected the toilet paper out of the tree that had been TPed in the yard the night before, and folded it to use in the house.

The question "Where are you from" is confusing since I live in Canada but was raised in India and lived there most of my life.
So where am I from?!

My late mother-in-law used to wash and re-use aluminum foil and plastic wrap.

I do that for aluminum foil, but plastic wrap has always fallen apart when I tried that.

And on one bizarre occasion, they collected the toilet paper out of the tree that had been TPed in the yard the night before, and folded it to use in the house.

My grandmother did that. In fact, she was infamous for doing it, and neighborhood no-goods would TP their house again, and again, and again, precisely because they knew she would insist on re-using the toilet paper, and then mercilessly mock her children about it. Not that long ago, I ran into a man on the bus who grew up in the same neighborhood, at the right time, and when I mentioned my last name, he immediately regaled me with his joyful memories of TPing their house and tormenting their children.

Already I've forgotten whether I answered Nordstrom or The Gap for the last question, but that was based on the way the question was phrased. I actually buy a lot of my clothes at Walmart or outlets, but if I _had_ to pick just one place, it wouldn't be one of those.

My wife and I do all those things, because we grew up poor and learned to make do with as little as possible. My parents were the same. Our kids are divergent, in that one is thrifty, the other is a spendthrift. I have no idea why, but that's the way it worked out.

"If I had to pick one source for all my clothes..."

Bad wording. I answered it as the source I would want, rather than the source that most accurately describes what I currently own. I would never pick the current source of my clothes--I would far rather pick something better.

We only use shower gel, so no soap-smooshing here. Although I do steal (or, "appropriate," as we feds say) shampoo and conditioner bottles from the better hotels I stay in, so that should count for something.

Interestingly, I was just thinking about this same question the other day, as I was gleefully shopping at our local outlet mall. I distinctly remember my mother trying to get me to buy my clothes at the outlets in Burlington, NC, when I was a teenager. I was mortified. Of course, when you're 16, you won't settle for anything less than whatever everyone else you know is wearing. But at 33, I truly appreciate the value of the outlet mall!

I have a suggestion for the soap bar dilemma Dave writes about.

when soap bar A becomes too thin to use comfortably do this:

1) put A aside;
2) open a new bar B
3) use B for a few days
4) mash A and B together

step 2 gives you the 'new soap feeling'.

step 4 ensures thriftiness.

so now you can have your cake and eat it too.

this sounds trivial but points to a broader lesson: thriftiness that seems harsh under certain conditions is perfectly acceptable (often unnoticeable) under other conditions.

By Stefano Bertolo (not verified) on 28 Aug 2009 #permalink

Just reiterating the complaint about the last question. Couldn't you have picked international brands, like the North Face, Banana Republic, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch; or chosen brand-neutral terms like "upmarket department store", "fashionable mountain gear store" etc?

I'm answering second-hand, but if I knew what the others were I might pick one. I've heard of Wal-mart and we have Gap in the UK, but the others are total blanks for me.

By Philip Potter (not verified) on 28 Aug 2009 #permalink

Yeah, another last-question-hater. I wear plus-sizes and wouldn't have a lot of luck shopping exclusively at any of those stores (except Wal-Mart, but I hate their clothes and policies). I mean, I can guess what you were getting at, but my most honest answer would have to be "of these, the clearance racks in the small and stupidly-named 'Women's' section at Macy's, but it would be a disaster." :)

I love Wal-Mart mostly because it's cheap, but I can feel virtuous because it also creates many jobs here & abroad (mostly in China), but I've got to admit the quality sometimes does leave something to be desired.

Fun test, thanks for putting it together! I live in the US and my husband is American but I am originally from Italy, where it is considered inappropriate to ask for the doggy bag. Italians became pretty poor during the wars, and I remember my grandparents, who used to be relatively wealthy, had a lot of proud and didn't want to look poor in front of others. They were very, very thrifty and this was passed to my parents and a little bit to me. Asking for the doggy bag is still a shame among Italians... Not to mention that our average portions at restaurants are usually smaller so we can usually finish them. If people ask for the doggy bag, they always say it is really, only for the dog (sure...). We also don't have zip bags (too bad, I love them!).

