When my family first arrived in Sydney, even 20c lollies seemed like a rip off. ‘What? Thats almost four pesos. Ang mahal naman!’ the adults would exclaim as they marched around the grocery with a calculator, feverishly converting dollar prices into pesos. It took years for us to stop thinking in pesos and refrain from the mental gymnastics required to do exchange rate calculations in a blink of an eye. No wonder so many migrant children do well in Maths.
Its been a long time since I went shopping with Mum and her calculator, but I still feel a twinge of alarm when I buy any item of clothing over $50. With my mortgage and child, sometimes even the credit card company is alarmed. Especially as Christmas approaches.
Luckily, there are plenty of bargains to be had in Sydney. It takes patience, a bit of luck and a sturdy pair of comfy shoes, but shopping does not mean accumulating the personal equivalent of the Philippine national debt.
For the adventurous, op-shops and second-hand stores abound in Sydney. Those run by charities, such as St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army, are well worth looking through as they not only price items cheaply but are also channelling funds back into the community. However, youll need to spend a bit of time searching for suitable items as quality and range can be unpredictable. If you can, shop at op-shops around more affluent suburbs, such as the lower North Shore, as the quality of donations tend to be better. For second-hand books, try Glebe Point Road in Glebe, where you can grab a coffee as you browse, or King Street, Newtown, where theres a store that has so many books the owner no longer bothers to catalogue them.
Garage sales are another option for second-hand bargains. Again, items and prices will vary and, since a lot of travelling can be required, youll need to do some planning. First, concentrate your shopping in one area so you can go to as many sales as possible on the same day. Second, start as early. At 7am, grab a street directory, buy the Saturday paper and have a coffee as you plot out your travel itinerary for the day. You should aim to be at your first house by 8am. All garage sale addicts know that the best quality goods are gone within the first few hours. Third, have a haggling strategy. The more desperate the owners are to sell, the better for you. But be realistic—its a garage sale, not a giveaway. Finally, carry cash. Theres nothing worse than falling in love with a vintage chaise lounge and not having the $50 to buy it. Also, if its furniture youre after, plan for how youll be taking it home.
If you prefer to avoid Saturday traffic, take the train or bus to the markets. Community markets, such as those in Glebe and Kirribilli, have a variety of new and second-hand items. Others, such as Paddington, Parklea or Paddys, may not have any second-hand items at all. Most markets will have stalls that sell fresh fruit, veggies and sometimes even seafood. The Pyrmont fish markets are extremely popular during the Christmas season. If you love prawns, its the place to go. (Click here to find markets and fairs in your area.) School and community fetes are less regular than markets but can be great for bargain hunters. If nothing else, they are usually geared towards families with children and can feature lots of free activities for kids. At the end of the day, stalk the Lucky Wheel. For a $2 ticket, you can win some great (though random) prizes especially if they still have a large stock at the end of the day.
For serious bargain hunters, get a copy of The Bargain Shoppers Guide to Sydney. Subscribe to the Sale Guide and be one of the first to know about sales on designer wear. The Sale Guide also lists sales for designer labels in kidswear, furniture and beauty products. The Saturday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald is littered with ads and listings for sales for the day.
For lazier types, factory outlet shopping may not always lead to rock-bottom prices, but theyre still cheaper than normal retail stores with the added convenience of food courts and air conditioning. Birkenhead Point Shopping Centre, Direct Factory Outlets (Homebush), Market City (Haymarket) and ShopSmart (Mount Druitt) feature well-known brands. If youre not fussy about labels, Target and K-mart have sale cycles and its only a matter of time before what youre looking for gets slashed by at least 20%. These stores are particularly great for amassing kids toys, clothes and consumables.
Ask any expat who has suffered the sudden erosion of their life savings by migrating to a country with a better exchange rate and most will acknowledge that the habit of bargain-hunting is hard to break. Maybe its because we remember the hard times and therefore are less likely to take money for granted. Maybe its because work—and no house help at the end of the day—keeps us so busy that were determined to stretch the budget. Maybe its because the kids have now grown up to the point where feeding them requires buying up half the store oh, and by the way, theyd like an iPod Nano for Christmas, thanks.
Whatever the case, lets face it: we Pinoys love a bargain. Fortunately, even when the exchange rate is PHP40 to AU$1, its possible to survive the Christmas shopping experience without decimating your credit limit. And still have enough left over to for a bottle of bubbly and a shrimp on the barbie.
This article was first published in the November 2005 issue of PINOYexpats, an e-zine for Filipino expatriates.