Celine didn’t expect that she would haggle second-hand clothes, and she certainly won’t tell her book club.
Most important points:
- While inflation bites, the second-hand economy is booming
- Facebook Marketplace saw a 72 percent increase in second-hand listings in Australia in the first half of 2022
- But some are ashamed that circumstances have forced them to buy second-hand
But desperate times have called for desperate measures – even for the “solid middle class” homeowners on the Central Coast, with engineer salaries and respectable combined incomes.
“I’d be really embarrassed if people knew about it,” says Celine, whose name has been changed.
“I never thought we’d be in this predicament. As middle income earners, it really should be a lot easier.”
The mother of four never bought much second hand, but now she’s constantly chasing offers and freebies — everything from clothes and shoes to bedding, furniture, and home improvements.
“I picked up free curtain rods this morning because the curtains are black with mold after all the wet,” she said.
As the cost of living rises, the second-hand economy seems to be booming – and many Australians are getting there for the first time.
Despite the economic downturn, resale platforms like Gumtree, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace are reporting increased activity in some categories, as are other neighborhood gifting and sharing groups.
Necessity and hardship seem to lead us into a new era of second-hand buying and selling.
Cost of living squeeze ‘sharper’ than GFC
For many Australians, the pinching started sometime in the past two years.
Unemployment rose with the pandemic, followed by inflation. In mid-2021, inflation outpaced wage growth, causing the real value of a typical worker’s wage package to decline.
It has been declining ever since. Annual inflation is now at 5.1 percent and growing at the fastest pace in 20 years, driven largely by fuel prices (up 35 percent) and construction materials (up 15.4 percent).
In May, Anglicar Modeling showed how tight the pinch had become:
- A full-time minimum wage worker is left with $29 after essential weekly expenses, excluding health care or utility bills
- A family of four, with two full-time minimum wage workers, has no income after expenses
- A single parent on minimum wage is short of $195 a week, even if he’s on benefits
The battle to break through this downturn has been generally more difficult than it was during the global financial crisis of the late 1990s, Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said.
†It’s sharper. It’s much sharper,” she said.
“We have the recession, we have the pandemic, we have a much higher level of precarious work than 10 or 15 years ago.”
What’s striking about the downturn, she said, was that families who had never used charitable services showed up at Anglicare’s depots, hoping not to be seen by anyone they know.
“It’s now very common to find working families and even two-income families who can’t make it through the weekly or biweekly payment cycle,” she said.
The rise of the ‘second-hand economy’
In the past ten years, the second-hand economy has grown enormously.
The advertising platform Gumtree, which publishes an annual snapshot of the economy, estimates that the value of second-hand goods sold in Australia nearly doubled between 2011-2021.
A major reason for this was that consumers want to avoid the waste and emissions associated with buying new ones, said Louise Grimmer, an online shopping expert at the University of Tasmania.
It’s also just easier now to buy and sell second-hand stuff, she added.
“Online marketplaces have really enabled more and more consumers to buy and sell second-hand items.”
With prices rising, these marketplaces will become even more popular, she said.
Early figures seem to confirm this.
Facebook Marketplace has a 72 percent increase in second-hand listings in Australia in the first half of 2022, compared to the same period last year, according to owner, Meta.
The most searched for items are caravans, cars, sofas, coffee tables and “free items”.
eBay has seen recent surges in sales of men’s clothing and shoes, as well as used technology and toys such as video game consoles and video games.
Used smartwatches, headphones and vacuum cleaners also sell well.
“We expect refurbished items to grow in popularity as people tighten their belts,” said Sophie Onikul of eBay Australia.
Gumtree also said it expects an increase in the second-hand economy this year.
Meanwhile, the action flares up in second-hand auction houses.
Auction sites thrive as conditions deteriorate
Like Celine, Erika and her husband (joint income of about $200,000) recently turned to second-hand shopping to save money.
“Prices have gone up so much,” she says.
“I don’t want to justify spending more money if I don’t make enough.”
She bought a kitchen cabinet on an auction site, watched YouTube tutorials, bought white paint and primer, and “made it Hamptons style.”
That auction site, Abbey’s Auctions in Melbourne, predicts strong growth.
“We are definitely one of the countercyclical companies,” said Amanda Brook, the company’s CEO.
Not only will more people buy second-hand, but more people will sell their possessions as they downsize or cut costs.
“Many people will move from large single-family homes to smaller, more manageable properties,” said Ms. Brook.
“That brings a lot of beautiful products into the auction room.”
Huge hunger for ‘buy nothing’ groups
Then there’s the other option: don’t buy anything at all.
Until the pandemic, Alison from Melbourne mainly bought new stuff.
But she lost her customer service job in early 2020 and struggled to find a steady job.
Eight months ago, with the fridge on the cut, she joined her local “buy nothing” group on Facebook “out of necessity”.
Started in 2013 in the United States, the Buy Nothing Project describes itself as a global movement where neighbors come together and share what they need, without exchanging money.
The self-described movement claims to have more than 5 million members worldwide, with 7,000 communities in 44 countries.
Since joining her local, Alison has picked up a free used refrigerator, bed frame, bookshelf, and 42-inch TV.
“The refrigerator works great,” she said.
But the best thing about the group, she said, was that she got to know her neighbors, who helped deliver what others had given away, and even delivered food when she was short.
“It’s also a beautiful community. It blew me away.”
Stevie Picton, founder and manager of a central Adelaide Buy Nothing group, said that was the whole idea.
Economic hardship, she said, could allow people to discover more creative and generous ways to exchange and share goods and services — as well as connect with their local communities.
The group’s membership has already doubled in the past year.
“Certainly, we’re going to see more people join.”
The ‘stigma’ of not buying new
But old ideas die hard, and buying second-hand is not for everyone.
Celine recently bought free second-hand roller blinds, but she won’t tell her middle-class friends.
“There’s a sense of stigma,” she said.
She is ashamed of her family’s lack of money and her reluctance to tell others has put her in difficult situations.
She’s made up excuses to avoid the expense of her book club’s monthly restaurant outings or attending weekend outings with friends.
And with a big mortgage to pay, she expects this is just the beginning.
Do’s and don’ts for second hand shopping
- Ask for pictures of the product
- Ask about return policies or warranties
- If possible, meet in person to view the item and exchange money. Bring a friend or family member
- Use a trusted resale website, preferably with seller and buyer protection
- If you can pay through the website or app, do so – you’re more likely to get a refund if the item doesn’t arrive
- Beware of red flags, such as requesting a deposit or wanting to communicate outside the app/website
- Check a buyer’s or seller’s user profile for reviews or feedback
- Test devices before you buy them
- If possible, inspect clothing and fabrics for stains and tears before handing over the money
- Do not buy second-hand items that are not sold safely, such as car seats and bicycle helmets
- Don’t be fooled by fake designer items. It’s probably too good to be true
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