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Leaving that garage sale or yard sale or thrift store with an item you purchased for pennies on the dollar — like, say, a 10-cent electric toothbrush — can feel so empowering. But a real bargain should never leave you with regrets. It should never threaten the well-being of you or your family members. If the item doesn't properly function once you get it home, where's the bargain? And, ick, did someone actually stick that electric toothbrush in their mouth before you?
AARP asked the experts. We reached out to three thrift specialists who have each written books about garage sales and savvy spending on used items, and they shared their thoughts on the 10 used items you should never — under any circumstances — purchase.
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1. Medicine — of any kind
This might seem like a five-alarm no-brainer, but that doesn't stop motivated sellers from trying to unload outdated and even used medications of all kinds at yard sales. Bruce Littlefield, author of Garage Sale America, remembers walking into a yard sale near Alexandria, Virginia, and seeing a used tube of Preparation H with a 25-cent price sticker on it. “The idea sends shivers up my spine,” he says. “The fact that someone wouldn't be embarrassed to sell that is shocking enough,” he says. Littlefield has also seen outdated prescription medications sold at garage sales. “That screams danger,” he says. Never, ever purchase any kind of prescription or nonprescription drugs of medications used, he advises. “Just do the right thing and get it at the pharmacy."
2. Anything for a newborn
This includes baby clothes, bottles, bedding, cribs, strollers and car seats, too. The problem: the unknown. You don't know who used them last and how they were potentially misused. You don't know if they were properly sterilized. You don't know if they've been recalled or redesigned for safety reasons. And you don't necessarily know if they are damaged or broken. “When it comes to baby stuff, it's always better to err on the side of caution and buy new,” says Kathy Ozzard Chism, author of Garage Sale Success Secrets: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Turn Your Trash Into CA$H!
3. Mattresses, bedding, pillows and sheets
When you see a used mattress or pillow for sale, all you see is the mattress or pillow and not what you really need to see: its history. You don't know who or what slept on it. You don't know if it has dust mites, mold or bedbugs. This is way too much unknown to risk your health on, says Anita Chagaris, coauthor and publisher of Garage Sale Gourmet: Streetwise Shopping for Fun, Profit, and Home Improvement. Considering that each of us spends about one-third of our lives in bed, we should at least take the basic precaution to make sure the bed and bedding we sleep in do us no harm, she says. The one exception, Chagaris says, is if the bedding is still packaged and clearly has never been used — or if the bedding is going to be repurposed, say, to be washed and donated to a dog rescue.