You can save a lot of money buying things that are pre-owned. But not every used item saves you enough money. For example, dollar-store plastic containers are so cheap that I wouldn’t bother buying used ones at rummage sales.
And you may not feel comfortable buying some items used. We’ll call it the “ew factor.” For example, no matter how cheap they are, I don’t buy used shoes.
So if you’re not going to go pre-owned over new every time you can save a buck, what should you buy used? Before we get to more specific examples, let’s start with five general criteria:
- Buy used items that are like-new. For example, a used wall hanging might be in like-new condition and cost a fraction of what it would cost new.
- Buy used items that are refurbished. A baby seat refurbished with new cushions and straps should be as safe as a new one and cost a lot less.
- Buy used items when you won’t use them much. A hoe doesn’t need to be new if you’re only going to use it to till the flower garden one day each year.
- Buy used items that function the same as when they were new. Unless it’s damaged, a solid wood desk functions the same after 50 years of use.
- Buy used items when they have a much lower lifetime cost versus buying new. A $10 used wheel barrow might have just 50% of its useful life left, but if a new one costs $50, well, do the math.
So with these criteria in mind, here are a dozen things you should probably buy used…
1. Wood Furniture
Used wood furniture meets most of the criteria laid out above. You can find it in like-new condition. You can easily clean or refinish it if necessary.
Most wood furniture functions the same after years of use. And beyond saving money with used wood furniture, you can even make money from it (more on that in a moment).
What about other types of used furniture? You will save money, but you may have more problems too. Plastic and wicker furniture can be more worn out than is apparent, making it difficult to judge how long it will last.
Upholstered furniture might look great but have broken-down cushions. And because, bedbug infestations are increasing you might not want to buy used mattresses or upholstered furniture.
As an example of what a great deal used wood furniture can be, consider the oak coffee table my wife and I bought at a rummage sale for $20, which was a fraction of what it would have cost new. Sure we saved money, but we did even better than that. When we moved we sold it for $80.
Recently we found a used table that’s almost identical to that one, this time for $25. We can recover our money with a quick sale if needed.
If you buy quality used wood furniture at the right price, you can sell it for as much as, or more than you paid, even years later.
Rummage sales and Craigslist are the best places to find good used wood furniture. You can also find great deals at thrift stores and flea markets and (sometimes) consignment stores.
2. Major Appliances
I’ve bought a lot of used appliance over the years, and I haven’t regretted one purchase. An $80 washing machine did stop working a week after I bought it, but it came with a 90-day warranty.
The owner of the shop came to the house and fixed it right away, and it worked just fine for years after that. The lesson there is to buy from places that offer a warranty.
Longer is better, but I would be okay with 30 days because my guess is that, if a used appliance has an existing problem, it’s likely to show up pretty quickly.
How much can you save? Last year we bought a stacked washer/dryer (for a rental we owned) for $240. It would cost about $1,300 if new (I’m not sure why that type is so expensive, but it is).
It came with a 90-day warranty, and we did have a cracked plastic knob on it replaced after a week.
There is another kind of “used” appliance that can save you money; an appliance that has been returned to the store shortly after purchase. I once got a returned dryer that had been used for 10 days. I paid $90, and it worked great for the 6 years I owned it.
Store returns like that are often not advertised, so ask a manager if there are any available. Aim for a discount of at least 35%, and ask why it was returned.
It’s no big deal if it was just too small or the wrong color, but if it had a mechanical problem you need to know it was fixed.
3. Wedding Dresses
I suggested that you buy things used when they’re like-new and when you won’t use them much. Probably nothing fits those criteria better than a dress that was previously worn for just one day and that you’ll wear for just one day.
There are a number of places where you can find used wedding dresses. PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, for example, has thousands of listings. You can save up to 80% versus buying new.
You can search by size and designer. Cancelled weddings result in some new dresses (tags still on them) showing up here too.
If you aren’t worried about quality you can buy a new bicycle at Walmart for under $100, making it tough to save much buying a used one. On the other hand, I did once buy a used bicycle for $15 and I used it for years.
