Something to start with

From EastKingdomWiki

This page is a subsection of SCA Without Breaking the Bank. It provides basic information and tips.

General Tips

  • Remember the basics: There will be a lot of things you want. You don't need all of them yet. The basic things you need are clothes, feast gear (and food for some events), somewhere to sleep and something to sleep in. You might also want something to do, like equipment for martial arts or arts and sciences. Sure, it would be nice to have lots of "stuff", but you don't need it. Stick with the basics if you can't afford more.
  • Volunteer at events: Volunteering is a great way to cut costs and also to meet really fun people. A lot of times, at events, volunteers (especially kitchen volunteers) get a reduced price for the event. This differs between events, so be sure to ask if you want a discount. Also, volunteering gets you in touch with wonderful people, who will often notice you and might be more sympathetic later to some of your own endeavors.
  • Volunteer for individuals: This follows the same line as volunteering at events, in that people will be much more sympathetic to you if you've done something to help them first. If you're doing something anyway (for example, buying fabric), ask if you can pick up fabric for anyone else while you're there. If you're preparing the plans for something, ask if anyone wants a copy. Not only might people be more open with your own requests later, but they're probably going to be more friendly in general.
  • Buy things in season: If you can afford to wait a few weeks or months, you'll probably be able to get better prices on things. Trying to buy wool in the summer is almost impossible, and buying light fabrics (like linen) in the winter is equally difficult. However, linen is on sale in the summer, and wool in the winter. If you can afford to wait, you'll be able to find better deals. The same is true for food (buy in season) and other "seasonal" accessories. You'll probably find better deals on camping equipment during the camping season than outside it, for example.
  • Some things deserve splurging: Yes, I know this is a page about being frugal, but it's also important to know when to spend a little more. Spending money on something cheap that will break, or something tacky that you don't want isn't being frugal, it's throwing your money away because you're going to go out and get something better anyway. For example, you probably won't want a 100% polyester tunic, even if it is only $10. The minute you're outside in the heat, you'll realize you don't want it and you'll have wasted your money.
  • Have a list: Merchants' rows can be tempting, so before you go to an event, write down the things you need to buy and give yourself a spending limit. When you're considering buying something and it's not on your list, think about whether you really want it. If you're not sure, wait and come back. You'll save money by avoiding impulse buys.
  • Be creative! Just because you don't have the *exact* thing you need doesn't mean you don't have something that will do. An old tablecloth that's not good for anything else can be cut down to make drop cloths, or painted to make banners. You might have a hideously ugly dress with stunning trim (take off the trim and use it, and cut up the dress to use for something else). Once you start thinking about what you have, you'll realize you need to shop a lot less often, at least for the necessities.

Five-step method

Okay, now lets get into a specific way you can think about buying or doing things cheaply in the SCA:

  1. Get it free: Is there any way you can get what you want for free? Do you have something in your home that can be adapted to the purpose? Does someone you know? Ask around and see if anyone in your shire is upgrading to something better and is giving away their old stuff. Ask if people have extras. A lot of times, all you need to do is ask in order to get some great stuff for free. Before you buy a pattern, small pieces of fabric or wood, etc., ask if anyone is giving some away.
  2. Barter for it: This is mostly explained on the bartering page, so I'm not going to go into it here.
  3. Pay someone in the SCA for it: A lot of times, people in your local branch will make or do what you want. And even more often, their prices will be significantly less than what you would get elsewhere, especially if you throw in some bartering along with it. See if you know anyone with the skills you need and ask how much they charge. If it's too much, ask if you can get a special deal, perhaps in exchange for something you do.
  4. Get it used at discount: Depending on what you're looking for, there are a lot of options out there. Garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores, warehouses, and so on offer you a wealth of goods that are significantly below the retail price. Also, if you have a certain skill, you might be able to buy the raw materials for something and make it yourself (like the wood to make furniture or fabric to make an outfit). Ask around to find out where other people in your shire to their shopping, because they probably know places with good deals.
  5. Get it cheap: Again, there are a lot of ways to save money, even if you need to go to retail stores. Buying in season is definitely one of them. Linen might be $15 in the winter per meter, but on sale for $6 in the early summer and most foods are decidedly cheaper in season. Another way to get things cheaper is by buying in bulk. See if you can get a bunch of people together and buy all at once, with a group discount. Specialty stores are a mixed blessing: they probably have things that are below retail price, and some things that are way above it. Do your homework and find out the value of the thing you're looking for, and how much you plan to pay *before* you go into the store.

