Let’s say you’ve read the last chapter with a purchase in mind, and that you’re still in favor of your first inspiration. If any fringers were present, at this point you’d hear loud howls of outrage. Before letting you continue, they’d pummel you with even more alternatives to—MOOOOOO!!!—disrupt your purchase routine. This chapter distills their next wave of advice into several useful tactics. With these alternatives, you actually get to buy something, but it’s not what you first had in mind.
□ 2.2.1 Buy Used
Things depreciate. To the frugal few, ‘tis a far, far better thing to let someone else pay for that depreciation than to pay for it themselves. The best internet sites for secondhand products are eBay, Amazon Marketplace, and Craigslist. For offline shopping, patronize thrift shops, garage sales (YardSaleTreasureMap.com and Craigslist provide local listings), flea markets, pawn shops, and estate sales (visit EstateSales.org). Here’s the best stuff to buy used:
- Vehicles. With eBay Motors, AutoTrader.com, and Craigslist, buying used cars is easier than ever (see Chapter 43).
- Furniture. Don’t pay huge mark-ups to retailers. Buy matched sets at estate sales. Collect unmatched pieces one-by-one at consignment shops and garage sales.
- Sporting Gear. After you use golf clubs or skis a couple times, they’re no longer new. Buy them secondhand in the first place and earmark the savings for greens fees and lift tickets.
- Jewelry. Rings, necklaces, and bracelets are for show, so whenever possible, go faux.
- Baby Gear. Kids outgrow clothes, furniture, and toys long before those items ever wear out. Buy pre-owned stuff and invest the savings in tax-advantaged 529 education plans. Kids won’t remember the supposed indignity of a secondhand infancy, but years later they’ll appreciate the help on tuition.
- Media. Buy pre-owned: books, DVDs, CDs, and video games.
- Nostalgia Items. So many things you once enjoyed are no longer manufactured. Hunt them down on eBay and own them once more.
- House Wares. All that’s needed for a first apartment can be had for a song. Use the savings to pay the rental deposit.
- Building Supplies. Buy from salvage stores. Locate nearby vendors at Habitat.org/restores or OldHouseJournal.com.
- Tools. It won’t take many yard sales before you find a great circular saw. Make sure it works and bring it home.
- Replacement Electronics. When your cell phone, camera, printer, or MP3 player dies, buy the same model secondhand. The advantages: (1) a low price; (2) no time wasted in figuring out how the replacement works; and (3) no need to buy new accessories (batteries, cases, chargers, memory chips, etc.).
- Mix and Match. Buy new prints, but shop for old frames. Snag a funky lamp from the 1960s, but freshen it up with a new shade. Buy pre-owned boots on eBay, but insert new insoles.
Among frugal fringers, secondhand goods are points of honor. Each item provides a tangible reminder that function triumphs over form, and that dings and scratches don’t matter if something performs its job well. To nudge yourself into this same mindset, try a short exercise. Think about a few items you purchased used and that performed their jobs admirably. Then keep these items in mind as you read through the list below. When you finish, ask yourself this key question: “with all the benefits that secondhand purchases provide, why don’t I buy used more often?”
TEN GREAT REASONS TO BUY USED
- Lower Prices. When you buy used, you save. A $30,000 car costs only $12,000, an $8,000 bedroom set drops to $900, and $500 in books go for $40. In each case, the practical usefulness stays the same as if you had bought brand new. The auto still gets you from point A to point B, the furniture works every bit as well, and the books contain the same old text. The big difference: you’ve saved $25,560.
- Lower Sales Taxes. The savings don’t stop at $25,560—you also avoid the sales tax you would have paid on retail pricing. At an eight percent rate, you pocket an extra $2,045 ($25,560 x 8% = $2,045).
- Lower Ownership Costs. Big ticket items like cars come with the extra baggage of annual ownership taxes and insurance premiums. The amounts you pay vary depending upon where you live. In my neck of the woods, buying the used car mentioned above sidesteps about $1,700 in taxes and insurance over the next five years. This boosts the overall savings to $29,305—not too shabby for three measly purchases.
- A Planet Saved. Buying secondhand is recycling at its best. When you buy a used set of dishes, you not only save the plates themselves from the landfill, but also the bulky packaging you would have tossed out had you bought at retail. And wait, there’s more: one less set of plates gets manufactured overseas, shipped to a USA port, railroaded to a warehouse, and trucked to a local store. Instead, a neighbor drives the plates a few miles to the thrift shop and you cart them back from there.
