I used to think that the only way to score a great deal was to use a coupon on a clearance rack. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I still do that too, but after doing Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, my eyes were opened to the world of used, which has been a huge financial game changer for my husband and me.
I know that many people turn their nose up at the thought of buying used, but here is an ironic truth I have observed. One of the few things that nearly everyone considers an acceptable used purchase is when buying (or renting) a home. Very few people are able to or even have the opportunity to live in a brand new home, so it’s considered quite normal to buy a home that someone else has already lived in. We spend countless hours in our home every day. Our home provides us with physical protection and privacy in our most vulnerable moments, and for many of us, is one of our biggest financial assets. Our homes are personal and very much a part of who we are, yet no one seems to judge anyone else for buying a pre-owned home.
So if it’s perfectly acceptable to purchase something as personal and significant as a home that someone else has lived in, why do so many people reject the idea of buying used stuff? Everybody knows that no matter what you buy, it’s only a matter of time before the “shine” wears off, and you’re no longer satisfied. If we would stop making purchases out of a desire to “keep up with the Joneses” or to attain a certain image, we would find that our lives would be simpler, our finances healthier, and we would learn that material possessions can never satisfy us in meaningful ways.
For my husband and me, changing our thinking about the concept of buying used has been instrumental in helping us reach our financial goals. I firmly believe that the purchase of my used vehicle was one of the best financial decisions that we have ever made, and it catapulted us toward where we wanted to be with our finances. We got a crazy good deal on my car just over a year ago, and I am just as excited today as I was the day we bought it. Not only do I love my car for all of its features and function, but when I look at it, I see what it represents and what it was able to accomplish, so I have an even deeper appreciation that I would absolutely be lacking had we bought a new car instead.
Am I saying that every purchase you make should be something used? Of course not. Buying used is about timing and availability, so sometimes it’s not even an option depending on what you’re looking for. And it’s not even wise to purchase certain used items for hygienic reasons. What I am saying is that you should always consider buying used, and the bigger the purchase, the more important this becomes.
Just because something is used doesn’t automatically make it dirty, broken, or outdated. There are plenty of legitimate reasons people decide to sell their belongings. It is not uncommon for someone to buy something they think they need, only to find that it just sits in the house or garage collecting dust.
Or sometimes people sell their stuff simply to downsize or prepare for a move. It’s situations like these that buyers have opportunities to score truly incredible bargains. Case in point – my husband once purchased a Black & Decker Edgehog (the exact same one he had been wanting) for $3 at a garage sale. At the time, that piece of lawn equipment was retailing for about $90. That comes out to about 97% off; I don’t know if we will ever beat that deal!
I am by no means an expert on bargain hunting and buying used, but here are just a few easy ways to begin connecting to the world of used if this is something new for you.
The old adage “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” could not be more true than when it comes to perusing garage sales. The main goal for someone who is putting on a garage sale is to get rid of their stuff, not to make as much money as possible, so this is definitely one of the best places to really score a great deal. And with the advent of Craig’s List, you can really be strategic and efficient with your time by doing a little research and planning ahead of time. Most people will advertise their garage sale on Craig’s List, and some people will even have preview pictures and descriptions of what they’re selling. This makes it easy to prioritize which ones are most important to you. You can also use the map view to plan out your route in advance, so you can avoid driving in a zigzag pattern, which wastes time and gas money.
Charitable Rummage Sales
If you want to hit a lot of sellers in a short amount of time, take advantage of rummage sales in your community, which are somewhat like large-scale garage sales. You will likely be supporting a good cause, and since the goods have been donated, you can still find some great bargains. As an added bonus, you don’t have to drive all over town, and sometimes these are held indoors, shielded from undesirable weather conditions.
Similar to garage sales, Craig’s List is kind of like an online garage sale that is open 24 hours a day. Again, you have a lot of motivated sellers, and since you can search for keywords on Craig’s List, it makes it easy to search for something specific without having to leave your house. While it’s true that there are some dishonest people out there who use Craig’s List as a tool to victimize people, there are also a ton of legitimate good-willed people who are just trying to sell their stuff. You do need to be responsible, but don’t be afraid to use Craig’s List.
These might take a little more searching to find, but they provide excellent ways to connect with other sellers once you find the right group. These groups tend to be very targeted and geographically limited, but that is a good thing because you want to make sure you are dealing with only local sellers who are selling what you need. When I lived in Texas, I was part of a group that was strictly for parents wanting to buy, sell, or trade children’s used clothing and toys. I loved being a part of this group because it was an excellent resource for buying quality, used clothing for my son.
Resale Shops & Thrift Stores
While you can get a good deal at a resale shop, just realize it’s not going to be as big of a bargain as buying directly from the seller because you’re still buying from an actual retail establishment. They are trying to make a profit off the sale, so they have to price their merchandise to account for things like rent, employee pay, store equipment, etc..
However, resale shops are a great resource for kids’ stuff simply because your growing child will not use the items for very long. I’m personally not willing to pay full price for expensive name brand stuff, especially for my son, so the only name brands in his closet have come from resale shops.
Just one warning when buying from places like these – examine the merchandise closely to make sure there aren’t any holes, stains, missing buttons, etc. While the price is more than appealing, you still want to make sure you’re buying something that is gently used and still of good quality. If it does have a blemish, ask yourself if it’s something you can live with. If so, ask for a discount since it’s damaged merchandise. We found the perfect Superman costume for my son a couple years ago, but it had a small hole in the armpit. Since you couldn’t really see it, and he was only going to wear it that one evening, we asked for and received a discount, so I think we paid a whopping $3 for his costume!
Thrift stores are an option too, but the selection will likely be more limited since the merchandise comes from donated goods. Depending on your timing and what you’re looking for, you can still score some incredible deals, and the purchase goes toward a good cause too.
Word of Mouth
When you’re actively looking for something used, word of mouth can prove to be surprisingly effective, especially with the availability of social media . You might not know anyone selling a jet ski, but someone you know might know someone who has just been dying to get a jet ski off their hands. Don’t be shy about letting people know what you’re looking for because you just never know when that announcement will fall on the right ears.
There are plenty of other great resources out there for finding used items; these are just some of the basic ways to get you started if this is new territory for you. I think you will find that it’s a whole lot more fun to find a great bargain on something used rather than pay full price for something you can’t afford anyway. I invite you to enter the world of used and begin enjoying the freedom that it brings. Happy Shopping!