The Joys of Secondhand Buying
previous next


“The Joys of Secondhand Buying,” New Era, Sept. 1973, 26

The Joys of Secondhand Buying

How else are you going to get a hot dog warmer for 75¢ or a bowling ball for $9.00? There’s just no other way. So if your funds don’t meet your needs, and your needs won’t meet you halfway, it’s time for you to discover the joys of secondhand buying. If you do, you’ll lose some of the pure joy of possessing shiny new items, but you’ll gain the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of tracking down record-book bargains in places your friends may not even know about.

Where do you start hunting? It depends on what you’re hunting for. If it’s a watch or a rifle or a set of golf clubs or any other luxury item, you may first wish to visit a few pawn shops. You can buy most merchandise at a pawn shop for about half to two-thirds of its new value; that’s because it came to the proprietor as security on loans of about one-third the original value. You’ll even occasionally find something you want for a third or less of its value.

But before you begin shopping, read these suggestions:

1. As far as possible become an expert on the thing you’re shopping for. Know which brands are the best and what various new models cost because some things will simply be priced too high. Realize that the pawn shop owner isn’t an expert on everything he sells and that he may not know the real value or condition of all items, so rely on your own judgment rather than his. Be able to recognize damaged merchandise, because there will usually be no formal guarantee.

2. Try a little friendly bargaining. Some shops will come down from the listed price.

3. Whenever possible try things out right in the store before buying them. Plug in the television set or radio; look through the binoculars; take along a tape to play in the tape recorder; put a sheet of paper in the typewriter and try out all the keys.

4. Make arrangements before buying to exchange a purchase if it is unsatisfactory. Few shops will refund your money, but many will be happy to exchange.

5. Consider the kind of neighborhood the shop is in. What sort of people would come there for loans; what quality goods would they own; what kind of care would they have given the pawned object?

A person who watches the pawn shops carefully can occasionally make a truly amazing buy. For example, a man in Las Vegas put $375 on the counter and walked out with a camera worth $429, an electronic flash unit, an 80–250 millimeter zoom lens, a fish-eye lens, a pistol grip, a waistlevel viewfinder, a skylight filter, a polarizing filter, a telextender, a set of extension tubes, and a leather camera equipment case, all in perfect condition and all for a savings of about five hundred dollars. In another pawn shop a complete set of $450 golf clubs (irons and woods) in excellent condition, plus an expensive bag and deluxe cart, sell for $125.

If you are getting engaged but can’t afford a ring right now, the pawn shop may be the answer. Diamond rings are among the most-often pawned items and are frequently sold at very attractive prices. If you don’t like the idea of giving your girl someone else’s ring, many shops have jewelers who make new settings for the diamonds. Be sure, however, that you know something about diamonds before buying one at a pawn shop.

If you live in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, or California, Deseret Industries retail outlets provide a unique thrift store. In many such stores merchandise is put on the shelves in about the same condition in which it is received, but the workers at D.I. carefully repair all items. Furniture is refinished and recovered, and electrical appliances can be counted on to actually work. As a result you can buy with greater confidence, but prices, especially on furniture, are higher as a result of the extra effort.

Deseret Industries does provide its share of exceptional savings, however. A New Era staff member bought a full-length muskrat coat there for just over seven dollars.

If you need a toaster, a shoe tree, a mattress, a shirt, mop stick, pocketknife, ice skates, or almost anything else, you should visit a thrift store such as Deseret Industries. These stores take in donated merchandise, sell it at a very low price, and use the proceeds for charitable work. Since their inventories all come by donation, they may turn up with absolutely anything from very expensive to very cheap merchandise. As a rule, however, their sporting goods, televisions, radios, and other luxury items are less expensive than but usually inferior to those sold in pawn shops. On the other hand, when they do get something very good, it usually sells for about the same price as inferior items and so may offer an unmatched value.

Clothing is usually the best bargain at a thrift store. For example, you can usually buy a suit or overcoat for about five dollars. Men’s shirts and pants and women’s dresses usually sell for less than two dollars. From a jogging top with hood and hand pouch (about a quarter) to irrigation boots (about a dollar), there isn’t much in the way of clothes that you can’t find there.

Thrift store clothing varies widely in quality, and much of it is out of style, but some of it is surprisingly good. For example, one store offers an almost new and very stylish suit for $8.75.

Some thrift stores are good sources of appliances. Small appliances such as toasters, egg beaters, blenders, irons, electric fry pans, and corn poppers usually sell for under five dollars. Refrigerators, ranges, washing machines, and water heaters are usually under fifty dollars. Be careful with the larger appliances, however, because you sometimes get what you pay for.

If you’re batching at school and want to fill your kitchen cupboards inexpensively, almost all thrift stores will offer you plates and glasses for a dime each, cups and saucers for a nickel, dish-drying racks for about a quarter, pans for a dollar, and a pressure cooker for about five dollars.