The New York Times ( reported that spendthrifts and their opposites tend to be attracted to each other -- one of the few cases where opposites actually tend to attract.

Posted by: Ben | August 28, 2009 5:19 PM

About that study, I wonder, is thriftiness related to how wealthy people are? In this case, is it possible that the attraction of wealthier people to less wealthy and viceversa explains the finding?

By the way, all is relative. I am the thrifty one in my current relationship, but I was the spendthrifts in my previous one. I change my behavior based on the partner to achieve a "perfect balance." So, talking about being thrifty, is it that opposite attracts or is that we became "opposite" once we are in a relationship?

The question at the end asked about ALL of your clothing. I would have picked goodwill/thrift store as my answer because I actually do buy most of my clothes there. However, I can not bring myself to buy used underwear. I can not go that far out of my comfort zone for the benefit of my wallet or the planet. So, I chose WalMart knowing it was the closest thing on the list to Target. WalMart clothes are poorly constructed. I would not buy my clothing there.

By Charlotte (not verified) on 29 Aug 2009 #permalink

I'm in Canada and while I've heard of Macy's and Nordstrom's and the others, I have no idea what they stock. Are they expensive, fashionable, moderate, or what? If it's hard for a Canadian to answer, I doubt that anyone in Europe or Asia could do any better. Maybe a word or two of description about their niche would help next time.

I am pretty thrifty, and I often wash and re-use jars and things like that, but the idea of doing that with "zipper bags" (I am assuming you mean the transparent polythene things) boggles my mind. On thrift grounds alone I would be all for it, but it seems horribly unhygienic. Isn't the whole point of such bags that when they are new they are effectively sterile inside? Considering the soft plastic they are made of, and the little unreachable corners where liquids an accumulate, you are never going to be able to get them back to anything like that state by washing and drying them. They are bound to be full of germs.

I recently received, as a gift, a small mesh drawstring bag that is designed for collecting and using odd bits of soap. It's made by a local company that produces rather expensive "natural ingredient" handmade soaps, though you could just as well put bits of Ivory or Irish Spring or cheap generic soap in it. I also save small shampoos and other toiletries from hotels, but for the purpose of donating them to shelters for the homeless or for those displaced by hurricanes (I live in a Gulf Coast state).

I wash out and re-use ziploc bags, and I don't think I've ever gotten sick as a result. I've been packing my own lunch, and a thermos of tea or coffee, almost every work day since grad school - I'd say that this is perhaps my most consistent thrifty habit. I often make gifts, especially for babies, and because I knit, crochet, and embroider, I tend to have a lot of leftover fibers. Usually I can find a way to incorporate these leftovers into charity projects (such as Caps to the Capital or Knit-a-Square), and recently I started "scrumbling" to use up even smaller bits of yarn.

Both sets of grandparents were extremely thrifty, and my parents are also thrifty. Sometimes I resent the fact that the popularity of multiple gift registries makes it difficult or socially unacceptable to offer handmade gifts for weddings and showers. Then I get over it, and go off to buy the small appliance or china pattern or sheet set or whatever. My parents only had a silver pattern for their wedding, because no one they knew had enough money to buy more than one or two teaspoons or forks.

I was also confused about the last question... is that for the store we'd WANT to get all our clothing from or the one we DO get our clothing from? The only chain store listed that is actually available out here in the sticks is Wal*Mart, but we have a few others, Penneys, Belks, K-Mart, etc. However, I listed thrift store because that's where I shop most. For the kids. I haven't bought new clothing for myself in many years.

I'm not sure that doggy bags are at all common in the UK. I've never heard of anyone taking food home from a restaurant.

