The stuff I try never to buy new

by Paul Michael on 5 March 2008 39 comments
Photo: Leighblackall

I don't like buying new. It's not that I consider myself to be some kind of Scrooge. I just have a hard time paying more for something than I need to, and often we take that extra hit when we pay for a brand new item. So, I buy second-hand things a lot of the time. Here's my guide to the main items you should always consider buying used.

DVDs and CDs
Why bother paying $21.99 for a new DVD or $14.99 for a new CD, when you can pick up a barely used copy of the same title for at least half the price? The improvements in modern DVD and CD players also mean that scratches and smudges don’t really matter - the technology can deal with them. It’s the only way to get your home entertainment, and even places like Amazon offer avenues to get the titles used. No more excuses, stop buying new DVDs and CDs.

Video games
This is just like DVDs and CDs, only the deals often come quicker and with greater discounts. I recently picked up a used copy of an Xbox game for $1.99 that was still selling for $19.99 in the store. It played perfectly, it still had the manual, and for an extra $1 I got insurance so if the disc did malfunction I could get a replacement or refund. Sweet! On some occasions, a store like Target will knock 75% - 90% off a game. In that case, it’s even cheaper new than it is in the used section of a store like GameStop, so in that case I’ll pick it up. However, those times are few and far between.

 

used cars

Cars
Car experts and sites like Edmunds and KBB will tell you that brand new cars lose around 12%-15% of their value the second you drive them off the lot. That’s thousands of dollars up in smoke for your average mid-sized sedan. Why should you take that financial loss? Instead, buy a car that’s a year or two old. It will usually have low mileage, a good chunk of the factory warranty left on it, and the depreciation isn’t anywhere near as bad for you. That’s smart spending.

Yard toys
I encourage my kids to play in the garden, and there are toys and games for them out there. But why buy new one when they’ll get scuffed up and worn out in days? Once again, places like Craigslist and Freecycle are a good place to find some excellent yard toys for the kids. The slide in our back yard was free and has so far lasted 3 years. It still looks as good as the day we got it (very good in fact), from someone who had previously had it for 5 years. They’re built to withstand all weather and all kids…they are tough.

Workout/exercise equipment
This is an area where you can monopolize on impulse buying and laziness. People will buy a big treadmill, a health rider, an exercise bike or a weight bench in the hopes of getting super fit and ultra trim. The problem is, it takes hard work and dedication. And most of the time, it’s easier to let the new purchase rot in the basement or garage after a few weeks of use. That’s when the garage sale comes around, and you can go pick up an almost brand new piece of equipment at a fraction of the price you’d normally pay. Many people offer them free if you’ll just haul it away and stop them feeling guilty about their over-optimistic purchase.

Desk

Most furniture
Have you ever seen the Antiques Road show? Desks, chairs, shelves, bed frames, sofas, tables, they last a long time. Well, they do if they’re built well anyway. I scour Craigslist when I’m looking for furniture. You can often find a solid oak desk with great craftsmanship a lot cheaper than you can get one of those nasty MDF things that you put together yourself. Sure, you’ll need a way to get it home. If you don’t have a big truck, just rent one from UHaul for a few hours for $20. You’ll end up with a great piece of furniture you can hand down to your grandchildren, rather than something that ends up in the garbage after 2 years.

Sports gear
Footballs, tennis rackets, bicycles, soccer balls, badminton nets, you name it, you can find it all used. They’re usually in excellent shape and a whole lot cheaper than store prices.

Houses
There’s a huge caveat on this one; make sure it’s been checked out by an inspector and has the green light. You don’t want to take on major plumbing problems, damp basements or termites. But, if the house is sound, the current economy makes a used home very, very desirable. Sometimes it’s just a few years old; there are homes in my area that have decreased in value by $70k in just a few years. Ouch. But not for you. Of course, the used home sales market is also affecting new home sales. If you insist on buying new, make sure you battle hard with the realtor and look for inventory houses. They just want them sold, you can often negotiate serious discounts and tons of free upgrades.

Plants
I do not have green fingers. No-one in my family does. So, I like to let someone else do the hard work of establishing a plant and giving it healthy roots. Then I’ll pick one up cheap at a garage sale or off Craigslist.

 

Van Gogh

Artwork/ornaments/mirrors
Stores like Goodwill are perfect hiding places for gems like these. There was a story recently about a woman who found an old painting in Gooodwill, got it valued and it was worth over $1 million. That’s not the point though, most of the time you can pick up beautiful framed works of art, often original, and much cheaper than in stores like J C Penney or Kohl’s. The same goes for figurines, mirrors and other home embellishments. Buy them used, no-one will even know.

