Raise your hand if you’re a little put off by buying used stuff?
I double pinky swear that I wont judge you for having the ewww factor about buying second hand! My goal here isn’t to chastise you for your opinions! If you’re raising your hand I can assure you that you are not alone.
Often times, when I tell people that we buy virtually 100% of our stuff used I’m faced with some of the most interesting responses. There are those who question us – I’ve gotten asked more than once if we’ve ever “caught something from buying used”. In other situations I’ve been met with really strong and sometimes harsh opinions about how buying used is gross and that I’m actually neglecting my kiddos needs by doing it.
Buying used gets such a bad rap doesn’t it folks?
There seems to be this assumption that buying used is gross and today I’m hoping to show you that thrift shopping is not only a great way to save you a ton of cash. But it is also a good and responsible choice for the environment because it keeps excess stuff out of our landfills.
Why Buying Used Isn’t Gross
Our frugal family really doesn’t attach a value to things. After hard work and the conscious decision to separate ourselves from consumerist chaos, we’ve gotten to a point where stuff is just stuff. In the process, we’ve become really good at preventing our stuff from shaping our views of ourselves, our social standing and our place in our community.
A long long time ago the story was a very different one. By living a frugal lifestyle we’ve developed anew appreciation for the stuff that surrounds us and we’ve done a good job at detaching ourselves from the want cycle that is so common in our consumerist culture.
But, we do need stuff and so, when it does come time to spend our money on things we always turn to buying used first.
So, before we get into the whole buying used is gross thing, tell me, when’s the last time you went on vacation? What resort did you stay at? Are you a cruise type of person or more of an all-inclusive type? How were the accommodations? Was the food good? Did you send your kiddo to the on site daycare? I promise there’s a reason that I’m asking you these questions – so, keep a mental inventory of your answers okay?
I’m sure most of you have stayed in a hotel, eaten at a restaurant, sent your kid to daycare and driven in a cab before, right? Right.
If you’ve done all these things then you’ve absolutely touched, used and been in contact with used stuff! Gross hunh? Or, is it?
When you’re staying at a hotel you are sleeping on a used mattress and used bed linens that we hope have been sanitized correctly. When you’re eating out you are eating off of used plates with used cutlery while sitting in a used chair. And, *shutter* when you send your kids to school or daycare your kiddo is playing with toys and reading books that have been touched by dozens or even hundreds of tiny germy hands.
See where I’m going with this?
The Stigma of Used Stuff
The thing is, there’s a pretty big stigma attached to used stuff. That ewww factor is very much real and in many cases it causes people to fear used goods and completely overlook them as on option. The ewww factor leads people to believe that used goods are somehow disgusting, dirty, germ-infested and useless items or objects that belong in a landfill instead of in your home.
The used stuff stigma often manifests itself in two very real and overlapping ways folks.
First, there’s the personal fear of buying used because of the perceived threat of being socially inferior or judged in some way. When we first started off on this journey I was absolutely one of those people and was humiliated that I was shopping in a second-hand shop. Left with no choice but live frugally to crush our credit card debt I stuck it out and eventually as I started to appreciate frugal living more and more I became so comfortable with buying used that I’d tell anyone and everyone about my great finds and how much money it saved me compared to making the same purchase on the “new” market.
Having said that, the social stigma creates fear – because *gasp* what if someone finds out you’re buying used? What if you’re labeled as one of those people who uses used stuff? Well, here’s a secret – it’s your business and nobody else’s. You don’t have to tell anyone where your awesome shirt, shoes, handbag or belt came from.
Second, there’s this pervasive need to keep up the Joneses right? The neighbor wears designer clothes, has a fancy new car and has expensive home furnishings. The whole notion to buy more, more, more in an effort to keep up with this narrative of what is acceptable has really driven people away from appreciating the used market.
What if I told you that buying used can give you access to designer clothes (if that’s your thing), fancy cars (if that’s your priority) or expensive home furnishings (if that’s what you value)? Sadly, many people feel this need to buy new to keep up with what society has created as an acceptable way to acquire goods. Society has trained us that to have “made it” in our world you have to buy new and that buying used somehow makes you inferior, underprivileged and a lesser member of your community.
Cost Analysis & Little Frugal Math
I’m a numbers geek and I’m often calculating exactly how much I saved when I find a used treasure. Some times our used finds are absolutely free because we barter or dumpster dive (which is the best case scenario because free is free right?) but when we do score a used deal I always hit up the internet to calculate exactly how much we saved.
Let’s do a little frugal math, shall we? I hope to show you that the savings when buying used are astronomical.
Here’s a current photo of my back balcony. We’ve created a play area for Margsy because this kiddo loves being outside but sometimes it’s difficult to let her roam the backyard when there’s important adulting things going on. By creating this play space for her we know that not only will she be within view but she’ll also be safe and occupied.
When Mer and I decided we wanted to invest in some outdoor activity toys we both agreed that we’d hit up the used market. Kids toys are so incredibly expensive and when you’re buying any type of toy you’re always taking a risk that your kiddo wont really like it. We got really lucky with this haul because she absolutely loves each of these toys and plays with them on the regular.
Now, let’s calculate what this would have cost me new versus what I spent.
* Source: I sourced the prices on the various toys from both amazon.ca and toysrus.ca. I used the lowest price found between the two vendors.
So there we have it. Had I purchased each of these items brand new from Amazon, Toys R Us or any similar vendor in my area I would have been facing a 681.79$ expense plus applicable taxes. In our province we have a 15% tax rate that by my calculations would elevate the price to a whopping 784.06$. But, by employing some frugality to our purchasing plan we were able to score all those super cool toys for a total of 48.00$ Yup, you read that right 48$! In total we saved 736.06$ by buying used. Holy, you know what right?
How I clean my new used stuff
Generally speaking most used stuff is in pretty great condition. Thrift and second hand shops are pretty picky about what they put on their racks and the worst of the worst usually never makes it out into the store front. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve bought clothes or shoes for us with the tags still on. Think about it for a second, how many times have you donated brand new stuff to a local organization that resells it because it didn’t fit, went out of style or wasn’t useful for you anymore?
Yup, I’m the lady who will likely buy that stuff.
With that in mind, we always employ rigorous cleaning methods to make sure that every item we buy is clean and ready for us to use. It’s no different than buying clothes at your local TJ Max or Target. There’s a good chance someone or several people tried it on before you so washing it before wearing is always a good idea right?
When it comes to clothing items, linens or any other cloth type product we always give the items a good soak in a hot water and vinegar bath. We have a handy basin sink installed in our garage and I just put all our goodies in there and disinfect them with vinegar. From there, I add them to our regular laundry that we do roughly twice a week. Once it’s clean and smelling fresh you’d never know that it was bought used in the first place.
For large plastic kiddo toys we haul out our pressure washer which we got from a barter trade a couple years back. First, we rub on a baking soda vinegar paste and scrub off any dirty spots. Once we’ve removed any stains or built on dirt we give it a good rinse and follow up with a soap bath made with equal parts laundry detergent and vinegar. More often than not the toys come out squeaky clean and as good as new!
For dishware and other glass or breakables I usually just give them a good soak in equal parts dish soap and liquid bleach. After a 30 minute soak I rinse them off and pop them into the dishwasher on a clean and sanitize cycle. They always come out looking as good as new.
A couple of things I’ll never buy used
Buying used is such an awesome way to get what you need for literally a tiny fraction of the cost. We’ve taken advantage of used opportunities and bought clothes, shoes, linens, dishware, furniture, baby clothes, toys, garden equipment, pool gear, baby gear, camping gear, winter wear, small appliances to name just a few. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of things but you get the idea that we’re pretty open to buying most things used.
But, there are things that we wont buy used because quite honestly it’s not safe.
Here is a list of things that you need to be cautious about and a couple of reasons why.
Mattresses/Couches/Upholstered furniture. Unless you know exactly where it’s coming from and that it’s coming from a pest free environment approach with caution. We used to live in an area that was heavily affected by bed bugs and as a result we never bought these items used. If you know where it’s coming from and you are 100% sure that bringing the item into your home wont cause you issues then absolutely go for it.
