Why Pre-Owned is Better: 10 Items You Should Buy Used Instead of New

used wedding dresses
Matthew Hogan under Creative Commons
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My wife and I have never bought a new car, even though we could easily pay cash for one. In fact, we buy a lot of used things.

Why? We figure that if we get the things we need for less, we’ll have more money left over for traveling and other important goals. If you feel the same, you probably already know you can save a ton of money buying used items.

Yes, there are some items you may not want to buy used. For us, shoes and mattresses are on the “only buy new” list. But buying used — for a lot less than new — makes sense for things that fit into one of these categories:

  • Products which function the same used as when they’re new: A decent coat rack works the same when it’s new as when it’s 10 years-old, so why not buy one in a Facebook garage sale group?
  • Items you won’t use much: If you’re only going to use a sink-strainer removal wrench once or twice in your life, why not buy it at a used tool shop for half the price of a new one?
  • Refurbished items: They’re cheaper than new ones, and often come with warranties.
  • Like-new items: Gently used items are sold for a fraction of their original cost, so why buy new?
  • Anything with a much lower lifetime cost versus the cost of buying new: A used toaster might have only half of its useful life left, but if it looks good and costs $3 versus $20 new, well, you can do the math.

With these criteria in mind, here are ten things you should buy used.

1. Books and Textbooks

Unless they’re full of of photos or art, you’re mostly buying the information in books. Why pay double or triple to have an unworn cover?

I regularly buy books on Amazon.com for a penny. Of course, the $3.99 shipping is the real cost, but if you join Amazon Prime or Amazon Student (free trial), you’ll have free shipping. You can find even cheaper used books at rummage sales and thrift stores.

Buying used textbooks in particular can save you a fortune. Websites like BookscouterCampusBooks.com and AllBookstores.com connect you with the best deals online. Buyers save an average of 61% versus buying new, says BigWords.com, and savings can go as high as 90%. They claim that a college student can save about $1,000 annually by buying the lowest-priced textbooks identified by their system.

2. Bicycles

Want a high-performance bicycle without the high price tag? Save hundreds of dollars by buying a used bike. Just be sure to test it thoroughly. Even if you just want a basic model, buying used helps you cut the cost by 50% or more. I’ve ridden used bicycles that cost me as little as $15 for years before selling them or giving them away.

Shop for bikes at thrift stores or sports consignment stores, and you’ll probably find even better deals at rummage sales and in local reselling groups.

Or try Craigslist. My local Craigslist search for bikes resulted in 11 listings for $50 or less on just the first page. Two of the kids’ bikes were under $20 and appeared to be in good condition. Kids outgrow bicycles quickly, so it makes sense to buy used ones for them.

3. Appliances

When buying used appliances, it’s not always easy to determine if they have serious problems. But if you shop at a store that offers a warranty period of at least 60 days, you should be safe. We once bought a washing machine for $80, only to have it die a week later. The store owner, who guaranteed all his appliances for 90 days, fixed it the next day and it worked fine for years after that.

Another option is to buy returned appliances — machines that someone purchased but barely used. These are not typically advertised, so ask sales managers if they have any returns they can sell for a good price. Once, I used this strategy to get a dryer that had been used by the previous customer for just 10 days. I paid $90 and never had a problem in the six years I owned it.

Expect a discount of 30% or more. Be sure to ask why the item was returned. If it was just a bad color for the customer’s home, no problem. If there was a problem with the functioning of the appliance, be sure it was repaired.

Should you buy used appliances directly from their owners on Craiglist or other resale sites? Sure, but you’ll want to be careful. Make sure to test the item before agreeing to purchase it. You’ll also have fewer options if something goes wrong — so make sure you’re getting a great deal and are prepared to pay for repairs should the machine stop working once you get it home.

4. Furniture

You may want to avoid buying used mattresses and upholstered furniture used now that the incidence of bedbugs is rising. If you do buy beds or couches, inspect them closely before confirming the purchase and bringing the items into your home.

