Why Used Stuff is Better Than New

DSCF3392A few days ago, my daughter got ketchup all over her brand new shirt.  Let me rephrase that. 

My daughter wiped her ketchup-covered hands all over her white shirt and rubbed it in. 

In an effort to save it, I pulled the shirt off her tiny body right there at the dinner table and immediately started the stain-treating process.

Unfortunately, several rounds of bleach and Oxi-Clean yielded no results, and I was left with a white shirt with pink splotches.  So I did what any other mom would do.  I cut it up into dust rags and moved on with my day.

But I didn’t sweat it, even though my daughter only got to wear that particular shirt once.  Why?

Because I paid .50 for it at a garage sale.  That’s why.

For the Love of Used Stuff

There are so many reasons why used stuff is better than new.  For starters, used stuff is usually far less expensive than used stuff.  Those $100 jeans you bought at The Buckle, for example, could maybe sell for $20 on ebay.  And the flat screen TV you bought at Best Buy for $699 over Labor Day weekend?  Psshhhtt…..  You might get $200 if you give the buyer sexy eyes.  And if you’re hot.

Oh, and those adorable outfits you bought your newborn?  Their resale value is approximately the same as used dental floss.  NadaHow do I know?  Because I’ve bought dozens of designer-brand baby and toddler outfits for a quarter or fifty cents over the years.

Buying all those little items used definitely adds up, but the big expenses can add up even more.  New cars, for instance, can lose up to 20 percent of their value within the first year and 60 percent within five years.  Imagine how much you could save if you always replaced your vehicle with reasonably-priced used car and drove it into the ground.  Doing so might also help you avoid being car-poor, a sad situation indeed.  There are also plenty of other reasons buying used is usually a good idea:

DSCF3426No One Wants to Steal Your Used Stuff

Do you know what happens when you leave a periwinkle Dodge Caravan unlocked with the keys in it?  Nothing.  Nobody tries to steal my car.  Nobody even messes with it.  Hell, I probably couldn’t pay someone to take it. (Check out The Caravan Club for ideas on theft prevention)

You Can Resell Used Stuff For What You Paid

I buy used stuff and resell it later all the time.  In fact, I often resell it for the exact same price I paid or more.  Buying a used baby outfit for .50 cents, using it through two kids, then reselling it for a dollar is something that never gets old, folks.

It’s Less Stressful

I absolutely hate shopping at retail stores, especially when it comes to buying clothes.  I just think there are just far too many options.  Every shirt, for instance, comes in ten different colors and patterns.  And do you get a small or a medium?  They both fit, but which looks better?

Then, all of a sudden, I find myself asking questions like, “Honey, how do my boobs look?”

Shoot me. 

That’s why I like shopping at garage sales.  You either like what they have or you don’t.

Less Commitment

When you don’t spend a lot of money on something, you don’t feel quite as obligated to enjoy it or get your money’s worth.  My daughter ruining her shirt with ketchup is the perfect example of that.  Same with my car.  Birds shit on it.  Old ladies hit it with their shopping cart.  I couldn’t care less.

The bottom line is this: Used stuff is better than new for a ton of reasons.  The most important one, however, is that buying used frees up money for the things that really matter in your life.  It has allowed us to take awesome vacations, build a healthy emergency fund, save for our children’s futures, and dream big.  I can’t think of anything more important than that.

Do you think used stuff is better than new?  How much have you saved by buying used stuff?

 
About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. Oh, kids. I definitely think buying used can save you loads of cash, especially where cars are concerned. I haven’t had to buy many things used – I more or less inherited most of my furniture for free from family. But I still love the fact that if something happens to spill on the couch, it’s not a big deal since it was free!

  2. I’m not against buying used things, me and my hubs are also planning to buy a second hand car maybe next year or two. In that way we can save a lot, but we need to check it first before buying it.

  3. I hear you on the car! I virtually never worry about door dings or any other type of cosmetic damage in my 15 year old Grand Am complete with rust and over 200k miles. And I NEVER worry about it getting stolen!!

  4. Wait, you’re not supposed to let them wear the (clean but) stained stuff again? I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

    Also, disagree on the car. Once you factor in the probability of getting a lemon, it’s a wash. The important thing is to drive it into the ground.

    We treat our new and used stuff with equal amounts of care and neglect. Because: sunk costs. The important thing is the replacement cost, not the amount that was spent. So getting something for free (like hand-me-down furniture) is irrelevant unless you can easily replace it with something for free.

    • I agree with sunk costs for your past purchases… but if regularly shop craigslist, thrift stores or garage sales I am sure you can find a good price on many used items. So your replacement cost may not be “free” but you can probably get it at a much better deal than new as the article suggests.