- Local Economies Supported. Whenever you buy at a thrift store or garage sale, you buy local. The money doesn’t fly offshore; it stays—for now, at least—in your own community.
- Good Causes Advanced. Buy from non-profit stores operated by the likes of Goodwill Industries, and the money you spend meets a good end by funding community services.
- Ownership Anxieties Lowered. Whenever I buy something new, I expend enormous energy trying to protect my precious acquisition. Despite my best efforts, the harsh realities of a cruel world crash in. The first few scratches and dents prompt much loud wailing and gnashing of teeth. But when these same inevitabilities inflict themselves upon my used stuff, life goes on with nary a hitch. It’s like this: a Riedel wine glass shatters and all is tragedy; its thrift shop counterpart meets with the same sorry fate, and one simply grabs another glass and keeps on drinking. If possessions are like chains around our necks, then we all might as well don lighter chains. Secondhand stuff weighs on us less.
- Walmart Gets Beat at Its Own Game. If you dislike Walmart, perhaps you express your disdain with visits to more expensive stores. Instead, take a stand by buying secondhand. This costs you less than Walmart (and far less than the higher-priced competitors you’ve been using), gets you better quality goods (anything used has enough durability to have survived at least one prior owner), and doesn’t drain any dollars away from your local economy (one reason many dislike Walmart in the first place). If, on the other hand, you love Walmart, then probably what you love best are its low prices. Resellers are even more loveable, because they undercut Walmart in the same way Walmart once undercut all those mom-and-pop stores that used to line Main Street. Isn’t sub-retail karma great?
- Recreational Shopping Improved. When you switch from retail to resale, you still get much of the same consumer high, but it harms you less because you pay less. Secondhand purchases are the shopping addict’s equivalent of nicotine patches.
- Novelty Added. Used boutiques change their inventories daily. And whenever you buy, you take some of that novelty home to roost. Let others overfill their lives with whatever ho-hum the box stores hawk this season. You march to the beat of a different drummer. With each secondhand piece you acquire, your home, your clothing, and your accessories become all the more unique—just like you.
□ 2.2.2 Buy the Flawed
Frugal fringers pay less by choosing to overlook cosmetic defects. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Shop for floor models, demos, scratch-and-dents, returned items, blemished products (clerks often have authority to grant discounts for loose stitching or other flaws), reconditioned electronics (visit TigerDirect.com), seconds (visit SierraTradingPost.com), remnants (granite countertops, construction materials), unpopular colors, and all their various brethren.
□ 2.2.3 Buy Other Technologies
Before swooping in on any purchase, fringers ask whether something altogether different might do the job for less. Examples:
- Music. It’s not unusual to download the Greatest Hits of Tom Jones for $9.99, but you can also buy a used CD, cassette, or record of the same content and transfer it to your computer for practically nothing. (Under copyright laws, you must limit any copies to your own personal use and maintain possession of the original format from which the copies were made.)
- Motorboats. Canoes, kayaks, and rowboats consume no gas, require less storage space, and bestow invigorating exercise. Proceed down your stream merrily.
- Snow Blowers. Try this plan: (1) blow off the blower and buy shovels; (2) get those you live with to move the shovels; and (3) keep your labor force on the job with copious quantities of hot cocoa, an effective fuel which happens to cost much less per gallon than gasoline.
- Weights. Dumbbells cost less than machines and, according to experts, provide better workouts.
- Travel Organizers. These opaque pouches with zippers cost as much as $20. Resealable bags cost pennies and you can see what’s inside them.
- Bath and Kitchen Gadgets. Choose razors and toothbrushes over their electric equivalents. Buy manual can openers, mixers, and knife sharpeners. Hand tools cost less and last longer.
- Consumer Electronic Cases. Whenever you buy a device, the seller pushes a variety of encasements. Almost always, these are overpriced. Having slashed its margins on the main item, the seller hopes for bigger profits on peripherals. Look elsewhere. An official Kindle cover costs $40, but a $2 bubble wrap mailer does the same job for next to nothing.
- Wine. Boxed wine tastes great. The packaging costs less and vintners pass some of the savings on to you.
- Mattresses. Don’t spend big on new mattresses and box springs, buy toppers instead.
- Noise Cancelling Headphones. You could spend $300 on this popular fix for cacophonic airplane cabins. But for $0.99, load your MP3 player with an hour-long white noise track from Amazon. Choices include ocean surfs, summer rains, and even windy prairies. Or go cheaper yet. For $0.25, travel with a pair of foam earplugs. Unlike bulky headphones, these thrifty fixes don’t take up space in your carryon bag.
