Secondhand Christmas – A Great Way To Save or a Frugal Bridge Too Far?

The holidays are fast approaching, and with it the usual stresses of gift-giving. Did we get enough things, are the things we got good enough for those we love, did we spend too much (or too little)? Today I’m going to reflect on my thoughts about gifting secondhand/pre-owned/used items as Christmas gifts.

My Secondhand Gift Getting Experience

For one of my first Christmases living on my own, I remember asking my parents if they might get me a sewing machine. I’m not the best at sewing, nor is it my favorite hobby, but I knew I would have plenty of reasons to sew over the years. My mother, on the other hand, does love to sew.

I can distinctly remember my mother being somewhat embarrassed and ashamed as she asked if a secondhand sewing machine would be OK with me. I actually thought it was a great idea-not only are new sewing machines more expensive, but they’re also of much lower quality than the older ones. The sewing machine I ended up receiving was from the 1960’s or 1970’s, and I’ve owned it for 15 or so years now. It still works just as well as the day it was made. In fact, you can find beautiful sewing machines from the early 1900’s that still work. If I had received a new machine, I bet it would have been broken by now-tossed into the trash and a new one taking its place.

This is not my machine, but I bet this beauty still works.

The same thing is true of many older appliances and utensils, like stand mixers and potato mashers. The new ones, unless they cost a ton of money, just don’t last as long as the older ones. A Kitchen-Aid from the 1950’s and a blender from the 1960’s likely still work today. But a new one purchased in the early 2000’s is likely already broken.

Why is this? The answer is simple – planned obsolescence.

You see this a lot in tech, with smartphones and computers becoming out of date and obsolete in a matter of years. Fancy, fashionable colors on appliances, utensils, and other items also contribute to this, with the cool colors of today becoming out of date next year. And the new items are often made to be much lower quality than the items of yesterday. Even purchasing more expensive things is no guarantee of quality. In fact, I recently purchased a stovetop that already has stopped working on one of the burners, and my double ovens push buttons all came off within a year of buying it. Luckily the stovetop still has three working burners and the push buttons could be taped back on.

Secondhand Christmas

I’ve been thinking a lot about secondhand things for Christmas this year because of my little guy. You see, he’s been getting really into streaming educational TV shows the past few months. One of the downsides to not having cable as long as we haven’t had it is that we don’t really know what are the “latest” or “cool” shows for kids. Instead we show him things that our older boys loved, or whatever happens to be on Netflix, PBS, or Amazon Prime.

And that sometimes means that the shows he loves are older ones, where they don’t sell the toys anymore.

Recently he asked for a “big green dinosaur” for Christmas. After some discussion, he clarified that he wanted a “dinosaur on a train”. We’ve been watching Dinosaur Train, and a quick search of the internet showed that they don’t make the toys anymore. The same thing is true of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, another of his favorite shows, as well as a Buzz Lightyear toy he recently broke.

Luckily that same internet search showed that they do indeed have inexpensive versions of the toys for sale on eBay and other such secondhand sources. So for Christmas, he just might be getting some of the secondhand fun toys that he wants so much. After all, secondhand kids are the best kids.

I actually think secondhand toys are the best, especially for little kids, because:

  • They’re usually in good condition, because kids outgrow them before they use them up
  • You can get things that you simply can’t buy new-like Dinosaur Train toys
  • Kids get too many toys anyway. At least in my family, given just how many relatives we have, kids (especially the little ones) get too many toys.
  • You can get more toys for the same budget. Would you rather have two new toys in a box that will get tossed away later that day, or six secondhand toys? Or you can get two toys that are of much higher quality, and more expensive, because you’re getting them secondhand.
  • It’s better for the environment, because you’re reusing things rather than having them tossed in a landfill
  • It’s more fun. After all, what little kid wants to wait on Christmas morning for you to unwrap the toy, then unbox it, then put batteries in it? Instead they can start playing right away.

So this year for the little guy I’m on the hunt for great condition toys from the shows and characters he loves, at great prices. He’ll have an awesome and fun Christmas, and we won’t break the bank.

What About Older Kids?

