All they are saying is give thrift a chance

Can living more frugally make you happier? We joined the super-scrimpers’ festival to find out

All they are saying is give thrift a chance

THE first time I went to a festival, I paid £150 for the privilege of camping on what quickly became a quagmire after a torrential downpour. Having forked out a small fortune for the tickets, my friend’s mother had packed us off with Tupperware boxes of soggy chicken nuggets so we didn’t have to pay out even more on pricey festival food for the weekend.

Unsurprisingly, this experience left me reluctant to repeat my attempts of trying to live frugally. So imagine my surprise when I went along to the Festival of Thrift last weekend and found that living out of Tupperware was not a financial necessity, even for the most hard-pressed festival-goers.

The two-day festival, first held in 2013, is free. Also, thankfully, there is no camping — just turn up at the site in Darlington, Co Durham, on the Saturday or Sunday as you please.

The event aims to promote the benefits of reusing and recycling products, not just for the environment, but for our wallets as well.

It seemed this message of “frugal can be fun” had taken over the whole of Darlington. Our taxi driver asked whether my friend Hannah and I were attending the festival. He had already driven 40-50 “super-scrimpers” to Lingfield Point, the business park that hosted several hundred stallholders, performers and artists — and it was still just 11.30am.

By the end of the weekend, it had attracted a record 45,000 visitors.

What is thrift?

It is not about living in a treehouse, wearing hemp or going for weeks without washing your hair. The message from the festival is that you can drive an Audi, and even be a millionaire, and still be thrifty. It is more a matter of what you spend your money on, and how. For some, it is about embracing a more “authentic” lifestyle.

I met Sam Gannaway-Jones, one of those thrifty Audi drivers, at her stall. The 45-year-old has swapped her “obscene salary” and Oxford-London commute for a jewellery business, called Hoolala, which makes “money from nothing” by giving new life to old items.

She previously earned £45,000 a year as a freelance graphic designer for a large restaurant and hotel company. She is now planning to move to a houseboat on the Grand Union Canal in Oxfordshire with her dog Pixie.

“There was so much red tape involved in the corporate world,” she said. “They have a lot of meetings and emails and memos — it just felt like you were hooked up to technology the whole time and you couldn’t get anything done.”

Gannaway-Jones’s jewellery sings of all things thrifty. The range includes charm bracelets made from Victorian brooches and old toys. “It really gives me a thrill, making money from nothing,” she said. “And, like they say in the north, where there’s muck, there’s brass.”

For the designer, thrift is about “being clever with your money and working out spending where you have to, then not excessively spending where you don’t have to”.

To fund extravagant purchases, such as her beloved Audi A3 — “brilliantly engineered, it is very roadworthy and makes me feel safe” — she saves money in other areas, including going to Aldi and Lidl for her groceries.

Gannaway-Jones is a passionate “upcycler”, giving clothes and other household items second, third or even fourth lives. Moth-eaten cashmere jumpers have been turned into hats, for example. She also cuts up old quilts and makes them into new, patchwork ones.

Frugal fun

The festival is a cornucopia of creativity. There is everything from folk dancing with a street-dance twist to workshops on “bin-diving” to a parade of the biggest pigs I have ever seen.

Bin-diving is the usually illegal practice of raiding supermarket and shop bins for food that is past its best-before date. Scones, chocolate bars and packaged fruit and vegetables are often a good find.

Stallholders offered their own takes on thrift, including lamps made from wine corks, sculptures made from scrap metal and flowers made from recycled paper. Some of the prices seemed a bit steep, though.

My friend Hannah Dabin, 21, who is studying politics with international relations at York University, said: “I like the stuff, but I could probably make a lamp myself, and it wouldn’t cost me £70.”

One of my favourite parts of the festival was the Fix-it Cafe, run by a handful of tech wizards, who provided a solution to every iPhone user’s nightmare — the cracked screen. Festival-goers were able to take all manner of electrical items to be looked over and repaired free — saving them the cost of a replacement or a bill for at least £86 from Apple to repair your iPhone 6 screen.

A more bizarre installation was the “Vespaqua”, which involved sitting in a bath in recycled swimming attire and being towed around the site by “bath-charmers” in a Vespa-powered three-wheeler. Very odd.

A revolution

Festival of Thrift was launched by Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway, co-founders of the fashion label Red or Dead. They run it with festival director Stella Hall.

Wayne believes there is a revolution in frugal living: “There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t want to save money — whether they’ve got a lot of money, or little bit.”

It is not just about the money, though. Stella and Wayne said it is a “creative and cultural lifestyle” that helps followers to lead a happier life. Money readers have already demonstrated the joy of thrift by sending in their tips (“Being frugal can be fun: save the planet as well as the pounds”, September 13, and Have Your Say, September 20).

To demonstrate his commitment to the cause, Wayne tells me he is wearing a 41-year-old pair of brogue shoes that he is certain he will get “another 20 years out of”.

So what did I make of all this thrifty business? While I won’t be jumping into bins any time soon, the festival certainly gave me food for thought when it came to saving money.

I often find myself with leftover food that I am not sure what to do with — thinking about food wastage, I would look to become more creative with my cooking to find better ways using up leftovers. No more soggy chicken nuggets, thank you very much.