Submitted tips

Submitted by anonymous benefactors

  • Prioritize. What do you have to have, what's easy is it to borrow, what can you afford? What's left is your list. Also note wear and tear on someone else's equipment. Most people don't mind leading it out, but treat it with respect, if you destroy it, replace it. While I don't mind loaning out blades, after awhile I get tried of loaning out the same blade to the new person who's been playing for a year and still hasn't bought a blade.
  • One of my tips is for shopping at events and has cut down on my spending. Most merchants have a card and a website or email address on them. You can always get the item later. Keep a pen to write on the back of the card what the item was. That way you aren't spending valuable event money on the item and I've even gotten some of these items as gifts for christmas/birthdays from parents and S.O. due to saying "there is this widget I would like, here is their info."
  • Most fabric stores carry faux linen that is just as good, looks the same, and is half the price as true linen. Look and ask when in the store. A good salesperson can direct you to exactly what you are looking for.
  • If you are a member of a house or group, ask! Most times you can beg/borrow/steal garb from friends. I'm going to my first event end of this month, and only needed to outfit myself this time around, as a friend who's daughter is a few years older than mine has some garb her daughter has outgrown that mine can use til I can make hers.
  • It can't be said enough: thrift stores!!! I recently made both myself and my daughter denim boots with padded bottoms. Total cost for 2 pairs of old jeans and a padded corduroy vest: $15, maybe less.

Submitted by Gytha

Something that's helped me start filling out my camping kit is freecycleing. More details are available at

Submitted by Elizabeth

I put aside a budget of $5 a week for purchases, and $5 a week for events. It means when a good event comes up (like Rowany Festival) I don't have to scrimp to go, I have the money waiting for it - and in the purchases fund I've got the money to make garb/buy a tent/get food etc. This year, my budget is going up to $8 per fund - let's see how much more I can do!

Submitted by Constanza di Alba

I used a floursack towel for a great many things. They're plain white, soft but tightly woven, and they're big -- they can easily cover all but the mightiest farthingale. For me, they were napkin, placemat, cutlery holder (to keep my knife from poking me or something else) and general cover-up to keep close at hand. I found mine at a local five-and-dime when I was in college. You might be able to find them in a small-town hardware store or even a kitchen/ homegoods store. The Vermont Country Store catalog offers them in six-packs. A plain, tight-woven lint-free kitchen towel (not terry, but more like linen cloth) can also serve.

Submitted by Dawn

  • Borrow. Don't be afraid, the first time out, to borrow clothing, gear, weapons or whatever. Most SCA folks are happy to help newcomers. Make sure you know whether the donor expects his stuff back after a time, and if so be sure to treat it properly. If you're not sure how to clean something before you return it, ask. Better to find out than ruin something lent to you. Borrowing is a good way to find out if you really want to have the SCA for a hobby before you sink a lot of money into activities.
  • There's a saying, "you can have it cheap, fast, or good, pick two". If you are a broke student that means that "cheap" is already one of your choices. If you want it 'fast' you can expect the quality to be pretty low. If you want it good, you can expect to have to wait for it. Or, in other words, if you want cheap, high quality stuff you are going to be putting your time and effort into making it from scratch instead of buying it. You'll spend entire weekends at flea markets and garage sales looking instead of throwing cash at the first event merchant on site. You will sew your own shoes and garb rather than buy from the expensive repro catalog.
  • Learn to use a sewing machine. Really, it's not difficult. Most SCA period sewing is straight lines, and if you can drive you can operate a sewing machine. The foot pedal controls speed and you steer with your hands. Look for ugly old metal sewing machines at estate sales and garage sales. Make sure you get the cords and foot pedal. People will often part with grandma's old machine for under $50, including the table. You don't care if it is ugly as long as it works. If you have slightly more cash you can buy a decent, basic machine that will do everything you need for SCA sewing from Sears for about $200. Beware of fly-by-night sewing machine vendors with special sales.
  • The library is your friend. If your local branch doesn't have books you want, ask for an interlibrary loan. It may take time. There may be a nominal fee. But you will get it cheaper than buying it. If you are a student, check out the campus library special collection. Some of them have real medieval manuscripts that you might be able to look at and study.
  • Plan. Want new garb? Figure out exactly how much fabric, trim, and notions you need. Buy exactly that and only that. Gorgeous red trim you have no idea what to use on can stay on the shelf. Why spend what little cash you have on something you won't be able to use for years? Later when you do have spare cash it's a good idea to buy heavily discounted items you know you will use later, but if you are really broke you need to excercise some self-control.
  • Do more planning. Acquire items with an eye toward flexibility. Can you wear that outfit in the summer as well as the winter? Will it survive a week at camp and still be wearable for the indoor event the next month? Is this blanket useable as a cloak or curtain also? If you upgrade part of your armor later, can you still wear the rest of it or do you need a whole new set? Does this cookware or feast gear have more than one use in the kitchen?
  • Buy in bulk and split costs. Need rattan? Do your friends? If you buy a bundle of sticks you can all take advantage of the lower price. The per-yard price of fabric goes down when you buy a whole bolt. You and some friends can save several dollars per yard if you split the purchase price. Making pies to freeze for period picnics later in the season? The entire flat of berries is cheaper per pie than buying one pint at a time.
  • Go into business. You don't have to get fancy with it. Buying rattan? Buy ten sticks and sell the extras to your friends or folks on site. Set a fair price that covers your costs with a little extra profit and you can cover your expenses for the weekend. Most of the smaller SCA events let you set up a merchant table for free. See neat stuff at the flea markets you frequent? Why not go into the second-hand business and become one of the people that folks with the extra cash shop from.
  • Volunteer at church sales or charity shops. Even better than getting it second-hand is getting first pick or a discount. Volunteers often get to sort through the donations before everyone else, letting you get first choice of any incoming goodies.

