But doing so is worth a second thought — especially if you want to save. You'll find something for every budget, and the list of gently-used items available is virtually unlimited.
There are plenty of ways to find bargains on used items in your own neighborhood, including garage sales, thrift stores and pawn shops. You also can try the Web, visiting popular sites such as eBay, Craigslist.org and PropertyRoom.com.
To get a good sense of the kind of used-item bargains to be had, I checked in with the big daddies of thrift stores — the Salvation Army and Goodwill — that give a chunk of their proceeds to charitable causes. That means you can shop for gifts at the same time you make a donation. What better way to spread the holiday spirit?
If you haven't visited one of these stores in South Florida lately — or maybe ever — you might be surprised what kinds of great goods you may find. Respectable-quality items — such as jewelry, clothing and collectibles — can be had at rock-bottom prices.
Shopping for particular items really makes sense, such as maternity and children's clothes since people only wear them for a short time. Other items, like DVDs and books, stand up to wear and can be used repeatedly — so why buy new?
"You never know what you are going to find, that's the fun of shopping at thrift stores like Goodwill," said Cal Miller, vice president of marketing for Gulfstream Goodwill, which operates 16 stores in Palm Beach County. Another seven Goodwill stores are located in Broward County.
"We tend to get busier during the holidays as the snowbirds return," says Miller, adding that the thrift store chain makes sure to put out holiday-related items early — including ornaments, decorative lights and artificial Christmas trees.
A sampler of used goodsWhat's interesting and fun about shopping at major thrift stores is the items range from inexpensive wares to high-end products.
Here are examples of items available recently at South Florida Goodwill stores:
A pair of women's black patent leather Chanel shoes (complete with original store tags) for $200 that retail for about $440. This find was at the Palm Beach Embassy Boutique Goodwill store.
A New York-brand lady's fur coat from Saks Fifth Avenue for $300, which retails for more than $3,000. This find was at the Dixie Highway Store in West Palm Beach.
A 2003 Sylvania 27-inch color TV with built-in DVD and VCR player in new condition for $50, which can cost more than $200 new. This find was at the Indiantown Road store in Jupiter.
Of course, you'll find a similar range of items and bargains at a local Salvation Army store.
"These days, why buy something new as a gift when you can get something gently used that are still beautiful gifts but don't cost an arm and a leg," said Henry Hudson, an administrator for the adult rehabilitation center for Broward County Salvation Army.
Again, you can find a surprising variety of items at a Salvation Army, from fine jewelry to fine China, from electronics to appliances. There are six stores in Broward County and two more in Palm Beach County.
Here are examples of items available recently at South Florida Salvation Army stores:
General Electric double-door refrigerator, $290, retails for $1,000 or more.
Avanti clothes dryer, $300, retails for $900 or more.
DVD movies, $2 to $3, retails for $15 or more. VHS movies, $1.
Hunting for bargainsIf you plan to take the plunge, here are tips for shopping at a Salvation Army and Goodwill thrift stores:
Visit on Wednesday: At the Salvation Army, all clothing is 50 percent off. At the Goodwill, all items are 25 percent off for senior citizens.
If the price is not right, try again: Both chains reduce prices on items that don't sell right away. Miller of Goodwill recommends negotiating prices with store managers if you see an item has been in the store for weeks. Hudson says Salvation Army automatically reduces items that linger — if the item has been in the store 10 days, it's 10 percent off; 25 days, it's 25 percent off; 45 days or longer, it's 50 percent off.
Check every day: Both chains restock items daily, so it's worth visiting again and again to find new bargains.
While buying used can save your budget, there are some things you should avoid.
Avoid certain itemsConsumer advocates recommend that some products — such as those involving personal-safety or wear-and-tear issues — not be purchased used. Among them:
Bike helmets: They are designed to protect you for one bad accident. A crash can crush the inner foam inserts, so damage may not be automatically visible.
Child car seats: Like with helmets, you never know the condition of a used car seat. And new seats can be inexpensive, starting as low as $50.
Certain electronics: Plasma TVs, DVD players and camcorders are among the types of electronics that can wear down over time. If you or your giftee is particular about quality, it's better to stay away.
Daniel Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 954-356-4219, or 561-243-6600, ext. 4219. To see more columns from Daniel Vasquez, go to SunSentinel.com/vasquez.
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