Saturday, March 26, 2011

Be Vigilant When Buying Secondhand

Tip #285 - Be Vigilant When Buying Secondhand. One of the best ways to cut down on expenses is to buy used (rather pre-owned which sounds so much nicer). Other than consumables such as food, gas, cleaning supplies, most items have a life span that can transcend two or more people. And for most things out there, the cost of the item is most expensive in the first half or less of its life than the rest of its life. Of course, we all know that's true for a car. But it's also true of electronics, movies, books, furniture, clothing, household items, and other things. This is generally the case because people pay a premium to be the first to use something, the item is the latest and newest out there, and because the chances are close to 100% that the item works, and if not, you can usually get a full refund. On the other hand, if you buy used, er, um, secondhand most people expect a discount. They know they are not the first to use the item. They are aware that it is not the most recent edition or latest fashion, but what they may not be aware of unless they are vigilant is whether the item is fully usable, fully functional, complete, and unbroken.

If you have been trying to cut down on expenses and have started to embrace buying preowned items, make sure you are not wasting money buying things that seem to be a good deal only to find out the item is damaged. In other words, do not be so excited by your screaming good deal that you forget to check the item over. What looks like a great deal instead may turn out to be a waste of money that could have been spent toward something else. Therefore, be vigilant looking over your items before you pay. Look over everything once and then do it a second time. Here are some common things to look for when buying used:

--Make sure that zippers zip properly
--Check that buttons (snaps, hooks, etc.) are present and accounted for
--Make sure elastic is not stretched.
--Inspect that there are no stains (or you are comfortable with the ones you see)
--Check if stitching is not coming unraveled (or you know you can fix what you see)
--Make sure the size is accurate. Preowned clothes have often been washed numerous time and may have shrunk. A preowned size 12 may be different than a new 12, for example.
--Check that no part of the item is stretched out

--Do not buy unless you can test it or it's returnable.
--Make sure all parts are included (blade is in bread machine, chain is in light fixture, etc.)
--If you are at a yardsale, ask the owner how it works and then ask to test it. For example, ask for a CD to test a CD player, plug in a tv or radio, test out a video game player. If you are at a thrift store, there are usually outlets to test things. And there are often DVDs laying around that you can use to test it. Lights should light up, the motor on the blender should purr, the blade in the bread machine should spin.
--If it's a battery-operated device, battery covers should be present and not corroded. Ask for batteries to test it or better yet carry batteries in your car so you can test things.
--Make sure cords are not moth-eaten or worn and are fully intact.

--Make sure all legs are sturdy for tables, dressers, etc.
--Check that upholstery is not ripped or stained (unless, of course, you are planning to recover it)
--Make sure drawers slide easily, doors close
--Inspect that all pieces are presents (shelves, handles, hinges, screws, etc.)

Household Items:--For glassware, run your finger around the rim to feel if there are any chips. Run it along the handle (for mugs) and along the bottom, too. Feeling is more accurate than looking
--Look for fading on pictures, decorated kitchenware, or the color on general items.
--Look for cracking of pottery, ceramics or other breakable materials such as lamp bases, vases, dishes, glass in a picture frame, etc.

--Check that the spine is not cracked
--Make sure there are no missing pages or loose pages
--Check for stains or mildew
--Inspect books for curled pages that indicate it may have gotten wet

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not add that when you get home with your purchase, look on the consumer product safety commission website to see if any of your items have been recalled. Stores aren't supposed to sell these items, but I'm sure some squeak through. And recalled items probably abound at yardsales.

The list above is not meant to be comprehensive but just some suggestions on what to look for when buying used. All of the above are typical flaws you may find when buying items secondhand. Some of the flaws may be acceptable to you or may be easily fixed. As long as you are aware of them, there are no problems. It's when you impulsively buy something secondhand only to come home and find a flaw that the purchase becomes a disappointment and a waste of money. So please when you are buying things that are preowned, allow extra time to inspect what you are buying before you pay for the item.

If you cannot check everything to your liking because you do not have the time or the right tools to do so, then only spend money on the item that you can afford to waste. Think of it as something you are willing to take a chance on.

In Real Life
- I've mentioned in the past that I have joined the "buying used" bandwagon. And I have become an enthusiastic secondhand buyer. I buy most of my kids' clothes secondhand, their toys, some of my clothes, furniture, dishes, books, and, um, pretty much most everything.

This post comes from, unfortunately, a lot of experience buying preowned things that were not up to my expectations. I bought a boxed set of books at a thrift store that turned out to be mildewed and curled inside - the whole thing went in the recycling bin and about $4 in the trash (well in the thrift store's cash register). I've bought dishes that had chips that I didn't realize until I got home. They went in the trash. I've bought my children pants where I could not zip the zipper and skirts that didn't hook. I've purchased clothes that have light stains that I didn't notice. We bought a radio that we assumed would work but did not. We bought a swing that had been recalled (we were able to get a replacement through the company, though). We've bought furniture where the drawers did not slide smoothly, although it was such a good deal we didn't care nor expect it to be perfect.

And that is the key to buying used, I think. You shouldn't expect it to be perfect, because most of the items have at least been handled before or possibly used extensively. As long as price is commensurate with the wear and tear on the item and you are aware of any non-functioning or broken parts of the item before you buy, then all is good. Just make sure you look everything over before you pay.

PS. I have to apologize about my long absence. I thought I put a post up a few weeks ago explaining but I see that it is not here. I'm sure I wrote it, and thought I hit "publish post" but it's not here. Hmmm...I don't know. Anyway, I had some personal issues I needed to deal with but hope to be a more regular blogger (at least weekly) from now on. Thanks!