No question: Buying things that have been used can mean major savings.
But those upfront savings aren’t always worth it. Some used items can come with risks that may not be obvious—microscopic bugs, for example, or hidden damage that renders the item unsafe. In these instances, buying new is worth the extra money.
Berry starts with two general guidelines: Can the item be thoroughly cleaned, and can you verify its history or make sure it’s safe? “You don’t want to buy someone else’s problems,” she says.
For those items that make sense to buy used, Bodge says that with apps, online sellers and social media–based swap groups, it’s easier than ever to find quality secondhand items. “Just always remember,” she says, “buyer beware.”
Here are their recommendations for what to buy used—and when you should pony up the cash for new.
BUY IT USED
Clothes are usually great to buy used, says Bodge (except for hats and shoes…keep reading for those)—just be sure to wash or dry-clean them before wearing.
Look for things like glassware, flatware and storage containers at garage sales to help stock your kitchen on the cheap, says Berry. (The exception is nonstick cookware—see below.) As with clothing, wash your purchases thoroughly before using.
Berry is a big fan of buying refurbished electronics—but only from reputable resellers. The reseller will make sure the items work well and that computers are free of viruses. They’ll often even include a warranty with your purchase.
Berry has had great luck finding home-renovation supplies secondhand. “People often buy too much for their projects and want to sell the leftovers,” she says, so things like tiles and tools can be great finds at garage sales. Looking for a project of your own? Check out these home improvements that only look expensive.
Fitness and Sporting Gear
Exercise equipment (bought with the best of intentions) can often be found only lightly used, says Bodge. She says this is a handy category for kids, too; sporting goods like ice skates might be used for only one winter before a child grows out of them.
Solid Wood Furniture
Hardwood furniture can be a great investment, Berry says, as it’s often sturdier than more contemporary styles. Give it a thorough cleaning, says Berry; then paint or stain it to match your decor, or just leave it as is.
Books may get dog-eared, but they wear well, says Bodge. And students can find great deals on textbooks that they won’t need for more than a year or a semester.
Of course, used cars can be a great bargain—if you do your research. Go to a dealership if you want to take a test drive. Otherwise, online options like GEICO’s Car Buying Service, powered by TrueCar, make it simple to learn a vehicle’s history so you can be confident in your choice. (Read our tips on buying a used car online and choosing a great used car for the family.)
BUY IT NEW
Child Car Seats
It’s difficult to know if a car seat has been in a crash or has been recalled, says Gloria Del Castillo, of the Buckle Up for Life program in Cincinnati—so buy it new. And you don’t have to spend a fortune, since all car seats have to meet the same safety standards.
Be wary of used big-ticket appliances, says Berry. It’s hard to know how well they’ll work until you use them—and there’s no telling how long they’ll last.
Furniture made of sturdy materials may be a good deal, says Bodge, but avoid pieces covered in fabric. They could be hiding structural wear and tear—and worse, you might bring unwanted pests like bedbugs into your home.
There’s some debate over the safety of nonstick cookware that’s been chipped or scratched, says Bodge, but don’t take chances. Buy new items individually, or pick up a budget set.
Hats and Shoes
Many kinds of hats can’t be washed, says Berry, so there’s no easy way to eliminate the previous owner’s bacteria and body oils or ensure that you avoid lice. Shoes can also come with bacteria; plus, new shoes often mold quickly to the original owner’s feet, so they may not work for yours.
Cribs made before 2010 mostly fail to meet the new crib safety standards from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which took effect in 2011. Furthermore, any crib with an unknown history can come with safety concerns, including faulty construction or assembly. Avoid secondhand crib bedding and mattresses as well; used mattresses have been associated with an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Used motorcycle and bicycle helmets may have tiny cracks or an old inner lining that could compromise your safety in an accident. And the damage, says Berry, may not be obvious when you’re looking at the helmet.
Even if tires look like they’re in good shape, says Berry, they could have defects or punctures you won’t necessarily be able to see. Tires play such an important role in car safety that you don’t want to take chances with them. (We debunk common tire myths here.)
By Nicole Price Fasig