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Avoid secondhand-buyer’s remorse

By on May 24, 2008


photo by PetitPoulailler

Buying preowned merchandise is often frugal — unless you buy something you don’t need or can’t use. When you come across what appears to be a good bargain, it’s tough to decide whether to grab it or walk away. Ask yourself the following before buying:

— Can I afford this?
— Does this purchase have other related costs involved?
— Am I informed on this item? Have I comparison shopped?
— Do I need this? Do I have room for this?
— Is there a lower-cost alternative?
— Will this purchase help me toward my goals?
— If I waited to purchase this item, would it be less expensive?

Sometimes, buyer’s remorse sets in when your purchase doesn’t work out . Consider the following common mistakes that are made during the thrill of the buy, so you can prevent buying something you’ll regret later.

ELECTRONICS AND COMPUTERS: Test electrical items before buying them. Some things look brand-new but don’t work. Laptops go through a lot of wear and tear. And there’s no warranty.

APPLIANCES: Used appliances can be inefficient. Consider passing on old freezers and refrigerators. With items like vacuums, test them before buying. While some require only a simple repair, it’s often best to buy new or refurbished.

CLOTHING AND SHOES: Carefully look clothing over for rips, tears, shrinkage and stains. Some clothing might smell like body odor, pet urine, tobacco or perfume that won’t come out even after multiple washings. Some people buy used shoes. Try them on to see whether they fit and are comfortable. Don’t waste money on poor-quality used shoes. Treat shoes with a disinfectant spray. You can also use baking soda, wadded newspaper, clean kitty litter or charcoal. Clothing sizes vary, so try it on, and bring a measuring tape or a garment from home for comparison.

TOYS: Many used toys are broken or missing parts. If it’s battery-operated, check to make sure it works. Be aware of any toys that have been recalled or contain lead.

GLASSWARE AND COLLECTIBLES: Check for chips and cracks. They can sometimes be hard to see at first glance. Many holiday decorations can be found inexpensively during post-holiday clearance sales, so it might be worth passing it up at a thrift store. Beware of reproductions, replicas and counterfeits when shopping for collectibles, jewelry, sunglasses, fragrances and handbags. How can you spot a knockoff? Look for misspelled trademarks, missing labels, etc. In other words, be informed on originals.

DVDS AND GAMES: If you’re looking for newer movies and games, you’re better off buying from movie and game stores that sell preowned releases. If you’re at a garage sale, you can ask the seller about the condition of the products. You can find great deals on older releases at thrift stores, but you’re taking a chance on the condition, so ask about their return policy.

FRAMES: If it includes art, check that it’s not warped or damaged. If it’s an empty frame, avoid buying a custom size that you’ll probably never find anything to fit in it.

LAMPS: Plug them in to make sure they work. If it doesn’t have a lampshade, it can get costly to find a replacement shade.

KITCHENWARE: Check bakeware for rust, scratches and a nonstick surface. With cutlery, look for silver or stainless steel. Be sure that plates and bowls are food-safe.

CLOCKS AND WATCHES: These items can be tricky. They might appear to work but aren’t accurate. They can sometimes be found in their original boxes and look brand-new. Test them out in your cart while you shop to see whether they keep proper time.

Lastly, avoid buying used mattresses, helmets and baby gear for safety reasons. Check for recalls at Be aware of retail costs on items, too. Often, you’ll discover many items aren’t a deal at all. For example, with clothing, check your labels. Brands from discount stores can sometimes be sold more expensively at thrift stores. You can check to compare prices, too.

Have you bought any secondhand items you regret? Let me know your secondhand flops or buying tips.


  1. Deb

    5/26/2008 at 4:04 pm

    Beautiful blog, just beautiful. And I love your tips!

  2. kristen

    5/27/2008 at 6:20 am

    I think it is so easy to get wrapped up in the “bargain” aspect,, that sometimes we forget to assess whether or not it truly is a bargain! Thanks for the tips

  3. Uh Oh

    6/4/2008 at 3:57 pm

    I love your blog!

    My purchases have been some vintage items I found online. It’s really hard because you’re looking at a picture and you have no idea if you’ll like what you see in the pic as much in person.
    Lately, it was:
    1) vintage scarf (I mean.. I don’t wear them)
    2) a really *gaudy* ring (no idea what I was thinking there!)
    3) a polyester *granny style* blouse (cute..but not me)
    4) a 70s craft book

    But, I feel my *mistake streak* is over. I found an absolutely gorgeous blouse on the same site and KNOW I will wear it to death!

    I’m being a LOT more careful on there and hoping I can resell some of my mistakes!

  4. Indiana reader

    7/22/2009 at 7:26 pm

    Dear Sara: I enjoy reading your column and especially enjoyed this one. I generally agreed with your advice but I did differ a little with you on your topic of used lamps. I have found many beautiful and unique lamps at yard sales, flea markets, etc. You are right that shades are expensive but oftentimes that is all the lamp needs to make it look like new again. Even is the electrical part is bad, it can be replaced fairly easily and cheaply too. Bottom line: A little time and effort can turn a trashed lamp into a real treasure.

  5. Kathy Christensen

    7/22/2009 at 7:54 pm

    Dear Sara,

    I had to respond to your column on “Avoid Buyers Remorse.” I think most all thrifters have experienced regretting a purchase at sometime in their frugal career. My husband and I did last year when we stopped at a well-known thrift store thirty-five miles from our home. I went inside the shop to look around while hubby waited in the car. When I came out he was revving up the motor of a new-looking electric lawn mower. It looked and sounded great. Now, he is not the type to act hastily, especially when the machine had a $150.00 price tag, but he confessed that he had really been thinking about getting an electric lawn mower. And after trying the engine once more, we decided to buy it. It started right up when he took it out to the back yard; but after a few minutes it completely died. Same thing happened a second time. Now we knew why it had ended up at the thrift store.
    The new purchase was stored away for several months, until my husband finally asked a mechanic friend to look at it. A worn-out part was discovered, and my husband decided to try calling the company for the replacement part. Of course, the part they sent was the wrong one, so he called again. While with the rep, he was told that the model in question was on recall and that the company would send a special box for him to ship the machine to them for fixing. To make a long story short, after several delays, more phone calls, and hassle at the UPS office, he finally had the packing box and correct shipping labels and sent the machine off to the company. Five days later the box returned with the refurbished lawn mower inside. That was fast service! Yes, the lawn mower now works, and we hope it lasts long enough to get our $150.00 investment back!
    Although our story turned out positive, I doubt that we will ever take a chance on a second-hand item with a price tag like that again.

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