J.D. is on vacation. This is a guest post from The Thrifty Homeowner.
There are a couple of things in life that I think I do well: saving money and decreasing my household's waste. Obtaining a great value or helping out the environment are both excellent things to do separately, but I often try to combine them for maximum benefit.
Used or new?
Before I make almost any purchase, I first consider options other than just going to a store and buying it new. I begin by asking myself a couple of simple questions:
- Is it worth my time to search for a not-new item? (For me, the answer is usually “yes” when the item in question costs more than a few dollars and the situation is not an emergency.)
- Are there compelling reasons that I should purchase the item new? (This one depends on a number of factors, including your preferences, ability to fix things, quality you are looking for, etc.)
If the answers to these questions are “yes” and “no”, respectively, then I begin my search, which basically assumes the following:
- Buying used is almost always cheaper.
- Renting is cheaper in the short-term, and possibly in the long-term.
- Borrowing or accepting for free is certainly cheaper than either of the above.
- Reducing waste by taking something off someone's hands that might otherwise end up in a landfill is a good thing.
The next question I ask myself is, “Do I need to own this item?” Of course, you'll want to own your kitchen cabinets, but do you really need to own that table saw that you might use once and then never touch again?
I weigh my options carefully here, because I've burned myself in the past by purchasing something that I could have rented or found a workaround for. (Yep, I used that table saw once and never touched it again.)
This process might seem a little time-consuming, but after using it for a while, it becomes second-nature. For instance, if I see a book I'd like to read or a movie I'd like to see, my first instinct isn't to purchase it, but to see if my local library has it in stock. I've trained myself in this manner for a number of products, so I no longer have to think very much about if I should buy something that is new.
Alternatives to buying new
Here are some resources I use for finding alternatives to buying new:
- Local rental centers. Home improvement stores will rent tools, catering places will rent extra chairs for parties, etc.
- Craigslist can be somewhat onerous to navigate, but here you can find people willing to barter, sell, or give you the stuff you want.
- eBay is perhaps the web's most convenient place to buy used items.
- Go to Freecycle to find your town's group and see if what you're looking for is about to become someone else's trash.
- Libraries and community centers. Of course, you can borrow from a library, but many I've seen also have “bookswap” areas.
- Your workplace. Where I work, we have a table where we drop off small items we no longer want, such as books, food, etc. Larger unwanted items are documented on a sheet of paper for people to peruse. (If you're more high-tech, an intranet would be great for this.)
All of the above, with the exception of rental centers, also work the opposite way: when you no longer need an item that you own, you can sell or offer it free to someone else. I also have used the following to offer up my goods:
- Gazelle, which will purchase nearly all of your electronic items.
- Various charities. Who I give to depends on the item. I give old clothes to the local SPCA's thrift shop, books to the library, etc.
On a couple of occasions, I've used these services to give items to people that are so grateful to have them, it really gave me happiness. That's just another added bonus of learning to extend the usefulness of an item.