You had your best-laid plans and then COVID-19 came along and hammered the entire economy. But you’ve got this – if you have the right information. Join Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw on Stress Test, a podcast guiding you through one of the biggest challenges your finances will ever face.
ROB: It’s easy to buy things these days. A couple of clicks and you get new clothes or appliances or furniture delivered right to your doorstep. It’s a fast way to fill up your home and empty your bank account.
ROMA: But there’s another way to shop. One that’s kinder to the environment and your household budget.
ROB: Welcome to Stress Test, a personal finance podcast for millennials and Gen Z. I’m Rob Carrick, a personal finance columnist at the Globe and Mail.
ROMA: And I’m Roma Luciw to, personal finance editor at the Globe.
ROB: The obvious personal finance advice is to keep your shopping to a minimum and avoid impulse purchases. But when you need something, buying used is a great way to save a pile of cash and keep perfectly good items out of landfills. We know buying used isn’t a new phenomenon for people with low incomes. It’s often the only choice. Still, it’s gaining more traction as the cost of living ticks up. Roma, What’s the last thing you bought? Used.
ROMA: The last thing I bought used were skates for my 12-year-old. That was back in the fall. My neighborhood has an incredibly active set of buy-and-sell groups online where you can find just about anything. There are a lot of parents there since there’s so much stuff that kids will use for three, four, or six months, and then they outgrow it. But they’re also really active for clothing, shoes, you know, mostly for women and also household goods. This takes me back to the biggest item that I think we’ve bought used, which is our kitchen table, and we shopped for that for a while. We considered buying a new kitchen table. We couldn’t find one that we liked. Then we considered getting one made, and we were hunting around Kijiji, and we found a beautiful refurbished table. It’s teak. The big selling point for us was that it had an extension in the middle, so it really would fit into our kitchen, and we bought it used not because we were trying to buy used, but because we found something that we loved and we got this amazing deal on it. So I think that’s what people are looking for, something that they really love and value. I do know that there are some data points that we have about why people are buying used. You wanted to talk us through those, Rob.
ROB: So there’s been some surveys on buying used, and one of them says that about two-thirds of millennials and Gen Z look for second-hand items. It’s really taking hold among younger people, and I think pure affordability is the answer. Everything is so expensive right now. Housing is, transportation is, food is. And if you can buy used, you can save big time.
ROMA: Our first guest bought a second-hand wedding dress, even though she’s not engaged yet. We’ll hear from her after the break.
AMY: My name is Amy. I’m 26, and I live in Ottawa. I’ve been buying things used for a few years. I started around the time that I was finishing up university, starting to make more purchases for my home, and starting to invest in selling real furniture, not just creatively engineered milk crates. And then I started looking at places like Gigi and Facebook Marketplace and Poshmark because even going to bargain places like Walmart or Target, the quality that you could get wasn’t as high as things that you’d be able to purchase secondhand from people.
ROMA: Amy is a social media coordinator for a construction company to make extra cash. She sells her items online and in physical consignment stores around town.
AMY: Yeah, so I saw some of my own things, and I’ve become pretty good at it to the point where if my friends or family are selling things, they’ll ask me to make a listing for them. So I’ve sold some of my mom’s things. And earlier this year, I sold my boyfriend’s aquarium. We got 50 bucks for it.
ROMA: Her favorite find? A wedding dress.
AMY: Which I know is crazy because I’m not engaged and have no need for a wedding dress. However, I do want to get married one day, and I have a partner, and we talked about our lives living together and marriage. And so I have reason to believe that at some point. I’ll need one. But I was just. I was thinking about it, you know, because they cost thousands of dollars, and it’s something you were once. So I found a few that I liked and then just kind of watched. What happened over the next few months? Did they drop in price? Do they get sold? And the one that I ended up eventually buying was originally sold in stores for over 50 $700. The seller was originally trying to get $175 for it, but no one ended up buying it. And so, over the course of a few months, she dropped the price a couple of times. The first time she dropped it to $125, which I thought was pretty good. That’s when I really started paying attention. And then, one day, I got this notification, and my phone prices dropped by 50%. It’s now $64. And I looked at it, and I thought, This is crazy cool. Who would make this purchase at the same time? I figured if I didn’t, someone else is going to buy it today, and then I’ll be kicking myself. So I’m like, All right, what if I really got to lose a fortune, and I have pocket money? I could spend 64 bucks. And, you know, if it never happens to me that I’ll be Dracula’s bride on Halloween, it’ll be a great costume. Done. So I own that now.
ROMA: The dress had no flaws. Amy dug around a bit to figure out how she got such a good deal and found out she was the fourth owner of the dress.
