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Save Money on Used Electronics

Bargains and functionality abound for secondhand cellphones, tablets and laptops

The frenzy over new and awfully pricey technology may be bewildering to you. (Stand in line at the crack of dawn? Really?) But you recognize the need for fast, quality devices that do what you like to do — and it's high time for an upgrade. You can join the frenzy for something new. Or you can buy secondhand. No one will be gushing over your particular smartphone or laptop or tablet, but often it'll do the job just fine and will save you major money. Wondering if this is the way to go? We tapped a variety of tech experts to help you make sense of the process.

Learn the lingo: "Refurbished" or "certified pre-owned" products are repaired and restored to "like new" condition by the manufacturer or a third party and include a warranty. They've been tested and inspected. "Used" items are sold "as is," usually with no warranty and no return. Favor refurbished over used. It's your call, but experts generally favor devices that have been thoroughly checked out. A refurbished product is "as good as new and typically includes the manufacturer's original warranty," says Donald Bell, senior editor at the electronics megasite CNET.com. Arguably, since they've been inspected twice, you're less likely to have a dud with a refurbished product than with a new one.

Line-up of old cell phones

Do you know what to look for when buying used or refurbished electronics? — James Worrell/Getty Images

Purchase from a reputable seller: "Look for a trusted source," says Matt Wiles, Sprint's manager of reverse logistics (the process of recycling used devices). "Look for transparency." You may find something else if you answer an ad on Craigslist or a newspaper's classified section — you never know who's at the other end. All the experts agree you're least likely to get bamboozled if you purchase directly from the manufacturer (e.g. Sprint, AT&T, Dell, Apple).

Look for buyback programs and trade-in incentives: Don't rule out online market places such as Amazon or eBay, where you can check feedback on sellers and get intervention should you have a problem. But if you can, buy in a store, says Sarah Silbert, reviews editor at Engadget.com. "This way, you know exactly what you're getting and can inspect for defects. Make sure you have detailed information on the product's condition — along with factory certification and a warranty — before purchasing."

Choose wisely: As much as you love your dying laptop of six years, don't hunt down the same model. It could be difficult to find accessories and parts if it's obsolete. For mobile devices especially, Bell says, older-model batteries may be hard to replace, and if found, won't hold their charge as long as new ones. Generally speaking, gurus suggest you choose a comparatively recent product, one that is no more than 2 years old. "Picking a relatively new laptop, phone or tablet will also make it easier to get tech support, as retailers are more likely to be familiar with the product," Silbert says.

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REUSE HOUSEHOLD ITEMS: Jeff Yeager, the Ultimate Cheapskate, shows you how to save money by reusing household items in surprising new ways.  You may never look at old tire tubes, pantyhose and even used fabric softener sheets the same way again!

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