America is often described as a “throw away society”. We buy things—usually brand new—use them for a while, get rid of them in some form or fashion, then move on to the next thing.
This creates an enormous pile of stuff sitting somewhere—much of it of pretty good quality—and presents a real financial opportunity to anyone willing to invest some extra time and effort in buying what they need.
Why buy anything used? For one thing, new isn’t always better; sometimes we can get better quality merchandise second hand that we could never afford brand new. Sometimes, the item in question is one we don’t use that much, or won’t use for very long—why pay a premium for it?
But more important by far: any money we can avoid spending is money that can go either into debt reduction or directly into savings.
What are some items that are better bought used than new?
It can cost thousands of dollars to buy decent quality new furniture for just one room, and tens of thousands for an entire house. But you can often buy used furniture for ten to twenty percent of what it costs brand new which is also a way to get better quality furniture that you can’t afford to buy brand new.
Check out estate sales, garage sales, second hand furniture stores, your local newspaper or your company or neighborhood newsletter to see what’s available.
There may be tangible advantages to buying a brand new car, but the financial factors heavily favor used cars. For one thing, used car prices are much more negotiable, especially if you’re buying direct from the seller. Depreciation is another factor. The average new car will lose up to 20% of it’s value in the first year and 10% in each of the next four years which makes buying new a guaranteed money loser!
You only have a certain amount of money to put down on a car, new or used, but if you buy new, you will most likely make up the price difference by taking on more debt. Buy a used car and keep the loan to a minimum. Better yet, buy a used car you can pay cash for and skip the loan altogether. Driving it may not be such a rush, but your non-car life will be so much better for not having the debt that you might not care.
3. Car parts
If your car is at least five years old, you can save a small fortune buying used replacement parts rather than relying on new parts from a repair or body shop. You can find replacement parts on the web, and the availability is greater than most of us imagine. I recently paid $25 for a replacement taillight box on our van that would have cost at least $200 brand new.
My kids are out of the toy stage, but one thing we learned as they were growing up is that a toy, no matter how important it seemed at the time, was just a passing phase. And that phase can last as little as a few hours!
Here’s a little secret: kids can turn just about anything into a toy. The brand-new-in-the-box-from-the-store thing is but a momentary rush. They may play with it for a few days or a few weeks, but rest assured they will get bored with it and throw it on the heap with the other old toys. Buy used toys that way their phases won’t cost so much and put the money you would have spent on new toys into something more permanent, like their college fund.
The problem with clothes is that they aren’t permanent. Sooner or later they’ll either fall apart, go out of style or no longer fit. This is especially true with children’s clothes. So why spend so much money buying them brand new?
Thrift stores have clothing available for impossibly low prices, generally $3-$5 per article. Much of it is gently used, name brand clothing discarded by fashion addicts who got rid of it simply so they could make room in their closets for the new spring (or fall) lines. It takes patience and digging through the racks, but the savings are substantial.
If like most people you’re a weekend handyman why pay a premium price to buy a brand new tool you probably don’t use more than once or twice a year? I bought a good quality manual hedge clipper at an estate sale for $5 and have been using it 3-4 times a year to trim my hedges—for 15 years! I have many other tools that I’ve gotten at less than retail, but that one stands out in my mind.
A good quality tool can last for many years, whether you pay $5 used or $50 new. Unless you use tools in your occupation, there’s no need to have hundreds or thousands of dollars worth sitting your garage or basement.
My son got tired of the meals we prepare around here and borrowed a cookbook from the school library in the hopes of stoking our creative energy. His choice was an outstanding one, and we decided we needed to have the book. Brand new it was $30, but we got it on Amazon for $8, including shipping. We use the book all the time, but the fact is most books are read then either shelved or discarded. So why buy them brand new?
Check Amazon.com before buying any book brand new. Chances are they have several used copies for a fraction of the price. If you’re a book hound, get familiar with the used book stores in your area and frequent them regularly.
8. Secondary appliances
In order to stretch the food budget, many people have or want to have secondary appliances, like a freezer or a second refrigerator. But if you already have a refrigerator, why pay the retail price for a second unit that’s hidden in the basement and used mostly for extra storage? Somewhere in your community, someone is looking to sell an appliance, and you can probably get a few years use out of it for just a fraction of the price brand new.
We don’t buy too many DVDs in our home these days because we began to notice a pattern that when ever we purchased a must-have DVD, we’d watch it two or three times, then store it in the cabinet with the 100 other DVDs we don’t watch any more. That’s a lot of money sitting in a cabinet gathering dust! Cheaper, used DVDs are the only sane way to buy a movie that you’ll probably only watch a few times in your life.
10. Video games
This is really an extension of the discussion above on toys—but for older kids. Like toys, video games are just phases that pass, so the less you spend on them, the better.
We’ve gotten some decent discounts buying used videos through EB Gamestop, finding that the quality is generally comparable to brand new ones. The one or two that did degrade to the point of impairment turned out to be a non-problem because the kids just moved on to another “hot” game. Like DVDs, video games just aren’t worth a heavy investment.
A disadvantage of buying used goods is that you may not get exactly the items you want, but that will be a small price to pay for the extra thousands of dollars that you won’t spend or borrow, that can be used to improve other areas of your life—like your finances!
Can you think of any other items that are better bought used than new?