AMY: So what I discovered was that the first owner, the original owner, bought it in-store and paid full price. She wore it to her wedding for one day and sold it online to someone else, who sold it online to someone else, who sold it to me. But the second and third women never. And I’m wearing it because they bought it during COVID. So I went back and found the second owner. I don’t know what she paid for it, but she sold it for $125. This is the third owner. So she didn’t take too much of a loss when she she sold it to me.
ROMA: A wedding dress is just one item on Aimee’s greatest finds list. She got a patio set for $700, an eight-foot-long sofa for $175, dining room chairs for $50, and a leather armchair for 150. Over the years, she’s learned to negotiate.
AMY: I’ve become more comfortable with haggling over time, especially as I’ve seen what people try to ask me for because I don’t, by nature, want to rip other people off. What I’ve learned over the years is a good benchmark across the board. To ask for a discount price off of the listed price is 20% off max. Right. And depending what the item is and if it’s in perfect condition, maybe just ask for 10% off, maybe 15% off, but almost never more than 20%. You know, they want to feel like they made a good sale and that they got just about as good of a deal as you did.
ROMA: And she’s learned how to spot red flags if a listing only has stock photos or contains errors; she’s out. She also said that most items are pickup only, so you have to be prepared to drive. As far as tips go. She’s got a few.
AMY: So if you are going to someone else’s place, I’d always recommend that you let someone know where they’re going, the address, what time you’re going, and that you arrange beforehand with the seller whether you’re going to be bringing in cash or doing a transfer. Get that in writing. Oftentimes, if it’s a smaller item like a phone, I’ve done this a few times. If I’m on Facebook Marketplace, I find an item of clothing that I like. I’ll suggest that I meet up with the seller at a mall or a coffee shop or somewhere that’s sort of halfway between the two of us and usually just bring cash in that case. But just that, it’s a bit of a safer public place.
ROMA: Our next guest, Andrea, has a 15-month-old daughter. Like many first-time parents, she was surprised at just how expensive new baby gear can be. So she decided to buy used as much as possible.
ANDREA: Some of the items that I thought were the most surprising. One of the ones that stuck out for me was the glider for like a reading chair or something like that. Like the glider rocking chair. They’re like thousands of dollars. So we went with the less expensive option. But looking around, that was one of the ones that was a little bit shocking. And for baby carriers, I was surprised to see that they go into like a few hundred dollars as well. What we wanted to get second hand was, I guess you would call them, the jumpers, the activity center jumpers, although my daughter seemed to love it and used it for longer than I thought. We found a really good used one on Facebook Marketplace. We have an activity table that she used actually at my parent’s house, so we were kind of looking into more secondhand items for other people’s houses as well.
ROMA: She saved hundreds of dollars buying used. She got a baby Bumbo seat for free on a local “buy nothing group” and spent $50 on a brand name carrier that retails for $129, $80 for a lounger that sells for $180. She also got a hand-me-down swing.
ANDREA: It wasn’t something that I ever thought that we would buy at full price. Those can get really expensive. Your baby either likes it or they don’t. They might spend 5 minutes in it. Some babies might spend hours in it. But that was something that I wasn’t willing to spend $300 or $400 for a baby swing.
ROMA: She doesn’t like negotiating for baby gear, and often doesn’t need to.
ANDREA: The parent community is very strong and willing to pass on things to the next parents and understand the cost of raising a child in this day and age. So lots of you know, whether it be strangers on Facebook or just family, friends and. But were parents very generous with their gifts?
ROMA: Andrea and her husband hope to have another child. So they’re not selling their gear quite yet. In the meantime, she’s lending it to a friend instead of letting it sit around. After the break, we’ll speak with a woman whose sisters call her the queen of Kijiji.
ROB: Every episode of Stress Test typically features real people and experts in a particular field, and Bernadette is as close to an expert on buying used as we could find.
BERNADETTE: So my sisters call me the Queen of Kijiji because I have been buying and selling and giving things away on Kijiji for about the last 12 years. I have a rental property in Toronto that I have furnished mostly in Kijiji. The other place I like to go is the Habitat for Humanity Restore, and I’ve helped other people also furnish places using used furniture for many years and also to get rid of things that are still great but don’t have a place in your home anymore. I would say that the primary reason is economic. I like to get things for free or cheap. The secondary reason would be that these things are still good. They are in fabulous shape most of the time. Just people have outgrown them, or they have no purpose in their homes. I hate seeing things go into the landfill that shouldn’t be there.
ROB: She started to take buying used really seriously about five years ago.