And FYI, things I would NEVER buy used...

Infant/booster seats – they could have been in a crash and weakened. Don’t do it.
Shoes/sneakers – Once they have conformed to a foot, they’ll never fit your foot the way they should. Buy your shoes and sneakers new, just look for sales.
Mattresses – Yikes. Who knows what action they’ve seen, and they could be filthy inside.
Major electronics/appliances – TVs could be ready to expire, CD players could skip constantly, washing machines could have a cruddy motor. Nah.

Additional photo credits: javYliz, daviddesign, Patrick Haney
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Guest's picture
Russell

Musical instruments, too. High-quality musical instruments can last a lifetime, and if you have the ability to tell the difference between a good one and a dud (hint: there are people who know this stuff. They're worth the price) you can save a bundle.

My wife and I just invested $3k in an antique piano. This may sound frivolous, but music is deeply important to our entire family. A piano with an equivalent 'voice' would have cost $30k. Our repairman said that just having our upright in for service was slowing his sales of top-end grand pianos, because at 100 years old, it *still* beat the new models hands-down.

We've done the same with several other musical instruments, including french horns and guitars. You need to be a knowledgable buyer, but you can save huge amounts of cash on these outlays.

Paul Michael's picture

I bought both my guitars used and completey forgot about including them. Musical instruments are a much better deal used, and most music stores have a used section. Thanks for reading Russell.

Guest's picture
cojo

May I respectfully disagree on the appliances? I think it is often worth it to buy them used.
I purchased a stove for $150. It was high-tech (digital) and like new - and with stoves, you can tell how much they have been used just by the chips and marks around the burners. This one was spotless inside and out, and has worked like new for me. It was owned by an old woman who lived in an apartment, purchased the stove, and couldn't cook much, and then died. It was sitting idle in the garage of her daughter until I took it off her grateful hands.
Likewise, I got my washer and dryer from my grandmother who was moving from her home into an assisted living facility.
There are plenty of people who come into appliances that they cannot then use for some reason, and these are perfectly fine.
Also, my television is 15 years old and still going strong.

Guest's picture
James

I recently moved and encouraged my roommate to buy a used washer / dryer. We haven't had any problems and we've both been happy with the purchase. Also, I bought a used TV from a yard sale for my room and only spent $5. We also got a used lawn mower that's been working out well.

Guest's picture
Guest

You don't mention clothes. My family has saved hundreds (thousands??) of dollars by buying 90% of our clothing from garage sales and Salvation Army over the past 10-15 years. And we also buy shoes that way. No one has suffered foot ailments from wearing someone else's shoes. Indeed, as young kids, some shoes were worn by three children before they were worn out enough to throw away.

Paul Michael's picture

I've spoken to many people who bought used TVs only to see the tube pop a few months later. However, if they've worked out for you, that's great! More power to you.

As for clothes, I do have some second-hand jackets, shirts and so on, but the article is about items I try never to buy new, and it would be disingenuous for me to say that about clothes...I'd rather buy them new in sales. My doctor told me used shoes are just bad for your foot health and posture, and as he's got letters after his name, I follow his advice.   

Guest's picture

I think the house depreciating $70k after a couple years is a huge exception rather than the norm. It really depends on the house price too. $70k off a $1M house is a lot different than $70k off of a $150k house.
In *general* houses do appreciate rather than depreciate. I would wager that a used house in that same area would have taken the same hit in value as a new one.
It may be a slightly better value to buy used though due to some of the "better than new" upgrades like storm doors, gutters, water softeners, etc.
As a person with pet allergies though, I found the peace of mind that no pet dander would be bothering me was well worth not having an existing storm door or water softener.

Guest's picture

Paul,

Great article, and for the most part I agree with you, even though I don't exactly follow your advice...

My wife and I bought a new car in October. I took us a long time to weigh the pros and cons of new vs. used, and while there are tons of pros to buying used, there is also a ton of research that should be done. We did look at lightly used cars, but after trying to negotiate on them, I realized I could get a new model cheaper. And thats what we did. I ended up getting a new model cheaper than the used we looked at, plus the full warranty and piece of mind.

Also, my wife and I are in the process of building a new house. We looked at old homes, but we couldn't get away from making lists of what we would need to do to them so we would like them. After weighing what we would need to live through, and the prices, we were able to build a brand new house in a newer development for the same price as the "used" one's we were looking at.

Obviously my examples are gross exceptions (I was amazed at the Car when I was able to pull it off), and a great deal of research went into both decisions, but otherwise, great article!

