This post is part 2 in the series Purchase New or Used?.

Purchase New or Used

If you missed last week’s post on Part 1 in this series, click here to check it out!


Picking up an inexpensive bicycle helmet at a yard sale may seem like a great deal at first, but the potential pitfalls negate the financial savings.

First, there’s the issue of sanitation.  A helmet – typically stored in a garage, in a basement, or even outdoors – may be rife with mold, bacteria, or insect eggs.  Plus, the previous owner likely left behind some combination of dead skin cells, hair product residue, dried sweat, skin infection, and head lice.

Second and more important, there’s the question of safety.  Older helmets may not meet current safety standards for protecting your head and neck.  Even more troubling, a helmet, which is designed to protect the wearer from a single accident only, may have been damaged beyond the point of proper functioning.  Plus, according to an article in the Health section of The New York Times, the plastic of every helmet deteriorates due to frequent exposure to sunlight and ozone.

With new, clean, undamaged helmets available online and in many stores for less than $20, there’s no reason to risk your life and health for a few dollars’ savings.

The Verdict:  Buy New


In all likelihood, your tax dollars have contributed to the purchase of thousands of books that are currently there for the taking at your local library.  Take advantage of your investment and your nearly unlimited access to these books.

What if you can’t find that special book?  You may be able to order the book of your dreams used but in excellent condition online or track it down in a used book store.  If you have an eReader or don’t mind reading books on your computer or tablet, spring for the frequently cheaper electronic version of your favorite book instead of shelling out for a physical copy.  Some libraries even give their patrons free access to a selection of eBooks.

Going back to school or contributing to someone else’s education?  The cost of a single new textbook can easily exceed $100.  Consider the amount you’ll owe on books for a full four years of college education.  Get creative with procuring the texts you need.  Your school and several online retailers offer used books at a significant discount.  You may also be able to rent your textbooks, download electronic versions, or split the costs with a classmate.  You may even get your book for free if your library carries your book (or a similar-enough older version) or if a former student is happy to part with his old text book.

The Verdict:  Buy Used or Borrow

Musical Instruments

Have you always wanted to play the guitar or the trombone?  Maybe your kid or grandkid has expressed an interest in the clarinet.  If you’re just starting out, you may not know whether your new instrument is a good fit for you, so give it a trial run.

Instead of committing to the purchase of a pricey, brand new instrument, see whether your music store carries used ones or whether you can land a great deal through an ad.  Your local music store may have a program for renting instruments, and many school bands offer students the option to rent as well.  Finally, if you have a friend with a quality instrument tucked in a closet, see about borrowing it or striking up a trade.  A little polish and maintenance could get you playing tunes on a dime.

The Verdict:  Buy Used or Borrow

Upholstered Furniture

Like mattresses, upholstered furniture may look attractive on the outside while hiding bacteria, mold, fluids, food particles, bugs, and more within the cushions.  Some secondhand stores or antique dealers have a process for guaranteeing the quality and cleanliness of their furniture’s fabrics, so be sure to ask.  If the store’s policy is “buyer beware” or you’re making your purchase from a private party, you may be buying trouble.

If you see a couch or chair with great bones and amazing style at a yard sale, consider picking up the piece and having it reupholstered.  You’ll enjoy the savings of secondhand goods and the historical craftsmanship without compromising your health.  You can also of course get great quality and savings by shopping new furniture at your favorite store during a major sale.

The Verdict:  Buy New or Reupholster

Gift Cards

This one may surprise you.  Do you even have an option in how you buy your gift cards?  A $25 gift card sells for $25, doesn’t it?  A used gift card with no money on it certainly isn’t worth anything.

There’s a third option though – getting your gift cards secondhand.  A huge market exists online for the sale of gift cards at discounted rates.  The sellers are typically people who received gift cards they don’t plan to use.  Rather than holding on to a $50 Best Buy gift card they’ll never spend, they offer it online for less – sometimes much less if there’s a lot of competition and they’re motivated to sell.

Reputable sites like and Gift Card Granny connect gift card buyers and sellers.  You may be able to purchase a physical card or just buy the codes from the seller’s gift card to use with an online purchase.  The sites brokering the sales offer buyer protection, so you don’t need to worry about paying for what turns out to be an empty gift card.

The Verdict:  Buy secondhand.

Keep these tips handy the next time you shop for yourself or head out to buy a gift!

When you make a purchase, you want quality at a terrific price. When should you buy new . . . and when is there a savvier way to go? - Prioritized Living

Series Navigation<< Purchase New or Used? Surprise Savings and Hidden Dangers (Part 1)

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