With retailers desperate for consumers' money, and consumers increasingly holding onto that money more tightly, paying full price has become about as uncool as wearing mom jeans. By visiting discount stores, thrift shops, and even picking up the occasional used item, shoppers can trim their budgets, without sacrificing fashion or lifestyle.
In their new book, The Scavengers' Manifesto, Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson explain how to live for less by becoming a scavenger, which they define as anyone who collects what other people discard, or, more broadly, people who avoid paying full price for just about everything. While they acknowledge that some people are more suited to scavenging than others, Rufus and Lawson, who are married, say that just about anyone can incorporate elements of recycling and reusing into their lives. Here are 10 rules of scavenging:
1. Consider your wallet and the environment. In their book, Rufus and Lawson report that 200 million tons of trash are thrown out each year. So while saving cash is a big reason to start scavenging, many people are just as motivated by environmental concerns. "The less you consume, the smaller your carbon footprint is," Lawson says. "When you scavenge, you're opting out of that entire cycle. You end up saving the world just by not consuming." Plus, he adds, you appreciate what you have more, because if you avoid buying new items, you tend to have less.
2. Think big. Neither Rufus nor Lawson has bought new clothes in the last 12 years, and they estimate that they spent just $10 in the last year on clothes. Yet their closets are filled with designer outfits that they found in discarded boxes by the curb one day. "95 percent of the things in this house have been scavenged, from the carpets to the paint on the wall," says Rufus. "It's amazing to us how much, and what, people throw away."
3. Be prepared. Rufus and Lawson bring plastic bags with them each time they leave the house, just in case they come across something—fruit in a park, or discarded artwork—that they want to bring back home. In fact, Rufus thinks of each trip out as an adventure, where she'll potentially bring home treasure. "Much of the joy of scavenging is the thrill of the random. You discover something you didn't even know you were looking for," adds Lawson.
[Listen to an interview with Rufus and Lawson: "How to Become a Scavenger."]
4. Relinquish control. So much of our consumer culture is based on buying exactly what you want, when you want it. But Rufus and Lawson say that being a scavenger means relinquishing that instant gratification. "For people accustomed to the control of living in a consumer society, it can be a hard transition," Rufus acknowledges.
5. Set some limits. Maybe you draw the line at eating someone else's dinner leftovers, or perhaps you have a bias against used jeans. Whatever your personal limits, Rufus and Lawson recommend recognizing and following them. They follow a dozen principles of their own, including do not steal, do not harm the environment, don't deny yourself necessities, don't become a nuisance to others, don't remove historical artifacts, make an effort to return lost things to their owners, don't eat gross things, don't browbeat others into becoming scavengers, and don't be a mooch.
"I call it the ick factor," says Rufus. "We're never asking anyone to go beyond their ick factor. I have a germ phobia, so I don't dumpster dive [for food]," she says. But Rufus and Lawson do visit discount retail grocery stories where mislabeled or out-of-season food is sold at low prices.
Another risk to watch out for is the danger of becoming a hoarder, or a person who compulsively collects things. Rufus and Lawson recommend purging your scavenged collection of goods every now and then by donating them or hosting a yard sale.
[Read "How to Overcome a Shopping Addiction"]
6. Don't worry about being seen as strange—scavenging is getting more popular. While Rufus admits there is a long-standing prejudice against scavengers, she also says the stigma is slowly evaporating. "[Scavenging] is getting more and more common. It's happening at downtown offices all over the country. [Someone says], 'Everyone bring in clothing they have in their closet that they don't want any more and we'll trade,'" she says.