Also, I answered the last question thinking it was compulsory but I din't know most of the shops, being in the UK. If enough of us did that it might skew the results. Sorry.

Sorry about that last question, non-US residents.

There really wasn't a good way to ask that question that included everyone -- stores are different around the world.

I did ask where you're from, so I can see whether location makes a difference in the responses to that question.

Just reiterating the geographical, 'stores' point.
I know where you are coming from - although we don't have a 'wal-mart' as such, I know what it is from culture references.
I didn't know the other stores, but I guess there was a scale as they got more pricey/exclusive.
Maybe it would have been possible to make them globally generic, but I can see how that'd be tough.

The shame is of course, that it excludes us foreigners!

I consider myself a moderately thrifty person, especially compared to my friends, but I don't consider washing bags or using sour cream containers "thrifty" whatsoever. Here are 10 things I do that I consider really thrifty:

1. I get eggs from my own urban chickens. Reduces the waste stream from a factory farm, lower transportation costs. Weed and extremely good pest control.
2. I buy shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste etc. in huge quantities once a year. No additional quickie trips to Target mean no impulse purchases. Probably saves $2k a year.
3. I negotiate hardcore making real estate purchases and other large purchases. This takes some skill but I've saved thousands. Makes up for the plastic sandwich bags I will not rinse out and reuse in my lifetime, my husband's lifetime, and about 2 children's lifetimes.
4. Food waste goes to dogs, worm bin, compost pile, or chickens.
5. My husband and I carpool religiously. Saves $600/month. That's a lot of tupperware.
6. I buy really expensive things that last a lifetime. For every 10 Target cheapo knockoffs someone buys to be "thrifty" I buy one item. I also research really thoroughly before committing, so I know it will last and isn't just expensive. Then I get a good deal on the item.
7. Recent major furniture purchase: I got the items on sale, and then paid with gift cards bought on ebay that were about 20% off face value (incl. shipping). Saved almost 50% on a bed from Pottery Barn and 2 end tables.
8. I don't go shopping for entertainment.
9. I don't water the lawn.
10. We use a cash back card wisely and get about $500/year from it.

By bucketgirl (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

@bucketgirl: I've considered buying gift cards from ebay, but how would one go about verifying them? I don't wanna end up getting ripped off somehow.

By waterlemon (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

I'm another poster who wasn't fond of the last question, and if it's not too late would encourage you to replace the store names with generic descriptions. Actually, another approach might have been to split it into two. Why? Because growing up I learned to sew and made most of my own clothes (including my wedding dress). We didn't have much, but we did "spend" on things meant to last a long time. I translate that these days into investing in career pieces and quality jeans that will last multiple years ... shorts and T-shirts, not so much.

I was surprised not to see questions about how frequently people bring home lunches to work or pack them for the kid(s) for school. We do a lot of that with food-safe reusable containers. Stretches our budget and lets us buy better-quality ingredients than we'd get with ready-made.

Hello -needed a few more 'not applicable' options on the test: I don't use plastic cutlery, I don't know what a zipper bag is (though my imagination is fast informing me), and as I cook in, doggy bags are redundant . I also don't really know what those brands are that you mention in your last question. A rather limited test.

It was difficult for me to answer the questions about my parents. My father was extremely thrifty and my mother is the complete opposite.

The last question really needs to be redone. There is a class of stores in the US that offer designer and other clothing but at discount prices. Examples are Marshall's and TJ Maxx. This category wasn't even offered in the list, yet that is where I tend to look for clothing and I'm sure many other thrifty people will agree with me.

It's cheaper than a department store but not as desperate as shopping at Goodwill.

By AMerrickanGirl (not verified) on 01 Sep 2009 #permalink

Just wanted to make another comment about the last question. The way it was worded was if you had to choose just one store, so I chose L.L. Bean. I don't do all of my shopping there because they don't offer a ton in the way of work clothes or trendy items that I may spend less on and buy lesser quality because I don't intend to wear it forever. They offer high quality long lasting clothing and have a very respectable business model (they guarantee just about everything they sell). The compulsory aspect of just one store for the rest of your life altered the way I answered.

