The 11 Best and Worst Things to Buy Used

We often get what we pay for, and when it comes to certain items, some people wouldn't dare buy used. But while there are risks to buying someone else's trash, not every used item is a terrible buy. (See also: 31 Reasons to Love Thrift Shopping)

From a financial standpoint, some used items are just as good as (if not better than) new ones — it really depends on what you're looking for. So, before you conclude that new is better or worse, here are 11 of the best and worst things to buy used.

Best Things to Buy Used

Save money and get great stuff — these five things are always best bought used.

1. Books

Between eBay, thrift stores, and free e-book downloads, there's no reason to buy a new book. Unless you plan to re-read your favorite novel over-and-over again, it's pointless to pay full price for a book when you can go online and buy the print for pennies. Thanks to eBay, I've purchased two Writer's Markets (both were less than a year old) for under $10, and I've scored other books that normally sell for $15 or $20 for under $5 including free shipping.

2. Houses

I definitely understand the appeal of buying a new construction home. You can design the home to your preference; new homes are typically more energy-efficient; and since everything's new, you don't have to worry about costly maintenance for at least a few years. However, there's a cost to buying new. According to real estate website Trulia, new homes costs approximately 20% more than preowned homes. If you're contemplating a new construction home with a price tag of $250,000, you can potentially save $50,000 by purchasing an older property with similar square footage and layout.

3. Cars

Sure, some cars hold their value better than others. But for the most part, new cars depreciate the moment they're driven off the lot. "Drive a new car off the lot and it can lose 20% of its value," says And if this isn't bad enough, most cars lose another 10% in value during the first year. Since depreciation slows down after a car's second year, buying a car that's two or three years old is often a better buy than a brand new model.

4. Jewelry

Diamonds and other precious stones and metals are durable and can last for decades. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to spend thousands on brand new jewelry when you can buy used for less, especially since the average retail markup for jewelry is 300%. You're better off going to a pawn shop or another reputable secondhand jewelry retailer.

5. Timeshares

I've sat through a fair share of timeshare presentations, primarily to get free or discount tickets to Disney World and other attractions while vacationing. I've learned two things from these presentations. First, timeshares are crazy expensive. And secondly, you can save money with a resale.

A company tried to sell us a timeshare for $20,000, and just as we were about to walk away, the salesperson said, "What if we could get you a foreclosure for $12,000?" It was an $8,000 break for buying a timeshare that was two years old. We didn't purchase, but if I'm ever in the market, resale is the way to go.

Worst Things to Buy Used

If you're ever tempted to buy any of this stuff used, just walk away.

1. Cribs and Car Seats

Baby supplies are expensive, and if you stumble upon a few finds at a yard sale or thrift store, you might jump at the chance to save money. But while baby clothes and toys are excellent items to buy used, you shouldn't buy car seats or cribs used. Car seats are only meant for one accident, and when you buy used, there's no way to know whether the car seat has been involved in an accident or damaged. You should also pass on used cribs. Between recalls and changing crib safety standards, you may unknowingly buy a crib that isn't safe for your precious one.

For example, in June 2011, new standards set by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission no longer allowed the manufacturing or selling of drop side cribs in retail stores, yet you might find these cribs at yard sales or second hand stores. The detaching rails have been "associated with at least 32 infant deaths since 2000."

2. Mattresses

I'm always amazed by the number of people I see picking up used mattresses on the street corner. Between the risk of a bed bug infestation, dust mites, and bacteria, a mattress is something that you should always buy new.

3. Shoes

There are two reasons why you shouldn't buy used shoes. Putting your feet in someone else's shoes can expose you to fungus, which can cause athlete's foot and toenail infections. Since shoes quickly mold to the owner's feet, buying a used pair may not result in the best fit, and this can cause more pain than comfort. Also, wearing improper fitting footwear can trigger problems with the heels, toes, and joints of the feet, which may require costly medical attention.

4. Electronics

I know people who only buy used electronics, such as laptops, televisions, and tablets. To each his own. You might get a device at an incredible price, but there's a chance that the previous owner didn't take care of the item. Between drops and spills, you could end up replacing the item sooner than anticipated or spending money to fix the device. If you buy used, purchase refurbished items through the manufacturer. (See also: This Is the Secret to Buying Electronics for Cheap)

5. Used Makeup

Yes, people do sell used make-up. I've witnessed this firsthand at yard sales and estate sales. But regardless of how new or clean makeup appears, or whether the seller "only" applied the item once, lipstick, foundation, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and other beauty products harbor bacteria. Don't put someone else's germs on your face.

6. Swimwear and Underwear

You'd think this was a no-brainer. But given that there's an entire section at Goodwill dedicated to used undergarments and swimwear, someone's buying these items. It doesn't matter whether you wash these garments in hot water, you don't want an item worn close to someone's personal areas to touch you. It's safer to buy new.

Do you have other items to suggest that are better to buy new or used? Let me know in the comments below.

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