If you need furniture to fill some bare spaces, don’t overlook secondhand furniture stores. They often sell old-fashioned tables, chairs, secretaries, buffets, and dressers of the same styles sold in high-priced furniture stores, but for a lot less. In fact, the name brands often nick, scrape, or burn their new furniture to make it look antique. Why not pay less and get something that is genuinely nicked, scraped, and burned? With a refinishing kit and a little work, you’ve got an expensive piece of furniture—cheap. Secondhand furniture stores also sell used major appliances and innumerable other articles such as bed frames, snow shovels, and step ladders. (At one store you can become the owner of a six-foot step ladder for $3.50.) Deseret Industries also has very fine, refinished, secondhand furniture.

You must be sure, however, to distinguish between secondhand furniture stores and antique shops. They may often sell practically the same items, but the antique shop will usually charge a lot more for them. As a rule, if you’re trying to save money, shun the word antique.

If you love to read, if your mouth waters and your wallet itches whenever you come too close to a bookstore, and if mere visits to the library don’t satisfy your yearning, you need to get acquainted with your friendly neighborhood secondhand bookstore. Most books sell for about half price, and you can also usually trade books there. Many regular bookstores also sell secondhand books as do some thrift stores. Other good sources of secondhand books are the Deseret Industries outlets.

Police departments periodically auction off all recovered stolen goods that remain unclaimed. There are usually a lot of bicycles and some television sets, radios, lawn mowers, tires, tools, and whatever else is stolen and then recovered in your community. The price you can get depends on who is bidding against you, of course, but prices usually run below those of other secondhand sources. Be sure to arrive on time to determine what the going prices are, and don’t get carried away by the spirit of bidding, because no one will try to stop you from paying too much. There is always the chance at such an auction that you will get an extremely valuable item almost for free, so make it a point to be there.

The lost and found departments of most universities hold periodic sales to dispose of unclaimed items, and they sometimes offer some tremendous bargains, especially on such often-lost items as umbrellas, tennis shoes, coats, and sweaters. Usually only students are eligible to buy.

Don’t overlook the rummage sales and white elephant sales held by various clubs. You’ll sometimes strike gold there.

But you are by no means limited to the commercial and official sources mentioned so far. You can also buy from other people like yourself who just happen to have something they don’t need. This is often the most economical source of secondhand goods since you can pay someone more than a secondhand store would give him but less than you would pay the store for it. You’ll find such items advertised in the classified ads and in advertising sheets.

And while you’re reading them, look for notices of garage sales. As the name implies, these are held by people who have a garage, attic, or even house full of things they don’t want. There’s almost always some furniture, probably some appliances, often some sports equipment, and anything else from toy trucks to a stuffed gazelle. You’ll often get things for less than at secondhand furniture stores, and a lot less than at the antique shop. Here, even more than in the pawn shop, don’t be afraid to haggle.

And that brings us to trading, the most ancient and direct form of commerce. If you’re good at it, it can be like snapping your fingers and turning something you don’t need into something you do need, and both parties save because there’s no middleman to take his cut. You can check the classifieds and advertising sheets for potential trading partners, and if that doesn’t get results, you can drop in on a “swap meet.”

Swap meets are simply gatherings of people who get together to swap. They’re held anywhere where there’s room, often in drive-in movie lots. There’s usually a small admission fee, but once inside you will find folks with everything from tiddledywinks to steam shovels, all eager to trade them.

Trading is not only profitable; it’s fun and challenging too. Remember the parable of the talents? Some expert traders can start out with a rusty pocketknife, and, by a long and adroit series of trades, end up with a dump truck, without any hard feelings anywhere along the line. A word of warning, however—if you’re a beginner, you’d better begin with the rusty pocketknife instead of the dump truck, because the process can also be reversed.

These are some places to look, but the hunt is up to you. There will be a lot of snooping and poking and searching along the way; you’ll come to be a great detective before you’re even a fair secondhand buyer. You’ll have to make some tough decisions too, such as, do I really want somebody else’s orange polka-dot T-shirt for only ten cents?

Even if you are twelve years old and don’t have to make any major purchases yourself, you can make secondhand buying pay off in a big way. The next time the family is thinking of buying a lawnmower, a desk, lamp, or anything else, you can stand up and say, “Hold it! Have you checked the underground?” Then take them on a tour of the local D.I. outlet, pawn shops, thrift stores, used furniture stores, police auctions, and garage sales. Initiate them into a whole new world. You may save the family a lot of money over the years. If they don’t want to go, go out on your own, find some irresistible bargains, and come back armed with dollars and cents arguments. If economy is a factor in your home, as it is in most, they will probably go have a look.

But whatever you do in this wide new world, remember this—your purpose isn’t to sacrifice quality for economy; it’s to get quality at a better price. That’s the joy of secondhand buying.

Illustrated by Julie Fuhriman