Inside: Use these helpful tips for buying secondhand to make smart purchases that will save you money. And make sure to avoid buying these five items used.

Love buying stuff secondhand?

I don’t blame you.

Shopping for gently used items instead of brand-new ones is a great way to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle, save money, and stock up on unique or vintage finds that you simply can’t buy elsewhere anymore. 

But there’s a fine balance when it comes to buying secondhand. There are some things that are great to buy used – and others that you’ll be better off buying new. 

Not sure what those are?

Keep reading for my tips on shopping for secondhand stuff – and my recommendations for things you should avoid buying used.

tips for buying secondhand

Five Tips For Buying Secondhand

When you’re trying to make do and avoid buying new, getting items secondhand is a great option. You can save money by buying higher-quality pieces at a fraction of the cost.

But before you head to the local thrift shop or start searching Facebook marketplace, keep these helpful tips for buying secondhand in mind to avoid purchasing regret.

1. Get specific in terms of what you’re looking for.

While the occasional treasure hunt at your favorite thrift shop isn’t a bad thing, it’s usually a smart idea to clearly identify what you’re looking for before shopping for secondhand stuff.

Shopping for clothes? Figure out what you really need – a new pair of boots, or a few tank tops to get you through the summer – to shop intentionally and avoid buying unnecessary stuff.

After all, you’re bound to find some great deals – which can make impulse buying a big temptation. 

Need something bigger, like a piece of furniture? Figure out what you need before you go looking for it.

Take measurements to figure out what will fit into your space. Think about how many drawers or shelves you’ll need it to have, or whether or not a fabric sofa would actually work with your aesthetic or lifestyle.

2. Look for quality construction.

When shopping secondhand, you’re going to come across all kinds of things – from high-quality goods to not-so-great stuff.

By doing some research and knowing which brands are reputable, you can save yourself a lot of headaches – and unnecessary expenses – and ensure you’re investing in pieces that will last.

When it comes to apparel, it’s a good idea to prioritize tried-and-true brands known for their durability and quality – instead of fast fashion that someone’s trying to resell.

Kitchen gear? The same applies – stick to well-known brands like Pyrex, Kitchenaid, Breville, and Oneida. 

Looking for furniture? Pay attention to the details of how the piece was constructed and what it’s made of.

Not sure what brands are quality? Sit down and do a little research. There’s all kinds of information online that can help you discern between a brand that’s here to last and one that’s a passing trend with no longevity.

3. Test it out before you buy.

When in doubt, test it out! 

I mean – even if you aren’t in doubt about an item’s quality or condition, it’s still a good idea. After all, you want to make sure whatever you’re buying actually works.

Buying a car secondhand? You’ll definitely want to take it on a test drive – and have a reputable mechanic give it a quick inspection – before committing to your purchase. 

And if you’re buying used electronics or appliances, make sure they work before you pay for them. Plug them in and turn them on to confirm everything is in good working order.

If the seller seems hesitant to let you do that? That’s a huge red flag, and a sign that you may want to reconsider that particular purchase. 

tips for buying secondhand

4. Have an open mind.

While it’s important to know what you’re looking for, you can’t be too picky when shopping secondhand unless you’re truly not in a rush to make your purchase. Otherwise, unless you get lucky, some degree of compromise will likely be necessary to get what you need.

Found the perfect piece of furniture – but it’s looking a little rough around the edges? Consider rolling up your sleeves and repainting or restaining it, or what it might look like if you swapped out the drawer pulls for something that matches your desired aesthetic. 

However, it is important to realize that will not only take time but additional supplies if you don’t already have them on hand. Make sure you factor those costs in as you decide whether or not you want to take that project on.

When it comes to clothes, you might find the perfect dress – only to notice it has a seam that’s come loose. If you know how to sew it may still work for you though if you’re willing to take the time to fix it.

Shoes can be resoled, pants can be hemmed – and you still might be getting a great deal, even after that added effort or expense. 

But also be realistic and be careful of clutter.

One word of caution with keeping an open mind is also to be realistic. If you’re being honest with yourself will you actually take the time to alter or fix the item you’re considering?

Do you have the necessary skills and materials to make it happen? If you don’t, no problem.

Don’t buy project pieces just because they’re cheap and you can imagine what a great thing it could be if you had the time and skill to alter it. If you won’t do the work, that good deal just becomes clutter in your garage.

woman typing on computer

5. Do a little research.

One of the most important tips for buying secondhand is to do a little research before buying. If you’re considering any baby items or gear, make sure to look for recalls or any potential safety issues before purchasing.

If you buy a secondhand bicycle for you or your child, take it to a local bike shop for a safety check before you ride it.

Also, consider what types of items can be fully cleaned and what can’t. You don’t want to get stuck with an item that smells weird that you can’t get the scent out of.

A final area of research is pricing. Just because an item is in a secondhand store does not mean it is a deal. In fact, I’ve seen low-quality used items priced for more than what you’d pay for them new.

In some cases, you can try to negotiate the amount with the seller. If they’re firm on their price move along and wait until you find that item at a price that you’d feel good about.

Purchasing Used Items: 5 Things You Shouldn’t Buy Used

There are some things out there that you should definitely buy secondhand when given the chance. But that isn’t a universal rule.

There are some things that you’ll be better off buying brand new, including…

tips for buying secondhand

1. Car seats. 

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t compromise on, it’s your health and well-being – and the health and well-being of your family. Because of this, anything that’s designed to keep you safe should be purchased new – not used. 

Car seats are a perfect example of something you should never buy used. They’re deemed unsafe the moment they’ve been in an accident, which can compromise their integrity. Even a fender bender is enough to put you at risk for future use.

But you can’t always tell where a car seat has been, or whether it’s been in any kind of accident when buying one secondhand. That’s why it’s safest to avoid the situation entirely by buying new. 

2. Helmets.

Similar to car seats, helmets are another item you should only buy new – for the same reason. The moment a helmet hits the ground with any force, it’s lost some of its protective capabilities.

Whether you’re in the market for a bicycle helmet or a motorcycle helmet, it’s best to make the investment and buy them new so you can fully trust this potentially life-saving product. 


3. Mattresses.

In the market for a new mattress? They can be expensive. And while it might be tempting to explore the used market to save a few bucks, it’s rarely a good idea.

Used mattresses can harbor mold and bacteria. They can serve as a home for bedbugs – which you most definitely do not want to introduce into your home.

Depending on how much they’ve been used, they can be worn in such a way that causes you actual injury when you sleep. And since you never really have a way of knowing where they came from or what conditions they were used under, it’s best to avoid used mattresses altogether and save up for something new. 

My family has some personal experience with this one. Years ago my sister bought a used mattress and she will confirm that this is not an item to buy used. After bringing that mattress home she realized it smelled of smoke and fast food so it ended up in the dump and she was out the money she’d spent.

tips for buying secondhand

4. Makeup.

This one might be a no-brainer, but it’s never a good idea to buy used makeup or skincare products. There’s a risk for contamination and infection, and you can’t always ensure the product you’re buying isn’t expired – or wasn’t made with questionable ingredients.

When it comes to makeup, buying new is always best. 

5. Anything else with an ick factor.

Other items not to buy used? Anything else that gives you the ick factor. This includes underwear, swimwear, or any other articles of clothing that would simply feel more hygienic to purchase new.

While some items can be cleaned fully once you bring them home, others cannot. Or the cleaning process itself can be challenging and unpleasant enough that it may not be worth the money you saved.

I experienced this when buying a used deep carpet cleaner. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me when I got a great deal on it that it would have remnants left in it from its previous owners.

I spent a long time and had a lot of grossed-out moments cleaning their pet hair out of the cleaner before using it in our home. In the end, it definitely was not worth the money saved and I should have just waited for a sale.

Some items are great to get secondhand, but make sure to fully think through the purchase first rather than just snatching up what appears to be a good deal.

What are your favorite tips for buying secondhand – and what do you refuse to buy used? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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  1. Picture frames that reflect your personal style / size requirements / intended use can be exhausting if you try to buy retail. THEY set the style, not you, and the available selection is not all that diverse . Thrifts & yard sales can be a treasure trove of much cheaper frames and you might be less hesitant to distress, repaint, or otherwise modify at a cheaper price. If you know friends/family well, frames also open up an avenue for gift giving that can speak to their personal style. Lamps can also be an excellent personal-style find but take care to not fall onto a lamp needs shade/shade wants lamp merry-go-round [I went on that ride for close to a decade always looking for one or the other to match up] and don’t let iffy wiring/plugs be off-putting IF you or someone you know is savvy on rewiring; it’s not that complicated and supplies are easily found new at hardware stores at a cheap price. And yes, a HUGE “yuck” on any beauty- personal products. In addition to mattresses, pillows, and often hats have a special ‘yuck’ factor and I’d take a “pass” on ANYTHING fabric based not easily laundered. And while often a ratty strap can be replaced if it hooks on/off, be absolute sure to check purse/tote/bag LININGS for tears, stains, and smells.

  2. I like to buy secondhand clothing but I learned one thing. I am 67 and I don’t want to look like I do not realise it is 2023. So I make an effort not to look outdated and go for the classic stuff or timesless pieces. Mix it with clothes that are more up-to-date!

  3. As a mom, buying gently used baby clothes has been important! When my baby grows out of that size (as they’ve been doing every few months) it’s a lot more sustainable to buy used and pass on to the next parent when we are done with them.

  4. Phones, I’ve had phones that got damaged and quoting the repairs were not worth it. I end up giving them to people that are willing to fix it for themselves. I once bought a phone with many problems. With My Dad, We had to become a nuisance to get it exchanged.

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