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The Value of Buying Used

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Monday, March 1st, 2010 in Culture, Finance

Here in the West, we have an absolute fetish for new things. New computers, new cars, new clothes, new houses, new haircuts, new everything- we obsess over getting what is the “best” or the “latest”, often to the chagrin of our own wallets and the actual quality of that which we purchase. It’s time we stopped that. In certain contexts and in certain markets, buying used makes leagues more sense than buying new, and it can not only be cheaper and safer, but it can also be remarkably stylish, if done correctly.

Buying Used: The Basics

Before I launch into explaining what you should likely buy used, let me explain (in the simplest terms I can muster) what “buying used” really is.

Everything you buy has worth. When I buy a T-shirt for $10, for example, I am spending $10 for the entirety of the shirt itself- the actual materials, the construction, and even things like the brand. However, more importantly, for most items, I’m often paying for the newness of the item itself– that is, I’m paying a premium for the ability to purchase the t-shirt in original packaging or from the original store, with all the original labels intact. I’m paying for the right to be the first (and implicitly, only) owner of the item, and to have it for the longest amount of time it will hold up.

However, there’s a caveat to that purchase: when you buy virtually anything, it instantly depreciates. You read that correctly: your purchase of virtually anything is subject to the invisible force of depreciation, which makes the value of the item you just purchased shoot down by a large percentage. In more familiar terms to most readers, this is precisely why when you purchase a new video game at $60, you often cannot sell it back to the store or to another gamer for more than about $50 or $40: you, for all intents and purposes, paid $20 to be the first owner and to have the first crack at that particular copy of the game.

This is all a bit confusing, so let me simplify things: buying used allows you to avoid this kind of unfair price gouging. The nice thing about buying used is, if done right, it can be an effective tool to save money and still purchase a quality product. If you are buying a product that you know will last a long time and has inherent worth, by purchasing it used, you can often avoid this unfair trend of price inflation and get it for a much more reasonable price. It’s that simple!

So what should I buy used?

Simply put, the best things to buy used are things you know have inherent worth that will last.

The best possible example I can give of a good value when buying used is to buy a used car. Most cars are made to last much longer than their owners typically keep them- whereas many Americans will replace their car every 3-5 years, a good quality vehicle will be in fine working condition for much longer. Even in this terrible economy, many Americans will be as ridiculous as to replace their vehicles after one or two years, which essentially floods the market with relatively new, barely used vehicles at prices much lower than they were purchased at.

Purchasing these vehicles is a phenomenal deal. Most people know the unfortunate truth about buying a vehicle new- the second you drive it off the lot, it depreciates excessively, and you lose lots of money merely for the right to have a new car and to enjoy the new car smell thereof. When you purchase these vehicles used, however, you entirely subvert this entire system- you get the exact same vehicle, more or less in the same condition (pending the previous owner wasn’t a slob), and at a price much much cheaper than you would have ever gotten new. You would be surprised at the pricing disparity for vehicles like this- for example, just from a bit of research, I’ve been able to easily find examples of extremely expensive car 2009 models that begin at over 80,000 USD used that- after one year- are now retailing at approximately 40,000 USD. That’s an incredible discount, especially for something still relatively new.

Another example, more pertinent to Well Cultured, is clothing. While it seems hard to believe, some articles of clothing are much more worth their price when used, even though they can be sometimes slightly worn down. In the world of menswear, some of the more expensive staples- shoes, belts, and even some suits- last a long time, and are often extremely expensive to purchase new, but can be found in copious amounts used, typically in great condition, and for up to 50% off the retail price. Naturally, just like in the world of cars, lemons do exist- it’s easy to get burned with subpar or even entirely fake clothing- but you would be surprised how much you can find when shopping used. The best thing about purchasing used is that you can really get some amazingly retro pieces that are legitimately retro: while many brands try to churn out “oldschool” pieces every so often, you can own an article of clothing from the real era and truly rock it, rather than trying to do so with something brand new. New slim ties reminiscent of the 50s are cool- real 50s era slim ties are awesome.

Another less thought of example is, believe it or not, DVDs and CDs. Pending you can view the quality of the DVD/CD before you make the purchase, it’s relatively easy to build up a respectable collection of music and movies by purchasing used in lieu of purchasing new. This, of course, applies to video games as well. DVDs, CDs, and Video Games are all very much subject to the same forces of intense depreciation that other items are, and pending you can buy them used in decent quality, it is often much more economically reasonable to purchase a game used rather than to waste the cash buying something used just for the $10+ privilege to remove it from its original wrapping.

The best thing for all of the above is that you’re not only getting something cheaper, but you have the opportunity to purchase classic items. For example, in the video game and DVD world, nothing quite beats oldschool titles that may no longer be printed- you can get them used. Similarly, some clothing brands and styles have since disappeared, and you can easily find them in used markets, if you search hard enough. Some articles of clothing now prohibitively expensive yet classic, like Schott Perfecto leather motorcycle jackets, can be found in excellent quality used, and often for much cheaper. The great thing about shopping used, then, is much more than simply saving money: it’s about having the opportunity to find truly classic items as well.

What should I not buy used?

This is a pretty simple answer: anything that goes bad quickly, or is under the price in which buying used becomes worth your time. Buying a t-shirt or a cheap pair of underwear, for example, is not recommended, both for hygiene and price purposes. High technology items, particularly things like video game consoles and computers, should likely be avoided, as they are usually only sold used when broken or otherwise malfunctioning.

Additionally, it should be noted that you should never purchase anything used without either having a contract with the person you are purchasing from, or the willingness to lose the money you spend. This is an important caveat to purchasing used: you can get burned, no matter how much work or research you do ahead of time. Be careful.

In closing…

This article isn’t about making you paranoid and making you become a nascent Scrooge- it’s simply about sense.

Here in America, we have a nasty habit of loving to purchase new things, and it’s truly hurting us. Re-think your attachment to “new” items- you’d be surprised at the kinds of deals and values you can find used, pending you’re willing to search and be reasonable. If anything, give it a shot!

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2 Responses to The Value of Buying Used

  1. Jenx says:

    I fully support this! Especially the clothes bit. I dunno how it is in the States, but in my country it took me 3 days of going around searching shops until I could find a pair of nice denim jeans to wear when we were leaving highschool that didn’t look tacky, had absurd numbers of stitches, fake patches, pockets and such slapped on them.
    Second hand clothing stores to me are pretty much the only place I have a reasonable chance of finding clothing that I actually like, since almost all other shops sell shit that I wouldn’t wear even if I had a gun at my head.

  2. Yum22Yum23 says:

    Slight problem though, anything that is now considered a collector’s item will see it’s value grow with time, which is the opposite of regular items, though, and here’s what i wanted to get at, unless you are going for insanely rare books, you can find good quality copies of many fine writings in fine bindings for relatively small amounts. Older books tend to have an established value (very old ones have none, due to copyright “deprecation”) which means they would be at an appreciable price for appreciable content.

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