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Less-than-Perfect: 5 Ways to Save by Buying Slightly Damaged Goods

Written by Ed Avis - 8 Comments

5 Ways to Save by Buying Slightly Damaged Goods

When you buy something new, you naturally expect it to be perfect. Who wants a refrigerator with a ding in the door, or a loaf of bread nearing its sell-by date? Well, it turns out a lot of people want those things, because they know they can save tons of money that way!

Here are five categories of items you should consider buying in less-than-perfect condition:

1. Appliances

If you’re looking for a new washing machine, vacuum cleaner, or any other appliance that will likely be hidden from view most of the time, consider buying a slightly damaged version. You can save a ton of money simply because the store knows it can’t sell something with a scratch or dent for the full price.

These are sometimes called “cosmetically damaged appliances,” and if you type that into a search engine you’ll find a ton of them. Most appliance stores, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, have some damaged products in the back; just ask at the service desk. Two tips: Make sure you know what the damage consists of, and decide if you can live with it; and determine what the original price was versus the damaged price, and haggle if you think your savings aren’t enough.

2. Food

You’ve probably passed those bakery outlet stores a hundred times without ever stopping in. Well, here’s the deal: Nearly everything in the store is in perfectly good shape, other than the fact that it’s much closer to the sell-by date than what you find in the grocery store.

And sometimes even that’s not true: A bakery outlet attached to the actual bakery is probably selling the same stuff it’s shipping to stores, but at a large discount because there’s no middle man. Another interesting fact: While bakery outlet stores overflow with bread, they often sell all sorts of other stuff, such as cakes, muffins, snack pies, etc.

3. Clothing

Have an important job interview? Wear your best clothes. Going to work in your cubicle for the 500th time? Wear the “slightly-less-than-perfect” clothes you got at 75 percent off! Clothing is mass produced, so it’s no surprise that little imperfections arise from time to time.

Fancy stores cannot sell jeans with the label sewed on upside down, or t-shirts with the silk-screened design slightly smudged. So those clothes end up in outlet stores and sell for much less. But they’re still darn good, and in many cases you will barely be able to find the imperfection.

Note that places like TJ Maxx sell a few imperfect goods, but most of their product comes from manufacturers that overestimated demand, and thus have a lot of left overs. These items have no flaws — they just didn’t sell fast enough.

4. Display items

Stores have to display their wares, and those items get handled a lot. Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but often those display items are not quite perfect enough to sell at full price. Getting a good deal from display items involves timing and negotiating skills.

If you want something and there is a stack of them behind the display item, the manager is not going to care if you offer to buy the display item (because he still needs it). But if the product is sold out except for the display, and there’s visible wear or damage, tell him you’ll take it off his hands if the price is right.

Of course, the law of supply and demand still applies — if it’s the last Apple iPhone and 10 other people want it, you’re not going to get a good deal, even if it’s scratched. But if it’s a lonely, unwanted display item that’s just taking up floor space, you should be able to negotiate a good deal, even if the wear or damage is negligible.

5. Miscellaneous items

Nearly every item that comes out of a factory sometimes comes out wrong, and manufacturers need to unload those items. Often they open their own outlet stores for these.

The “outlet malls” that sprout up around tourist areas are usually a different breed — these places might sell a few slightly imperfect items, but most usually sell overstock or last-season stuff. To find the true mistakes, you usually need to shop in the store connected to the factory. You’re probably aware of factories in your locale — call the local number and ask if they have an outlet store.

You might seek perfection in every part of your life, but if you’re willing to accept a little less than perfection when you’re shopping, you can save serious dough! There’s no shame in imperfection when it means a fuller wallet.

Published on June 5th, 2012
Modified on June 10th, 2012 - 8 Comments
Filed under: Consumer, Frugality

About the author: is a writer and editor in Oak Park, Illinois. He specializes in personal finance, parenting, and small business topics. He is married and has two sons.

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8 Responses to “Less-than-Perfect: 5 Ways to Save by Buying Slightly Damaged Goods”

  1. 1
    DK Says:

    Where I grew up, there used to be an athletic apparel shop with an outlet store. It was crazy cheap, and I always loved finding the Super Bowl Champion shirts of the losing team!

  2. 2
    Funny about Money Says:

    There are a bunch of places online that sell seconds at amazing discounts. Learned about a few of them from Frugal Scholar…one of my favorites is Footprints.com, which sells pain-free shoes, some seconds & some not, at a decent discount. Also, All-Clad seconds can be had through certain online outlets. I’ve never been able to tell what made any of the Sanitas or Birkenstock “seconds” any different from the same, more expensive models at my favorite shoe stores. They fit and they look good…or as good as shoes that don’t hurt your feet can look.

  3. 3
    Lance@MoneyLife&More Says:

    I totally agree on the appliances. I got a steal of a deal on a clothes dryer that I’ll be posting about tomorrow over on my blog. Be sure to check it out to see how much money you can save with open box or less than perfect items.

  4. 4
    Thad P @ thadthoughts.com Says:

    My parents used to buy bread all the time from the “day old bread” store, and I had a friend who raved about all the money he saved from shopping at the “Used Food Store” in some small town in Nebraska.

    Excellent ways to save!

  5. 5
    Tess Goodman Says:

    Computers! Every computer I’ve purchased in the last 13 years has been from the Dell Outlet Store, where you can buy a refurbished computer with the exact same warranty as a new one for hundreds of dollars less. I’ve purchased them for myself & family members – never had a problem or need to send one back for any reason.

  6. 6
    Chris Says:

    We have a few grocery stores in the Central Pennsylvania area that specialize in selling products that are nearly out-of-date, just out-of-date or are from food companies that simply produced too much product. They have steep discounts–often 50% or more. When a box of cereal is due to expire in a couple of weeks it might sell for $1.29 or $1.49. Sometimes a 6 pack of English muffins will go for $0.35 if it’s short-dated. One store has a great deli. They sell premium turkey breast lunch meat(that’s comparable to Boar’s Head) for $3.98 a pound, and cheeses for under $3.00 a pound. My Mom shops at Amish stores in Western PA–you never know what you’ll find there. One time she found a windshield wiper that fit the back of their minivan for $0.10.

  7. 7
    Kris Says:

    Craigslist & tag sales are great for buying all those things that don’t need to be brand new. It may not be “cool” in or upscale town but it really does help us save lots of money. I’ve bought appliances and exercise equipment for a fraction of the new cost, and it was well worth it.

  8. 8
    Carl Lassegue Says:

    electronics is another area where you will be able to save money if you are willing to settle for less than perfect items. I have bought cell phones and computers that were refurbished. It’s always a plus when they come with a warranty.

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