We all need stuff, from cars to laptops to clothes. That doesn't mean you have to walk into a store and plunk down money for brand new items each time. Just as the new car you drive off the lot immediately loses half its value — congratulations on the new used car you just purchased — there are plenty of things you can buy secondhand or refurbished.
Consider rentals for rarely used items. You're unlikely to purchase 80 chairs and a tent for that backyard wedding. How often would you actually use a punch bowl?
Here are five categories of stuff you should definitely not buy new. The money you save can be a much-needed infusion to your emergency fund or a boost to an investment account.
New cars are for people who are either really rich or who shrug at the cost and feel it's worth it. For most people, the savings realized from buying pre-owned (if that sounds nicer to you than "used") is so substantial as to overcome any hesitation.
One strategy: Look at cars that are nearly new, with a late model year and low mileage.
"Purchasing a car that's a few years old and loaded with features can potentially cost less than buying a newer vehicle that only comes with basic features," said Darren Newberry, senior vice president, store operations at CarMax, the used car retailer. Do your research, narrow the choices and make sure the car is thoroughly inspected.
"Avoid vehicles with frame damage, flood damage or salvage history," Newberry said.
What's the most common thing you hear about babies? They grow up so fast.
It makes sense not to spend a bundle on things they're going to use for a short time.
Save money by renting, borrowing or buying secondhand occasional-use baby gear, says Fran Maier, CEO and founder of BabyQuip, a baby gear rental service. An expensive baby jogging stroller can run more than $300. You might need a baby backpack for just one annual family event. Renting, on the other hand, could cost about $10 to $15 a day.
Parents sometimes rent pricier gear for a few days before deciding to buy, Maier says.
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If you buy used equipment, including toys, always check it against a product recall list. The website SafeKids.org has a list of recalls by month. Sign up for recall alerts at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Make sure a secondhand car seat has never been in an accident, Maier says.
It's not just equipment, but everyday clothes and toys can burn up a budget. "My kids are hard on their toys and pieces are invariably broken or lost," said experienced mom and financial independence podcaster Wendy Juvenal Mays.
"In my opinion, buying toys new is like throwing cash in a fire," she said.
To cut down on frustration, she buys secondhand at flea markets and garage sales. "The kids simply don't care," she said. "It is new to them and they have just as much fun."
You can save hundreds of dollars when you buy refurbished electronics, and there's a lot to choose from.
"The list [of what's available] is getting longer," said Chris Raymond, deputy editor of electronics at Consumer Reports in Yonkers, New York.
"Be careful," he said. "Not every retailer defines refurbished in the same way."
According to Raymond, Apple and Samsung, for example, will do more than just clean a phone. They'll actually look at and replace many parts. "You end up with a new battery, new outer casing, new earphones and a new cord," he said. "If you buy from the right place, you wind up with a phone that looks brand new and operates like a brand new phone."
Pay attention to the warranty, because they vary. "Samsung and Apple give a one-year warranty," Raymond said. Other places may be only 90 days.
The big thing is great prices. A smartphone can run $300 to $500, about half the cost of a premium phone, according to Raymond.
A big event means putting on something you almost never wear and may not even own.
Men have rented formalwear for decades, but women now do, too.
Rent the Runway has brought the cost of a heart-stoppingly pricey dress down so it's comparable to a restaurant meal instead of your monthly rent. You can rent a Badgley Mischka evening dress (retail: $935) for $55 to $70, depending on the number of days.
The company started with dresses for special events and moved into workday clothing subscriptions.
Melanie Hamilton, 40, is sales leader for a large tech firm and a fan of the subscription service for her workday wardrobe, since it means not having to repeat outfits frequently.
"I literally buy [only] bags and shoes on my own," Hamilton said. She estimates her savings at around $1,000 a month since her position requires a polished wardrobe.
Other fashion retailers, including Ann Taylor, have also begun offering workwear subscriptions that can cut down the cost of buying new clothes.
Choosing a new hobby or sport is exciting. It can also be expensive.
It's not just skiing that's spend-y — the cost of outfitting a teen for hockey can bump up against $1,000.
Definitely rent, especially to start, or buy secondhand. One dad even started a lucrative business selling used hockey equipment.
Most people do not camp every day. Instead of jumping in and buying tents, stoves, backpacks, bear canisters and gear, try renting. REI, Eastern Mountain Sports and other sporting goods stores are glad to give you a taste of the equipment before you invest.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.