-Daniel
www.youngandfrugal.com

Guest's picture
Lucille

We have a place in town that repairs appliances and also sells used ones. They go through them, do any needed repairs and put a 1 year warranty on it. We got our washer & dryer that way. So that is one circumstance where I would buy a used major appliance.

I will buy used furniture if it is solid wood. I'm a bit standoffish about upholstered furniture unless it is an antique or something. I have seen the way some people keep house and I don't want their cockroaches and fleas.

Guest's picture

I am 100% in agreement w/ buying items used. As someone with A.D.H.D., I usually get bored wit most items anyways so why pay brand new?

This probably affects me most in the Car and "extras" department. I usually scour Craigslist, eBay, and the like for hours until i find the perfect car. Only to want a different one 1-2 years later :) Same thing goes w/ items like guitars, video games, etc.

Although i don't buy many clothes used per se, i do frequent Rugged Wearhouse and Filene's Basement as they have mad discounts on nice quality stuff. And they're not used, just last year's "fashion".

At any rate, good post!

Guest's picture

If you live in a city that has Freepeats.org, don't forget to check there for free toys, kids clothes, etc. The focus is on gently-used goods, so you should expect some pretty good quality stuff.

Guest's picture
Andrew

I can understand wanting to save money by buying used games, but I wanted to point out that when you do this, the developers don't see a cent of that money. I've had to purchase games secondhand if I can't find them anywhere else, but I try to avoid it if I have any other choice for this very reason.

Guest's picture
Ginny

I bought my first stove for $5. A man had just carried it down some rickety stairs, and had barely made it. It was a beautiful Roper, and I cooked on it for over a year, until we moved. I buy most clothes on ebay--just bought a pair of dress pants, new with tags, for 99cents plus $4 postage. I have also bought many pairs of shoes on ebay--new or nearly new. I try on very good (and expensive) shoes in the stores and then look on ebay for the same brand in the size that fits me. Ebay is the only place I buy cosmetics or bath products, purses, flea killers for pets, cookware, books, just about everything. I buy staple groceries at the local close-out store. If I had to buy things new, there would be nothing in the house.

Guest's picture

Point taken, but I think you mean this painting, which was found on the street, not at Goodwill? While its value was ultimately over $1 million, the finder's fee was only $15,000 AND she lost the painting.

I would add aquariums to the list of things that should only be purchased secondhand. Nearly every family in America has tried fish once and given up!

Guest's picture
srah

I try to use the library as much as possible but when I do buy books (going on a trip or building up my collections of favorite authors) I try to buy used books. I'm now replacing my cheap paperback Harry Potters with cheap hardcover ones!

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm with James on buying the used lawn mower. We bought ours used 14 years ago and it's still going, er....mowing.

Guest's picture
Olivia

I'm with you except, we do buy used shoes. We find that dress shoes for kids are often in all but new condition and great for special events, like weddings or performances. (Which is probably why they're being sold in the first place. They were single use purchases.) We also look for very gently used shoes for the rest of us before we fork over cash for new. People die, kids go through a growth spurts. I think if you're careful, look for heel and interior wear, you can find good buys. Good quality gently used shoes at better prices than cheap new ones, are better for your feet too.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

I rarely buy books new. There's a chain of used bookstores in my area (Half Price Books) that not only is amazing but also often has really great books on clearance. They also have regular coupons and sales a couple of times a year. I've bought CDs and DVDs from them as well. Half.com and Ebay are also great places for used media. Although, for DVDs, I can often get them at the same price or even cheaper (especially in the case of tv series) new on sale.

I've bought some clothes at thrift stores, but I'm hard to fit and hard on clothes, so I prefer to shop sales and outlet stores. I still get very good deals.

Some of my furniture and some of my appliances I've bought used. Most of these were from British coworkers repatriating to the Mother Country. They are limited in the amount of goods the company will pay to ship for them and due to the differences in electrical systems, most things with a plug just won't work there. I've gotten some great deals this way and have been able to outfit my house with gently used, 1-3 year old items.

I bought my last car, a Toyota Matrix, new. I did some research and didn't find much in the used department and what I did find hadn't decreased in price much over a new vehicle. Since I plan on keeping the vehicle at least 8-10 years, possibly more, I determined that it would probably be more cost effective to strive to get a great deal on a new vehicle.

I also won't buy used shoes. I understand that works for some people, but having some odd foot issues that's not an option for me. So, again, I shop the sales.

But my favorite option is not paying for things at all. Most of my friends and coworkers know that I enjoy taking things off their hands and, with my truck, I can even provide transportation. My cubemate gave me his entertainment center when he upgraded to a flat screen. A guy at church gave me a brand new couch that came with the house he bought. It didn't match his decor, but it looked great in my living room. I've never bought a television set, instead relying on ones received from friends and relatives who were upgrading. It's amazing what people will give you if you just take it off their hands.

