The Festival of Thrift Returns – But Is It Thrifty?

September 29, 2014


This weekend was the Festival of Thrift: a two day event celebrating the thrifty lifestyle.

It was conceived from the current trending desire to live more consciously; being more aware of today’s throwaway lifestyle and adopting ways to live more kindly on the planet, and toward the wallet.  Last year was the Festival of Thrift’s birth, which meant a certain anticipation and expectation of the second anniversary event.

I’m a bargain hunting countrysider with a passion for crafting, and I love discovering new ways to live more sustainably through learning new skills that are nurturing and enjoyable.  Knowing the Festival of Thrift has fashion and frugality at its heart, I was keen to get stuck in and return home with a mind full of practical inspiration.

The truth of the matter was a deflated insight.  With its food vendors serving speciality cuisine at super special prices (£6 for a hot dog, anyone?) and crafters selling their premium priced upcycled wares, the Festival of Thrift whiffed with the air of oxymoron.

A reclaimers stall


To be thrifty, by definition, is to be a clever spender; to live an economical life through maximising the life of everything; minimising waste, investing in quality and using something again and again by mending or changing its purpose.  Excessive or needless expense is grossly nonsensical to a prudent person.  So, how does the retailing of highly priced goods sell the concept of thrifty living?

A crafter selling their goods made from scavenged, bartered or borrowed resources (occasionally including Granny’s old wardrobe restyled) may be thriftily business minded, but sold on at top dollar doesn’t make a thrifty buyer.

Workshops are awesome ways to try new creative industries and quickly learn a new skill.  Teaching me how to craft a basket from branches and how to revamp a pair of old shoes are skills worth knowing to a thrifter.  And having a rabbit who sheds huge amounts of fluff it would be intriguing to learn how to spin her moults into something useful.  But as a thrifter, I don’t want to spend a fortune learning how to do this kind of stuff.

And as much as I like to eat, I expect cheap and cheerful food at a penny pinching party, not gourmet burgers from rare breeds served in poncy baps.


Northumbrian Water educating not to put sanitary towels down the loo – only toilet paper, pee and poo. Apparently.


Don’t get me wrong – skill and knowledge does bear value and the creatives behind these industries deserve to earn a living.  However, for a frugal and free event, it’s really all a little expensive living the thrifty lifestyle.  Five pounds here and a tenner there adds up when you’re living on the cheap.  After paying for premium lunches in glammed up old campervans and booking those ticketed workshops, you can’t help but question whether it really is a festival of thrift.

The reality of today’s idea of thrift is a rose-tinted version where it’s a buzz to save money, not an essential.  Foraging food for free is novel whilst eating the finest cuts of meat is a luxurious prerogative.

Many people will have enjoyed the Festival of Thrift weekend with its child friendly activities and hands on opportunities – and I have enjoyed, myself, getting to meet some fantastically creative individuals who champion our fine heritage of skill and resourcefulness.  But, the thrifter in me feels the niggle of something not bargained for.  No skill, experience or top tip to take home because this thrifter had the sense to leave the pennies at home.


The inspiring Alana of Dress Up Cycle – thrifty wardrobe styling


One visitor to the Festival of Thrift posted on Twitter: “Festival of Thrift was good but I came for inspiration of a less materialist life & I found…shopping. #shoppingisareligion”

And another visitor who commented on news media website, The Northern Echo said: “I went there with my two children, and yes it was busy but my understanding of Thrift must be different to that of the organisers. I would have thought that there would have been more representation from charities. As for the food stalls, l think £4 for a mediocre hot dog somewhat excessive and detracts from the meaning of thrift.  The event was more of an Art/Craft fair and should have been marketed as such.”

It seems the passion for the thrifty lifestyle really is current, but whether the need is being addressed is questionable.


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