On the other hand, furniture that is made of wood, metal and glass is easy to clean, and it can look as good after 20 years as it did when new. My wife and I found a beautiful oak coffee table for $20 at a rummage sale. It would have cost us at least $120 to buy something similar new (and we later sold it for $80).

Consignment shops and used furniture stores will typically have items for 50% of what they cost new. Thrift stores will more commonly have discounts of 75% or more. If you catch the right rummage sale, you can sometimes find nice wood furniture for 90% less than the new price.

5. Designer Jeans

Here’s an item most people don’t think about buying used. Yes, they’ve been worn, but then even new jeans have been tried on by others. Just wash your jeans before wearing them, and you’ll have the label you’ve been coveting for much less than the sticker price.

As with most items, rummages sales and thrift stores are probably the best places to snag deals. But you can easily find used designer jeans for sale online as well. For example, there is a pair of J Brand Jeans selling on eBay right now for $20 in “gently used” condition. A check of Bloomingdales shows that they are going for $185 new. You’ll also want to check your local Facebook reselling groups for pre-owned designer jeans.

6. Computers

You can save serious money buying used laptops, tablets and desktops. Of course, buying from a garage sale might not be a good idea for these kinds of items. Instead, buy properly refurbished items, preferably those that come with warranties.

A search of Walmart.com for “refurbished computers” yields hundreds of results, some starting at less than $100. An HP Pavilion similar to my own (which I bought new for more than $500) costs $182, and I could pick it up — and return it, if necessary — at my local Walmart. Like many of the choices listed on the site, it also has a one-year warranty. Here are some more places you can buy refurbished computers:

7. Wedding Dresses

How much closer to new can you get than when something’s been worn for just one day? Consider choosing an ever-so-gently used wedding gown using one of the many websites that connect you with brides willing to sell theirs for a low price.

For example, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com says it has over 20,000 listings. Many are at least 50% off the original price, and some are discounted as much as 75%. Some of the dresses are not even used, but new, with the tags still attached. Yes, this suggests a canceled wedding; sad, but at least you can help the former bride-to-be recoup some of the money she spent planning her wedding while you get a good deal for yourself.

8. Cars

The long-term cost of buying used cars is much lower than buying new cars. You probably knew that, but maybe you worry about the hassle of repairing a used car more frequently.

A good compromise, according to Consumer Reports, is to buy a car that’s only two to three years old. The worst of that rapid new-car depreciation is past, insurance typically costs less and a “young” used car will often still be under warranty.

It’s true that interest rates for used-car loans are generally higher than for new-car loans, but borrowing less may mean you’ll have much lower payments anyhow. Also, if you buy a car cheap enough, you might be able to pay cash. Doing so usually means you get a better price and you eliminate any interest expense.

The cheapest method is probably to buy a used car that’s sitting in someone’s yard with a sign on it. Of course, there is a reason they’re selling it, so be sure to ask. Have a mechanic look at it if that’s feasible.

Dealers will usually have higher prices, but sometimes sell cleaner cars that have been checked out for problems. Some offer a satisfaction guarantee. For example, CarMax gives you five days to return a car if you don’t like it.

9. Exercise Equipment

Not to be cynical, but why pay top dollar for something that is destined to be left unused in some dark corner of the basement or storage shed?

In any case, most exercise equipment, especially things like weights and benches, works the same as it did new even when well-used. Look for used exercise equipment on Craigslist or at rummage sales. Expect to pay less than half of the new price, and expect to be happy that you didn’t spend so much when you later relegate that stationary bicycle to your storage unit.

10. Tools

When buying used power tools, you never really know if a motor is about to burn out. So test them carefully, and buy for less than half of the new price. Be willing to pay a bit more for used hand tools in good condition. There isn’t much to go wrong with a pair of pliers or a hammer.

You can buy used tools on Amazon.com, but you’ll usually find better deals locally. Rummage sales may have the best prices, but I like long-term vendors at flea markets. They hesitate to refund your money, but will usually give you credit toward other items if you discover that a tool you bought is damaged.

Your Turn: What items do you buy used, and which ones do you only buy new?

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