Guest's picture
DivaJean

There is very little we as a family would not consider for use secondhand- except maybe toothbrushes or other intimately used items.

We have gotten secondhand appliances, clothes, shoes, underwear, toys (even given to our kids as Christmas presents if wrapped nicely enough), furniture, plants, dishes, whatever.

We are not afraid to dumpster dive for usable items. If we don't use it, it gets sold at our annual garage sale.

We use Freecycle and give away stuff that doesn't sell thru FreeCycle.

We belong to BookMOoch for trading books.

I even once bought a car at a garage sale- and it was the best dang car I ever had! (Dodge Diplomat- retired from the police force!)

Guest's picture
Cindy M

Most of my nice leather shoes and boots were purchased at garage sales/thrift stores, no problem. I don't even look at new ones. And the best clothes dryer I ever had was a $15 used gas one that lasted years. Since my goal is to spend almost nothing on entertainment, I don't keep up with the Jones' regarding electronic stuff, meaning I have old radios, TV's, VCRs that still work fine. I'd never buy furniture new again for sure.

Guest's picture
Guest

To Andrew - Comment 12

Writers don't see money from library books or used books. Musicians don't see money from used CDs. Seamsters (a totally made up word intended to be non-gender specific) don't see money from used clothes. Buying used will always cut someone off from a potential source of income. OTOH, a whole new group of typically non-corporate local folks have a new source of income from their used items. Buying new also begs the question of what should happen with old games people don't want any longer but still work?

I'm glad you posted though. In spite of my slanted comment, I've been struggling with this ethical question since college.

Guest's picture
hank

Regarding mattresses...I've never really understood this. I mean, we all sleep in hotels...who knows what's been done there? Indeed, it feels like the chance of creepy things going on is greater in hotels, especially because people don't have to worry that they're crudding up their own beds.

I sleep on a used mattress, and the cost is like 100x lower because people get so creeped out by it. I guess that's just me though. I couldn't afford a nice bed otherwise...I'd rather sleep on something that's slightly disturbing than something that's horribly uncomfortable.

Guest's picture
johnn

I agree on not buying the used appliances for the most part. A good alternative is to check places like home depot or lowes for floor model sales or "damaged", but new, appliances.

I got a brand new stainless GE refridgeratror that was retailing for $2000 for $600 at home depot. It has a little dent in the front.

Washing machine - big dent in the front, $100. New was about $250. It works great.

I have a problem though. Sometimes I cannot resist the floor model even if it is something i don't need just because it is a good deal.

Guest's picture
Russell

To Andrew @12:

There's a different dynamic with used video games. The sales of used video games allow for one small segment of the buying community to rapidly buy and sell a very large quantity of games. If the used market were not as liquid, you would see fewer games in total being developed. These are players who will buy a game and keep it for 2 days. Purchase price $50, sell price $40. A good value to their eyes, if not mine.

As a game developer, this is something we've discussed and researched quite a bit at our company. We've even got a few of the game churners on staff. :-)

Guest's picture
Milton Hicks

I spent a good portion of my life with $500 as pocket change, but when times changes and I went unemployed for over 5 years, I learned the frugal life and buying *Used*, garage sales, swap meets, etc., was much more practical a life to lead. Agreed it is not for everyone. You have to have common sense and the ability sometimes to repair/clean the items you get, but seldom do I regret a purchase.

In fact, for many years I recycled items through eBay and have a lot of happy customers. I never sold anything I wouldn't keep and use myself.

I especially liked "grocery shopping" at Estate Sales. People die, young and old, and their kitchens are always stocked and being sold for pennies. Kitchen appliances of all kinds, though the hard part is hunting down the boxes and instructions. Most people don't throw them out. And of course there are those unused "gifts" that are stored away, never used. A gold mine.

Garage sales the same. One neighborhood seems to have a high percentage of young people who are dumping their unused wedding gifts, or their ex's stuff. I got a $300+ coffee/tea/hot water maker for $5, almost brand new. I've replaced all the bathroom sinks and faucets with expensive Kohler products for very little money.

I refer to all this as effort equity. With a little effort you saves tons of money.

Long live being frugal!

Guest's picture
Guest

I definitely agree about houses. I'm a real estate agent, and I can attest to the fact that almost everyone wants a new one, even if they're massively stretching their budget to be able to do it. You ususally have a much better negotiating position with an existing home. Even in the current climate, in my area (East Tennessee), most builders do not negotiate their asking price.

