Should You Buy New or Used Items?

A pair of gold wedding rings

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One great way to drop money to the bottom line of your family’s budget is to buy used stuff whenever possible. In many cases, you’ll get all the utility out of the item at a fraction of the cost — sometimes a small fraction.

But there are exceptions to that rule. It is possible to be pennywise and pound-foolish with a new versus used decision. Here are some observations to help guide your decision-making, inspired by financial author Dave Ramsey.

Things to Buy New

  • Computer software. There’s a very good chance that used software package you see online is pirated or otherwise “fell off a truck.” So, you’d be stealing from the true developer and be vulnerable to who-knows-what glitches in the ripped-off program.
  • Sports safety gear. Many pieces of protective equipment, including bike helmets and some knee and elbow pads, are designed to withstand one impact. Since you can’t know the item’s true history, always buy new protective gear. The risk to you or your kids isn’t worth saving a few bucks.
  • Tires. It’s easy to take tires for granted, but they are crucial to the safe operation of your car. This is another place where the risk to your family isn’t worth buying used. Besides, since you (probably) aren’t a tire technician, it will be difficult for you to accurately assess the condition of a used tire. You haven’t saved anything if your “bargain” used tire leaves you stranded two weeks later on the way to a big meeting or family outing.
  • Underwear. Ugh. New. Always new. Same with bathing suits.
  • Humidifiers. These things are germ factories. Mold and bacteria are surely rampant inside that yard sale or Goodwill humidifier. New ones are cheap. 
  • Wedding jewelry. A family heirloom or truly unique vintage piece is OK. But you should be very careful about buying used diamond rings anywhere but a reputable jewelry store.

Stuff to Buy Used

  • Cars. Everybody knows this, right? “The minute you drive it off the lot…blah, blah, blah.” It’s true. All of it. Maximize your savings by purchasing a car that’s at least two years old. Buying used makes it easier to pay cash for your vehicle, thus avoiding years of hideous monthly car payments.
  • Baby clothes. You really shouldn’t have to buy any new clothes for your bambino. Family members can do that, while you get everything else from church bazaars, yard sales, and friends with slightly older kids. 
  • Books. Again, we all know this one. The only thing you’ll get from buying a new copy is that “new book smell” and that first soft crack of the binding. I like both of these things, but not enough to pay full price for a book I’ll read once. Here’s a related idea: Start using the library again. You might have to wait a few days for that current best-seller, but it will be… free.
  • Video games. Save $10-$20 on the latest titles by waiting a couple of months to buy a used copy. Used video games are usually in pretty good shape. After all, they are being sold because they weren’t a hit with the first owner.
  • Hand tools. These are the perfect garage sale purchase. They are simple, tough and it’s easy to evaluate their condition. That $2 used hammer will get ‘er done just as well as the $17 model from Home Depot.
  • Exercise equipment. A lot of home fitness gear is barely broken in before it’s converted to clothes rack or dragged to the back of the basement. Home gyms are a no-brainer to buy used. But I would really do my homework before buying a used treadmill; they can be temperamental.​
  • Furniture. This is especially true if you are furnishing a spare room or like to refinish furniture. Quality dressers, coffee tables, et cetera are crazy expensive. is full of quality pieces at great prices.

While this list is kinda all over the map, it does offer a couple of broad lessons. Never jeopardize your family’s safety or health when making a purchasing decision, and ideally, you should be able to easily evaluate the condition of a used item without any specialized knowledge. The more complicated the item, the riskier it is to buy used. (Your mechanic can pre-check used vehicles for you.)

Of course, as with most decisions in life, common sense is the real key to deciding whether to buy new or “pre-owned.”

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