The value of used
No one espouses the value of used more than my husband Rog, who was heavily influenced by his grandfather, a depression-era kid who served in World War II. The man never experienced a broken item he couldn’t fix, or a new item he couldn’t get used.
“Why spend when you can save?” he drilled into Roger’s head. The man did his job well. This is a question Rog started asking me once we were married. It was annoying and produced a dozen years of arguing, but the truth can’t be denied: used items are functional, sometimes looking perfectly new and one doesn’t pay the premium.
The Shame Game
In the world of women, most, if not all I know take pride in using the word new. It’s means: I can afford it and I’m happy to say I paid full price. Men are the opposite. They will typically volunteer: I picked it up used, with an associated caveat (low miles, barely used). They mean: I’m smart, got a good deal, and therefore saved a ton of money (which means I’m really smart).
The philosophical divide between the sexes is Grand Canyon in size. I can’t recall a time when I heard a woman say with pride: yeah! I got it used. Not a purse, jacket, jewelry or car. It’s just not done. I was recently at a dinner party where one woman noticed another driving a different car.
“Is it new?” she asked with a tinge of envy. “I’ve always wanted one.” The car in question was an Audi A7 which retails new for about 70K.
The respondent half-grimaced, half-smiled and answered, “It’s new to me.” (If you’ve never heard this phrase, you are saying, ‘no, it’s not new, but it is new to me.’)
“Oh,” the woman responded, as though she wanted to retract her original statement.
“Yeah, it’s a couple of years old,” explained the owner of the car, the luster of the new purchase fading. “My husband found it for me.”
In our modern-day world of putting the word shaming before or after anything, we might just call this Used-Shaming. It may not be intentional, but it happens ever so subtly. Having been there myself, I throw the drowning woman a lifeline.
“That’s awesome!” I said enthusiastically. “What year is it?”
She looks at me, uncertain. I can see she wants to lie but can’t. “2017” she answers.
“Great!” I continue, nodding. “You have the same body style and your husband probably saved, what, 15-20 grand?” She agrees with a bit more enthusiasm. “And he probably got the extended warranty, right?” Another nod, her light that had dimmed growing brighter. “Just think, you can take that 15K and go to Europe for a few weeks, or Bali! How awesome is that? Good for you!”
At this point, the woman is absolutely beaming, the implied criticism of the used car turned to a positive. How did I know to do that? Easy. I’ve had my own discomfort during the transition of only buying new items to purchasing used wherever I can, the notion of saving to spend elsewhere—or simply to save—a hard (and long) learned lesson which I want to share with others. My message is this: stand up, say it out loud and with pride, not shame. In other words, own it like a man. They are proud when they save money. Why should we as women any different?
Growing up poor
Humility and shame are sisters who share the same bed, but depending on what side you roll off of is what you’ll feel. One reason I argued with Rog so much is because of how I was raised. My father always insisted on new versus old. It wasn’t necessarily a warranty or quality thing. It was a point of pride that he could purchase the new version. He’d worked hard, and by darn, he deserved it and was going to spend it however he wanted.
For context, he grew upon a farm in Canada where the combine was worth far more than the modest farmhouse. He’d started milking cows as soon as he could grip and carry buckets, the 4 a.m. routing of waking continuing to this very day at 83. Dad’s entire aim in life was to save enough to get off the farm and into a better life. When he did so, he took great pride in the ability to purchase a new car, shoes or whatever he desired.
This was passed along to us, the kids. Not once do I recall my father purchasing a used item until I left for home (or after). Cars, clothes, goods—it didn’t matter. In hindsight, the undercurrent value set was that used wasn’t good enough, and this is what I carried with me. As a consequence, I was never taught to even think about purchasing at consignment or entering a used car lot. It simply never occurred to me.
Enter the man
So it was that when Rog and I hooked up, our philosophies didn’t match. Black and white, oil and water were silly comparisons. How about match and kerosene? Nuclear explosions and black rain? While Rog contended that my pride and ego overruled common sense, I argued that I’d worked hard and had the money, so why not?
The first decade of our marriage was combustible; any purchase over fifty bucks would light the flame then BOOM! Was it ever a wonder we waited until year seven to consider having children? We could barely justify the good times because the bad were so rocky. We both won and lost a few arguments, and after a while, we settled into a livable pattern. Home appliances were always purchased new, but machinery and some other items, used.