I can say from experience that shopping secondhand for older kids is much more challenging than for little ones. There’s a huge surplus of toys, books, and clothes in great condition for babies, toddler and young kids – but not much for teens. Of course if I found a great secondhand deal for them I’d pick it up (and in fact my teenage son got a pre-owned statue of an anime character for his birthday, which he loves), but it gets much harder. Ideas here would be books, DVD’s, and to be on the lookout all year long for things they love at good prices.

In my case, my oldest son (14) is into retro gaming. Unfortunately this is a case where secondhand is not only the only option, but is also more expensive because the items have appreciated in value. Sometimes, though, you can still find a bargain, and I certainly am on the lookout for them.

This cute little Christmas outfit for my oldest was purchased at a consignment shop. Isn’t it just adorable?

Don’t Fear A Secondhand Christmas

What we all want for our holiday gifts is for them to bring happiness and joy to the recipient. If you can do that by picking up a great-condition item from a consignment shop, thrift store, or other such place then I say to go for it. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed-if it’s a thoughtful gift picked up with the recipient in mind, it’s good for the holiday and good for your budget.

Have you ever given – or received – secondhand items for Christmas? Do you think it’s a frugal bridge too far? Let me know in the comments.

Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web.

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IT professional, MBA, working mother of three, avid reader, geek and personal finance nerd

4 thoughts on “Secondhand Christmas – A Great Way To Save or a Frugal Bridge Too Far?

  • December 22, 2017 at 11:19 am

    We love watching our local Buy Nothing groups and LetGo for second hand items! Definitely for our young son, but also for things we might need around the house. My husband and I have no qualms giving secondhand gifts to each other. Like sewing machines and kitchen appliances, woodworking tools were made better in the past so my husband actually prefers used equipment!

    This year, we wanted to get our son more Brio trains. He’s obsessed with the small set my mom got him for his birthday back I February. We ended up finding someone on LetGo selling his son’s whole collection (over 100 pieces of track, lots of trains, roundhouse, and accessories – all in a cool Brio treasure chest) for $50. Buying just one set new, never mind the MANY that were in here, can cost you over $100! Also, it was so big and will distract him for so long it is his only gift from us.

    My favorite part about secondhand kids toys is the environmental benefit. Most kids toys have SO MUCH plastic and I hate buying new things that I know will end up in a landfill. I would rather give other toys a new home, and hopefully pass them on again.

  • December 23, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Great post!

    I think far too many people have some strange aversion to giving second-hand things. I recently tipped my future mother-in-law about Mr. E. really needing a new phone. I had hoped we could team up with some siblings, an aunt and uncle or two, and together afford a used iphone 6.

    Instead, she bought her daughter’s used iphone 5 and sent it to Mr. E. as a PRE-Holiday gift. Apparently, a used phone, no matter how appreciated, is still not good enough to be given on the day itself.

    Mr. E. loves his new phone, don’t get me wrong – he really needed one. But he would have appreciated it just as much under the tree, and my in-laws would not have had to spend money and resources on a second gift!

  • December 23, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    We stopped by our local thrift store a few weeks ago and as we were looking around, Angie suddenly told me I had to find another aisle. She had stumbled upon something she had been looking for to put in my Christmas stocking. I’m not sure what it is yet but she was so excited by the find that I can hardly wait. My mom, on the other hand, when I told her about it was less excited. “She got your gift at Goodwill?” she asked in that disbelieving tone. I’ll never understand why a 2nd hand gift is so taboo to her but for me it shows the utmost of thoughtfulness because no matter what it is, the purchase itself fits our values. We try to buy used whenever possible…and that includes gifts.

  • December 24, 2017 at 2:38 am

    A great way to save or… I’ve found that folks on the internet will run the spectrum. Some will see this as too far… it’s CHRISTMAS after all. Others, like the previous posts, see great wisdom in the thought.

    About planned obsolescence, though, I have a different opinion. Working in the tech industry, there is so much pressure to get products or apps out so fast, that quality is sacrificed. You see this in all products. Ever say to yourself, “they don’t make them like that any more?” The need to profit drives people to lower costs and that means less quality. Whether is cheaper materials that break or software that isn’t fully tested.

    It’s a disposable society. Kudos for seeing value where other’s don’t!


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