5 Things to Buy Used

Sometimes these items are even better than a brand new purchase.

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It’s too bad we can’t buy used health care or a previously owned education, because these areas of our lives keep getting more expensive. But that doesn’t mean we can’t save on other line items in our budget. Here are five categories where you can buy used items that are almost as good, just as good, or even better than what you can purchase brand new.

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Entertainment. You can download songs for a dollar a piece on the latest iPhone or MP3 player or download books for $9.99 to $12.99 on a Kindle, but there’s no need to. Home tag sales, church rummage sales, and library book drives all offer huge varieties of books, tapes, games, CDs, and DVDs. You’re not going to find the new biography of Steve Jobs. But last month I picked up five books, including a classic by Dostoyevsky and a mystery by Michael Connelly, for $2 at a library sale, and for another dollar they threw in a Steve Earle CD. And, while you can’t buy a used education, you can buy used textbooks at half price or less on eBay, Amazon, or other websites.

Clothes. I usually purchase clothes on sale at Macy’s or Sears, where I can snag a pair of pants for $30 or a sweater for $20. But I also patronize my local Goodwill store, where I recently saw both a Lexus and a Mercedes in the parking lot and scored a jacket for $12. Also try the Salvation Army or your town’s thrift shop. Just make sure to inspect items for damage before you buy and wash clothing before you wear it.

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Furniture. I shopped for Oriental rugs that cost $2,000 at a store that claimed to be an outlet. Then I saw similar rugs at an estate auction that were barely worn and selling for less than $500. Before we bought our current house, like most people, we did a lot of hunting around. Soon after we moved we saw that one of the houses we had looked at, but couldn’t afford, was having a tag sale. We spent an hour salivating over their fine furniture, bought a beautiful maple cabinet for $180, and the homeowner helped us move it because it wouldn’t fit in our minivan.

Sports equipment. If you’re at a championship level, you need the latest equipment. Otherwise, there’s nothing but larger credit card bills to be gained from holding out for new skis, camping gear, or golf equipment. I bought a full set of Nike golf clubs for $200 at my local public course that retail for $1,200. They were one year old, barely used, and sold by a disappointed golfer who just wanted to get rid of them. It’s also easy to find high-end exercise equipment on sale cheap from people who lost interest in exercising shortly after their purchase.

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Houses. The median price of a new home in September, 2011 was $204,000, compared to $166,800 for an existing home. Although these prices don’t consider the size of the house, they do show that you may be able to get a bargain on a slightly older home. A lot of current homeowners are desperate to sell their house, and in this weak market many people will be flexible on price. A lowball offer used to be an insult. Now it’s a lifesaver. You might have to make some improvements. But when you can buy twice the house for half the price, it’s well worth the investment.

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement, and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.