Pi of Life : Bootstrapper’s Guide to Buying Used Products [Getting Comfortable and Getting Hooked]

Go lean. Extend your runway as much as possible.
Spend frugally, and more importantly, wisely.

These have been as much part of recent startup folklore as business plans, customer acquisition and the debate about needing a co-founder has been. Living the bootstrapper’s life often involves watching your personal finances as much as you watch the startup’s numbers. Perseverance pays, and is often a function of how much of a financial crunch you’re under. It just makes sense to give yourself the most time to experiment with your ideas.XOLO-X900-SIM_Card_Remover_thumb.jpg

Of course, then there’s the real world!

And its attendant needs, gadgets, homes to run, places to go to, and every once in a while, you won’t feel like totally giving up on all the little pleasures.

But hey, buy used.

Phone, car, mattress, microwave, earrings, books, utensils, laptop, DSLR, curtains, furniture, CDs, tools, pianos, paintings, whatever.

They’re all available around you. In pretty good shape. Usable, useful, much cheaper!

[Of course, avoid toothbrushes and the like!]

So here’s the “All You Wanted To Know About Buying Used And Were Afraid To Ask” guide:

Automobiles

A friend of mine who’s a serious dieselhead swears by used automobiles. “Its a huge waste of money to buy new – you lose a big wad of cash the moment the car’s driven out of the showroom. Most cars last forever these days, and you can get a detailed service history for most modern cars.”

You’ll save a cool 20-50% at least. If you don’t mind buying really old stuff, 7+ old premium sedans are available at a pittance, and if driven under 75,000 kms or so, and maintained well, will do the job just fine!

Narrow down to a budget, a couple of makes/models you’re interested in, keep scanning the classifieds at multiple options – the TBhp Classifieds, Olx, Carwale, etc.  Even better sources are company bulletin boards – especially for intra-company car lease transfers (they can bring in many benefits). Befriend a mechanic at a reliable, recommended service station, pay the man something for his efforts and get him to check the vehicle out for you.

The service history, seller’s candidness and condition of the engine bay, underbody and tyres will give you a fair idea. Remember, batteries need a change every 3-4 years or so, tyres are best changed all together, and scratched windscreens cost a fair bit.

(Some makes and models have known issues after a certain number of kilometres. Watch out for those, and budget for some renovation and repairs.)

Books

If you love books, and read lots of them, then the why’s apparent. Except a narrow niche, books are still pretty expensive especially if you buy many. And personally, love the feel of pages that have already been turned, read and yellowed a little. The lowered prices also encourage you to discover new authors and genres more easily.

Buying pre-read saves you around 35-70%. People who like books and are clearing out the piles at home are usually generous. You can also get free books, once in a while.

Well stocked (and stacked) used bookstores are now part of most of the bigger towns. The folks who run them know their books, and will soon learn your preferences if you’re a regular. Then there’s online communities like Second To None where books are put up for sale at very nominal prices every now and then.

Electronics, Gadgets and Appliances

Not all of us always need the newest, the most advanced when we buy a phone, or  a microwave, or a laptop. The brands that keep peddling the dazzling array of features, or capabilities have a need to push them more than you real for the same. This is especially true for appliances – and there are good ones available as a lot of people move town, or upgrade because they can!

Do remember the older stuff was designed to last more than more recent products have been – again truer for appliances. For laptops and DSLRs, older high end stuff oftentimes scores over newer entry level ones in build quality – and might be more than enough for what you need. Do look up the average life expectancy of what you’re trying to buy, though (Why aren’t classifieds building this as a feature? People don’t just buy on price – its always price vs value!).

Solidly built corporate laptops do last 6-8 years very well, and for many a good dual-core or early core2duo powered machine will do just fine – I recently saw a 5 year old one with nice configuration for 10k! For a DSLR, the shutter count is the number to look for. And for phones – well – a solidly built phone that continues to work well and looks solid after 2 years will last that much more easily, not counting a battery change.

But for these, especially for the electronics, trust in the seller is a lot more important than for books, furniture or even automobiles. So a closer group works better – apartment or office mailing lists and communities like Second to None are a better bet than classifieds sites.

Furniture, Toys, And Assorted Other Stuff

You’ll be amazed at what you can find online. Furniture’s easy – but finding good value is a matter of good fortune. Good cycles and musical instruments also usually do not lose too much value. Small household stuff, rare to find stuff, stuff others might think is waste but that use for you, and even stuff you normally think is unaffordable but hey, surprise! ( the piano I saw was just 30,000/-)  – you could find it all in there.

Its an art though – buying used. It saves you a good amount of cash, but before you master the art, you must learn the basics …

  • Don’t be in a rush. The cosmic dance happens at its own pace, and you and that perfect object will be united at the appropriate time
  • When you see it, grab the opportunity! Analysis paralysis could mean you then may have to wait really long again.
  • Avoid impulse buying, especially just because its cheap. Defeats the whole purpose.
  • Be honest in your dealings, and expect the same in return.
  • It seems tough to start with. But please, lets drop pretences.
  • It actually reuses/recycles stuff, so pat yourself on the back!
  • If you get hooked and find yourself looking around your home to see what else you need to buy, get off the groups and classifieds for a bit 🙂

Make a list of a couple of things you’ve been thinking of getting. And go get them, tiger!

[Bonus Tip: Weekend Activity : If you’re in Bangalore, and if the used-bargain-hunting bug totally bites you – pay a visit to BVK Iyegar Road early morning on a Sunday when the streetside used goods market spreads out. There’s every conceivable thing on sale there – and with regular sellers, their standardized pricing, and even interesting warranties on some stuff!! Its a lot of fun to just see the place. And I’m sure every city has its own equivalent of this.]

Reommended Read : Buy/Sell Used Products : Any startup solving this?