8 Things to Buy Secondhand, and When to Buy New

Babies r us
Babies r us

We all know used cars are almost always a better value than buying new. But cars aren't the only thing where it pays to shop secondhand. Here are eight areas where you can save big by buying used, as well as specific times when it's best to stick to brand new goods.

Babies 'R' Pricey

Expecting a baby? Resist the urge to stock the nursery with all new gear. Craigslist, consignment stores, and local moms groups (many areas have online listservs for parents) are great sources for changing tables, high chairs, strollers, clothing, toys, and more. Because babies only use these items for a short time, you can almost always find lightly used gear for far less than new.

When to buy new: For safety reasons, car seats and cribs are two items you'll want to buy new to make sure they conform to the most current standards.

Good Wood

It's not just furnishing a nursery that gets expensive. Skip the stores and hit Craigslist, thrift shops, or Habitat ReStore locations for high-quality used pieces at Ikea prices. An added benefit: Your home will have much more character than if you'd just purchased a matching set. Before you set out to shop, make a list of what you're looking for and get a sense of the value of various pieces. Finally, get comfortable with negotiating. A polite tone and reasonable offer will go a long way toward getting the price you want.

When to buy new: With bedbugs seemingly swarming some areas of the country, it's safer to buy mattresses and upholstered furniture new.

Play It Again, Sam

Musical instruments are popular impulse buys. Well-meaning parents and grandparents purchase them hoping for a miniature Mozart; middle-aged men buy them to indulge rock star fantasies. But what happens when Junior gives up on the violin after two lessons or his dad realizes that he's not the next Bono? Those instruments become bargains. Music stores often resell used instruments, and again, Craigslist is a great source as well, but you will want to have the instrument checked out first -- it can be quite expensive to repair a broken one.

When to buy new: Buy new if you don't have access to a quality music shop -- as mentioned above, repairs can be costly -- or if you need a specialty item not readily available secondhand.

Recycled Cycles

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Unless you're an aspiring Lance Armstrong, there's probably a used bicycle out there that will fit your needs as well as anything you could buy new. Picking up used bikes for kids is a no-brainer; they grow so fast that it's not worth investing in new ones every year or two. Add a pretty basket or a shiny horn, and they won't even notice the bike's not new. Adult cyclists can also find lightly used bargains; bike shops sometimes sell them, or scout garage sales and Craigslist.

When to buy new: Serious riders who are going to use the wheels for commuting or racing, for example, should go ahead and invest in a new bike. If you have any problems, many shops offer free repairs on bikes that they sold.

The Sporting Second Life

Like musical instruments, sports equipment bargains abound, thanks to well-meaning gift-buyers, overly ambitious amateurs, and wannabe pros trading up to better gear. Use that to your advantage to snag deals on golf clubs, skis and snowboards, tennis racquets, and gym equipment. (My local Craigslist currently has 144 listings for treadmills!) Specialty shops sometimes sell used gear, but thrift shops, garage sales, and our old friend Craigslist are also excellent sources.

When to buy new: As with music, once you've moved past the beginner stage, go ahead and invest in new equipment that fits your skill level.

Bargain Bookworm

Sink your teeth into megabest-seller Twilight for just $0.99, rock out to Coldplay's smash hit Viva La Vida for $2.99, or laugh along with an entire season of The Office for $5. Once you get hooked on the savings at sites like eBay's (EBAY) Half.com and Amazon's (AMZN) Marketplace, you'll never look anywhere else for books, movies, video games, or CDs. Garage sales, used bookstores, and libraries are excellent offline options.

When to buy new: Unless you simply can't wait to get your hands on the latest release, or you're a collector who prefers items in mint condition -- never!

Frugal Frocks

As much fun as it is to shop for fancy dresses, those gorgeous getups will probably only get worn for a few hours. By the time the next black-tie event rolls around, you'll have your eye on something new. But since other people do the same thing, formalwear is a perfect secondhand purchase for anyone in the family. You'll score a nearly new gown, flower girl frock, or tiny tux for a small fraction of what it cost new. Consignment shops and thrift stores are your best bets.

When to buy new: Shop retail to please the bride or if you're a hard-to-find size, but don't forget that a good tailor can work wonders if the dress is within two sizes of what you need.

Secondhand Stones

Diamonds and other precious gems lose value the day they leave the jewelry store. Get more carats for your cash by buying secondhand. Many jewelers sell rings and other baubles on consignment; you won't get rock-bottom prices, but you'll know the piece has been appraised. (When buying diamonds, always ask to see the GSA certificate.) Craigslist is another option, but insist on meeting the seller at a jeweler of your choosing to have the stone evaluated before any money changes hands. An unusual, but reputable option? A site like IDoNowIDont.com, which specializes in diamonds from divorces and broken engagements. Sure, it may feel strange to benefit from another's bad fortune, but think of it as giving the diamond a second chance at happiness.

When to buy new: If you can't verify the item before buying or your beloved doesn't share your frugal values, then you might consider buying new. She'll just have to settle for a smaller stone.

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Motley Fool writer Robyn Gearey specializes in thrifty home decorating and is a frequent visitor to the local consignment shops. She doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com and eBay.