Buy Used and What to Never Buy Used

By Mary Caraccioli

My work has me visiting families all over the country with one mission, to help them get in good financial shape. In order to help others, I have also had to make sure my own house is in order. So to keep within my own budget I have found fun and creative ways to save. Often that means buying something that someone else previously owned. Yep- used!  Hey it is also good for the environment right? Reuse and recycle are part of my life.

But not every used item is worthy of making it into my home. Some used products create more problems or simply don’t last. So it begs the question, “What do you buy new and what do you buy used?”

My rule of thumb for buying “used” is like Warren Buffet’s rule for buying stocks, I buy what I know.  So, if I know what I am looking at and can tell if it is well made and in good shape and if I can properly clean it- I buy used.  If it is something that is too complicated for me or my pals to assess- I walk away and buy new. Why? Because sometimes buying used is literally buying someone else’s problems.   Here is a quick list on what is on my “buy used” list and what isn’t.

Buy used: un-upholstered furniture– my dining room table, end table, dressers, and coffee tables are all second hand and are all fabulous. They are more attractive and better constructed than a lot of new furniture and they make my home unique. I also spent a lot less for this great look than I would have for the same quality new.

Some pieces I have refinished myself, others were already in great shape. The materials I have had the most luck with are wood, Lucite or acrylic, marble and granite.  These materials are easy enough for me to clean. I also look for pieces that are easy to inspect. I make sure they are in proper working order before I buy.

Buy New:  I Don’t buy used upholstered furniture. Maybe it is all the news about bedbugs that freaked me out- but I see old upholstery as a recipe for disaster. If you can do the reupholstering yourself it may be worth it, but hiring someone else to do it can be expensive. This is where I buy new.

The only exception to this is dining room chairs. Re-upholstering the seat cushions is easy and cheap. I have done it myself. So buy those chairs used if you find a set that is sturdy, well made and cheap.

Buy Used: Kids clothes.  I like buying used play clothes for kids. They out grow them so quickly- I hate to waste my money on new outfits that will just be destroyed at the playground. With the second hand clothes I always do a serious wash in hot water to kill the germs.  Also make sure there are no holes – I don’t want to bring anyone’s moth problems to my house. When we outgrow the clothes I pass them on to friends, family or charities ASAP. I don’t let them pile up.

Buy Used:  Plastic toys – These types of toys are easy to clean before we use them. Just make sure they have no small parts. Small desks or tables or sturdy chairs are great to get second hand.  If it is easy to inspect and easy to clean then I will get it used.

Buy New: Plush, stuffed toys and toys with hair: Yes you can put some of these toys in the washer before you give them to your child, but they are never the same after a wash. If you’ve ever tried to de-tangled mangled doll hair (I have) you know it is a losing battle. Save the heartache and buy new.

Buy used: Sports Equipment: Some of the second-hand sports retail stores have good deals, but I find the best deals are with your own team. Put a note up or let other parents know you are interested in buying second hand equipment.  You may be able to organize a swap or a team fundraiser using donated used gear.   Balls, bats, tennis racquets, hockey sticks, sometimes even the pads are okay of you can clean them properly before you hand them to your youngster. One respected hockey re-seller showed me how they steam clean some of the used gear before selling it. Make sure you can get any item that is worn free of dirt and germs before you buy.

Another hint:  talk to the pro, at the end of the season they often have demo equipment that they sell for a song. I got my new (used) tennis racquet this way.

Buy New: Child car seats or cribs should always be bought new. There are too many safety issues with how they are assembled and installed. You need to have the original directions. There have also been recalls for these products.  With our children’s safety on the line, splurge on new for these.  Even when you buy new check the government recall list regularly to make sure the product is safe. http://www.recalls.gov/

Buy Used: Strollers I have bought several of these used but only upon inspection. I live in the city and instead of a minivan or SUV my family’s all-terrain vehicle is a stroller. We’ve gone through a few, because we use them like crazy. I have saved hundreds of dollars off of expensive strollers, because I bought them used.

Now when it comes to strollers, I know what I am looking at when I see them and can if they are in good shape. Lots of folks get strollers as gifts and the type they get doesn’t fit their lives. So you can usually find what you are looking for in nearly new condition with the owners manual still intact.

Caution: Be careful of the super premium brand name strollers- you know the brands the Hollywood stars have for their kids. There are counterfeits on the market and the markdowns on the authentic one’s aren’t great in the used market.  If you want super high end buy new.

Buy Used: Textbooks – I have been back at school twice since getting my undergrad degree and I have discovered the beauty of buying my textbooks used. I pay a lot less and then I resell as soon as I am finished with them to get the most cash for the resale. Don’t sit on old textbooks long because new editions make the old ones less valuable. (Bonus hint- most schools keep several copies of all textbooks at the library- try to get them at the library first before you buy).

Buy New: Appliances are something I will only buy new.  Newer models are more energy efficient and have warranties. Without knowing how well an appliance was cared for and maintained by the previous owner means you could be buying trouble. A faulty appliance can be a fire hazard, or using an appliance without the directions can lead to injury. Avoid the hassles and buy new.

Buying used, is not only cheaper it is greener by keeping stuff out of landfills. It is also very important for my daughter to see that we don’t live in a disposable world. I like to say If I take care of my stuff, it may help take care of me later!

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    About Mary

    About Mary Mary Caraccioli, MLA, MBA is the Money Confidante. An Emmy™ Award winning financial journalist, she has worked at CNBC, FOX, Comcast and ABC's LiveWell TV where she has created numerous award winning programs. Mary also helped to create the Lou Dobbs syndicated radio report. She was an early adaptor of digital media and creator of well respected money websites.

    Mary has access to the top financial thought leaders and brings that information home to everyday people who are looking to make better money decisions in their lives. Let the Money Confidante help you and your family too!    Learn more...

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