Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Finding the 'Thrift'

What is happening to the humble Op Shop?
Over the past months there have been numerous discussions on Simple Savings and KidSpot that charity Op Shops are not providing items at a reasonably cheap price and being quite selective in the items being collected into the stores. As a keen op-shopper currently on a very limited budget, I must agree.

In the past, going into the Salvos was akin to a Target shop - only with designer 'labels' to choose from. If I was aiming for the Myer of OpShops, then I would go to the Red Cross or St Vincent de Paul ~ both are usually a little higher in cost. My David Jones type OpShop is LifeLine or Mission op shops. The 'upper market' shops could quickly take my $20 in one or two items. The Salvos OpShop had the price and discount range to allow $20 to cover a few items for me - and SmallBoy - plus something for MudGuts. Maybe even some kitchenware and a book or three.

Now, unless I shop on Concession Card Tuesday for 20% off and buy only from the nominated colour 'on special' ticket, $20 barely covers a pair of jeans. Knowing I can get brand new jeans from Rivers, it makes the choice harder. Sure, Rivers quality is nowhere near as good as it used to be and buying from an op shop provides an environmental 'reuse, recycle' purchase, but its almost worth spending more time trawling the church op shops for the occasional wanted/needed item or sticking to FreeCycle type websites.

There was an interesting article in The West Australian recently about the Salvos becoming a retail outlet, a boutique, as opposed to a charity organisation. Its profit has increased by $10 million to $18 million. That's excellent news for the disadvantaged they support, but it has made the retail stores out of reach of many 'disadvantaged' clientele. The article said staff have to 'up-sell' as retail staff are expected to do. Perhaps the methodology needs to change so those in need, holding a pension or health care card can present it at the counter for a 50% discount - although sadly while typing that it would be another avenue to 'rip off' the system for those who enjoy such adventures. 

The Op Shop was one way I knew we could obtain goods at reasonably cheap prices without the disposable factor of the '$2 shop' ~ now the Op Shop is another KMart or Target without offering new or perhaps just dodging business GST under the guise of charity. People are talking up Savers ~ which is great, so long as you don't think Savers are a charity store. Its not - its a business through and through. Then there was the shop run by two dear ladies on PayTVs "Mary Queen of Shops" who were coerced into a total re-fit and left with a bright funky store, requiring staff and the low cost, no fuss aspect of their community store because a business in need of profit to remain open. Bigger, better, faster doesn't always work does it?

I think one area which is very disappointing is the way so many donated items are now rejected as unsuitable, unwanted or unsaleable ~ and its not just ripped clothing. Electrical items can no longer be sold for fear a faulty item can become a law suit. Hand made toys cannot be sold for fear of 'contaminants' - even if made by the donater personally. Surely there must be a method of 'buyer beware' which can be implemented, where appropriate testing and tagging by the purchaser will enable a goods return, refund or store credit. As for some tales of volunteers simply taking items - no doubt it does happen, however a little discretion about how, why and when might need to be included in staff management training. 

This is by no mean an attack or put down against organisations like the Salvation Army or CentreCare or St Vincent de Paul ~ as charitable and caring groups, these organisations are very very helpful, kind and able to provide for those in need, regardless of the cost of items within a store. I know when MudGuts' mate was caught in a bind, he was given a certificate to allow him to select $50 of apparel and $150 in bedding or furnishings. Those he dealt with were the human face of care and compassion but the encounter at store level did leave a sour taste after such sweet care and assistance for a young boy caught in a very bad situation.

No doubt many people have their own horror experience when finding out volunteers get first 'dibs', or take what they want for free, or stash something away for later. My father was a shocker for it - but I didn't want to know taking a wardrobe for the garage was better than giving it to a client, judged as a 'junkie bum'. I am sure that OpShop Manager would be mortified being called a petty thief ~ however that's how I see it. MudGuts' mate did not select much - a bed, a chest of drawers, a pouf, sheets, a quilt and some clothes. He chose some crockery and cutlery but was told by the manager these weren't permissible items. He selected some pots and utensils but again these were not clothes, bedding or furnishings in her opinion. He had found a pair of boots he had to argue as being apparel - and would not have succeeded if the voucher had said clothes. He could not select the toothpaste, toothbrush, talcum or laundry powder valued at $5 in total. That side was shameful, humiliating for the poor boy who is not a 'junkie bum'. We raided our cupboards here at home for any short falls - including a wardrobe sitting in our garage, and helped fix up his 'space'.
Still too skinny, hey!?
And I am not going to begrudge those volunteers who do find a bargain to keep for themselves. As volunteers I understand they are not being paid, so finding a shirt or table which is suitable for them and taking it with or without payment is not going to deprive anyone - however taking items to provide for personal Christmas shopping for the year or to give to friends or family with no offer of payment is inappropriate in my view. If I was volunteering in an Op Shop, part of me would have no qualm with putting an item or three aside and haggling a lower price for them. I would not expect them for free, nor would I expect there would be 'something in it for me' every time I helped out. That is not offering of oneself, that is using a situation for profit or gain. Some volunteers are perhaps working there to gain valuable work experience, to escape loneliness, to improve their social skills, to contribute to society, to start a new life after escaping an abusive one and, in some instances, to have first pick of what comes in.

