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 December 3, 2013  Posted by  Expired

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!

Annie Logue

Annie Logue has lived in Chicago for the better part of 30 years now. She loves to travel and find new things, whether around the globe or around the corner. She’s also long been fascinated with money; she teaches finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is the author of four books in Wiley’s . . .For Dummies series including Hedge Funds for Dummies, Day Trading for Dummies, Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies, and Emerging Markets for Dummies. She lives with her husband and son on the north side of Chicago, where she operates Chicago on the Cheap.

One comment on “Is it ever OK to give used presents?

  1. JulieCC on said:

    We do this all the time in my family. We do it with real gifts and our yearly gag gifts, too. We all shop in thrift stores for ourselves and our families, so why should this be any different? Plus, I think it’s a lot harder to find that “perfect gift” in a thrift store or garage sale than it is to just find something off a retail store shelf…so it means more to me!