How to Buy First Rate Seconds

by Cindi Myers
How to Buy First Rate Seconds photo

Did you know a little imperfection can actually save you a lot of money? We explore the why, how, and where of buying imperfect first rate seconds.

To save money on everything from shirts to squash, look to seconds.

Seconds are items with a slight blemish or flaw that prevents them from being sold at the same price as perfect goods. Farmers, manufacturers, and artisans sell seconds at a fraction of the cost of perfect goods in order to recoup some of their cost and prevent materials from going to waste. The imperfections are often too small to notice at first glance.

Buying seconds can reap you big savings.

What to Buy

So what types of imperfect goods are available for sale at a discount?

Textiles

Sheets, tablecloths and clothing seconds have minor flaws, such as a crooked hem on a shirt or an odd dye lot in the material.

Produce

Bruised or overripe fruits and vegetables still make great jams, jellies, and freezer goods.

Crafts

Potters, glassblowers and other artisans sell seconds as an alternative to throwing away slightly imperfect work. The crafts are still beautiful and the imperfections add interest.

Manufactured Goods

Almost anything that’s manufactured can be a second. The manufacturing process produces a certain amount of flawed goods that must be disposed of in some way. Rather than trash an otherwise useful item, many manufacturers sell the blemished goods as seconds.

Where to Buy

You probably have a lot of resources right in your hometown from which you can buy seconds.

Farmers’ Markets

If you don’t see seconds for sale, ask the vendor if she will sell you seconds.

Last summer, I purchased a box of peaches marked as seconds for $10. The perfect fruit sold for $2.99 a pound. The peaches had some bruises and some were overripe. After discarding the parts I couldn’t use, I still canned six jars of peach slices, nine jars of peach jam, and made a large peach cobbler. Another market near me regularly sells boxes of tomato seconds for canning at $15 a box. (See A Buying Guide for the Farmers Market.)

Farms

In search of apples for applesauce, I’ve stopped at orchards and asked if they sold seconds. I’ve purchased apples for $3 a five-gallon bucket and I’ve even been given slightly bruised apples for free.

Once a farmer gave me a case of squash he couldn’t sell to his wholesaler. The squash was perfect and beautiful, but was too small to meet his buyer’s standards.

Factories

Factories often have factory stores where they sell goods to the public. These stores may have a section for seconds. You can also ask the factory rep if they have seconds available.

Where I live, a local candy factory sells broken pieces in large bags for $1 a bag. These are fine to eat, and great for using in cookies or ice cream. A tea factory sells dented boxes of tea for about a third of what the perfect packages sell for.

Artisans

Pottery shops usually have a shelf for seconds.

I have a cream pitcher with a slightly crooked handle, a casserole dish with a small glaze drip on one side, and various slightly imperfect bowls. The flaws are miniscule, but the items sold for about a tenth of what the perfect version retailed for.

A glassblower friend sells her flawed pieces at a steep discount also. Again, the flaws are minor and don’t interfere with the usefulness or, to my mind, the beauty of the pieces.

Outlet Stores

These stores used to deal primarily in seconds, but now I see mostly new or last season’s garments. Still, some stores have sections of seconds. (See All You Need to Know About Outlet Shopping.)

I purchased cookware seconds at a Faberware outlet store and luggage seconds from an American Tourister outlet for about half the price of similar items elsewhere in the store that weren’t deemed seconds.

Online

A Google search turned up dealers who sold factory second insulation, exercise mats, and industrial tools. eBay is another good source of seconds.

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Tricks of the Trade

Here are just a few more tips that can help you reap the benefits of buying seconds.

  • Be prepared to process seconds of produce right away. Wash the fruits or vegetables and cut away all bruised or damaged flesh. Use fruit for jams, jellies and sauces or freeze berries or fruit slices. Ask the farmer the best way to preserve different vegetables.
  • Inspect each item carefully. I’ve seen second sheets that had a section of flawed weaving in the middle of the sheet. This made them unsuitable as bed linens, but if you wanted to cut them up for another purpose, they’d be fine.
  • If you find a factory, farm or artisan you’d like to buy from again, ask them to put you on their mailing list. My glassblower friend holds a twice-yearly seconds sale and notifies people on her mailing list for first pick.

Reviewed October 2021

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