There are some things that are so personal, so easily damaged, or so essential to safety that even the most frugal consumer should never purchase them used. The top items on this list, compiled by the personal finance site Wise Bread and posted on the U.S. News My Money blog, include cribs, car seats, mattresses, undergarments, and laptops. Also included are bicycle helmets, camera equipment, and makeup.
[Slideshow: 20 Things You Should Never Buy Used.]
After we published this list, we heard from hundreds of readers with their own ideas of what one should—and shouldn't—buy used. In fact, many people took us to task for suggesting that a savvy shopper wouldn't be able to make the decision on a case-by-case basis, staying away from the items that belong in the trash and snapping up the ones that still have value.
Stephen from California said the list made him ill. "Many of the issues you raise—damaged furniture, broken camera lenses, poor-fitting shoes—are the types of things that an astute buyer should be able to identify. The idea that expensive, high-quality items like SLR lenses and stereo speakers should only be used by one person regardless of their condition is disgusting," he writes.
Other readers agreed, pointing out that they have purchased used shoes, vacuum cleaners, clothing, cooking utensils, and other goods, saving money and suffering no ill effects. One reader added that he enjoyed second-hand pets, although only pet supplies—not the animals themselves—were on the original list. One consignment store owner, Mary Tyre of Florida, chimed in, saying she's sold everything from used diamonds to used socks. "There are ways to buy all of these safely … I inspect everything I sell and only sell it if it is a good deal or completely safe. I keep up with all recalls," she says.
One mom of twins agreed, pointing out that children's furniture from rockers to dressers can be found on Craigslist for a fraction of store prices. "You can find a real wood dresser at a yard sale for $10 to $50 and repaint it yourself for way less than what you'll pay for poor-quality new furniture," says Gina of MoneyWiseMoms.com. (She agrees, however, that buying a new crib is often best, especially given all of the recent drop-side crib recalls.)
One college student said she recommends used shoes. In fact, she regularly trades pairs with her girlfriends to save money on a tight budget. Her tip? Use new inserts so the used shoes mold to your own feet, and freshen up second-hand sneakers by leaving them outdoors or using deodorizing sprays. She points out that anyone comfortable with rented bowling shoes should be fine with second-hand shoes.
Another thrifty reader says used swimsuits are just fine as long as you soak them in hydrogen peroxide first. One person even said he'd be fine with used undergarments as long as they were washed thoroughly. He might be alone on that one.
Some readers also contributed to the list of what one should never buy used. They point out that coffee pots could have been used to cook methamphetamine, and suitcases and furniture can carry bed bugs. Used hot water tanks are probably for sale because they stopped working, one reader cautions. Medical equipment, such as compression socks, should be purchased new because they can contain fungus, warns Margaret of Montana, as she discovered first-hand. Another reader suggested buying televisions new, since it is often cheaper to buy a new one than to fix an old one.
What's on your list—what items do you refuse to buy second-hand?