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New or Used? Which Is Better?

5 Minute Read

When you’re paying off debt or building up your emergency fund, you’ll be tempted to buy everything used. And that’s a great thing.

Yard sales, Craigslist and eBay can be your best friends. But sometimes, buying used can get you in trouble. You might save a little money now, but you’ll pay a lot more in the long run.

So when should you buy new, and when should you buy used?

Let’s take a look:

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Things to Buy New

Tires. You don’t know where those tires have been. Have they been in an accident? Is there a difficult-to-spot nail lodged in them? Sure, new tires can be ridiculously expensive, but wait for special two-for-one deals! And remember, you don’t have to buy top of the line to be safe. Your tires are the only things protecting you and your family from the road below. Don’t skimp on them.

Computer Software. Unless you’re buying from someone you know and trust, avoid used software. Pirated software and stolen licenses are a major problem, so you should be especially cynical of used software being sold online.

Bathing Suits/Underwear. This really goes without saying, but we’re saying it. Why? Because people actually buy this stuff used. This is just a matter of principle. C’mon, people. Buy your underwear and bathing suits new.

Sports Safety Equipment. A lot of things like safety goggles, climbing gear, helmets, elbow pads and knee pads are designed for one impact only. After a nasty spill, they should have been discarded. You shouldn’t put a dollar amount on your family’s well-being, so don’t play around with used safety equipment.

Humidifiers. Say what? Humidifiers? If you walk through a Goodwill store, you’ll see plenty of used humidifiers laying around. One word: No. You don’t know where those humidifiers have been, and you don’t know what mold and bacteria could lurk within. Brand-new humidifiers are pretty inexpensive. Avoid the risk and buy new when needed.

Things to Buy Used

Cars. You’ve heard it all before, and it’s true. New cars drop in value faster than a skydiver falling from a plane. When you buy a used car that’s at least two years old, you let the previous owner take the majority of the depreciation hit. Just make sure you’re actually buying the car outright, not “buying” it in the form of years of car payments.

Pets. By “used pets,” we mean free pets or those that come with a low adoption fee from the shelter or a friend. Breeders of papered, purebred dogs can be insanely expensive—and almost all of those pets are guaranteed a home at some point anyway. Puppy mills, which often supply pet stores, are known for treating their animals poorly and for selling sick or injured animals, so avoid those.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with shelter pets. You could literally save a shelter animal’s life! A good deed done at no cost? Count us in.

Tools. Have you ever felt a hammer? They’re as sturdy as an oak. Seriously, hammers have a longer life-span than a sea turtle. Most hand tools are well made, so there’s no reason to buy new unless there’s just an obvious flaw.

Baby Clothes. Your little bundle of joy will wear a “Feed Me or Nobody Sleeps” onesie just a few times before it’s covered with mashed carrot stains. Then they’ll outgrow it without even knowing they wore it. So don’t pay for new baby clothes, even if you think they’re cute. We promise, your kid’s got the cute factor covered.

Books. Trust us: Used books are just as easy to read as new books. The words are exactly the same! They might have a coffee stain here or there, but it’s one or two pages that will take you three minutes to read. Plus, you get to enjoy that aromatic old-book smell!

Video Games. Most video games are gently used because they’re forgotten after a few months. A brand-new game can easily cost $60. But if you wait a few months for the used versions to hit the market, you could save $10 to $20 at least. Just make sure the game isn’t scratched and still works!

Exercise Equipment. We haven’t done any highbrow, formal research here, but our guess is that most exercise equipment gets used for a few months before becoming a makeshift clothes hanger. You’ll likely find outstanding deals on treadmills, ellipticals and all kinds of exercise equipment that are less than a year old. Look for those before you consider buying new.

Related: Yard Sales: 5 Pros and Cons You Need to Know

Of course, there will be exceptions to all of these examples. We always say it’s perfectly fine to buy a new car if you’re a millionaire because the depreciation hit won’t affect you that much. Or if you’re buying a bicycle helmet from your trustworthy brother who only used it once before he decided it wasn’t a good fit—that makes sense too. Just use common sense while making the most of your money at the same time.

Whether you buy new or used, make sure you budget for your purchase! For easy online budgeting, check out our free budget tool EveryDollar.

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