Frugal shoppers often wonder if they can give a used item as a gift. The answer is yes, but there are caveats: The gift must be a good value or an heirloom, and the recipient must be OK with it.
I have given and received used presents. Several years ago, my husband bought me a secondhand Aeron chair for Christmas. Even used, it was pricey; had I held out for a new one, I would not have a chair as nice as it. He inherited a diamond pinkie ring from his grandfather (hey, they used to be in style) and had the diamond reset for my birthday one year.
As far as I can tell, a used diamond is just as good as a new one.
We buy pretty much all of our computer and camera equipment refurbished from Tiger Direct or Adorama, so if you get something electronic from us as a gift, it will almost definitely be used. Likewise, I often pick up used CDs or DVDs to give to my kid. The only difference between a new DVD and an unscratched used one is the packaging; once it’s opened, you’ll never know the difference.
Sometimes, the used present is truly used. My husband and I each had a stereo when we were married. My brother was in college with no stereo. I would have given him one of the stereos outright, but it had to be shipped, which wasn’t cheap. I asked him if it would be all right for the shipping to be a birthday present, and he was delighted to accept the offer — the stereo was better than anything he could have purchased with a $25 gift card.
Used presents are especially lovely when they are part of a family history. Several years ago, my husband’s grandmother gave me some of her crystal for Christmas, to use when I host family holiday dinners. And right now, I have a baby present waiting to be shipped: It is an item a friend gave to me years ago that will be returned to him when his child is born this winter.
In all these examples, the gift was good quality and given to someone who I knew would appreciate it. There was no attempt to pass off a crummy item as new, and none of these presents was given as an insult. All were given out of a combination of value, sentiment and desire to do something nice.
That’s really the key. If there’s even the slightest chance the recipient will be insulted, don’t do it. If you are unsure, ask. “Would you rather have my old TV or would you prefer some money to put toward a new one?” “Do you think Johnny would like my old Lego collection for Christmas, or would he prefer a new set?”
Finally, if the recipient would be insulted by a second-hand diamond, rethink your relationship. Seriously!
Here are a few rules for shopping for gifts at consignment stores:
• You want the gift to be new. Or at least to appear new. Start by shopping in stores with a good reputation for consigning designer brands and insisting clothing items in particular are in good shape (i.e. freshly laundered, no stains or rips, no missing buttons). Chances are good many of the wardrobe pieces on these racks will still have their original tags attached. It doesn’t excuse you from doing a thorough once-over, but it does increase the odds that what looks perfect will, indeed, be perfect.
However, many secondhand stores claim this upscale policy. How can you tell if it’s bunk? I always sniff the air when I walk through the front doors. If there’s a funky smell, something slightly musty/fusty/old to the scent, chances just went up this store isn’t the place to shop for holiday gifts.
• You want the gift to fit. And most consignment stores have a no-return policy, darn your luck. This is why I browse the racks for items that don’t need an exact size. Blazers, for instance, can be a size or two off and still fit. Same with a sweater. A blouse or dress is getting riskier, and pants or shoes are a no-no.
• Pay attention to the entire store. Many consignment stores today sell more than used items. For instance, my favorite clothing shop brings in new, novelty items like scarves, a purse decoration that doubles as a glasses/iPhone microfiber cloth, leggings and a fun jewelry collection. All of these items are new but priced less than they would be at a department store.