One sticking point was always cars. I’d always purchased new cars for the warranty (and I like new cars, I’ll admit), and he’d purchase used trucks. A perfect compromise. A decade later, we did an assessment, not unlike what we’d conduct at business. My cars would invariably break down after the warranty ended, requiring we continually flip the cars right before the warranty expired, incurring new costs. Compare this to Rog’s used trucks which ran almost flawlessly forever, warranty or not. At the end of a decade, we looked at the bottom line: what we’d wasted (me) vs what we could have saved or used elsewhere (Rog).
It was ugly.
I grumped. Pouted. Gnashed my teeth like Gollum but nothing changed the reality that he’d been raised one way, me another and I was either going to grow up in our relationship or I was going to grow out of it.
As I seriously ruminated about how I could still get my way, I had a visual of my future state. How was I going to justify the divorce to my family? It would go something like this: “Sorry, I just wasn’t willing to save money where it made sense. Yeah, I liked him too. Oh well.”
Yeah. You could see who’s side they’d take on that one.
So, since my sister always says: “Give examples,” here are just a few of the recent ones because this blog has already become an epistle.
The snowblower. Needing one not long after we moved here, Rog gets on line, vomits at the four hundred price tag, but at my insistence, buys it new “because of the warranty,” I tell him. Sound advice, I contend. Just after the warranty goes out, it breaks. We go to fix it, learning that to do so will cost nearly as much as the original. He’s livid.
“Now we do it my way,” Rog states. Given the amount of snow we receive, Rog decides to upgrade to the 3K version. He calls the dealer then heads straight for Craigslist, finding one for less than half retail. He drives to an “old man’s home” an hour away. It’s shiny. It’s red. It’s hardly been used. He tests it in the snow, pays the man and comes home with it. We’ve had it for three years, and it’s worked perfectly.
The home gym. When we downsized, the area for gym equipment was half of the previous room. Rog did his research, finding the only set that would work in our home is a Bio Force, which is $2800 new. (As an aside, why do all home products seem to have a price point of about 3 grand? Do the product marketers have data supporting the notion that home owners think 5K is too high, but 2K is too low, thus equating to cheap quality and no value? Or they just say: let’s split the difference and call it good. But I digress).
Once again, Rog goes for Craigslist. Finds one in Montana owned by an older couple who apparently used it a few times then called it quits. Four hours and $1,200 later, it’s downstairs. Is it as robust and useful as the last gym set we had? Nope, but it’s a third the size and 1/5 the price of the last one as well, so a great deal.
The UTV. Back to the snow. After three years of slogging it out on the push behind snow blower, Rog had upgraded to an ATV with a plow (also purchased used, about half the price/perfect condition, and yes, off Craigslist). As he toiled away on the ATV at 5 a.m. or at midnight in his goggles and snow gear, I alternated between pride and guilt, thinking he should at least be warm.
Enter the UTV with a “deck.” This is snow parlance for a big cab, upon which one can put “trax” on, stay warm and also manage a 60-inch snow blower in the front. New, the UTV (utility terrain vehicle) is $15K. For a visual, think a 4-door wherein the windows are modifiable (can be removed/come with soft sides, the doors and roof as well (e.g. also be removed). I consider it an upgraded 70’s like dune buggy but a lot more useful. (see the video clip…going alongside used car!)
Anyway, he finds one…where else? Craigslist. Once again, an older man had used it for a year or two, placed it on-line but no takers. Rog showed up, purchased it for $8 grand, and once he washed it, found it didn’t have a single scratch. He’s convinced it didn’t sell because the man hadn’t bothered to wash it. The deck (the 60” blade) he did have to purchase new with the warranty, and I’m glad because it broke on the third use due to a manufacture issue. We’ve had the replacement for two years and it’s run perfectly.
Oh, and just so we’re clear, it’s not just “useful” items we purchase used. My road bike was picked up at the dealer because the notion of paying sticker for a two-wheel vehicle I’m going to use only during the summer made me want to vomit! I have no guilt (or shame) about riding around on an 8-year old bike, and don’t really care when someone gives me that snide look when I tell them the year. I know their remark and how it’s said reveals their outlook on life, which is fine. It’s just one I no longer share.
The truck. My daughter threw down the negatory on inheriting my car when she turns 15 (welcome to Idaho. The driving age is 15), and so we figured we’d find a used Subaru which can handle the snow. Then we went to my parents for Thanksgiving, and Rog noticed the parked truck in the driveway. It hadn’t moved since we’d arrived. Rog inquires, and Dad tells him it hasn’t been licensed or insured for six months. They don’t have a need. Rog casts me an eye, I subtly nod, and he brings it up to my daughter.