      • Yes, it is the replacement cost that is important, not the cost of the original item. And don’t forget that regularly shopping (even craigslist and thrift stores) is a huge time cost! If my hourly wage is $60/hr and I don’t get any pleasure from shopping then the replacement cost at a thrift store is pretty big. If the thrift store even ever carries what I’m looking for some percentage of the time. Which it doesn’t always. (Baby clothing that we don’t need because it always comes to us free and unbidden, yes, bookcases, nevah!)

        I suppose one of these days we should do some more basic economics stuff for our money Mondays. But that’s so much like woooooork.

        • I don’t have anything against used stuff, but I’m definitely with you in considering my time a big part of the equation on acquisition costs. I HATE shopping as a general rule. Browsing through flea markets or thrift stores on the off chance that they have something I need is pretty close to my definition of hell.
          That said, my in-laws love doing that stuff. So when there’s something specific (and specific is important!) that I am on the lookout for, I tell them so they can keep an eye out. But I have to be pretty specific because if they buy the wrong thing, then I’m on the hook for reimbursing them (since you know it’s non-returnable) AND I’ve got something that I’m not nuts about and have to pretend I like FOR A VERY LONG TIME. Because how bad does it look to turn around and donate something your in-laws just went to all that trouble to find for you?
          Sometimes, it’s worth it to purchase from a place where you know if you find the product is not exactly what you need you can bring it back and get your money back easily.

          • I hate flea markets but love thrift stores and garage sales. There’s something fun to me about finding something special and unusual in someone’s garage. I wish I could garage sale more…I’ve only been twice this year! =/

    • YOU”RE DOING IT WRONG!

      Just kidding =)

      That shirt looked particularly bad because it was white. They do wear beat-up and stained clothes as play clothes though. And to daycare.

      I bought a new car in my early 20′s for something like 24K-25K then resold it 6 or 7 years later for $2,500. I never got over that. I would have been much smarter if I had driven it into the ground, but I was convinced I needed a “family car.”

      As far as replacement costs go, I think it depends on what we’re talking about. I have a used dresser I bought from a garage sale that is probably 50-60 years old. Since it is high quality and made of real wood, I will probably never have to replace it. If I do, I would replace it with another old, used one. I think the key is just replacing items (as needed) with more used stuff.

      • Right, it is the *replacement* cost, not the original cost that’s important. You should treat your nice but inexpensive garage sale dresser as nicely (or as poorly) as one that you paid for new.

        • Right, but the replacement cost isn’t fixed. If I replace stuff with used stuff continually (without spending boatloads of precious time searching for it), then I save money over time. It isn’t always possible to replace stuff with used stuff (like when my refrigerator breaks down unexpectedly), but it is easy as pie to look for a used dresser on craiglist for a few days and spend $50 instead of $500.

          • It’s still the *replacement* cost you should be considering. If it isn’t constant over time, then you either do point-in-time replacement costs or you factor in the uncertainty in your decision making process. In either case it does not matter how much it cost you to acquire the product to begin with. You should still treat a free dresser the same as a $50 dresser as a $500 dresser if you think the replacement cost is going to be $50 because it is the same replacement cost no matter what you spent for the original item.

          • Who says I’m not treating my things well? This has turned into a really weird conversation! =)

          • Um, you did. “When you don’t spend a lot of money on something, you don’t feel quite as obligated to enjoy it or get your money’s worth. My daughter ruining her shirt with ketchup is the perfect example of that. Same with my car. Birds shit on it. Old ladies hit it with their shopping cart. I couldn’t care less.”

            It isn’t how much you spent on the thing, but how much it costs to replace the thing. So really it should say, “When you know it isn’t going to cost a whole lot to replace something because you can get it cheap used… “

          • Sorry, but you don’t get to tell me what to think or how to feel. I don’t really care if something out of my control happens to my car (like someone hitting it with a shopping cart), but I would FREAK if someone hit my brand new car with a shopping cart. You telling me that I cannot feel that way does not change the fact that I do. Same thing with my daughter’s shirt. If I had just paid $30 for it, I would’ve been far more upset. But since it was used, I didn’t care that much. I don’t need your permission (or anyone’s) to feel this way about used or new items.

            I always treat my items well. I have a super clean house and relatively nice stuff (for being used). I keep my car really clean even though its basically a POS. But there are things I cannot control (like birds shitting on it), and I am a lot less miserable about them when my stuff was cheap when I paid for it.

            Take it or leave it.

    • You can get past the lemon issue by doing a thorough job before purchasing the car (i.e. getting a history of the vehicle, having a mechanic do an inspection, asking the right questions, etc.).

