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Getting Good Deals on Used Stuff


One of the best ways that people recovering from bankruptcy (or anyone who wants to save money) can economize is to buy used items when possible. We've become a throwaway society, and many people consider their own used items to be worthless, and practically give them away at garage sales, on Craig's List, etc.

Of course, buying used items involves a certain amount of knowledge about the item you're buying; and buying some things used entails a certain amount of risk. For example, if you're buying a lawnmower that's not running well, it helps to have someone come along who knows a thing or two about lawnmowers and can estimate how much it's going to cost to make it run well.

Fortunately, that's a pretty easy problem to deal with. Just ask a friend who's knowledgeable about the thing you want to buy to come with you. The truth is that most people feel flattered when others ask for their opinion about subjects about which they consider themselves experts. Throw in a six-pack of their favorite beverage, and chances are your knowledgeable friend will be happy to help you.

In my own case, I'm often that knowledgeable friend. Because of my own training and background, I'm sort of a jack of all trades. My dad was a carpenter, so I picked up a lot of knowledge from him. I also was an aircraft mechanic before I branched into electronics, which also provided me with a rich knowledge of things mechanical. So I can tell you first-hand that when my friends ask me for my advice regarding some purchase they want to make, I am honored, flattered, and happy to help.

Where to Find Good, Used Stuff

Most people are already familiar with sites like Craig's List, where people advertise used stuff they're looking to sell. Many communities also have local bulletin-board Web sites, as well as real bulletin boards (as in, the kind with paper notices thumb-tacked to them) in supermarkets and other places where people congregate.

Other good sources for used stuff are garage sales, barn sales, yard sales, and estate sales. A lot of the stuff at estate sales tends to be of better quality and may cost more money, but an item in excellent condition purchased at an estate sale may still be a great value compared to buying the same item new.

Shops that repair things can also be good sources for used stuff. Companies that repair appliances, garden equipment, furniture, and so forth often come into possession of stuff that people brought in to be repaired, and never come back to pick up once it's been fixed. Repair shops usually sell these items for the cost of the parts and labor if they're not picked up after a reasonable time.


The Importance of Being Patient when Buying Used Stuff

The best items to buy used are items that you need, but that you don't need right this minute. For example, the grill I bought in the section later on in this page was one of those items. I had a little table-top grill, but I wanted a bigger one for when family and friends came over and we wanted to have a barbecue. The little one was enough for me, but I needed a bigger one for when I had guests.

Those are the kinds of items that are the best ones to buy used: stuff that you need, but don't need right away. Once you decide that you need a certain thing, decide how much you are willing to pay for it, and then wait until you find the deal you want, in a condition with which you're satisfied, at or below the price you're willing to pay.


Transporting Used Items

One important consideration when buying a used item is how to get it home. If you have a vehicle that's able to do that (like a pickup truck) and know how to secure cargo, then that's great. A lot of things can also be tied on top of a car if you know how to do it. Some items may be worth renting a truck to move, and others might be worth asking a friend or relative with a pickup to help you move. (Don't forget to pay for the gas!)

Sometimes sellers may be willing to deliver items for you. Expect to pay a bit extra for this. There also are local people who do this sort of thing for side money, so ask around.


Some Examples of Used Items I've Purchased

I think the best way I can illustrate some of the thought that goes into purchasing used items is to show you some examples of used items I've purchased since emerging from bankruptcy. I apologize for poor quality of most of the photos. Most of them were taken with cell phone cameras, and the quality is not very good.


My $10.00 Propane Grill

Used Grill Purchased for ten dollars, after a paint job

As I mentioned above, there came a time when I decided that I needed a larger barbecue grill than the one I had, so I could cook for friends and family who came over. But it wasn't an emergency sort of thing, so I had the luxury of time.

I also knew that there are people who are fanatics about grilling, and who replace perfectly-good grills with new ones every several years. There also are people who have no idea how simple it is to replace a regulator or clean a burner, and who discard grills that need only these basic maintenance items done to them. Consequently, there's always a steady stream of used grills available.

I decided that I was willing to pay up to $75.00 for a grill that had at least three burners and was in working order. If it wasn't in working order, I would pay $75.00 minus the cost of that parts I would need to restore it to working order. As turned out, I got a grill that was in perfectly good working order for $10.00. It had a new regulator and clean burners. It also had the side burner to keep the sauerkraut hot, so it had four burners in all.

Why so cheap? Two reasons. Firstly, the base was all rusty. But some time with a heavy-duty scrubbing pad and a can of rust-inhibiting spray paint solved that problem. Secondly, the warmer shelf was missing; but I didn't really care about anyway -- especially for ten bucks. So I paid the man his money, loaded the grill into the back of my Sportage (also purchased used), and took it home. A few days and a can of paint later, I had a very nice-looking grill that worked perfectly. I think I got a good deal.

Needing something means that your life or health depends on having that thing. Food, water, shelter, medicine, and the means to get these things (such as tools needed to ply one's trade) are examples of needs.

Wants, on the other hand, are things that we like to have, but really could live without. We might not like living without them, but we could do it if we had to. They're nice things. Things that we like. Things we enjoy. But we wouldn't die without them.

Take cable television, for example. Unless you're in the television business, you don't really need cable TV. You can stick an antenna on the roof and get high-definition television for free. The antenna may not pull in all the channels you want; but again, wanting is not the same as needing.


My $30.00 Lawnmower

Used Lawnmower Purchased for Thirty Dollars

I have an old-fashioned, reel-type mower. But there are some areas of my property where I have mainly weeds, and reel mowers don't cut weeds. They only cut grass. So I decided I needed a power mower.

