Makin' Money

Buy used: save bucks, live better

Chris Farrell Sep 23, 2011

Our guest blogger this week is J.D.Roth and his topic is buying used. He’s the founder of the personal finance blog, GetRichSlowly.

His money advice is sensible and his approach relies on keeping personal finance simple. That way there’s time to enjoy other, far more valuable experiences. (He recently recorded a commentary for Marketplace Money, How’s your personal economy doing?)

J.D. Roth: Buying a used car can provide substantial long-term savings for many people. But did you know there’s a growing number of folks who try to buy everything used? Or if not everything, then at least as much as possible.

Take Katy Wolk-Stanley, for instance, who bills herself as The Non-Consumer Advocate. Wolk-Stanley takes her motto from a Depression-era saying: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” On her blog, she’s posted a list of the things she lets herself by new–which basically boils down to underwear and perishables.

I had a chance to meet Wolk-Stanley recently, and she proudly gave me a tour of her home, pointing out the used furniture she’s acquired and telling me the story behind each piece. Her dining room chairs, for instance, are from a 1920s Carnegie library, solid oak, and a very classic “craftsman” style.

“I had gone for a walk in my neighborhood and spied a big pile of unwanted Stuff on someone’s porch,” Wolk-Stanley said. “That included a grouping of antique chairs. I knocked on the door and asked if they’d sell them to me, which the owner was all too pleased to do. I bought eleven chairs for a grand total of $75. They look perfect in my 1914 Portland bungalow!”

Or there’s Ryan Finlay, who scours Craigslist for good deals. “When I started buying on Craigslist, I had to get past the stigma of buying things used,” Finlay says. “Friends would laugh when they learned that I’d purchased certain items secondhand instead of new. I have much more confidence now, having become very skilled at finding good deals. I usually buy things on average for 10% of the new price.”

Finlay saves big bucks by buying used furniture, appliances, and technology. But more than that, he’s discovered he can make a living buying and selling used stuff on Craigslist. You can read about Finlay’s adventures at

Even I get in on the act in my own way. My last car was a used Mini Cooper which may be the best car I’ve ever owned.

My next car will also be a used Mini Cooper. And while much of what I buy is new, my wife and I have discovered the frugal siren call of gently-used goods. Much of my wardrobe was built from thrift stores or the used gear sales at REI. I buy used books. I buy used tools. I buy refurbished computers.

But maybe the King of Used is my neighbor across the street. John (as we’ll call him) is a retired shop teacher, whom I’ve dubbed the real millionaire next door. Through a passionate devotion to thrift (and some savvy investing), John managed to build wealth on a modest income.

After living next door to him for seven years, I’ve come to appreciate his frugal habits: He re-uses kitchen bags, is parsimonious with paper towels, and cuts up old garden hoses for other purposes. Maybe that sounds like a miserable life, but these thrifty habits haven’t cut into his quality of life. Instead, they allow John to spend our winters in New Zealand and our summers on his boat in Alaska.

Buying used isn’t just for weirdos or the working poor. Buying used is for anyone who’d rather pinch pennies on keeping up appearances so they can spend the big bucks on things that matter more.

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