Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid!

A couple nights, ago, I was hanging out with Miss V, drinking some wine, and we started discussing our furniture. What? Are you telling me you don't spend your weekends getting drunk and talking about end-tables? 

Anyway, SPECIFICALLY, we were sitting there laughingly looking at the half of our joined furniture that had ended up in her apartment, wondering ... why the hell we spent so much money on new, crappy furniture.

"Why did we buy that horrible TV stand new for $40?" I asked looking at the TV stand that was, for so long, the bane of our collective TV watching existence, and is now merely the bane of Miss V's crime drama watching existence.

Miss V: "Uh, excuse me, it was $80! At K-Mart!"
Arduous: "$80!! We paid $80 for that thing?"
Miss V: "Yes! Because I was obsessed with finding a TV stand that would match our coffee table."
Arduous: "It doesn't even MATCH!"
Miss V: "Look, it was the CLOSEST I could find."
Arduous: "And why did we buy a new coffee table anyway?"
Miss V: "I don't know, but I loved our coffee table."
Arduous: "Oh, don't get me wrong, I love it too, but, hello, it's an Ikea coffee table."
Miss V: Right? There are probably like 20 JUST LIKE IT on Craigslist.
Arduous: For cheaper.
Miss V: Yeah. And yet for some reason...
Arduous: It just didn't OCCUR to us.
Miss V: No. Why didn't it occur to us? I mean, we had less money then than we do now.
Arduous: I know, it's so weird. Like, why did I buy new bookshelves?
Miss V: Seriously, why? There are literally 50 Billy bookcases on Craigslist right now.
Arduous: For $30. And like ... the TV we bought? I just feel like, if you're not going to buy an LCD TV, then why not buy off Craigslist? You're going to get something just as good for $50.
Miss V: I got the TV in our bedroom off of Craigslist for $50!!
Arduous: See!
Miss V: Why didn't we think of this sooner?
Arduous: I really don't know.

There is nothing like packing up an apartment and getting rid of stuff to remind you of how the worth of your possessions drops dramatically the second you leave the store. They say this is true of cars. That the moment you drive your new car off the dealer's lot, your car drops steeply in value.

But the same is true of just about anything. The $15.00 new book is selling for $5 used on Amazon Marketplace. The $90.00 Billy bookcase is $30 on Craigslist. The Toshiba television that you bought for $300 and used for six months? You'll be lucky to sell it for $75.00.

On the other hand, if you buy a used book for $5, you can likely sell it for the same exact price. If you buy a two year old bookcase for $30, and then use it for another 3 years, you'll still probably get about $25 from someone. And as long as your television isn't too old, and is in working condition? Someone will probably give you $50 for it.

So, even if you don't care about the environmental cost of your stuff, there's still a pretty good reason to buy used. Buying used just makes good financial sense. From an investment point of view, while both new and used bookcases are generally depreciating assets, a used bookcase tends to depreciate less than a new bookcase. And from a utility point of view? A used bookcase is going to work just as well as a new bookcase. 

Sure there are a few things that are probably worth buying new. A laptop. Maybe an iPod, or a cell phone. But a used book, a used table, a used set of dishes? Those things? Tend to work just as well after a few years of use as they worked the day they were first bought new from the store.

With that said, anyone want to buy some crappy Ikea furniture? Call me!


EcoBurban said...

And, on occasion, you even find something better than you would have if you bought new. A few years back I was looking for a dining room table and chairs. BIG table, lots of chairs. (Lots of kids, 'member?) We looked at every store in town, but considered driving around the state. I was surfing Craigslist on lunch one day and found a solid oak, quarter-sawn, mission style table, 8 chairs, buffet and 4 table leaves from 1910. All pieces in good shape, all together even including table pad! Today I still love, love, love my table and it cost easily $5000 less than something of it's quality found in a store today. Is it possible to be happier with a used item? I think so!!

Do they have Craigslist in London? Or something of it's equal??

Farmer's Daughter said...

My husband builds all of our furniture. We can't really afford to buy it, and he can make it for the cost of the wood and finish/paint and his time. He makes beautiful, high quality stuff, traditional style, that will last us forever. Our bed, tables, book cases, you name it. He already talks about our imaginary children and other descendants who will use our furniture!
It's SO much better than going to a store and buying things. We don't have a lot of furniture, but what we have is beautiful.

Unknown said...

I'm not much for buying furniture or large appliances "sight unseen", but I do buy loads of used books over the internet. There have been a few rare ocassions when I could get a new book cheaper than a used one, but those are few and far between.

Katy said...

