8 Things to Buy Secondhand, and When to Buy New

Babies r usWe all know used cars are almost always a better value than buying new. But cars aren't the only thing where it pays to shop secondhand. Here are eight areas where you can save big by buying used, as well as specific times when it's best to stick to brand new goods.

Babies 'R' Pricey

Expecting a baby? Resist the urge to stock the nursery with all new gear. Craigslist, consignment stores, and local moms groups (many areas have online listservs for parents) are great sources for changing tables, high chairs, strollers, clothing, toys, and more. Because babies only use these items for a short time, you can almost always find lightly used gear for far less than new.

When to buy new: For safety reasons, car seats and cribs are two items you'll want to buy new to make sure they conform to the most current standards.

Good Wood

It's not just furnishing a nursery that gets expensive. Skip the stores and hit Craigslist, thrift shops, or Habitat ReStore locations for high-quality used pieces at Ikea prices. An added benefit: Your home will have much more character than if you'd just purchased a matching set. Before you set out to shop, make a list of what you're looking for and get a sense of the value of various pieces. Finally, get comfortable with negotiating. A polite tone and reasonable offer will go a long way toward getting the price you want.

When to buy new: With bedbugs seemingly swarming some areas of the country, it's safer to buy mattresses and upholstered furniture new.

Play It Again, Sam

Musical instruments are popular impulse buys. Well-meaning parents and grandparents purchase them hoping for a miniature Mozart; middle-aged men buy them to indulge rock star fantasies. But what happens when Junior gives up on the violin after two lessons or his dad realizes that he's not the next Bono? Those instruments become bargains. Music stores often resell used instruments, and again, Craigslist is a great source as well, but you will want to have the instrument checked out first -- it can be quite expensive to repair a broken one.

When to buy new: Buy new if you don't have access to a quality music shop -- as mentioned above, repairs can be costly -- or if you need a specialty item not readily available secondhand.

Recycled Cycles
Unless you're an aspiring Lance Armstrong, there's probably a used bicycle out there that will fit your needs as well as anything you could buy new. Picking up used bikes for kids is a no-brainer; they grow so fast that it's not worth investing in new ones every year or two. Add a pretty basket or a shiny horn, and they won't even notice the bike's not new. Adult cyclists can also find lightly used bargains; bike shops sometimes sell them, or scout garage sales and Craigslist.

When to buy new: Serious riders who are going to use the wheels for commuting or racing, for example, should go ahead and invest in a new bike. If you have any problems, many shops offer free repairs on bikes that they sold.

The Sporting Second Life

Like musical instruments, sports equipment bargains abound, thanks to well-meaning gift-buyers, overly ambitious amateurs, and wannabe pros trading up to better gear. Use that to your advantage to snag deals on golf clubs, skis and snowboards, tennis racquets, and gym equipment. (My local Craigslist currently has 144 listings for treadmills!) Specialty shops sometimes sell used gear, but thrift shops, garage sales, and our old friend Craigslist are also excellent sources.

When to buy new: As with music, once you've moved past the beginner stage, go ahead and invest in new equipment that fits your skill level.

Bargain Bookworm

Sink your teeth into megabest-seller Twilight for just $0.99, rock out to Coldplay's smash hit Viva La Vida for $2.99, or laugh along with an entire season of The Office for $5. Once you get hooked on the savings at sites like eBay's (EBAY) Half.com and Amazon's (AMZN) Marketplace, you'll never look anywhere else for books, movies, video games, or CDs. Garage sales, used bookstores, and libraries are excellent offline options.

When to buy new: Unless you simply can't wait to get your hands on the latest release, or you're a collector who prefers items in mint condition -- never!

Frugal Frocks

As much fun as it is to shop for fancy dresses, those gorgeous getups will probably only get worn for a few hours. By the time the next black-tie event rolls around, you'll have your eye on something new. But since other people do the same thing, formalwear is a perfect secondhand purchase for anyone in the family. You'll score a nearly new gown, flower girl frock, or tiny tux for a small fraction of what it cost new. Consignment shops and thrift stores are your best bets.

When to buy new: Shop retail to please the bride or if you're a hard-to-find size, but don't forget that a good tailor can work wonders if the dress is within two sizes of what you need.

Secondhand Stones

Diamonds and other precious gems lose value the day they leave the jewelry store. Get more carats for your cash by buying secondhand. Many jewelers sell rings and other baubles on consignment; you won't get rock-bottom prices, but you'll know the piece has been appraised. (When buying diamonds, always ask to see the GSA certificate.) Craigslist is another option, but insist on meeting the seller at a jeweler of your choosing to have the stone evaluated before any money changes hands. An unusual, but reputable option? A site like IDoNowIDont.com, which specializes in diamonds from divorces and broken engagements. Sure, it may feel strange to benefit from another's bad fortune, but think of it as giving the diamond a second chance at happiness.

When to buy new: If you can't verify the item before buying or your beloved doesn't share your frugal values, then you might consider buying new. She'll just have to settle for a smaller stone.

Motley Fool writer Robyn Gearey specializes in thrifty home decorating and is a frequent visitor to the local consignment shops. She doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com and eBay.

