The psychology of thrifting: it's about more than saving money!

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Charles Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist: "There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast." Whenever I can, I go hunting. I admire those who spend their leisure time walking in the woods, painting or gardening. I think of these as higher callings, but I get high treasure hunting.

Three seasons a year, at least on the weekends, I'm a yard sale addict. When winter closes the sales, I get the same surge from thrift shopping.

I admit it. I'm a thrift-shopaholic. For years, I practiced my passion with a certain degree of stealth. As a psychotherapist in private practice in a small town, being caught "thrifting" might suggest that I wasn't doing too well. Finally, I mentioned it to a colleague who laughed and said, "They'll think you're spending their money wisely."

It turns out that there are no small number of us who've discovered the joys of thrift. Mary Randolph Carter (Polo/Ralph Lauren) is a self-proclaimed thrifter. Some of the best dressed women I know shop thrift stores. You can buy designer clothes for less than it costs to buy a Walmart label. You have to hunt for it though, which means you have to like to hunt.

Other than acquiring, what makes this feel so good? We hunt because it both soothes and excites us.

I'm convinced that some of us are meditating.The brain seems to go into a state of rest when we engage in mental concentration that distracts us from our usual concerns. It's the relaxation response. It causes a drop in respiration and oxygen consumption, shifting the brain waves into an alpha and theta rhythm. The immune system is activated: body and mind rest. Have you ever noticed that when thrifting you lose track of the time?

Almost categorically opposite is the high. Ferragamo shoes, new in the box, $10.00 - Henri Bendel cashmere sweater, with tags, $15.00. It's no different than the bell that rings when the slot machine lines up just right and the coins come scrambling down.

It isn't just the financial score that is such a high. We collect things that we need and things that we want, things nostalgic that bring back a wave of memory, things that remind us of something loved in childhood. Antiques experts have observed that trends run thirty years backwards. That is, we collect what we remember from grandma's house.

Then there is the bargain-hunter's pride. How hard it is not to brag! When he was nine years old, my son suggested a new television game show. He would call it, "That's My Bargain!" His father likened it to dragging home the carcass.

One of the wonderful parts of this hobby is that much of the time, you're after different prey than other hunters. There's a camaraderie. I'll never forget watching a beautiful high school senior and her father shopping for her prom outfit. She acquired a gown, shoes and a bag - she looked like something from a fairytale - and her father paid for it ($20) while half a dozen women looked on with pleasure.

I'm new to WalletPop. I'm a licensed independent clinical social worker in practice for more than 35 years. I've been thrifting for for almost as long - and writing for longer still. I'll tell you about dozens of ways of saving money at thrift shops and yard sales, what to buy, what to be careful when buying - and a lot of the time there will be just a bit of a psychological twist.

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