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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Cameron Huddleston, Former Online Editor
| July 9, 2014
You can save a lot by buying used rather than new. Many pre-owned items cost 50% to 75% less than comparable new items. Think “used” for products that:
-- will have a short lifespan in your possession. If you expect to discard an item soon, why pay top dollar for a shiny new model?
-- likely saw limited use by their previous owners. Think of these products as "almost new" rather than "used."
-- have been refurbished by trusted manufacturers to operate like new.
-- will get dinged and dirty in your possession. Who cares about an existing scratch or two on something that you’ll beat up on your own?
There are many ways to find used items -- at consignment shops specializing in used items, at retailers selling both new and used wares, and from strangers at yard sales or online. One popular source for pre-owned products is the online classifieds site Craigslist.org. It can be a great source of bargains, but shoppers should be aware that scammers can use the site to take advantage of people looking for deals. Remember: Any deal that's too good to be true probably is.
Here are 12 things you should consider buying used:
You’ve probably heard that new cars drop in value as soon as you drive them off the lot – often making used cars a better value. However, for the past several years, it was hard to find a good deal on a pre-owned vehicle because supply was tight. But prices are finally easing as more cars are streaming onto the used market. So it’s a good time again to buy used.
See our picks for the 10 best values in used cars. And to find the vehicle you want at an attractive price, follow these strategies.
Hit estate sales, consignment stores, antique stores or even yard sales to find unique and affordable pieces. Craigslist.org is another good source of used furniture. For example, we found a metal-and-glass coffee table on Craigslist for $50. A similar one from Pottery Barn costs $399.
Caution: Don’t buy used mattresses (unless you want to risk getting bedbugs), and consider getting upholstered items professionally cleaned.
A pair of designer jeans (brands such as True Religion, 7 For All Mankind and Joe’s Jeans) typically costs $150 to $200. But you can find a gently worn pair at an upscale consignment store for a third of that price. Don’t like the idea that someone else wore them? We hate to break it to you, but there’s a good chance that at least one -- maybe several -- people have tried on the "new" jeans you find at the store.
Being among the first to buy the latest electronics -- from tablets to TVs -- will cost you a premium. Savvy shoppers can save by being patient. And they can really score deals by waiting until the early adopters trade in their still-shiny objects for even newer models. Refurbished tech items, which are used but restored to like-new condition and usually have a one-year warranty, can cost half as much as their original price. For example, you can buy a refurbished iPad 2 for $289 (Apple.com) -- $240 less than a new model with the same specifications. Among the sites where you can find refurbished computers, tablets and other products are Apple.com, BestBuy.com, Dell.com, Newegg.com, TigerDirect.com and Walmart.com.
High-quality wooden swing sets can cost several thousand dollars, and even simple models are at least $300. That’s a lot to pay for something your kids will quickly outgrow. Find used swing sets for half the original price via your local paper’s classifieds or Craigslist.org.
Whether it’s the prom, a gala or a wedding, you want to look stunning. But it doesn’t make financial sense to spend a fortune on a dress that you’ll wear only once. For example, expect to save 50% or more on a wedding gown than has been worn and 30% to 40% on a gown that was purchased but not worn, says Josie Daga, founder of PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com.
You can pick up paperbacks at yard sales for $1 (or less), or find them at used bookstores or online at sites such as Amazon.com for a lot less than you’d pay if you bought them new. You also can cut the cost of college textbooks in half by buying used. Sites such as BigWords.com, CampusBooks.com and AllBookstores.com let you scan multiple online retailers to find the lowest price.
No need to spend a lot of money on a bike that your child will quickly outgrow. You likely can find a used one with little wear and tear (because the previous owner also likely outgrew it quickly) at a fraction of the cost of a new bike, which can cost $70 or more.
Maybe you want to start playing the guitar or your kid wants to take piano lessons. Rather than spring for a pricey new instrument, look for a more affordable used one if you’re a novice musician. For example, we found a used Washburn electric guitar for $100 on Craigslist.org; most new ones run $400 and up. You won’t be out hundreds -- or thousands -- of dollars if you don’t become the next Jimi Hendrix or if your child decides he wants to play drums instead of the piano after taking lessons for only a year.
Sometimes, people buy new tools to complete a project, then never use them again -- and eventually unload them at great prices. Hammers, wrenches, saws, shovels and manual tools are a good bet if they've been gently used because there aren't any mechanical parts to cause problems. Search Craigslist.org or the classifieds for used tools.
Plenty of people have every intention of maintaining an exercise regimen when they purchase treadmills or elliptical machines, but many times this pricey equipment just gathers dust. That’s why it’s often easy to find used exercise equipment in great condition at great prices -- and you don’t have to feel so guilty if you don’t end up using it as much as you anticipated. For example, we found a Sole E25 Elliptical Machine that was used only once for $500 on the Washington, D.C., Craigslist. A new one was $1,000 on Amazon.com.
New homes typically cost 20% more than previously lived-in homes with similar features in the same zip code, according to real estate site Trulia.com. In addition to the big savings, buyers of existing homes also enjoy the traditional features of older homes and their location in more-established neighborhoods.
A word of caution: You’ll spend at least four times as much in monthly maintenance on an older home than you will on a home that’s less than four years old, according to U.S. Census data.