5 Strategies to Score Awesome Second-Hand Stuff

I have to admit that I’ve only recently seen the light of second-hand treasures.

For longer than I’d like to admit, I was all about the shiny and new. It seemed totally reasonable to pay a premium to have something right now and have it be just perfect.

Luckily for my poor emergency savings account balance, even though I had “new item” tastes, I didn’t have “expensive new item” taste. I was all about Ikea and the sale racks at Smart Set (weeps about Smart Set closing), not so much about artisan, hand-crafted, Martha Stewart-level furniture and designer duds.

Eventually though, I started to question things – even before I dove right into the personal finance blogosphere.

Maybe it was worth it to take a look through the shirt rack at Value Village, just to see if I liked anything?

Maybe I should check on Kijiji for that Ikea table, since someone must not want theirs anymore, and it’s not like I’m having a Table Emergency over here?


So even though I’m still learning about where to score the best second-hand deals, I wanted to share some of my current favourite second-hand treasures, and the strategies I used to find them. Spoiler alert: I’m using the word “strategy” loosely here.

Very loosely.

Strategy #1: Accept hand-me-downs and stop being so persnickety.


Item: Kitchen cabinets
Cost: $0

This is what I meant by “using the word strategy loosely.” Hand-me-downs are almost always an “outside of your control” kind of thing.

Here’s what happened.

The Boyfriend’s parents just happened to be renovating their kitchen to the custom-cabinet, granite-counter dream, and as a by-product, their perfectly nice white kitchen cabinets were up for grabs.  The Boyfriend had wanted to revamp his kitchen for a while, and free cabinets sounded like good cabinets to us both.

Sure, I have a bit of a thing for reading interior design magazines, and my Pinterest “Future House” board is… shall we say… well-developed. But here’s the thing: I can lust over the perfect kitchens all day, and still realize that great free cabinets will win over $10,000 custom cabinets almost every time.

Even if I hadn’t come to that realization in time to accept the cabinets, I was protected by the fact that it’s The Boyfriend’s house and ultimately his decision – especially since he and his dad did the entire installation themselves. Lucky for me they went ahead with it too, because our new kitchen with its fantastic cabinets is one of my favourite rooms in our house.

Strategy #2: Go to garage sales – specifically, in the newly-built parts of town


Item: Mixing bowls
Cost: $5

This summer has been the summer of getting really, really into garage sales for The Boyfriend and me. Sure, we’ve gone to them in years past, but this summer we went all in. Saturday mornings saw us up early with The Dog, scouring Kijiji garage sale listings and chasing down haphazardly-placed road signs – some of which were barely legible. (Ottawa, step up your garage-sale-signage game.)

One of the best sales we found taught us a valuable garage sale lesson: new homes tend to be sold to people who like new things.

As a direct result, if you can find the community garage sale day in a neighbourhood of newly-built homes, you can score some great, like-new items. Old and shabby is *not* what comes out of newly built homes, by and large.

That’s where I got this set of ceramic serving / mixing bowls. I can understand why they might not be the best fit for everyone – they’re an arm workout and a half, let’s put it that way – but I love them and they make me feel just like Martha Stewart. Plus, they’re in absolutely perfect condition.

Newly built neighbourhoods: they make for excellent garage sale finds. Not convinced? That one sale alone is responsible for more than one item in this post.

Strategy #3: Look in multiple places for great deals, and be willing to DIY


Item: Kitchen table and chairs
Cost: $35 for two chairs, $70 for the table

Our kitchen, with its second-hand cupboards and tons of natural light, is one of my absolute favourite places in the whole house. It’s so bright and sunny in the afternoons, and it makes for the perfect place to sit and work on the blog.

Well, it does now that we have a kitchen table, anyways.

After the big DIY kitchen renovation was complete, The Boyfriend and I were a bit home-maintenance fatigued, so we left the space that used to house the eat-in kitchen table empty. Not only did we want a break, we wanted to get the table set-up we wanted eventually. What did we want?

This Ikea table and two of these Ikea chairs, for a grand total of $329.97 before taxes. Since The Boyfriend had just bankrolled a kitchen renovation, we decided holding off was our best option. Before we could get around to buying the entire set-up new, garage sales intervened in the best way possible.

At that aforementioned epic garage sale in the newly-built suburban neighbourhood, we found two of the exact Ikea chairs we wanted. Instead of $79.99 apiece, plus taxes, a very nice man sold them to us for $35 – for the pair.

Now that we had the chairs, we were committed. This was going to be a second-hand kitchen table set up.

So I took to Kijiji, since I figured our luck with the chairs was too much to expect with the table. Lightning not striking twice and all of that.

I found the exact table we were looking for, plus one lonely bar stool, listed for $70 on our side of the city this summer, and after some frantic “Can you go pick this up right now please please please” texts to The Boyfriend, the table was ours.

But wait!

It was too tall.

How does that even happen, you might ask? How is it that bar-height tables and bar-height chairs from the same place don’t even match?

I don’t know either, but we could fix this. And it’s not like I was sending The Boyfriend to try to return a Kijiji purchase. So out came the handsaw and the measuring tape, and after the table lost a few inches of height, we had a kitchen table!

The perfect kitchen table, actually, and for $224.97 less than we would have paid for the exact same items new.

Strategy #4: Don’t be afraid to pick up things from the side of the road


Item: Coffee table treasure chest
Cost: $0

I wish this story was as good as my kitchen-related second hand stories, but I get the sense it won’t be. I’m also starting to realize just how much I love our kitchen, but that’s neither here nor there.

I was sitting at home one night, and The Boyfriend came home from a walk with The Dog. He came in the door and announced he had a chest.

“Um, ok?”

“No, come look!”

So I went downstairs, and he had found the coolest, totally-beat-up blue treasure chest. Now, the jury is still out on whether or not it ever held actual treasure (I maintain hope) but either way, it makes for a very cool coffee table in our living room. The Boyfriend is also a whole lot less concerned about using coasters on this coffee table, since it’s a bit more… well-loved.

Anyways, I think it’s the coolest, and it came to us totally free from the side of the road. I guess, if push came to shove, you could add a note to this strategy that you’d need to be able to walk a big black dog and carry a giant treasure chest home, but the general premise stays the same.

Free stuff is good stuff.

Strategy #5: Adopt, don’t shop, if you’re going to get a pet


Family member: The Dog
Cost: $400 (adoption fee only.)

Ok, I can’t not include The Dog on this list, because he brings me more joy than every single “thing” I own combined, and he’s proudly second-hand.

See, when The Boyfriend and I decided on getting a dog, we both knew adopting was the right fit for us. Not only does it feel better to give an animal a home who needs one, we didn’t want to spend $1000+ on a purebred puppy, plus all of the additional vet costs that are guaranteed in the first year of a dog’s life.

Plus, puppies are a hassle. Have you ever had a puppy?

They poop everywhere.

And they have so not gotten the memo that their razor sharp teeth aren’t fun for everyone and everything.

When we put all of that together, adopting an adult dog was the best-case scenario, and that’s how we added The Dog to our little family almost a year ago, at the ripe old age of 2 years old. Even when you look at only the financial implications, without considering any of the benefits, this one decision easily saved us over $1000, while adding even more joy than we could have had buying a puppy.

Plus we got to sleep through the night from day one. Priceless.

I would absolutely love to hear about your favourite second-hand find or finds, since they clearly come with some strongly-carried thoughts and emotions, and they tend to make great stories!