I just wrote a post about why you should learn to love the split foyer and one of the reasons is because you can usually get a great deal on them.

Guest's picture
Guest

As anyone that lives in a big city in the Eastern U.S. can attest to, bedbugs have become a HUGE problem. Any upholstered furniture is susceptible, and many bugs have been spread simply by people picking up mattresses secondhand after they've been 'sanitized'. Bedbugs are resiliant and resistant to many pesticides, and while your mattress or couch may be free, you will wind up paying hundreds of dollars in exterminators' fees!!

Guest's picture
Jami

Gross!

Guest's picture
Guest

Let's face it, when you buy more things used the original manufacturer/developer/writer/artist/builder doesn't receive money for it. That's one side of the ethical dilemma. The other side is that if we all bought everything new, what would we do with things when we no longer wanted them? Either they would be recycled (which is still a less environmentally-friendly option than reusing) or they end up in a landfill. Not to mention the fact that people who sell used goods wouldn't have a business. There are consequences regardless.

My guilty pleasure: I buy music online. I'm still supporting the artist, but albums are usually much cheaper than buying them in stores. Also better for the environment.

But then again, I feel guilty because I'm not supporting a store.

You see the problem?

Guest's picture
Guest

The new vs. used furniture option should come with a caveat: those with certain lifestyles (such as students), are generally better off buying the DIY crap than searching for quality pieces. I paid $20 for a desk I assembled myself, and fifteen months later it was in the trash, already falling apart, but the bonus was *not* having to move it to my new place. Someone who anticipates moving multiple times or great distances is better off having low quality furniture, IMO, because it's easier to sell/leave behind. (I'm biased knowing that I'll be moving cross country in the next several years, and am already trying to pare down my belongings and avoid acquiring too much more to save on moving costs.)

Guest's picture
Ned

These two are tricky when buying used, we recently had a small repair done on our quite old washer and dryer set and asked about replacing them as they are quite loud. The repair guy told us to hold off as long as possible because new models have a service life shorter than that of older models. So swing by or call a company that does service on machines and see what they have to say. Also on buying anything take a look at consumer reports, they have a huge list of products that have been recomended and by looking at backed issues or thier online site you can find out how that used product was rated.

Guest's picture
Guest

Where do you find used bicycles? None of the used sporting goods stores in my area have them, and going to garage sales would take a very... long... time... to find one the right size. Any tips?

Guest's picture
Andrea

Try police auctions in your area...they will have sales usually every quarter and group things like bicycles together. You can go check out all the bicycles and pick a few that would work for you, then bid on them when they come up.

Guest's picture
C. Raybourn

All of the Salvation Army branches in my area (Central Florida) are usually great for bikes. For example, two weeks ago I was cruising through my local S.A. and found a men's Specialized commuter. Good tires, good brakes, clean chain and derailleur, not a scratch on the frame. They were asking 85 bucks for a $400-$500 bike. Needless to say it went fast.
The trick is to find a store that sells them and check it often. I got my 1972 Chicago Schwinn for $35 there. I just got the frame back from the powder coater and when I finish the restoration it's going to be one sweet ride.
Best of luck to you.

Guest's picture
katgar

I know there are all kinds of moral and ethical dilemmas, but since I work in a library, I get all my CD's from the library. Free is about as frugal as you can get and the selection is pretty decent. I don't think I have bought a full price book for at least 5 years in between the library's used book sales and paperbackswap.com. The DVD selection can be a little slim but that's what the "NEVER pay for a RedBox DVD rental again" posting is for.

Guest's picture
Guest

There's absolutely no reason you should feel bad about buying used music/video games/movies/books.

When you buy them used, you increase their value in the used marketplace. For example, look at all the people buying up Wiis and Wii games and selling them used on eBay. Don't you think the developers of those games are getting more money? Of course they are.

Or take rare out of print music CDs. The labels look very closely at the used marketplace to determine what to re-release in digital or even CD form. Don't you think the artists are getting money as a result of buying used? They do.

When you borrow used books from the library, the library may order more NEW copies to meet demand.

It's how the free market works. So buy used and be proud of it.

Guest's picture
NickyBob99

There is lots of hardware available for a very low cost. It may not be always on the leading edge technologically, but it does the job. Craiglist and EBay are probably excellent sources for used gear. I've even seen stuff that's worth picking up from local garage sales in the neigborhood.

Guest's picture
Spike

Don't forget - never buy used safety gear - like motorcycle helmets - just like the infant seat in the example above - there can be microscopic fractures from previous incidents the current owner doesn't think of as serious that would fauk exactly when you need it the most.

Guest's picture
Spike

I mean - would FAIL exactly when you need it the most.