□ 2.2.4 Buy Other Models
Frugalists prize pared-down models, discontinued items, and close-outs. Some cases in point:
- Flat Panel TVs. Look for smaller screens that lack 3D—a dimension you might not care about anyway.
- All-In-One Printers. If a printer includes a fax function that you’ll never use, ask whether the manufacturer offers a fax-free version—don’t pay extra for features you don’t need.
- Luxury Items. Whenever you indulge in luxuries, do so on a small scale. Buy bath oils and microbrews instead of day spas and cognacs.
- The Next-to-Last Generation. When the latest iWhatever hits the shelves, prices for past versions plummet. Unless the newest release offers compelling upgrades, buy the older model and save.
□ 2.2.5 Buy a Part Instead of a Whole
Whenever anything breaks or wears out, diehard fringers first consider replacing a part instead of the entire item.
- Computer Upgrades. Replace failed DVD players or hard drives, but keep the CPU.
- Off Road Vehicles. Drop in a new motor, but keep the same snowmobile or ATV.
- Furniture. Redo the upholstery, retain the couch.
- Small Appliances. Replace the carafe, keep the coffee maker.
□ 2.2.6 Buy Generic
Store brands don’t advertise, so they don’t pay admen. As fringers know, the happy result is lower prices. Sometimes, house brands even provide better quality. Costco’s Kirkland label earns high ratings for a diverse range of products. Generics are increasingly popular. According to the Nielsen Company, they now account for 22.3 percent of all grocery sales, which is up 1.8 percent since right before the Great Recession.
□ 2.2.7 Buy Multipurpose Merchandise
Look for versatile products that address several needs at once.
- Laptops as Desktop Replacements. A powerful laptop eliminates any need for a separate desktop. Why buy both when one does the work of two?
- Netbooks as Tablets. Screens detach from keyboards to act as tablets (search the web for “hybrid or convertible laptops”).
- Coats. Why buy one coat for winter and a lighter one for fall and spring? Overcoats with removable liners cover three seasons with a single purchase.
- Convertible Pants. Zippers let you convert from long pants to shorts to long pants again, all on the fly. REI.com sells several types. Best pants story: on a hot day in Vatican City, a friend had been standing for hours in line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. When he finally reached the entrance, a guide said he couldn’t enter because he was wearing shorts. A couple quick zips later, the shorts became longs and admission was gained. Let’s hope we all get through the pearly gates so easily.
- Kitchen Knives. Those matching knives look very impressive in their wooden block, but do you really need nine of them? Figure out which ones are the most versatile. Buy those and equip yourself for a fraction of what a full set costs. In the process, you also free up precious countertop space.
- Yoga Mats. They double as pads for sleeping bags.
- Portable Heaters with Fans. Kill two small birds with one small appliance: heat in the winter and cool in the summer.
- Two-Way Shop Vacs. This contraption works as both a vacuum and leaf blower. In the vernacular of Generation X, it not only “sucks,” it also “blows.” And, dude, you end up with two tools for the price of one!
CODA: SMART PHONES
You’ll be tempted by these electronic versions of Swiss army knives, where a single handset takes the place of a camera, GPS, MP3 player, and wristwatch. But run the numbers, including the initial cost and monthly fees. You may find it’s cheaper to juggle devices.
□ 2.2.8 Stack Tactics to Save More
Combine two or more of the above tactics for even greater savings. For instance, if you’ve chosen a multipurpose product, you can buy it secondhand for a boost in savings. If you’ve decided on a freezer with slightly fewer features, take home one of the floor models.
* * *
The summary below collects these alternatives, which all reappear as part of the concise checklist in Appendix 1.
STRATEGY NO. 2: BUY SOMETHING ELSE
□ 2.2.1 buy used
[eBay, Goodwill, yard sales]
□ 2.2.2 buy the flawed
[seconds, dents, demos, returns]
□ 2.2.3 buy other technologies
[shovels for snow blowers]
□ 2.2.4 buy other models
[fewer features, gen3 not gen4]
□ 2.2.5 buy a part instead of a whole
[upgrades, disk drives]
□ 2.2.6 buy generic
[bleach, batteries, frozen veggies]
□ 2.2.7 buy multipurpose merchandise
[heater/fans, 2-way vacs]
□ 2.2.8 stack tactics to save more
[combine two or more of the above]