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Buying used vs. buying new: Part 1

This post is the first in a series exploring the benefits and drawbacks of buying used vs buying new.

  • Article
  • Money management

Tue Jun 27, 2023 by Momentum Staff

It can be hard to resist the urge to buy something new. “New” feels fresh and can make you feel like you’re getting the very best product possible. Many new purchases also come with warranties or options to return or exchange the product, which offers peace of mind. But as we’ll discuss in this series of posts, “new” doesn’t always mean great quality, and it can often contribute to consumer cycles that are harmful to the environment. In this series of posts, we’re going to explore the pros and cons of buying used vs buying new.

Not everyone views “used” the same way.

Some people make a habit out of visiting estate sales, garage sales, and auctions to find unique, good quality items for their homes and businesses. Some people prefer shopping for second-hand clothes because they enjoy exploring fashion and style in a more affordable or sustainable way. Some people enjoy building collections based in design movements of the past, and some people have lifelong hobbies finding valuable objects among underappreciated clutter. For some, “thrifting” is a passion.

But in some communities, buying second-hand can also come with the stigma of lower economic status, whereas “newness” can signal success and prosperity. These social expectations can cause unnecessary financial strain. The sooner you can learn to ignore them and choose your purchases based on your own individual style and values, the faster you’ll feel those pressures ease.

Strong arguments can be made for lessening our environmental impact by buying used or second-hand items, and many gently used items are so close to new condition, the savings are easily justified. But some used items also come with higher risk than others, and knowing how to navigate the world of second-hand consumerism can feel daunting to some. There are benefits of buying used, and benefits of buying new. Let’s explore.

Benefits of buying used or second-hand:

  • Save money.

    This is probably the most common reason people choose to purchase used items. It’s impossible to deny that used items are cheaper, often over 50% less than comparable new items.

  • Lower environmental impact.

    When an item is created new, it takes energy, resources, and labour – not just to create the product itself, but for the packaging, distribution, and marketing of the product. When you buy used, the use of those resources is conserved rather than repeated, closing a small but significant loop on resource-and-waste-heavy production cycles.

  • In many cases, used items are actually higher quality.

    Many second-hand, thrifted, or vintage items have already stood the test of time – they still look and feel great, despite being worn, washed, or used in the household. And some used items are actually new! Impulse shoppers often donate their purchases when returns or refunds aren’t an option, and many people donate items in great condition when moving, downsizing, or just cleaning out their closets. So use someone else’s shopping habits to your advantage! It’s a happy ending for those good-quality items that just didn’t suit their previous owner.

    Fast fashion and mass-produced items are created using the cheapest materials the manufacturers can source, often using the cheapest labour they can get away with. A new, inexpensive clothing item might look good when worn once or twice, but after regular use, it quickly falls apart or becomes distorted, sometimes after just one wash.

    Likewise, an inexpensive, new household item might perform well for the first few weeks, but after heavier use, it’s more likely to break or fall apart. You might be able to replace it with another similar product, but the short life cycle of cheap products only creates more waste, and having to continually replace items is frustrating.

  • The thrill of the hunt!

    For some, nothing beats the thrill of finding a high quality, unique item that suits their taste perfectly, at a bargain price. One discovery on a thrift shelf can inspire a whole adventure in style, interior design, garden design, or even a new hobby.

    It helps to go in with some idea of what you’re looking for, ie: “red kitchenware”, “accent lamp shades”, “solid-wood side table”, “casual sweaters”, etc. Keep a running wish list of the things you hope to find, and keep your mind open to new discoveries.

    Finding unique items can also enrich your home with great conversation starters. As you begin searching for and collecting specific items, you also start to gather stories about where they came from, which can spark conversations around culture, history, or even just the story of how you found it! Your home becomes complimented by your unique style and lovely little stories, rather than cold trends.

  • It can inspire new skills.

    “This would be perfect with a bit of paint,” might be the prompt that leads to an entire hobby in refinishing furniture, or even a side business!

    “I bet I could patch that,” might lead down a rabbit hole of Youtube tutorials on sewing and mending methods – before you know it you could be creating your own fashion line.

    “These plates are beautiful, but slightly chipped…”, there are so many crafty projects that use broken glass and ceramics to create incredible mosaics. Before you know it, you’ve got the most spectacular patio tabletop on the block!

Is buying used always the best option?

There are plenty of benefits to buying second-hand items. But is it better to purchase everything in used condition? Not necessarily. For bigger purchases, some peace of mind is important, which comes in the form of a warranty, quality guarantee, or the ability to return/exchange the product.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll explore which purchases take more consideration when it comes to buying new vs buying used.

In the meantime, brushing up on your money management skills is a great way to build smarter shopping habits. Sign up for any of Momentum’s Money Management workshops, and be entered into a draw for a $200 grocery gift card!