12 Things You Should Always Buy Used

used cars used trucks

A used car lot | SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

How far would you go to save a buck? While extreme cheapskates will go to great lengths to save money, most people agree that there are just some things you should never buy used. Secondhand baby furniture, tires, and used bicycle helmets may be cheap, but there’s also a good chance they’re not safe. Castoff mattresses and worn-in shoes may be uncomfortable and crawling with germs. Old DVD players and toasters may not work.

Turning up your nose at used mattresses or dated appliances is understandable, but an aversion to all things used could be costing you a lot of money. Budget-savvy shoppers know that sometimes buying used is the best way to score a deal. Provided that you are an educated consumer who can tell trash from treasure, settling for secondhand can be a great way to get higher-quality items for a great price. Plus, you’re doing your part for the environment by giving items a second life.

Many shoppers are realizing how much they can save when they buy used. The resale industry generates $17 billion in revenue annually, according to NARTS: The Association of Resale Professionals. Overall, between 16% and 18% of Americans will shop in the thrift store at some point during the year, just below the 21% who will shop at department stores. And gone are the days when bargain hunters were forced to hunt through crowded, disorganized racks of clothes or search for decent items on cluttered shelves. Many of the nation’s 25,000 charity and consignment shops are virtually indistinguishable from stores selling new items, according to NARTS. Plus, sites like eBay, Craiglist, and Etsy make it easy to track down used and vintage items from the comfort of your own home.

If you’re new to thrift store bargain hunting, it helps to know what items to throw in your cart and which to leave on store shelves. Here are 12 items that are worth it to buy used.

1. Tools

shopping for tools

A man shops for tools at a a Home Depot store | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

High-quality tools are designed to last a long time, which means you can score a great deal by buying used, if you know what you’re looking for. Steer clear of low-end store brands, advises the DIY Network, and instead focus your search on higher-end products designed to stand the test of time. When buying hand tools, look for signs of rust or other damage, but don’t be put off by a little dirt. If you’re in the market for used power tools or larger equipment, be sure to test before you buy, says Popular Mechanics, and always inspect power cords and moving parts.

2. Pets

kitten

A kitten | MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

More than 7.6 million animals end up in shelters every year, according the ASPCA, and of those 41% of cats and 31% of dogs are eventually euthanized. If you’re ready to add a pet to your family, adopting an animal from a shelter rather than buying one from a pet store or unscrupulous breeder not only saves an animal’s life, but it is typically more affordable.

3. Fitness equipment

close up of a a runner on a treadmill

Running on a treadmill | iStock.com

One person’s failed New Year’s resolution is your gain. Rather than shelling out big bucks for shiny new fitness equipment, look around for gently used items. Chains like 2nd Wind Exercise Equipment and Play It Again Sports sell used items like treadmills or weights, or you can check Craigslist or eBay. Before you buy, test the equipment and check carefully for damage or missing parts.

4. Cars

sign board saying 'used cars'

Sign advertising used cars | iStock.com

From a purely financial perspective, buying a used car usually makes more sense than buying new. The sticker price is lower, you’ll probably have to finance less of the purchase, and depreciation is not as much of a concern, since the biggest drop in a vehicle’s value happens in the first year after you buy it, according to Car & Driver. You won’t get that new car smell, but for people who are more concerned with function than fashion, there are plenty of safe and affordable used vehicles out there.

5. Musical instruments

man playing guitar

Man playing guitar | Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

If you have a sudden urge to take up the guitar or your kid has discovered a new passion for the drums, you don’t have to drop a lot of money on a new instrument. A reputable dealer should be able to steer you to the best quality used instrument in your price range. You can also shop around on Craigslist, eBay, and at pawn shops, but unless you really know how to evaluate an instrument, you may end up spending more than the item is really worth.

6. Engagement rings

engagement ring

A woman shows off her diamond engagement ring | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but they’re not exactly friendly to your wallet, especially since expensive engagement rings generally don’t hold their value. If the budget is a concern, you can score an equally impressive rock by purchasing a preowned ring. Many jewelers sell used jewelry, and there’s a vibrant online market as well at sites like I Do Now I Don’t. Estate jewelry is a good option for those with a more vintage aesthetic, and heirloom jewelry can have sentimental value. If you’re superstitious about a used ring’s past, consider placing a stone from an old ring in a new setting.

7. Bicycles

cyclists

Cyclists on a city street | JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re a serious cyclist, buying a brand-new, custom bike may make sense. But everyone else can save big by shopping used. Some shops will sell used bikes that have been repaired and inspected. If you’re buying from a private seller, make sure you know how to inspect the bike for damage, such as big dents in the frame, says Bicycling magazine.

8. Books

strand books

Strand Bookstore in New York City | Rob Kim/Getty Images

There’s an argument to be made for buying new books – after all, your favorite writers won’t keep churning out bestsellers if they’re not getting paid. But if you’re an avid reader on a budget, it might be time to redirect your dollars to your local used bookstore. Popular classics and last year’s bestsellers can usually be had for half-off the cover price, if not less. On Amazon Marketplace, you can buy thousands of books for as little as a penny, plus shipping. Library sales and thrift stores are other good sources of used books, and the money you spend usually goes to a good cause.

9. Office furniture

chair in empty office

Office chair | iStock.com/gabyjalbert

So this is the year you’re finally going to start your own business. As an entrepreneur, money will be tight, but you can save on start-up costs by furnishing your office with gently used desks, chairs, and file cabinets. “Office furniture is generally really sturdy and there’s no need to buy it new,” financial literacy expert Danny Kofke told Organic Life. Check out the stock at office furniture liquidators and resellers, or scour the ads on your local Craigslist to find businesses looking to unload their desks and cubicles.

10. Designer clothing

fashion show

Models at a fashion show | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Fashion addicts don’t have to spend thousands of dollars for a stylish wardrobe. You can add designer pieces to your closet for a fraction of the retail price when you buy used. While buying used clothing in general is a great way to save money, higher-end items can be especially good buys, since you may be able to get a steep discount on a well-made, gently used piece that will last for years. If you switched to buying all your clothes used, you could save 61% off your yearly clothing budget, according to estimates from clothing resale site ThredUp.

11. Timeshares

waikiki beach

A view of Honolulu’s Waikiki beach and nearby hotels | PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

Timeshares are a notorious money sink. Though they can be a good fit for some people, these vacation rentals also tend not to hold their value and can be difficult to unload if you decide you no longer want to spend two weeks every year in Florida or Hawaii. For that reason, if you are interested in a timeshare, it’s probably worth scouting the used market rather than getting stuck listening to a corny sales pitch in exchange for a free lunch. “Used” timeshares may sell at 30% off of their original price, according to Consumer Reports, though you need to do your research to make sure you’re not buying a property with liens against it or other problems.

12. Houses

home for sale

A “sale pending” sign in front of a house | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Forty-one percent of Americans favor newly built homes over existing ones, a survey by Trulia found, but only if the costs were the same for each. In reality, new homes typically cost 20% more than older houses of the same size and in the same zip code, which means that if you’re looking to save on your home (at least up front), it’s better to buy used.

The choice between new construction and an existing home isn’t black and white when it comes to costs, though. Newer homes tend to have lower maintenance costs and may be more energy efficient, saving you money on heating and cooling. An existing home may be more centrally located to transit and jobs, so you’ll spend less on commuting. When it comes to maintenance, scheduling a thorough inspection before you buy means you’re less likely to face a surprise roof replacement or furnace disaster just after you move in.

Follow Megan on Facebook and Twitter

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet: