Where and When You Should Be Saving Money By Buying Used (And When You Shouldn’t!)

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When many of us think of shopping, we picture the mall, the big-box shop or the nearest department store. Buying second-hand products has, at least in some circles, become almost unheard of, which is unfortunate! Not only does purchasing previously-used merchandise help promote an eco-friendly economy and mindset, keep still-usable products out of landfills and save consumers a ton of money, it can be a lot of fun!

There are a lot of great opportunities for saving money and helping the environment by buying previously-used items. Here’s a few tips for getting the most bang for your buck and avoiding buyer’s remorse when buying second hand.

Cautions

Regardless of the product purchased, certain cautions should be taken when buying already-used goods. Since return policies are often non-existant even at established second hand retailers, carefully examining any used product you intend to purchase is vital. Look it over, put it down and then look it over again. Make sure it’s exactly what you were looking for (and what you thought it was when you picked it up.)  If it is an item that functions, make sure it does so, even if that means insisting on plugging it in and being shown that it works. Take it for a literal or proverbial test drive. You can’t make the same assumptions about used goods that you can get away with when buying new. Many times buying second hand can save you money, but it’s rarely a good deal to buy a broken or flimsy item, or one that’s not been taken care of.

Transportation

Automobile purchases have a great potential for savings when you shop used. Buying a newer used car (2 or 3 years old) and driving it until it’s no longer economically feasible to do so can save up to 40% of the lifetime cost of owning a car compared to buying a new one, according to some experts. Do your research, both on the vehicle and the seller, and be a fully informed customer. It may be a good idea to take a second-hand vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection, especially if you’re buying from a private party or business you’re not familiar with. It will cost you a little, but save you in the long run. If things go badly, many states have lemon laws in place, but you have to know your rights.

Furniture

Furniture is an awesome opportunity for saving money by buying previously owned items. Moving sales, consignment shops, classified ads and the like provide great opportunities to buy household furniture at prices far less than what you’d pay retail. Like any second-hand purchase, be sure to look any furniture over carefully, especially if it’s not fully assembled. Don’t be shy about asking if its coming from a home with smokers or pets, especially if it’s soft-materials like stuffed chairs, couches or mattresses.

Appliances

Buying used appliances is a bit more complicated than some other purchases might be. Small appliances are almost always okay to buy, and moving sales or thrift stores can be a great place to get a mixer, blender, coffee maker or sandwich griller for a buck or two. If it breaks after a few months, you’re only out a dollar or so and chances are you can pick up another one for the same price.

Major appliances, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Refurbished appliances from a store that will give you a warranty can be a great deal. Similarly, if you’re lucky enough to find a moving sale featuring relatively new appliances (preferably with the paperwork to back up the supposed age) you can save hundreds compared to buying the same item new.  However, other than these two situations, second hand isn’t always the best option for major appliances. Most manufacturers these days have a base line of washers, dryers, stoves and refrigerators that are reasonably priced and come with a decent warranty. For those who can afford them, this may be a preferable option for several reasons. Firstly, they likely come with a warranty that covers repairs for at least the first few years. Considering how expensive having repairs on appliances can be, it can easily cost the difference between a second hand machine and a new base line machine with the first break-down. Also, especially with freezers and refrigerators, the possible collatoral damage (ruined food) must be taken into consideration. If you saved $200 bucks in buying a 15 year old fridge, but lost all of your meats, milk, eggs, veggies, condiments and such when it conked out a few months later, you may not have saved a cent. And a final consideration to take into account if considering buying major appliances second hand is the Pain In The Neck factor. If your mixer breaks mid-recipe, you grab a spoon and finish it, shopping for a replacement at your own convenience. If your washer goes out, it’s probably going to do it while bearing a full load of soaking-wet jeans and towels that now weigh a metric ton, most likely at bedtime on the night before someone “has” to have those jeans in the morning. Some things you just want to be sure they work, consistantly, so think carefully before buying major appliances second hand.

Entertainment

These days, there’s almost no reason to pay new prices for entertainment materials. Used book stores are everywhere, and if you don’t live near one or can’t find what you’re looking for in person, many stores have online catalogs where you can not only buy a copy of that bestseller you were looking for online, but can compare prices and get the best deal. Ditto with movies. Many movie rental stores carry previously viewed titles at discount prices, but be sure to compare them with online stores as well – you may save enough to cover your shipping and handling fees, especially if you’re buying more than one item from the same vendor.  Video games, whether hand-held, console, or PC, are also available used from a wide variety of brick and online stores, as are music CDs.

Garage sales can be a great source for these types of materials too. Paperback books are often as low as a quarter at yard sales, and you can frequently convince sellers to give you a discount if you are interested in a quantity. Since it’s usually pretty easy to tell if a DVD or CD is in good working condition or not by examining the shiny side for scratches, DVDs, CDs, books on CD and video games on CD can be great garage sale acquisitions, especially since they are usually dirt cheap. Movies are often only a dollar or two, and sometimes caseless music CDs can be had for as low as a quarter for something that would have cost $10-15 new.

Clothing

Coats and children’s clothing are both great second hand purchases. New outerwear can be very expensive, and often times new or barely worn jackets can be purchased for under $5 at thrift stores or garage sales. Be careful to look for holes, rips, missing buttons, broken fasteners and stains, however – sometimes barely worn clothing is barely worn for a reason. Similarly, infants and children can be hard on clothing, but sometimes grow out of stuff before the shiny even begins to wear off.

What NOT to Buy

Finally, a word of caution. When you’re purchasing expensive items that you’d normally want a warranty for, second-hand may not be the best place to obtain them (unless you’re buying from a retail merchant with a reputable warranty return policy.) Another type of item that might not be best to purchase second hand is food products and toiletries, including baby formula. Even if the packages are unopened, you’ve got no guarantee of the conditions they’ve been stored in or what they’ve been exposed to. Makeup (unless it is still in a sealed container) should never be purchased used. Even a single “trial” could leave it tainted with bacteria that could lead to health issues later on. And finally, extreme caution should be used when purchasing second hand safety items, like motorcycle helmets, rock climbing gear, floatation devices or sports protection gear. When your life is on the line, saving a few dollars on your purchase just isn’t worth the risk.

© Jess Hartley – www.jesshartley.com

Like this article? Check out more advice by Jess Hartley –

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