      • @Ben, absolutely. That’s why a used car market can even exist. But doing those things are not costless! If the dealer does them (and provides a certification/warranty), then that means your car is more expensive. The car history is factored into the price. The mechanic’s inspection is not free and at best gives you negotiating room– the dealer has also already done such an inspection and has a better idea what the car is worth. Knowing what questions to ask is also not free, and knowing if the answers given are correct (aka really knowing your stuff) is even more expensive. These things will help keep you from getting ripped off by an unscrupulous dealer, but they also raise the price of the car. In the end it’s still a wash. Buy a new car and drive it forever or buy a used car and drive it for less time. In the end, both choices are ok.

  5. I will probably do more of the garage sale shopping when kids are around. Right now I am a bit lazier and checkout Goodwill for clothes. A bit more expensive than garage sales, but one place to stop so a lot less time invested in the activity for just a couple items here and there.

    Like others, I have many used and hand-me-down items in my home including dining tables, chairs, couch and bed. But that doesn’t bother me, why do I want an expensive couch that will likely get mauled on by kids in the future?

    • I do Goodwill sometimes but ours is huge and can be overwhelming at times! I prefer garage sales but only a few each weekend. I hate driving all over.

  6. Buying used stuff means a whole lot of savings if you make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Bought several items from a garage sale and I couldn’t believe I bought them for just those prices. Also top sources for used items you can buy are your friends, coworkers and neighbors.

  7. This article is perfect as I have recently labeled Thursdays “Thrift It Thursday”! Its the day when we hit the thrift stores to see what goodies we can find to help avoid paying retail.

    It’s going great so far despite the moment when my son yelled “Is this stuff USED?” while standing in the middle of a crowded Savers thrift store which is as big as a Best Buy…LOL. My response: “Where is your mother?” and ran out without him. I am gangster like that.

  8. I love used stuff….I buy use stuff whenever I can. There is, however, a few items I wouldn’t buy used. Like furniture or a bed. Something about picturing exactly what could have occurred prior to getting the item…..eeew. But as far as most things……one perspective to think about is this: If you buy something new, get it home and unpack it – guess what….it’s now used. It’s new for exactly 1 second. :)

  9. I’m with you on this, Holly.

    With our kids, we are fortunate enough to have some friends and family that tend to pass on clothing in a regular basis, which is just wonderful. We always pay it forward and pass the same clothes (and any that we bought to fill in the gaps) onto other friends and family, which certainly does lower the pressure to keep everything new and nice.

  10. Funny you should mention that about the resale on baby outfits. My sister in law who only buys name brand seems to think she will make back a good portion because they are all in mint condition and name brand… wrong! It doesn’t work that way. If someone is selling used items be prepared to only make back a small portion of what you paid. For example we bought an almost $300 Panasonic stereo the other day in mint condition, in the box, with the paperwork and all wrapped inside. It was hardly used by the owner… we paid $25. I know that’s a bit extreme but my point is buying used is great if you can snag the deals you want but as a seller don’t think that you will make your money back… and then some.

    • Yeah, baby clothes have almost no resale value. You might get more for really nice stuff, but you won’t get anywhere near what you paid for it!

  11. I used to think that used clothes were scary and filled with diseases. Then once I got over my Jones mentality and started thrifting and borrowing from friends, I realized that I was the idiot and laundry detergent does wonders to take old things and make them new. :-)

  12. I always had hand me downs as a kid. A good family friend had a daughter a year or two older than me and I had all her old duds… I thought I was pretty cool. Now that my friends are having children I’ve been known to buy second hand stuff for them. My Mom scours outfits at yard sales for all the little ones… makes total sense!

  13. I’m totally with you on this. I also like buying used because I feel like I’m doing my teeny tiny part to help the planet. Thinking about all of the pollution and waste that goes into the production of consumer crap just makes me feel terrible.

  14. There is a thrift shop near where my wife works and she often buys almost new toys for the baby there. Honestly, no need to spend big bucks on toys because he’d rather play with the box it came in. We haven’t really bought used clothes though…I don’t know…but we have taken used clothes from friends/family who have kids. Baby/kid clothes are often in good condition since they outgrow them so fast.

  15. Great post with some interesting conepts in it. I would probably consider buying more used if I lived in a bigger or more affluent area. Here in my small town if you bought used clothing everyone in town would know who’s it was before it was yours. Plus, the choices are limited, again due to the small size of the community.

  16. I agree! I love getting a deal on used kid stuff that is basically brand new!

    • It’s the best! I can hardly believe that anyone would pay full price for baby clothes and gear, but I know they do every day!

  17. Funny. I’m one of the organizers of a local half marathon here. When we advertised previous year’s shirts for sale….nobody bought. The second we started calling them “vintage” they flew off the shelves….

    Now all my used stuff is “vintage.”