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Ashely Wilson

Great post. I get my used diamonds from http://www.haveyouseenthering.com. I just bought my mother a beautiful diamond necklace for Christmas. Can't wait to see her face! I am all about second hand stuff. If it works properly and still looks great then what is the difference beside the price tag.

November 26 2013 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nina Starusev

you can buy second hand stuff here:


July 09 2013 at 12:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love the antiques. The funny thing is now the clothes I wore in 1970's are all listed as Vintage, lol I just thought they were cool. I look at it as taking care of a piece of art until it's time to pass it on to someone else to care for. The best deals are Jeans, what a deal you can get on them. And a yardsale later on passes those on to someone else that can use them.

August 04 2011 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been shopping Goodwill ever since my youngest son went off to college, to buy him some kitchen appliances and pots and pans for his Apartment. He graduated high school 1994, graduated college 1999. I love the Goodwill!

August 04 2011 at 11:08 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

my wife and i started going to resale shops when she was looking for a hallowen costume, and i would wait in the car. then it happened. i started going in with her, now im addicted. we lived pretty comfotably so its not a major economic thing. we just find deals and have fun doing it. my wife is a beautiful woman who likes to dress nice, but casual in the summer, and we can leavea resale store with a half dozen items each for 15 bucks. one nice store in the chi-town n.w. suburbs devotes its efforts to taking care of dogs and cats, and is very popular.
every time my wife comes downstairs i say , "wow that looks nice" and she laghs and says, "ya, i only buy the finest"
1.50 @goodwil etc.
its also nice to see people get really excited over an item they couldnt have bought elsewhere, or dishes and glassware to re-fill a broken set.

August 04 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I've been shopping thrift shops for years. Most of the accessories in my home are from thrift shops, and I get them for a fraction of the price you would pay at, say, Home Goods or other similar stores. Not everything has to be from a high-end store at full retail. As a decorator friend told me, "It's not how much money you spend, it's how you put everything together in a room."

August 04 2011 at 9:34 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

There is one thing this writer didn't research very good. She said with the bedbug issues happening today that you should buy mattresses or any upholstered furniture in stores, but it is safe to buy other types of furniture. This isn't true. Any type of furniture could be a bad thing because bedbugs will burrow into cracks in the wood very easily and they also get into drawers, crawl up under the furniture hiding in tiny cracks and so forth. You really need to be careful with any used item today, even in toys, t.v.s, any electronics, and so forth. They will find a place to hide. For those who can't afford to buy new, I would suggest investing in a steam cleaner. Steam clean anything you can when buying used items. The steam will kill them.

August 04 2011 at 8:24 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to june's comment

Thank you June. Some solid advice from you ...

August 04 2011 at 9:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

In one of my previous homes I planted a wonderful tree called a Floss Silk Tree. It produced large pods of lovely 'floss'. When I moved from that home I filled a small bag with it in hopes of using it for a pillow or something. Years later (last year) I wanted more floss so I could finally use what I already had. I researched online and discovered Kapok which is very much like the silk floss. I found out that bed bugs DO NOT like it one bit and the actual floss can last for generations. When in a pillow or comforter it can be easily washed in the washing machine and dried in the dryer, it needs to be re-fluffed when out of the dryer. I ordered a bunch of it and used it up quickly so I ordered more. I even made a futon for my granddaughter out of it. The southern company that I ordered it from also sells all sorts of ready-made products, but I'm a do-it-yourself person. Oh, also, on the beds that normally require mattresses (except for grand daughters futon bed) we use air mattresses -- have for years. No bed bugs there either.

August 04 2011 at 11:35 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Having been in the "GEM" buisness for 35 years or so,I have to laugh at the notion that "USED" means a bargain in a jewelry store.Unless you run into a DESPERATION sale item that was special ordered and turned down,or a DIVORCE ring,the people know what they're selling,and they ain't gonna GIVE AWAY anything.They may make it look like you stole it,but you didn't.Its like when you buy(hopefully not) jewelry from a DEPARTMENT STORE.Sure,its on sale for 30,40,60 or 70% off,but they marked it up 4-500% before they marked it down.The cheap/low quality stuff is marked up the MOST,so there is more room for big discounts,and the REAL GOOD stuff has the least mark-up.Guess what,you aint gonna get a 4ct D Flawless Diamond for 75% off.Its NOT GONNA happen,its a controlled market,and someone could sell it to another dealer or a collector for at least what they paid,and NOT take a loss.

August 04 2011 at 7:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rolando4rocks's comment

AMEN- a diamond is a diamond- there are no giveaways- I have been in the Estate jewelry business for 35 years and it never ceases to amaze me the people who think they are going to find a big diamond at a bargain price because "The jeweler didn't know what they had"- OR "I paid $10,000.00 for the ring but it appraised for $85000.00"- Yeah right-

August 04 2011 at 10:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In our office we also have a toy and clothing swap. Making friends with parents of older kids can be a treasure trove of goodness. Hand me downs can be great.

August 02 2011 at 6:38 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Sweaters! You can't buy wool sweaters new - they just aren't being sold any more. A high end consignment shop has gently-used basic wool pullovers (or cardigans).

July 30 2011 at 8:08 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply