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The Secondhand Goods Guide for Families

Thrift, consignment, used - no matter what you call it, there's a world of secondhand goods out there that can save your family money. Get tips on how to find the best clothes, furniture, sports equipment, and even secondhand instruments.

secondhand clothing store; consignment shop; used clothes

I've been a thrift diva since childhood. Sniffing out a bargain brings me a thrill, so I've never shied away from buying other people's cast-offs. Not so with many of my peers. In recent years, however, the stigma of buying used has faded thanks to sites like eBay and Craigslist. Economic necessity and the green movement may give thrift a chance to become trendy. Want to get in on the savings? Check out these possibilities before you pay full price:

Sporting Goods

With kids' sizes and interests changing often, it makes sense to spend less by getting used equipment. Communities have long been holding athletic equipment resales, and you can usually find outgrown gear at garage or sidewalk sales. But if you need a sports-related item right away, used sporting goods retailers, like Play It Again Sports, have new and used stock available yearround.

Watch for: Look for defects that would affect the function of the item. On leather goods (cleats, mitts, skates) make sure the seams are intact. Inspect for cracks in wood items and watch for extensive rust on metal parts. On fabric gear, such as kneepads or lacrosse pads, check that elastic and Velcro parts still hold, and beware of odors. James McDonald, owner of the Oceanside Play It Again Sports store, also emphasizes the importance of fit. "Many parents, faced with the purchase of a sized item, seem certain that the very next day their child will grow. So they will push to purchase items that are too large, and consequently, more difficult for the player to manage."

Better off new: Personal items like mouth guards and jock shorts. Ski goggles, which usually only last a season or two before getting too scratched to see through. Lacrosse sticks, because, as McDonald points out, "in some instances it's less expensive to buy an introductory lacrosse stick than to purchased a used one. This is because the range in stick prices is great - and many used sticks are only appropriate for skilled players and will cost as much or more than a new introductory stick."

yard sale; garage saleClothing

As toddlers, your kids may have been fine with hand-me-downs, but most grade-schoolers like to make their own choices. You can still save on clothes by shopping at secondhand stores and clothing resale events. Linda Smith, a mother of two fashion-conscious girls, appreciates the value of getting name-brand clothes at bargain prices through buying at resale shops. One benefit Smith notes is that "they're already shrunk. The clothes' size and shape isn't going to change." Her advice on shopping for secondhand apparel is: "Be patient. You've got to dig to find what your kids will like. They are going to try on a lot and just get one or two things."

Watch for: Worn spots on elbows and knees, broken zippers, and fatigued elastic.

Better off new: Athletic shoes for daily use, where quality affects physical comfort, and underwear (for obvious reasons).


One category where buying used costs less - but also nets potentially better quality - is furniture. Fun, unusual, and well-built desks, bunk beds, and bookcases don't have to cost a fortune. Check out neighborhood yard sale listings and estate sales to find that piece you're looking for.

Watch for: Signs of mold or deeper-than-surface water damage on wood, and upholstered pieces with funky smells.

Better off new: Cribs, due to safety standards, and mattresses, particularly with the rise in bedbug infestations.


Particularly when your child is just starting out learning an instrument, it's a good idea not to give in and buy them a new instrument. In many cases, you can rent either through your child's school or a local music shop. But once your child has decided to stick with an instrument, you can save up to 30 or 40 percent by buying used. The key is buying a quality instrument. As Carla Ulbrich, a New Jersey musician and former music store staffer, points out, "You can find cheaply-made instruments that don't play in tune. Then your kid will think they have no talent. This can be very frustrating."

Watch for: Brand names. Certain makers are known for their level of quality. Find out for your child's particular instrument which these are, and shop accordingly (for example: Bundy for clarinets, Bach for trumpets, Ludwig for drums). Make sure all moving parts work smoothly, pads aren't worn down, and any corks are in good condition. Remember that dents are generally cosmetic. It also helps to have a music shop inspect the instrument and advise you of any work needed before buying from a third party (Ulbrich also strongly advises against purchasing an instrument through eBay or Craigslist or any other method where you're buying sight-unseen from an unvetted seller).

Better off new: Instruments beyond student level.

Also see: How to Open Up Financial Communication in Your Family

How to Prepare Financially for Another Child

How to Not Raise Material Girls (and Boys)

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