Crib & Carseats. The thing with these items is that it’s okay to buy them second hand assuming you are 100% sure of the items provenance. With cribs, it’s always wise to check out the model number for any recent recalls (think safety issues, led paint etc). If you know the people it’s coming from and the crib checks out with a little research then it’s absolutely okay to purchase. But, when you’re looking at buying from someone you don’t know and you’re unsure of the age and/or model number then I’d be cautious because cribs can pose serious risks to a baby. The same goes for car seats. I would never ever ever jeopardize my kiddos safety and as a result I would never buy a used car seat unless I knew for absolute sure that the seat had no recalls and is 100% accident free. Safety above all folks.
The rest. Always use common sense. If an item looks truly gross – it probably is. The thing with used stuff is that you can absolutely be picky. If you pass on an item today I’ll bet you any amount of money that you’ll come across something similar soon. Just because you’re opting to buy used doesn’t mean you’re prevented from being a discriminant shopper. If an item doesn’t seem satisfactory to you then simply don’t buy it regardless of its low price. Even when you’re buying used you can opt to buy for quality and durability.
How I approach used shopping
Shopping used is truly no different then buying new. Actually I’ll propose that buying used is actually more fun because you can score some pretty awesome deals and save a ton of money in the process. Who doesn’t like to save a little cash right?
Like I mentioned above, buying used doesn’t trump quality in any way. You can totally buy quality clothing, accessories, furnishings, electronics and everyday essentials on the used market. I approach used shopping like a challenge. I want to ensure that my money is purchasing an item that is in great used condition, shows as little wear as possible and will be durable for years to come. Just because I’m buying used doesn’t mean that I’ll accept lesser quality or condition. I want to use my money wisely so I’m picky and selective about what items I bring home with me. It’s okay to pass on an item no matter how great it might appear if it doesn’t meet my expectations.
Beyond this, I always set a budget about how much I’m comfortable spending. If you remember up above where I told you folks about building a play area for my little one I went into the project with a budget. I knew that I wanted to get as many toys as possible for at most 50$. We planned accordingly and headed out bright and early on a garage sale weekend knowing that we only had 50$ to spend. I also knew that I absolutely wanted a table of some kind, a ride on, a plastic house and a net. We drove around and managed to pick up each of our items by being steadfast about our price. When buying that house I was asked for 50$. I told the guy straight that I had to take it apart to get it home and that it needed a good wash so I was only prepared to spend 20$. He agreed and we took it apart and hauled it home.
A couple of buying used suggestions: go into any shopping situation with a budget and a list of exactly what you want. Negotiate whenever you can and be upfront about your best offer. Be prepared to walk away if you can’t respect your budget or if it’s not exactly what you need. Buying used can also be a trap in that the low cost can convince us to buy buy buy because we’re getting such a great deal. Always shop wisely even if you’re not spending a ton of money.
What buying used is not
- Buying used is not a reflection of your worth as a person, member of society or social standing. Wearing used clothes and eating off used dishes with pre-loved utensils in no way minimizes your worth as a person. You my friend are not a reflection of your stuff.
- Buying used does not mean you are poor, underprivileged and/or miserly. Instead, its a reflection of the frugal priorities you’ve set yourself.
- Buying used is not only for the extremely cheap. Instead, it’s a conscious and well thought out decision for the well being of both your wallet and the environment.
- Buying used isn’t gross, dirty or disgusting – it’s a sustainable way to get what you need at a fraction of the cost!
Managing the social stigma
Before I wrap up this super long post ( I apologize for that by the way – once I get going I just can’t seem to stop!) I want to address managing the social stigma that comes from buying used. I got into it up at the top of this post but if you’re just skimming I’ll give you a quick recap.
Essentially, society has taught us that it’s gross to buy used by manipulating our belief system. They’ve enveloped used goods with an ewww factor that prevents many people from taking advantage of buying on the used market. We’ve been taught that buying used is gross and disgusting and so we’re feeding into consumertist chaos by overpaying and overbuying on the new market. When we walk into a room we don’t generally thumb off the places we bought each piece of our outfit. When we have a dinner party we don’t start the meal by listing off where our dishes, cutlery or tablecloth were bought. Buying used is a personal decision. If you’re into it great – if you want to try it but fear being judged just remember that it’s absolutely your business and nobody elses. Buy used and keep it your little secret if need be!