When it comes to thriftiness in clothing, I'll often mend my own underwear. My friends think I'm crazy for doing it, but the plain cotton ones from Marks & Spencer can last for ages if they're looked after properly, and I'd rather take two minutes to fix a tiny rip in a side seam than throw out an otherwise serviceable piece of clothing. I've also darned more than one pair of favourite socks when they start to look a bit worn around the toes. If my grandmother could do it during the war, I don't see why I should turn up my nose at it.

My S/O is so thrifty that we don't go out to eat, he uses all of the soap until it's gone (I never thought this was possible, but it is true), but doesn't reuse plastic baggies.

However, my parents, who wash out plastic baggies, will buy almost anything that they see advertised on an infomercial and eat out two to three times a week.

I guess what I'm getting at here, is that your quiz results may not be very accurate.

I took the quiz and I wonder how accurately those questions guage thriftyness vs. environmental awareness, which is a pretty prevalent concern on many people's minds. I do many of the things mentioned in the questions - re-use plastic silverware, wash out zip lock bags, and use the back of printed documents for scrap paper not to save money but to be a little more "green."

Don't mash up the bath soap into a new bar or throw it out. Move it to the sink for use as hand soap.

Wow, people, get a grip about the wording of the questions! Maybe your favorite store isn't listed in the question about where you'd buy clothes -- big deal! Instead of thinking that those are your only choices, why not do what the author intended (or so I assume) and assume that store represents stores in its general class? The "Walmart" answer is representative of Target, etc. The "Macy's" answer represents Dillard's, etc. Read between the lines.

I wonder about the selection of "if you could only shop at one place..." I mean, it is quite pointed as Wal-Mart as being the cheapest (thrift stores are trendy here and cost more than Wal-Mart), but is is about quality? If one were to be truly thrifty then I surmise that a person would buy something that lasts instead of something cheap and disposable. Let's do the math: I would rather buy something that had a higher up front cost if I knew it would last longer than something cheaper. (quality $100 item is cheaper, lasting five years, than something costing $25, lasting only a year)

Also, another question I think would be what is the period between buying new clothes? a) every year, b) every other year, c) when fashion demands it, d) when it is no longer capable of being worn

I had to pick Wal-Mart on the last question as they're the only one of those stores where I can reliably find clothes in my size!

It was 106 today and I was very happy. Sigh.

@waterlemon - Most people on ebay are honest. Only buy from sellers with high positive feedback. If possible make the purchase with a credit card like Amex through PayPal, so if there is a dispute you have an extra layer of protection (plus cashback or points!). Do not do COD or Western Union. I've yet to be taken on gift cards. Just read the fine print about shipping and handling. If you're getting a $400 card for $375 and the shipping is $20 you're not really saving anything.

By bucketgirl (not verified) on 02 Sep 2009 #permalink

I think different people are "thrifty" for different reasons. For example, my parents are thrifty because they are immigrant parents who had to save every penny they could. For me and my SO, on the other hand, we choose to save & reuse because we believe in the green revolution and are very careful to minimize the amount of waste we put on the planet. This goes back to some readers' points that quality clothing are worth more miles/wears per cost than buying cheaply made ones more often. Also, I'd rather pay a little more for something that is made locally/organically/with better materials, than pay less for something that has a greater carbon footprint.

I agree with the comments about an environmental/sustainability motivation for thriftiness. Why throw away something that is absolutely re-usable? I like to reuse ribbons from presents.

I also agree on the value of buying things that are made well and of quality materials; an item that lasts for years and years is well worth some extra cost. Why buy something that you intend to stop using in a few months? (The Story of Stuff does a great way of explaining stuff and what happens to it;