  18. Oh yeah! Couldn’t agree more! It’s a short list of things in our house that were bought new (underwear and, uh, does food count?). Nothing turns you off new like seeing the prices for used. Love the “no one wants to steal your stuff.” HAH! Definitely no one is breaking into our sweet 1996 Honda Odyssey minivan (it’s far uglier than your Caravan).

  19. I never looked at it that way. Thanks for changing my perspective.

  20. As always, Holly, this made me smile – partially because it’s true, and also because your writing, for some reason, crack me up. At any rate, you’re totally right about vehicles and baby clothes! I drive a ’94 Toyota baby truck (this was before the Tacoma even came out). It looks kind of like shit, but it drives great, the AC works, and I really don’t care who hits it or even if it gets stolen. Plus we not making payments on it (like the SUV), therefore I love it. Same goes for baby clothes. My daughter is swimming in clothes that I will probably resell for the same if not more than what I paid for them.

  21. Everything that we get, we try to get used first before moving on to find new stuff, except for maybe clothes. Kids clothes are a different story though and they grow out of them or ruin them quickly.

  22. That line about leaving the keys in the Dodge is awesome. Thanks for the morning laugh, and horray for used stuff. Buying new is too easy, too. There’s a weird pleasure in getting good stuff used on the cheap.

  23. The only reason I don’t puchase used clothes is because I pretty much wear things until they mysteriously disappear one day. So I don’t feel too bad buying something new.

    I would say 95% of my sons clothes are hand me downs and the other 5% was purchased new. Some of that is because it was really hard to fine premie clothes and he was waaay to small for newborn clothes. Also sometimes people just love getting a kid a new outfit.

    • I get my kids few new clothes for birthdays and Christmas. We get so many hand-me-downs though. It would be wasteful to buy them more than a few new outfits each year.

  24. I’m with you for the most part on this one. Used stuff really does rock. It’s cheap, no one steals it, all the arguments you made. But, there are a few things I personally wouldn’t buy used. Things like cribs, beds, and other things that I just wouldn’t feel comfortable on the second hand end of things. Overall though, used is great!

  25. I think I’m a sucker for new stuff because of how convenient it can be. I mean, for things like cars I’m willing to get a used one and drive it into the ground, but for things like clothes or smaller purchases I don’t really want to take the time to go to garage sales or thrift stores. I’m super picky and typically shop online for most things besides food because it’s easier to narrow down search criteria and purchase things quickly. I do like to use Craigslist for furniture and other things, though.

  26. Nothing is ever used… it’s “vintage.” I buy everything I possibly can used, and honestly even when I’m a bad ass rich man, I’m still going to be hunting at Goodwill and garage sales. It just makes so sense to pay 4x as much for an item you can get used but in like-new condition. It’s awesome that you were able to just cut up your daughter’s shirt without sweating it! And you’re definitely right, nobody tries to steal used items. Just another perk :)

  27. Great post and comments. I have been shopping for used things since college when I couldn’t afford to buy new. I remember the first time my mother commented on something I brought home from a thrift store and was appalled. Three years later, she was scouring them for finds of her own and bragging about her bargains :)

    I think the time versus money equation has to be taken into consideration as well. There are instances when I know something is taking longer than it should, but I’m enjoying myself (how you put a price tag on that?) so I’m willing to let the math slide. Other times I’m hyper-aware of what my time bills at and how long a search is taking — because I can fortunately earn more money but I can never earn more time.

    Value is another element to consider. It takes two people for something to have value: the person selling it, and the person who agrees with that price and is willing to pay it. If you’re the seller and you can’t find anyone who agrees with you, what you have is an item and a really good story.

  28. Yup, with you 100% especially for kids clothes. I’ve bought brand new stuff at thrift stores for her too. The only brand new stuff we buy is usually what supplements what I couldn’t find at thrift stores and it’s always cheap (like shorts and tshirts from walmart or target for $2.00-$3.00) I draw the line at furniture (esp beds) and stuff like underwear.

  29. CCRascal says:

    When my husbands white shirts get stains or streaks, I buy Ritz color remover, throw them and a package of it in the washer leave it awhile and they are sparkling white again…cutting stuff up for dust rags is my last option….I also save for quilt squares and homemade blankets for kids to take to camp outs! My car was bought new in 1976…Dodge Ram…still drive with over 200,000 miles…wonderful utility vehicle with back seat….cannot count how many dollars saved on this vehicle and no rust yet…garaged every night of her life!!!

  30. For me, I’ve learned to pick and choose my battles with used and new things. I am okay buying a vehicle used along with certain furniture items, like dressers and tables, and clothes. Mattresses, couches, underwear and shoes need to be brand new. :)

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