I have to say, when I recently got my own place, I made it a mission to not buy anything new. The one big purchase I made was a table I found on Ebay. Its super cool, and old dinner table, perfect for my little place. It cost and arm and a leg and I had to drive across the state to pick it up, but I love it, and seeing the women I bought it from and how I can see how that table had been her pride and joy for so many years makes it even more specail.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Our bedroom is completely furnished with Craigslist stuff (with new mattress though - ick). Our computer room is full of stuff that we acquired when my friend's boyfriend (now husband), who already had all his own stuff, moved in with her. Ditto for the dining room table, chairs and dresser (different friends in same situation). The couches and coffee table, and spare bed, are the only new things in the house. It was a necessity back then, there being no money left over from buying the actual house, but with the exception of the computer room stuff, there's no way we could have afforded the same quality new.

Hooray for Craigslist and friends with fully furnished boyfriends!

Kelsie said...

I got my dining room--the table and four chairs--for about $40. I found a REALLY ugly round, oak table at Goodwill. Paid $10 for it, and spent $5 on a can of paint. Within a week, it was the table I'd always wanted. Three of my chairs are art nouveau pieces I got for FREE at the end of a McMansion garage sale. The chairs were missing some of their inlay (which I repaired with some balsa wood when I got home) and the seats needed to be re-covered. The balsa wood was $3 and the fabric for the seats was a dollar. :) Finally, I spent $20 on a bizarre little Victorian chair at an antiques store. It made everything seem wonderfully eclectic (which is what I was going for), and added a great conversation piece to the room. Later on, I added a buffet (an old dresser) for $15. I painted it a folksy red with black inlay, to match the chairs.

I got the room I wanted (and LOVE) for very little cash. Every time people visit, I get complimented on my table. My point? There are VERY few pieces of wood furniture that a coat of paint or two won't completely transform. Check Goodwill if you're in the market for some new furniture, and try to envision what something would look like in the color and style YOU want it to be.

Green Bean said...

I've often sold things I bought used for the same price or a few dollars less than I bought them new. Honestly, in this society, you can probably get away with going used 99% of the time. I just got a used blackberry FREE. My husbands work was going to sell it to a third party for $50. How sweet is that?

Of course, I wouldn't mind some "new" furniture like Abbie describes.

Jennie said...

I just noticed yesterday that my local library offers a class in "how to use craigslist" I was so excited.
With that said my husband and I paid way to much for our dressers in the Midwest. He didn't want to spend the time looking at garage sales (all craiglist items were a good drive from my house to get) and I really wanted to get organized and put my clothes away. So we got mine at Target for $150!! I didn't want to buy mine but my husband insisted on it. His two at Ikea for I think $60 each.
I'm anti used for beds and couches unless they are from a friend/relative.

Good luck selling your items. I noticed when the add threw in something free I got more responses. Bookshelf $20 plus free books.

Natalie said...

I've never liked to shop - which has felt like a curse until my recent endeavors into reduced consumerism. But to buy stuff off of Craigslist or at yard sales is so painfully time intensive, I generally don't do it. I guess some people really enjoy bargain hunting, but to me it's still shopping.

Not that I dislike the idea of partaking in a used-commodity economy. I like to sell stuff on Craigslist. I happily buy used items when all the stars aligned correctly. And I'm involved in a lovely childrens' clothing/toy swap with a handful of girlfriends.

Anonymous said...

I am jealous of eco 'burban mom's excellent find.

I love Craigslist yet I've rarely bought anything there. Why? it requires time and patience, neither which I have.

You need to go through the list frequently to find what you are looking for, then go to the seller's location to check it out. The entire process takes a long time.

So I go to furniture consignment shops more than going on Craigslist, a little more expensive but saving me a ton of time. Then again, they may not have the right stuff either. But it's always fun visiting a furniture consignment store.

Anonymous said...

The real barrier to good used furniture is transportation and time.

So many of our friends have gotten rid of their cars, it's gotten really hard to find a truck or large car to haul a couch in - and when I was giving away our old dining room table people kept coming to look at the old table and then realizing they had no way to haul the thing home. We gave it to a new neighbor the same way we moved it in the first place - carried it up the block.

Joyce said...

We've only bought maybe a half dozen pieces of furniture over the years. Everything else has been family cast-offs! Fortunately, like Abbie, we have some really precious stuff handmade by my grandfather and great-grandfather, who were excellent finish carpenters. We also were okay with the old farmhouse style things-very sturdy, but not at all fashionable. The funniest thing is, people come to visit and think we "go antiquing"! They love what we have, and are stunned that we just snagged it from the various family attics and basements, where is had been relegated because it was old.

Jenn said...

