Secondhand or Brand New: Is that Fortnum & Mason’s or Fleamarket?

(edited: I updated the title just a few minutes ago: Fortnum & Mason’s is a well know and classy department store in London.)

An article at Mighty Bargain Hunter got me started on this train of thought! If you wish to read that article, it’s called What the heck’s wrong with a pre-viewed DVD? This touched off my ideas about other things that I had bought secondhand over the years! And I was quite surprised by the list of items that I had bought!

Do you ever buy second hand items? In our throw away societies, buying second hand always has the taint of not being able to afford things, or making do, or even poverty! But it needn’t. There are many items that bought second hand actually represent a much better, more environmentally safe, and financially more prudent investment. In this post, I’ll write a little about the things that I bought second hand that were good, as well as those that wasted my money! I didn’t intend on most occasions to buy these products 2nd hand, but I just found myself with an opportunity.

1. 2nd Hand Books. I have bought quite a bit over the years. When I lived in the UK, I would buy a lot of great second hand books: for example, Jane Austen new editions in Penguin Classics would cost GBP3 or 4, but I picked up a used hard back copy from about 50 years ago, price GBP1. And it was much better quality. I still have it and it still looks good, but the paperbacks now look brown and wrinkled. In some cases, they have a slightly bad smell… Also, in many cases, you can no longer buy new editions of many books. Verdict: definitely worth it.

2. Computers. Over the years, I have accumulated a number of older computers for different purposes. The first one was a waste of money, really. It was installed with Chinese Windows 98SE, and then upgraded to ME. Both of these OSes ran so slowly in 32MB that it just wasn’t worth using. It’s now sitting gathering dust.

The second one faired better, but also died sooner because of the air from nearby hot springs in Beitou. The air rotted the metals in the motherboard… The third and fourth have been much better. But I’m not looking for a lot of use out of them. Just a stop gap of about 12 ~ 15 months. If they last longer than that, I’ll be happy.

A last experience I had was surveying a rather cheap notebook pc that had been advertized. I was interested but when I got to the house, I found that the machine wasn’t in good condition (see mobile goods), wasn’t very portable any more (needed a new battery), and was somewhat overpriced for its condition. I naturally offered less and met seller resistance. I would have raised my offer, but the seller didn’t want to, so I baulked and walked. Many second hand pcs are priced at double or more their actual value, as sellers forget to factor in the rapid devaluation of computers due to their ever-increasing power. I estimated that at about 30-50% – but its rare to find a seller willing to sell last year’s pc at that kind of discount. Verdict: probably not worth it.

3. Software. A few years ago, Ebay permitted the sale of ‘second-owned’ or second hand software. My luck with this was very much mixed. I bought one or two programs that were advertised as complete and with licensing numbers and whatnot. But when they came, the products didn’t work. On the other hand, I did get a great deal on a Win98SE license and an Office 97 package. I also found other ‘as new’ software that worked without a hitch and just wasn’t available to me at the time in any other way; but it seems that nowadays, much of this software is legally considered graymarket. Verdict: not worth it: go with opensource software instead.

4. Clothes. My wife was quite thrilled to pick up a pair of silver women’s high-heeled sandals that she loved for about GBP2.00 last summer! She’d never seen anything like them before or since! And she loved the price. She still wears them, too! I also found a great tweed jacket that I got drycleaned and wore a lot! Don’t know quite what happened to it, though. Verdict: if you see something you REALLY like, get it!

5. PDAs and other mobile goods. My wonderful PDA from Palm broke down one summer about five years ago! I replaced it eventually with two second hand PDAs. Neither of them worked well past the first bootup for quite different reasons: the first didn’t connect to my PC via any connection that I could find, and the second had a broken USB in common with many others from PALM. I don’t remember the model numbers, but this was just before Palm’s stock and business started declining. Eventually, though, I realized that handheld items like cameras, PDAs, and phones, etc. will never make good secondhand purchases. Even if you get a model that is fairly well made, and reliable, you can never know how many times it’s been dropped or treated badly. You will likely spend much more money than purchasing a new one to get it repaired, too. Verdict: definitely not worth it, buy a new one.

I’m not immune to purchasing other second hand items, though. But the deal has to be an obvious one, and I have to have a clear idea about the state of what I’m buying and its relative value!

What experiences have you had buying second hand items? Let’s hear your suggetions!

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