Where you really save money is with better bicycles. Craigslist is a great place to find one. Current listings for Tucson (where I live) include a Trek 1000 Alpha Road Bicycle for $150 or best offer. A quick search of BicycleBlueBook.com shows that it probably cost between $580 and $680 new.
That’s a savings of hundreds of dollars, and you can save even more on high-end models that cost thousands of dollars new.
Children’s bicycles should be bought used because they’ll be quickly outgrown anyhow, and they’re usually sold for very little. My local Craigslist has many listed at $10 to $25, for example. Rummage sales are another great place to find them.
You’re buying the information or stories in books, not the paper, so why pay for a shiny new cover? Many books sell for under a dollar on Amazon, making them under $5 after the $3.99 shipping charge.
You can buy books even cheaper at rummage sales, thrift stores, and the sales held periodically by most libraries.
Textbooks should always be bought used when possible. Textbook prices have risen 1,041% since 1977 (three times the rate of inflation)! You can save up to 90% buying them online. Here are several places to try:
6. Children’s Things
Kids quickly outgrow (or destroy) everything they wear, so why pay new clothing prices? Buy used children’s clothing on websites like Swap.com. You can save even more at rummage sales.
Kids quickly outgrow or break toys, so save money by buying at least some of them used. Swap.com has a big toys and games section you can search by item. Then you can sort by lowest price. Rummage sales and thrift stores are also great places to find toys for up to 90% less than their new prices.
I prefer to buy my primary work computers new. But for additional laptops, desktops and tablets, why not consider buying them used?
You don’t have to take your chances with garage sale computer to save a few dollars. You can save big and buy a properly refurbished one with a warranty.
For example, search Walmart.com for “refurbished computers” and you’ll find them starting at around $200 (sometimes even less). A 90-day warranty is typical, and most can be delivered to your local store, and returned there if necessary.
You can also buy refurbished computers online from the following vendors:
I’ve written before about why you shouldn’t buy a new car. The bottom line is that used cars cost less upfront and in terms of total cost over the years.
Naturally you might worry about dealing with more frequent repairs. But Consumer Reports says a good compromise is to buy used cars that are two to three years old. They’ve dropped in price substantially but are usually still very reliable, and may even be under warranty.
Buying from someone’s yard often gets you the lowest price, but dealers may have cleaner cars that have been checked for problems. Some even offer a satisfaction guarantee. For example, CarMax gives you 5 days to return a car for any reason.
Jewelry, like cars, loses a lot of value as soon as it’s sold. Unlike cars, however, it usually looks and functions the same even after many years of use. That makes buying used jewelry a great way to save money.
Craigslist is a good place to look for deals. My local listings include 32 wedding rings, as well as hundreds of earrings, bracelets, and other jewelry.
Small “coins and collectibles” shops are another place to look for jewelry, especially gold and silver items.
10. Exercise Equipment
One reason there is so much exercise equipment at rummage sales, and in such good condition, is that the owners didn’t use it as much as they thought they would. Basements and storage sheds are filled with stationary bicycles and weight benches that just sit there.
That suggests why you should avoid the high cost of new exercise equipment. Will you really use it as much as you think? If you buy used exercise equipment you’ll be out a lot less money when these things sit unused in your garage or storage unit.
Check Craigslist, thrift stores, and rummage sales.
It’s tough to guess when a motor will burn out, so if you buy used power tools never pay more than half of the new price. And test them, of course.
Decent hand tools that have no obvious damage will probably work exactly as they did when new, and so you might pay a little more for them.
You still should save at least 30% compared to the new price when buying from pawn shops, and more than that when buying from flea markets and rummage sales.
While I hesitate to call pets “used,” that unfortunately describes many of them. The ASPCA says about 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats are euthanized annually in the U.S. You can prevent this for at least one animal with a minimal adoption fee at a local shelter.
Skip the expensive breeders and pet stores. You’ll save yourself a lot of money and make some special cat or dog very happy.
Tell us what you buy used and what you’ll only buy new. Happy frugaling!