“That would be awesome!” she says. It’s used, unassuming and useful, all three items which fit the needs of where we live (American cars are definitely preferred over foreign). It also requires a new hood as the current one has rusted areas, new tires and inside carpet. Rog will likely add a few items to the outside to make it a bit more durable for this area (what self-respecting truck doesn’t have a tow-hitch, I ask you?), but even with the additions, it’s a fraction of a new truck or even a used Subaru.
What we have sold
Baby room set. As our (my) thinking evolved, so did our ability to share with others. I’d insisted on a brand-new baby room set. It was gorgeous, well-made and spendy. After daughter number two outgrew the crib, we put the crib, credenza/desk and bookshelf on Craigslist. A wonderful young couple came to the house, overjoyed with tears and gratitude they would get the entire set for a quarter of the cost. It was their first child and money was tight. On a funny note, we’d loaded the furniture in their truck only to learn they’d been locked out. Their little dog had gotten crazy in the front cab, pushing its paws on the lock. They were out of money. They couldn’t get in their car and the pregnant wife was near a meltdown. It was traumatically funny in one of those this-only-happens-to-us moments. We paid for a locksmith to come and help them out, money they surely could not have spent.
The sink/stand. When we upgraded a bathroom, we had a perfectly good trendy, beautiful and expensive single unit. Where’d we list it? You guessed it, Craigslist. It cost us $2K, and we listed it for $200. It was gone in an hour (as was the bedroom set mentioned above).
The oven. When we moved to our current home, we replaced the all-in-one cooktop/oven. It was a commercial Electrolux, retail for about $3K (the previous homeowner is an architect from Switzerland and he’d had it imported). We sold it for $350 and it was picked up the same day it was listed.
Additionally, we have listed jet skis, a boat and other equipment—sports and household—on craigslist and always sold an item within a day. The tip and rule is this: if the item is competitively priced and in good condition, it will get multiple offers and sell within a day or two. If it’s priced too high (or is just plain odd) it won’t sell.
The transition for me wasn’t easy or fun, but it was financially sound. Once I removed my personal pride/ego and perspective from the equation, the process turned transaction. It’s a thing, I want said thing at the best price. Instead of thinking: I want it new, I began thinking of all the things I can do with the money I saved, like going on a trip. B.R. (Before Roger) I just did both. Roger was never and still isn’t a “do-both” type of guy. He’s always been: it’s one or the other. His familial DNA included creating priorities and making choices. Never once did the “having-it-all” phrase enter his vocabulary.
A country in on the financial edge
According multiple sources, 41% of adults in the US have less than $500 in savings. That means living paycheck to paycheck. Another statistic I hear constantly on Bloomberg is that the average household purchase for less than $5,000 is put on a credit card. Consumer debt is not 7% above where it was in 2007, just before the crash. All that means a balance sheet which encourages us all to spend less and save more wherever we can.
Not everyone lives or spends like the Kardashians with Bentley’s and twenty-foot trees that take four helpers to put up. And in fact, if you could, would you really do that? Wouldn’t it be more fun to put up your own tree and create memories with your family and not have to worry about getting car-jacked as you drive down the street, and heaven forbid, get a ding while grocery shopping? (Oh wait, you may not buy your own groceries if you have that kind of coin).
I have long since stopped caring what others thing of what I spend and how I spend it. The biggest example of this was moving. We consciously made the decision to downsize when we didn’t have to. We sold our old home for one price and paid cash for one half the size in a state with very low taxes, with the cost of school tuition less than half, and of course the most important factor for me, the price of chocolate dropped from $4.83 to $2.75. Now that’s good living.
The tables have turned Rog as well. Now I’m the one showing him how I waited until five days before Christmas to get a great deal, and just last night, I tell him I decided to wait another two weeks to get my hair done between coloring because that’s another $1,200 in the bank on an annualized basis. I’m rightly proud, expecting him to applaud my thought process and maturity.
“No, it’s not,” he retorted, staring hard at me. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“You’re right,” I smirked, knowing I’d been caught. “That’s another week in Europe.”
For all my intentions and efforts, I too have a trade-off equation I apply to nearly every decision involving money. This-for-that. Sometimes it’s savings. Sometimes is spending. But at least I’m thinking of it consciously, and with intent, which is not something I was taught, but had to learn over. And over. And over. Now I’m a believer in financial frugality that Dave Ramsey followers seem to have; a zeal that encourages me to stand up be one of the few who proudly state used is good, savings are better and travel is the best. I guess I still have a little room to grow.