Submitted by Brighid Ni Siun

Get to know your local thrift stores well. I have found wood bowls,wicker baskets, old table cloths,and linen napkins for feast gear. Slipper type shoes,chain belts,blankets you don't mind getting dirty,plaid wool. I have picked up 10 yards of plaid wool for a cloak for $5.00 for the whole thing. I also have seen leather coats,fur jackets and old necklace beads that could work as trim for those more crafty than myself.

Submitted by Inge

Yard sales and garage sales are the best place to pick up miscellaneous equipment. What you lack in money you'll have to make up in patience (and taste ;-) if you want to get a good set of gear together, but in the long run it's more fun that way.

One reason I did mostly singing, storytelling and cooking in the SCA was that those didn't cost me a penny...

Submitted by Kat

Visit any store that is going out of business.

Keep aside a budget for SCA things... $1 a week will do... and when you find things that are really really cheap (like trim... cheap trim is hard to find) buy it... don't buy more than you can afford, but do buy as much as you can...

Be CAREFUL and always check the seller's feedback BEFORE bidding on ebay... make sure you read the description three times... but I've bought over 200 items on ebay with only one problem (other than the item being accurately described but not quite what I wanted or turned out not to be what I needed and even those are few). That said, I've gotten fabric, trim, buttons, clothes, boots, a kickin' long leather coat for $20, props for plays, computer equipment, stereo equipment... it's buy beware but if you do beware AND you know what the price of something is in the store AND you factor in shipping costs (or check if the person is in the same town that they'll meet you & save the cost of shipping, I've done that twice) AND you NEVER EVER bid more than you can afford MINUS the shipping costs THEN you can get some incredible deals.

Submitted by AElfwenna

Try to go to the "freebie" things that your group has--fighter practice, classes, demos, parties and other get togethers as often as possible. It may be too much for your wallet to travel out of state to some big Kingdom event, but it costs little to put out the word that you'd like to host what our group calls a persona party--which means a bunch of folk getting together in garb for a potluck and doing a few SCA like activities. ( If you have no room at your own home, have it at a public park.)

Submitted by Tangwystyl

Buy what you need when it's cheap, not when you need it. Don't figure you have to go out and get completely outfitted _now_, rather, keep your eyes open, have a mental shopping list, and pick up nice gear when you happen on it at a good price. This especially goes for costuming -- don't go into a fabric store saying, "This is what I want -- what will I have to pay for it?" but rather "Here's some cheap medieval-compatible fabric -- what can I make from it?"

Submitted by Laura

The SCA contains some of the friendliest people I've ever met. If someone's going to an event, and their car has enough space to squeeze you and your gear (likely minimal, if you're broke) in, they'll often give you a ride and waive sharing the travel expenses, 'cuz they were going anyway... And the big rule -- there's never any harm in ASKING. For anything. Just make it clear you're not asking for a handout -- you want to offer some kind of recompense within your means. Worst case, they say no, and no harm done.

Submitted by Lady Fionnghuala Bethoc of Lindisfarne

Remember that you do not have to start with the "best of the best." Accept that some items you may need to save for, and you should not break your household budget.

Submitted by Cariadoc of the Bow

Generally speaking, what's expensive isn't being authentic, it's being fancy. Assuming you have at least occasional access to reasonably good fabric stores, you can get cotton cheaply--and with time and access to a big city fabric district (or luck) you can even get linen cheaply. You can make a small canvas tent quite inexpensively. Period food isn't any more expensive to make than modern food. Cooking over an open fire (where such is allowed) is less expensive than using a propane stove.

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