I love craigslist and ebay for used housewares. I have a great oak table with two leaves and six chairs -- I paid $300 and a friend drove me down to pick it up.

I completed (and augmented) my grandmother's Royal China Blue Willow via E-bay (and I still have some surplus pieces to sell!).

I hate thrift stores for clothing -- but I love garage sales and the like for furniture.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Well, a husband who makes furniture is not exactly as glamorous as I made it sound in the first post, now that I re-read it. The stuff we have we've acquired over years. He's going to build us a dining room table "someday." The "perfect" peice of wood for the top has been "aging" outside for a few years now. Also, someday I'll get end tables, bedside tables, this, that and the other thing. But our house echoes for now.
He wants to build all of the furniture for our nursery when we have kids. I don't think 9 months will be long enough though!
I'd be pretty happy to pick up a craigslist table here and there and repaint like kelsie said.

ruchi said...

EBM, awesome! That sounds just gorgeous. Yes, they have Gumtree which is apparently the Brit equivalent of Craigslist.

Abbie, wow, that's super cool! What a useful, cool skill!!

Bobbi, most stuff you buy on Craigslist you go to pick up. It's not shipped to you, so you get a chance to look at it, and make sure it's all okay before buying. That said, I bought a used cell phone on Ebay for $40 and it worked great!

Katy, isn't it neat when our furniture has history?

CAE, hah! I've had friends move to LA and away from LA, and we've always profited from it by purchasing their used furniture. I have an awesome futon from my friend Annie, and now Miss V very badly wants to buy it, but she doesn't think she has the room.

Kelsie, great point. I'm not very handy but re-painting is something anyone can do!

Green Bean, you're so right. You know there was someone GIVING away an iPhone on freecycle. I guess they got the latest iPhone and didn't need their old iPhone.

Jennie, AUGH the dressers the dressers. I bought a new dresser for way too much as well. And it's a piece of crap. I'll have to give it away for free.

Natalie, I'm not a huge fan of shopping but if you are setting up an apartment or house from scratch, sometimes it's a necessary evil.

Cindy, you're right that Craigslist can be time consuming. It sort of depends on what you care about more: money or time. If your bottom line is money, Craigslist is a better bet than a furniture consignment store. If you are more worried about time, then the furniture store is your best bet.

Rosa, good point. This is when the friend with the pick-up comes in handy. :)

Joyce, that's awesome! Isn't it amazing what you might find in some relative's basement! :)

Jennconspiracy, why the hate for thrift stores? Heh, I got six compliments from people today about the skirt I'm wearing. Everyone thought it was new (weird since I swear I wore it about a month ago.) One person was sure they saw the same skirt in a Beverly Hills window. I told them all the truth: I bought it three years ago at a thrift store. :)

Abbie, hahaha! Ah yes. I know all about those projects that take years to complete. Still a fun hobby though!

Jenn said...

thrift stores = stinky. always smells totally disgusting. I never end up with stuff that I like -- I'm just the wrong size for thrift store scores, I guess.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

My husband is a carpenter, and promised me a shoe rack several years ago. Do you think I have it yet?! And yet he doesn't want me to just go out and buy one...

I do sympathise though, at the end of a long day the last thing he wants to do is come home and get the power tools out.

ruchi said...

Jenn, some thrift stores are gross, it's true. But there are some pretty nice thrift stores in LA and San Francisco that are not at all stinky smelling!!

ruchi said...

CAE, isn't there a saying about the shoemakers' children going shoeless?

Anonymous said...

... unless you don't have a car, don't drive, can't rent one, don't know anyone with a car, the creepy man with a van will charge you $100 to pick up that $30 bookcase, but the flat packed one fits into a cab that costs $15 and if you really really try (and borrow a handtruck), you can get it home on the subway.

Exercise bikes ($50), nightstands ($10), dress forms ($50), roller blades ($20), and smaller aquariums ($20) all fit on the subway as well. Ah, craig's list.

Anonymous said...

In London they also have charity shops (thrift stores) and car boot sales - a down market version of garage sales - conducted out of people's trunks.

My boyfriend and I have a lovely leather couch that we got from a family we know from work who were moving back to Japan. It was a very pale mint green when I bought it for $200, and I researched the web for a leather dying kit, which I used on it to tint it a beautiful rich tan color to match our living room.

ruchi said...

Good point Dasha. In LA, everyone owns a car, and you likely know someone with a truck as well!

DJC, heh, I look forward to the boot sales!!

mollyjade said...

I bought a used laptop, and it's worked out well for me. I bought it from a friend of my boyfriend's. It's a year old and still has a year left on its warranty.