One problem I run up against a lot is finding the balance between saving money while still getting a quality product. If you save a ton of money on a purchase, but the item turns out to be worthless, then you’ve wasted money, not saved it. I’ve found that one of the keys to being a smart shopper is differentiating between quality and “shininess,” because newness, per se, isn’t always worth a whole lot. If you’re trying to save money where you can, just spend a little bit of time looking around and researching before you make a purchase.
I’ve broken down my list of stuff you should buy used into two parts. There’s stuff that you can easily judge the quality of with a quick examination of its condition, but there are also some things that, while you can definitely buy used and get good quality, you need to have a working knowledge of what you’re buying and the possible problems that may come with it.
Always good to buy used
Books. If they’re cared for, books will last for decades. I try to buy most of my books used, especially if it’s for a college class. If the book is a new release, you’re obviously not going to find it used right away, but if you can wait a little while, check for the book on places like Amazon.com a few weeks after the book’s release because some people will buy the book, read through it quickly and then sell it.
Pets. With all the animal safety and care awareness now, there’s little reason to buy a pet, at least an animal of any size, from a pet store. Purebred dog breeders, for example, will charge you anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars for a puppy. Why not go to an animal shelter and adopt one – you’ll be saving a lot of money and helping out an animal in need.
Tools. While it’s probably best to buy power tools new, “regular,” handheld tools are built to last so why not buy them used? If you’re planning on using your tools, the new-tool shine is going to wear off fast anyway.
Furniture. You’re probably going to want to buy your mattress new, but a lot of furniture, especially wood pieces, will last for a very long time if they’re properly cared for. Even if the piece you’re looking at has some scratches or tears, it’s pretty easy to refinish or reupholster furniture.
If you’re looking for some cheaper furniture, summer is one of the best times to buy because a lot of people, especially college students, are moving and trying to sell furniture they don’t need or can’t take with them.
Maternity and baby clothes. Statistics show that the vast majority of women only use maternity clothes for about nine months; so, they don’t get a lot of wear. If you spend a little time researching on Amazon.com, mom-to-mom sales and other mothering networks you’ll be able to find a lot of great deals on maternity clothes.
Children’s games and toys. Similar to maternity clothes, children outgrow their games and toys pretty fast so there’s no need to spend a lot of money on all new things when your kids aren’t going to have them around for a long time.
Sports and fitness equipment. There’s a pretty high turnover rate with sporting equipment as people lose time or interest for sports. There are also those people who will “get into” a sport, buy all the equipment and then don’t end up playing the sport much at all, so they sell off their stuff to recoup some of the loss. My favorite hockey stick when I was playing, for example, was an aluminum shaft I bought for a few dollars at a garage sale.
Musical Instruments. Like most of the other things I’ve listed, musical instruments don’t wear out for a really long time if they’re properly cared for. Even if you have to replace the strings on the piano or guitar, the head on the drum or the mouthpiece on the trumpet, the instrument itself has a very long life, and you will save a great deal of money buying it used.
Recreational equipment. Bikes, boats, four-wheelers, jet skis, campers, you name it, recreational equipment is a lot of fun to use, but most things can get pretty pricey. If the item works fine and isn’t damaged, cracked, rusted or whatever, why does it matter if it’s brand new or not? As always, go for a balance between price and quality. Don’t buy the cheapest item just because it costs the least.
Formal wear. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worn a tux twice, once for a cousin’s wedding and once for my own. Both times, I had to wear a specific one to match the wedding colors and décor. So, there would have been no point for me to buy my own tux because I most likely wouldn’t have been able to wear it for these events. My experience is that a lot of people are in the same boat. There’s really not much of a reason drop a lot of cash on something you’re not going to get much use out of. Buying a used piece of formal wear is a pretty good deal because the previous owner probably didn’t wear the clothing a whole lot either, meaning it’s still in great condition.
Buy used but with caution
All the stuff I’ve listed here is fine to buy used, and you’ll save yourself a ton of cash doing it, but you need to put in the time and research to develop a strong understanding of what you’re buying and what are the potential pitfalls of buying it used.
Cars. We all know cars are pricey, and leasing doesn’t work for everyone – my family has always preferred to buy used cars, we tend to put a lot of miles on them. New cars are really nice to drive, but there are some down sides to owning new vehicles. First of all, your new car loses several thousand dollars of value the second you drive it off the lot. Also, your insurance costs will be higher, but those costs should be offset by lower repair costs.
- Used cars, even relatively new ones with low mileage, will cost significantly less than brand new cars; that said, you need to be an informed buyer when you go to purchase a used car because there are a lot of problems that are easy to miss. Here are some websites that will help you make a good purchase:
- CARFAX – this website will help you run a complete vehicle history report on a car.
- Kelley Blue Book – here you can get an accurate price range of what the car you’re looking at is worth, taking into consideration age, mileage, condition, etc.
- Edmunds – Edmunds lists vehicles, provides price comparisons and tips on what to look for in used cars.
- Car and Driver – this buyer’s guide offers reviews, price ranges and other car stats.
Appliances. This one might have surprised you a little, but buying quality used household appliances is definitely an option. As I’ve already suggested, you want to do your homework, read customer reviews, find out information on the product, the seller and how the price compares to other items. Most appliances like dish washers, refrigerators, washers and dryers have a long life and require very little maintenance. Obviously, the age and past use of the appliance will play big factors in the machine’s remaining life.
Electronic devices, DVDs, CDs and video games. While you certainly can buy used and refurbished electronics, I would say to be cautious with these. Just like with cars, electronics depreciate quickly so you can save a lot of money by purchasing something that isn’t very old. You can also save money on used movies, music and video games, but there’s a risk that the disk will have bad scratches, skip a lot or not even work. There are some tricks to cleaning up disk scratches like rubbing it with toothpaste or a banana. I know some people have had very good luck with refurbished computers, cell phones, etc., but you need to do a lot of research and just remember that there is a risk involved.
Jewelry. With jewelry, diamonds especially, depreciation is high just like cars and electronics, so buying new isn’t without some drawbacks. I may be starting to sound like a broken record here, but the key to buying used jewelry is educating yourself about the product and the seller. If you purchase from a reputable dealer you can know you’re getting a quality item, and it may come with a warranty. Antique jewelry can be a great investment or gift for someone you know who will really appreciate the value of the gift.
Houses. Obviously, many, many people buy used homes, and not surprisingly, the same basic rules for educating yourself apply. New homes are going to have up-to-date materials and designs and should require less maintenance than an older home, but you can often get much more variety when looking at used homes. If you’re looking at a used home you need to have it thoroughly inspected, research the area and find out accurate property tax information. Older homes often have better construction and workmanship, larger yards, established neighborhoods and more mature trees and vegetation.
It’s always a good idea to shop around for good deals and save money wherever you can, but the key is to be an informed shopper. While some items are best purchased new, there are a lot of things that you really can and should only buy used. If you’ve got any questions, comments or other suggestions, let us know!