I decided that I was willing to pay up to $50.00 for a used power push mower in reasonably good condition, or $100.00 for a used self-propelled, walk-behind mower in reasonably good condition. I also was willing to absorb the cost of parts that need frequent replacement, anyway, such as the air filter, spark plug, and so forth; but the engine had to be basically sound.

After waiting several weeks for the right deal to come along, I found a beauty on Craig's List. It was an old Murray with the 6 HP Briggs and Stratton Quantum engine, which is an engine that I like. It's a real workhorse of a power plant.

The ad said that the mower started, but would stall frequently; which told me that it likely had a fuel system problem. Fuel system problems on lawnmowers are simple to fix if you know how, which I do; so at $30.00, it looked like a good deal to me. When I checked it out, I could tell immediately that as I suspected, the machine wanted to run, but wasn't getting enough fuel.

Done deal. I bought the mower, brought it home, replaced the air filter and the spark plug, and took the fuel system apart and cleaned it. I must have missed something the first time, though, so I wound up having to pull the carb and clean it a second time, since which time it has run like a top, always starting on the first pull. I also invested in a new muffler, blade, and self-propel belt, all purchased online at very good prices.

Long story short, after investing about fifty bucks in parts and a few hours of my own labor, I got a very powerful, self-propelled mower than runs great for a total cost of less than a hundred bucks. A comparable new mower would run more than $300.00, easy.


My $50.00 Bedroom Set

Used Mattress, Boxspring, Headboard, and Frame, Assembled, Purchased for Fifty Dollars

I live out in the boondocks, and when I have guests over, they usually stay overnight or for a few days. For about six months, I was looking for a bed to put in the guest room so that guests wouldn't have to sleep on the futon. As it happens, I found one for $50.00 that was in such good shape that I took it for myself, and put my own bed into the guest room instead.

This was what I call a serendipitous find. I was on my way back from my credit union, and I passed by a barn sale. The bed caught my eye right away. After thoroughly inspecting it for bed bugs and the like, I decided that I was prepared to pay up to $125.00 for it.

Truth be told, it probably was worth more because it included the mattress, box-spring, frame, and headboard -- all in very good condition. But what I had with me was $125.00, so that's what I was willing to pay.

Imagine my surprise and delight when the gentleman running the barn sale told me I could have it for only fifty bucks. "Sold!" I said, and the gentleman and I proceeded to tie the mattress and box-spring to the top of my car. The rest I threw in the back, and I went my merry way.

I stopped at the hardware store for a can of bed bug spray on the way home -- just in case, you know -- and then let the bed air out for a few hours. Add in the cost for the bug spray, and I had a very nice bed for less than sixty bucks. It probably would have cost me in the neighborhood of $400.00 to $500.00 to buy it new.


My $15.00 Chest of Drawers

Chest of Drawers Purchased Used for Fifteen Dollars

This one I just bought today. What happened was that I had a car problem last night, and had the car towed to the mechanic who'd just fixed that problem. He's a good guy, and he fixed it for me for free the second time, which is only right after all.

On the way home from the mechanic's shop, I passed a yard sale. I'd been meaning to pick up a chest of drawers or dresser for the guest room, but it wasn't anything I needed right away. It's not the end of the world if my guests have to live out of their suitcases for a couple of days; and if any of them were to really have a problem with that, well, there's a hotel a couple of miles down the road.

Still, I did have it in the back of mind to buy a dresser or a chest of drawers if I came across one in decent condition for $25.00 or less. And the the lady running the yard sale had the one in the picture for sale, tagged at $20.00. I looked at it and noticed that there were some earwigs that had crawled into the chest from the lawn, so the lady took five bucks off, and offered it to me for $15.00.

Sold! About a dollar's worth of bug spray and a couple of hours in the sun later, the guest room had a perfectly serviceable, if not exactly beautiful, chest of drawers.


Making a Sport of Buying Used Stuff

One more thing I want to mention is intended for others who, like myself, used to live high on the hog, and who find it humiliating to shop around for used items.

I've owned my own business for years, and there were a few of those years when business was very, very good. And then the recession hit, and it hit my clients hard. Needless to say, it hid my business hard, too; and that's when I went bankrupt.

Having lived the good life for years, being reduced to scrounging for deals was tough to do. I was always the kind of guy who just bought whatever I wanted -- nothing but the best, of course -- without worrying too much about the prices. I had the money and I'd worked hard for it, so why not enjoy it?

After my business tanked, my "significant other" departed soon after. Funny how these things happen. The term "gold-digger" comes to mind, but I digress. In any case, I pulled up roots and moved to the country. I'd never cared for the city anyway, and once the old lady and I split up, there was no reason for me to stay there.

Of course, moving to a new place means furnishing it, and furnishing a place means spending money. But these were not the old days. These were the post-bankruptcy, every-dollar-counts days; so I had to furnish the place on the cheap. And yes, at first it was humiliating.

But you know, after a while, I started to enjoy keeping track of how much money I'd saved, and texting pictures of the items to my friends, who now consider me the ultimate used-product shopper. Actually, they consider me a tightwad, but no matter. When I get a good deal, I feel like a baseball pitcher who just pitched a shutout. And when I get a truly great deal, it feels like just pitched a perfect game.

So my suggestion is this: When shopping for used items, first make note of what something would have cost if you'd purchased it new, and congratulate yourself on saving the difference when you make the purchase. Then keep a running tally of your savings. After a while, you'll be amazed at how much money you'll have saved!


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