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Buy second-hand but get the best

There are some items that you have to buy new, like safety equipment, but for pretty much everything else it makes sense to consider buying second hand.

Think about it: Baby equipment, furniture, books, gardening tools. If you can find this kind of stuff in great condition, does it matter if someone else has used it first? When money is tight, of course it doesn’t.

Second-hand clothes

Do you find the idea of someone else’s trousers a bit unpleasant? I will admit that I had a bit of an aversion to buying second-hand clothing, until I hit the charity shops for this article.

The most important thing, whether you’re buying online or rummaging through car-boot sales and second-hand shops, is to give yourself plenty of time. Websites and charity rails aren’t neatly organised like regular shops, so it takes time and patience to find bargains.

[Related feature: Charity shops - false economy or bargain buys]

Second-hand electrical items

Buying used electrical gear can be risky business so you need to take your time and thoroughly research your purchase. Make sure you know what you want before you start looking for a second-hand model.

You can buy nearly new electronics for a second-hand price by looking for refurbished products. These have been returned to the manufacturer with a fault, fixed and then sold again - sometimes even with a warranty. You can also buy reconditioned items, like laptops, which are second-hand but have been fixed up.

Be very wary of buying electronics when you can’t test them, at a car-boot sale for example. This is definitely an area where it’s safer to buy from a company than an individual, especially if you can then get a warranty with the item.

If you’re buying on eBay or any auction site, then only purchase from top-rated sellers and read the description carefully, so there are no nasty surprises.

Money-saving mum

Surveys suggest many mothers spend thousands of pounds on their babies before they even arrive, so I spoke to north-west mum Emma, 28, who was determined to keep the cost down.

She kitted out the nursery, including curtains, mobile and cot bumper entirely second hand, relying on Preloved, eBay and charity shops, as well as car-boot and nearly-new sales. Thanks to this, she was able to provide far more for her daughter and stay out of the red: “I’ve been able to give Sophia much more in the way of toys and clothes this way. I would never have afforded to buy all the things she has new.”

Emma’s top buys include 15 items of top label clothing for just £1, £40-worth of Happyland toys for £4 and a £30 activity table for £5.

Her advice for shoppers? “When you are thinking of buying anything, check out eBay and Preloved first, it's more than likely someone is selling what you want for a fraction of the price… I would also say try not to be snobby; babies and children don't care when things are second hand and if it means you can give them more it's got to be a good thing in their eyes!”

[Related feature: You’re wasting money on your kids]

Second-hand cars

Buying a used car is undeniably riskier than purchasing a new vehicle and it’s even riskier if you buy one from a private seller.

Make sure you get an HPI check on the car; this will show whether it has any outstanding finance agreements (which could result in it being seized), whether it’s reported stolen, if it’s ever been declared a write-off and whether the mileage has been fraudulently changed.

Ask to view the vehicle at the house it’s registered to as thieves are more likely to suggest roadside viewings. Always inspect the car in full daylight and not at dusk, when the poor light can disguise blemishes.

If you’re spending a lot of money on a car, it’s worth getting a mechanic to survey it. This can flag up problems you might otherwise miss, which is especially important if you’re buying from an individual.

Don’t be fobbed off by a trader saying it’s ‘sold as seen’. There’s a good guide to your rights over at Which?

[Related link: Search for a second hand car]

Second-hand books

Books cost a lot of money, especially for struggling students who need to buy piles of expensive textbooks.

So, while buying second-hand is cheaper, students should look for ways to keep the cost down even more. Borrowing the books from the uni or college library is one way to save money, but if there are none left then perhaps you could rent them instead.

Acadreamia is the major text book rental website and some retailers will rent out books. For example, Blackwell’s says that customers can save up to 66% by renting – which you can do for up to three months.

Of course, you won’t then have the books to sell again afterwards, but you could save some upfront cash.

But if you’re going to buy your books second-hand, then check they are the most up-to-date versions. If they aren’t, you need to know that they’re still suitable for your course.

When shopping on sites like Amazon, accepting a less-than-perfect copy can help keep the cost down. Just make sure the postage doesn’t bump the price up; sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a new copy that includes free postage in the price.

Second-hand furniture

Having wasted a great deal of money buying cheap, new furniture that only lasts a couple of years, I’m now a complete convert to auctions.

Most towns will have an auction house, where you can inspect and bid on good, solid, second-hand furniture. As long as you have a strict budget and only bid on furniture that you actually need, this can save you a great deal of cash.

Again, you need to have patience enough to wait for the right pieces of furniture. The pressure and excitement of an auction can make it all too easy to overspend.

It’s also worth browsing second-hand furniture shops. Many charities use these to raise funds, so it’s a great way to support a good cause and buy high quality furniture.

[Related feature: 7 things you should never buy new]

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