Hitting the church op shop is the way to go, or looking out for a community opportunity shop attached to a school, church or hospice - while not as wide in range, it is lower in cost making it affordable. I felt really sad that it seems to be so commercialised and lacking in basic 'good will' from society. Just as there are those who manipulate the system - on both the giving and taking side - there are those who have a genuine needs for accessing such services without judgement or belittling assumptions. To collectively assume all single mothers are 'no hopers' really does make it hard for those escaping a life of battering and abuse ~ same as a young, unkempt lad being assumed to be a 'junkie bum' for spending weeks on the streets and friends couches in the one set of clothes when really it is to avoid another round of punching bag and verbal abhorrence by his parents.

Personally, I don't need any new clothes ever again. I have enough to wardrobe three other females of various sizes. Hence, the desire to get rid of "everything" and I am actually getting to the stage where I could pick out my favourite 100 items to cover all seasons and events and sell, give, rag the rest. At 6'9", MudGuts clothes purchases are hit and miss at the best of times - long, lanky, skinny lad that he is, grounded by elephant feet. But SmallBoy is in that ever changing height and girth of a pre-teen so his needs fluctuate. 

You've probably noticed Husband doesn't get much of a mention ~ he is happy in his tracksuit and t-shirt. He has sufficient in the way of work and good trousers, shirts and jackets - possibly more than is needed so I am trying to coax several Country Road, Pierre Cardin and similar ilk labels out of the wardrobe and into the 'for sale' box. I think I shall get there, its just a slow period of persuasion required. *grins*

'Scuse the rant on the demise of the Op Shop ~ I miss my favourite shop. I know this isnt my usual tone of post but it;s been a funny few days of which I can say comes down to withdrawing from these darn opiate pain killers - I guess I wanted to be have a good moment in my 'favourite' store where one can normally get things that are needed as well as those wanted ~ I was just disappointed and a little fragile to feel so looked down upon - if not me directly but via MudGuts' and his mate's treatment by those I always felt were more tolerant and accepting..

SmallBoy once said to me that if we won Tattslotto I could get the chance to buy clothes without checking its the 'on sale' colour or maybe even go buy clothes in a 'real shop'. *laughs* At the moment, having $300pw for every expense after the mortgage payment, even the Op Shop has become out of reach for us - its just sad that economics and greed have won over charity and care.  And maybe I've only seen a small snapshot but that judgement and assumption I witnessed it the type which has made it so hard for those in genuine need to seek and receive help without full explanations and disclosure - even if doing so means being called a liar...

The normal, boring stuff
I'll need to put petrol in the car tomorrow ~ its getting a little on the low side. I'll also need to get milk but food wise all else is more than adequate. SmallBoy is taking slices of the cantelope to school for fruit as we are out of apples and bananas. It was a good score getting two melons for $2.50 (was that a week or so ago) which were probably not quite ripe when purchased but certainly are beautiful and ripe now. I've made up a container full of muesli slice and bites again using all the left over cereal and a tin of condensed milk. A girlfriend makes one with tahini - when we are next a little flush I might get a jar because it adds such a nice flavour.

Still aiming to spend no more than $10 this week - milk will be $3 and, if it ends up necessary, no-name wheat biscuits or corn flakes will be about $3 also. I found a tree with apples falling off by the dozen today so will get some of those and we have blackberries to use with the strawberries to replace the empty jar of jam. I'll also make some bread tonight - I'll finally give it a go and maybe even make cheese and Vegemite scrolls, or at least something with herbs and cheese for SmallBoy to take for lunch as we have no sliced bread. "Everyone" says they are so easy to make I may as well give it a go!

Pie tonight - its going to be a corker! Not only have I used the BBQ chicken (about $2.50 worth), its seasoning and vegetables (all up maybe $1) - the last of the crunchy sprouts are in and there is enough over for a pasta sauce! I've decided tomorrow will be burgers using the mince, instead of Friday and we will have pasta on Friday to break up the repetitiveness of the same ingredients on consecutive days.

Until tomorrow...


  1. I worked as a volunteer in our local Salvos about 14 years ago, and we were expected to pay for anything we wanted AND we had to have the Boss ring up the purchases, to make sure we were paying the proper prices. As I was a single mum at the time, I didn't mind because it was still cheaper than the shops.
    Not so now. The Salvos ARE a business and their prices are beyond the reach of a struggling family.
    It's a real shame.

  2. I was very hesitant to write my thoughts ~ and I thank you Toni for your comment and insight. You describe as it SHOULD be. It's no longer the 'shop of opportunity' for those in need, rather another place for the opportunity of profit. It is a real shame :(