Recently, I’ve discovered a lot of good thrift shops and secondhand sales sites — and boy, do I appreciate the savings. Plus, they let me feel like I’m doing a little something for the environment (slowing down the consumer-to-landfill pipeline). The downside? They’ve kind of ruined regular shopping for me.
The fact is, a huge number of the things I need don’t really have to be new. Yes, I want my shoes and lingerie to come with tags. I’d prefer to be the first person to use my new mattress. But when I’m strolling through a retail store, checking (and balking at) the price tags for raincoats or books or exercise equipment, I can’t help but think, “Couldn’t I just get one that someone else is done with?”
Here are 10 types of purchases that have the potential to completely satisfy you, even if they’re not brand-spanking new.
Kids grow fast, and they go through toys even faster. That means that a lot of second-hand toys are still in great shape when their pint-sized owners tire of them. Garage sales, consignment shops and sites like Toycycle are excellent places to buy name-brand toys for a fraction of the cost.
As a general rule, the best second-hand toys are the ones you can easily clean and disinfect. Less appealing: stuffed animals (which could carry lice) and bath toys (which could carry mold).
Right now you can buy the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Puppy Piano and the Skip Hop Accordion Baby Toy at Toycycle for $12.99. If you were to buy them on Amazon, the price would be over $80.
Dressers, mirrors, artwork — all of these are in the offing at garage sales, estate sales and second-hand furniture shops. Coffee tables are an especially good item to buy used.
“The more beat up, the better,” interior designer Maggie Griffin told Apartment Therapy. “A few nicks and scratches will make even the most conscientious guest reassured in putting their feet up on your coffee table at the end of the day.”
You can get great deals on furniture at Facebook Marketplace. In my area, I found this Pottery Barn dining room table for half the price it was sold for in the store.
Whenever my daughter’s English teacher asks her to buy a book for class, she forwards me the request, and I go straight to a site like Thrift Books or Abe Books. The average book on one of these sites tends to sell for under $5, and you can usually choose between buying it “new,” “like new,” “very good,” “acceptable” and so on. You can get similar options from Amazon’s used booksellers.
The only drawback is that used books tend to take a few extra days (or more) to arrive — which can be a problem if you’re used to Amazon Prime speeds (or your kid’s teacher wants it ASAP).
4. Sports Gear/Exercise Equipment
Make no mistake: your child’s softball bag, glove, bat and ball are going to be filthy by the end of the first practice. And unless you are preparing them for their Olympic debut, their equipment doesn’t need to be new.
That’s why we always bought that stuff at 2nd Time Sports or Play It Again Sports — and then sold it back to them at the end of the season when our daughters no longer needed them. We usually found a glove in the $10 range, which was half what we would have paid at Target.
The same idea goes for home exercise equipment. My local Facebook Marketplace is bursting with used Peloton bikes, rowing machines and hand weights for prices that are a fraction of what the sellers paid.
Among millennials and the Gen Z crowd, there’s a cool factor to thrifting that’s propelled the success of stores like Plato’s Closet and Uptown Cheapskate. And the Internet is brimming with clothing resale sites, from Swap and thredUP to Poshmark and Depop.
My favorite thing about finding clothes in thrift stores is that I can tell how they will hold up after being washed — because in most cases they already have been!
To get the most out of thrifting for clothes, check with a staff member at your local second-hand store to find out when they restock, and shop early in the day for the best deals. Sometimes it’s best to travel to a smaller town’s consignment shop, where the prices are cheaper and the merchandise is less likely to be picked over.
Finally, use this online resource to identify labels of truly high-quality clothes.
A hammer or a wrench isn’t the kind of item that wears out — they can last for decades. And they’re often available at garage sales. Drills and other tools with motors are a little more risky since they do suffer from wear and tear. But unlike at Home Depot or Ace Hardware, you can bargain with someone selling a power drill at a yard sale.
7. Musical Instruments
Year after year, kids take up instruments in school, and a large percentage of those students are done with them within the year. Why buy a new violin when there are so many perfectly good used ones available?
“Generally speaking, basic instruments like guitars, drums, and wind instruments haven’t changed all that much over the years so if the item is in good condition and working properly, consider buying used to score a better price that doesn’t necessarily sacrifice the quality,” Sara Skirboll, Shopping & Trends Expert for RetailMeNot, told Reader’s Digest.
Like cars, jewelry is one of those items that depreciates in value almost as soon as you buy it. However, purchasing it second-hand isn’t much of a risk since fine jewelry is one of the most durable luxury items.
If you’re looking to buy used second-hand jewelry, you can try an online jewelry auction site like Worthy. Estate sales are another common venue for finding high-quality jewelry. Just be sure the seller has papers from an appraiser verifying the legitimacy of pricey pieces.
These days, a beginner mountain/trail bike will cost you between $800 and $1,300. But if you’re willing to accept an older model, you can find one for much less at a used bike shop or on sites like Bicycle Blue Book.
“The smart shopper can pick up an amazing ride for a fraction of the price of a box-fresh purchase,” Robin Eveleigh, of Drover Cycles, told We Are Cycling.
Make a trip to a bike store to find out your size. Then go home and get online: There are also lots of bikes available on eBay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, and often the seller is willing to negotiate.
10. Lawn Mowers and Other Landscaping Equipment
While some people get enjoyment out of yard upkeep, for many others it’s just a necessary chore. That makes the high cost of lawnmowers even more painful: A walk-behind one typically costs around $475, while a riding mower costs between $1,320 and $3,070.
The good news is that lawnmowers, among other yard maintenance equipment, are a common sale item at garage and estate sales. And people who are selling them tend to be very motivated — since yard equipment takes up a lot of room. That means you can probably get a great price. But before you buy used yard equipment, make sure to find out how old it is, whether or not it starts and the condition of its parts.