BERNADETTE: So my New Year’s resolution, I would say probably five years ago, was to buy nothing new in January. And then I just expanded it. Then it was January and February. How long could I go without buying anything new? Obviously, you need toilet paper, and you need, you know, I needed new tires for my car. Those, well, even those I could have got on Kijiji, but no, I bought brand new tires, and then I just turned it into all year. Like, if I can find something on Kijiji or Mac Sold or. Oh, yeah, Facebook Marketplace. I mean, that’s great, and also that’s local too. So when it comes to buying stuff, if I need anything, I look there first, and then if I can’t find it used, I’ll go now, and often I’ll find stuff that is brand new on Kijiji that somebody bought, tried, and didn’t like. I bought a pair of Blundstones, and the woman I bought them from; had put them on, hated the way they felt under the arches of her foot, and sold them so they’d been worn once, and I got them for half price.
ROB: Bernadette is in her late fifties and splits her time between Toronto and Saskatoon. She has a property in nearby Allen, Saskatchewan, where she’s made some of her biggest secondhand purchases.
BERNADETTE: One of the most interesting purchases I made on Kijiji was an Eaton’s catalog house in, I think it’s between 1900 and about 1925. There were probably eight or nine catalog companies that were selling houses. They would literally this long before IKEA, but they would literally ship you everything you needed to build a house, from the nails to the doors to the shingles to everything by rail. And this was especially used in the rural areas of Canada, in the U.S. There are still hundreds of thousands of houses around that were catalog houses. So I was looking for one something interesting to move onto a piece of land that I have in the small town of Allen. And I found an Eaton’s catalog house from 1917. This house is two and a half stories. It is, I believe, about 2400 square feet on two floors plus the attic, and it was listed for $5,000.
ROB: The caveat is that she has to move the house. She plans to do that this fall. She’ll also have to do some basic construction to get the house up and running.
BERNADETTE: So I’ll have to dig a basement. I’ll have to do all the plumbing and electrical and whatever goes on below the surface. But yeah, but I’ll have four, $5,000 plus the cost of moving it and the cost of building the basement. Probably $100,000. I’ll have a 1917 house, two and a half stories in fabulous shape. And I’ve saved something else from going in the garbage.
ROB: Bernadette also bought used construction materials to renovate her home in the country.
BERNADETTE: We found some structural deficiencies and needed some extra structural what to buy sixes. But they had to be at least 13 feet long. So I went on Kijiji, and I found a fellow who was selling used wood from a grain elevator. So these grain elevators were made in the thirties, forties, fifties, whatever, with two by sixes, 15 or 16 feet long stacked on the flat. So they stacked them up almost 50 feet high. So he took these apart and brought me about 50 of them so that I could sister all the joists the two by sixes, and they were like a quarter of the price of what I would have paid in Home Depot. And, they were superior wood. They were Douglas fir from trees that I’m sure you could never take down now because it would be illegal because they were huge. They were old growth. But these things have already been taken. Yeah. That’s the beauty of what I’m buying used. They were taken down a long time ago. So either they go in the garbage, or I reuse them on a project.
ROB: She uses common marketplaces like Facebook and Kijiji. She also uses a website that auctions off estates when seniors downsize, and their kids don’t want their stuff. She sees haggling as part of the game.
BERNADETTE: In terms of haggling, I like to think of that scene in Monty Python where the person says, I’ll give you $5. No, no, no, you must haggle. You say I’ll give you a dollar, and I say, I want ten, and then you haggle, and then we’ll get to $5. That’s just part of the fun. I think haggling is when people get mean, then you just walk away. But if they’re really, really interested in the game of haggling, go for it.
ROB: Bernadette has very few things she insists on buying new.
BERNADETTE: What would I not buy used? I will. Okay. Like underwear, and yeah, no, I’ve bought sheets. I bought pillowcases. You run them through the laundry on hot water, and they’re good. I mean, if you sleep in a hotel, you’re, you’re sleeping on used sheets too. So with this.
ROMA: We know that most people will always need to buy some stuff now, but hopefully, this episode has opened your eyes to how useful and fun second-hand shopping can be. These stories also prove you can save thousands of dollars if you take a little extra time to buy used. Rob, what are the takeaways?
ROB: 1) Need to make a big purchase? Whatever it is, check out the user market to see how much money you could save. 2) Know your prices. Strong demand for used goods can sometimes mean there’s not a huge saving over buying new. 3) Negotiate. It’s okay to try and haggle over price, especially when buying through online marketplaces.
ROMA: Thank you for listening to Stress Test. This show was produced by Kyle Fulton and Emily Jackson. Our executive producer is Kiran Rana. Thank you to Amy, Andrea, and Bernadette for joining us.
ROB: You can find Stress Test wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like this episode, please give us a five-star rating and share it with your friends.
ROMA: On the next episode of Stress Test. We talk about climate anxiety. For some millennials and Gen Z worries about the health of the planet impacts where they live, what they invest in, and how they shape their long-term financial plans.
ROB: Until then, find us at the Globe and Mail dot com. Thanks for listening.