‘Wow! Love that dress Tamara,’ my co-worker said, admiring my designer frock.
‘Oh, thanks,’ I smiled, not daring to tell her I’d bought it second-hand.
It was 1997 and, aged 21, I’d travelled to the UK, landing a job at Sotheby’s, the posh auction house in London. As they sold art, jewellery and antiques, sometimes for millions of dollars apiece, the company expected their staff to be dressed accordingly. Unfortunately I wasn’t paid a huge salary.
So I began shopping at charity stores, blown away by the amount of designer gear there for next to nothing. By avoiding fashion shops, I was amazed how much more cash I had.
It was like someone was putting money into my bank account!
This meant I could travel more, which was my passion.
One day when I was 28, a friend who was on much higher pay than me asked, ‘How do you afford all these holidays? I can never go away!’
Looking at her in a new outfit, as always, it was obvious why she was broke – most of her wages went on high fashion!
I decided to try to never buy anything new again, apart from essentials such as food and medication.
Aged 34, in 2010, I went on a two-week expedition on a ship to Antarctica, to learn more about climate change and sustainability.
It was alarming to discover how quickly greenhouse gases were trapping heat and warming the planet, resulting in melting ice caps and rising sea levels.
The results were obvious – a worldwide increase in horrific bushfires and catastrophic floods, causing the deaths of people and animals.
Shockingly, the manufacturing industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with clothing also a huge part of the planet’s waste problem.
In Australia we each buy about 15 kilos of clothing a year, or 56 items, with over 260,000 tons of it ending up in landfill annually.
‘What will you do to help our planet?’ an expedition leader asked us.
It made me think. So that year I created Buy Nothing New Month to encourage people to shop second-hand.
Thousands got on board. Many hadn’t realised how much good stuff there was in op shops and online for a fraction of the new cost – or even free!
One family of six sent me a photo of themselves on holiday in snorkelling gear. We managed to go away with all the money we saved! they marvelled.
Some friends, however, weren’t sure about buying completely pre-loved stuff.
‘I couldn’t buy sheets or towels from Vinnies,’ said one.
‘The sheets and the towels you use at hotels aren’t new,’ I pointed out.
‘I couldn’t buy second-hand cutlery,’ said another friend.
‘The cutlery you use in a restaurant has been used heaps of times,’ I laughed.
I was saving so much I was able to buy my own one-bed apartment that year. I fitted it out with second-hand furniture, such as the $6000 designer couch I bought for $800 on eBay and the $900 leather saddle chair I got for $20 from an op shop.
I also saved thousands by kitting out my kitchen with second-hand white goods and appliances.
I even bought my underwear at op shops, provided it still had tags on it and was unworn. I also shopped at op shops for second-hand rashies, shoes, exercise and surfing gear.
Then in 2012 I started ‘The New Joneses’, a sustainable living group.
On our website and YouTube we posted tons of videos with free tricks and tips on how to save money and our planet. I also spoke at schools and toured the country with our award-winning eco-friendly tiny house, showing how to spend less on energy bills and lighten your footprint.
And I’m still dedicated to giving pre-loved items a second lease on life!
Last year I went to my sister Melle’s wedding in a stunning Collette Dinnigan dress. I was proud to say I bought it second-hand. A Facebook Marketplace bargain, it cost $50, instead of $1000 new!
I’ve not bought anything new, apart from food and medication, for 20 years.
I have everything I need including beautiful clothes, an iPhone and a Macbook Air laptop – all second-hand. I have no plans to upgrade my 15-year-old VW Golf car and my French bulldog, Francesca, is a rescue.
I estimate I’ve saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 20 years by buying second-hand instead of new.
Often, buying gifts for others is a waste of time and money. Each year, over six million Aussies expect to receive Christmas presents they will not use, with the bulk of them destined for landfill.
Luckily my partner David is as on board as I am about buying second-hand stuff.
Living frugally could change your life. Remember the three ‘R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle. And get into swapping, renting, borrowing and sharing.
Choose second-hand first!
Let’s all save money while building a better future for our kids. Together we can move mountains.