How to Save Money On Tools

One of my fondest memories from childhood was building a small car for the local Pinewood Derby race with my grandfather. Though I had helped him with a few small projects around the house, this was my first chance to use some of those mysterious tools I saw hanging in his garage.

My grandfather was the type that seemingly had a tool to solve every problem, no matter how exotic or obscure. As a kid, I wondered how in the world anyone could build such a collection, but as he explained, it took a lifetime to assemble such a collection.

The Best Birthday Present Ever

For my 10th birthday, my grandfather gave me what I still consider one of the greatest birthday presents I’ve ever received. The afternoon of my birthday I found a doubled-bagged brown paper sack rolled down and stapled closed (my grandfather didn’t believe in gift wrap) with a little “Happy Birthday” note written in pen on the side of the bag.

The message read something like, “Consider this a jump-start on your very own collection.” The bag was heavy, so I carefully removed it from the table and on to the floor where I excitedly tore open the top of the bag. Inside I found one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever received:

These are the things I remember from the contents of that bag:

  • Hammer
  • Wrench set
  • Socket set
  • Screwdrivers in various lengths
  • Tape measure
  • Pliers
  • Yankee Drill
  • Bits
  • Assortment of nails and screws

Sometime later he also gave me a small toolbox to hold my new collection. That box of tools became my most prized possession.

I used it to help my mom hang pictures when we moved to a new house.

I used the pliers to remove the aerator on our kitchen faucet when it became clogged after some dirt made it’s way into the plumbing line. Talk about feeling handy!

When I was a little older, I even changed the blades on our lawnmower one spring (with a little supervision from my grandfather).

Now that I am older, and have a son, I want to pass along a love of well-built tools and help start him off with his own collection. I also continually look to fill in gaps in my own collection.

However, being a “frugal dad,” I also recognize that tools are expensive. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to find them for less than full retail.

Pawn Shops

The other day I stopped by a local pawn shop, attracted by a large tool chest in front of the store. You’ve probably seen the ones with the ball-bearing lined drawers that stack over six feet tall for well over $1,000. The shop was asking $600, and it wasn’t a bad deal, but I wasn’t ready to invest that much into organizing my collection (though it sure was tempting)!

Inside the shop they also had a number of mechanic’s sets with a variety of tools for sale. They were used, but all appeared in good condition, and a number of sets I recognized carried a lifetime warranty (such as the Sears Craftsman brand).

Yard Sales/Estate Sales

Another great way to find used tools is yard sales and estate sales. I know of a recent estate sale in my area where an older gentleman passed away and left a large tool collection for his wife to contend with.

The couple had no children, and the wife had given away a few items to friends. The rest was being sold, along with their home, as she planned to downsize into an apartment community. I like to think that man would be happy to know his tools will continue their useful life as they are passed on to future generations.

Of course there is a lot competition from other buyers looking to add to their own tool collections. Just ask anyone who has recently held a yard sale; lots of folks come by only looking for tools.

I continue to keep an eye out for new tools, and will even pick up some in the stores or online at places like when they appear on sale. And I think now I’ve solved the problem of what to get my son for his next birthday.


  1. Craigslist is a great resource for tools, especially for those living in larger metropolitan areas. However, patience and diligence are required if you’re looking for a specific item. Power tools seem to be listed most often.

  2. Don’t forget the girls Frugal Dad! Those with daughters should bless them with a similar gift. I still have the toolkit my older brother gave me – and some lifelong “fixit” skills to go with it!

  3. Keep in mind that in places like that you can haggle a bit to get an even lower price. That $600 tool chest probably could’ve been purchased for closer to $500 with some negotiating. As for yard sales, the trick is to show up nice and early and beat the competition.

    Another option that you could consider for the more expensive tools is renting them from a hardware store. Of course this is only a good idea if it is an expensive power tool that you would very rarely need.

  4. Watch your local hometown hardware store for their special sales days. Ours, twice a year or so, has a “bucket sale” … You buy the 5 gal. bucket for 99 cents, but anything you put in the bucket is 25% off, or more, depending on the sale. I use this for things that I want a warranty on – like a good cordless drill, an electric chain saw, etc…. It’s a great way to get quality and warranty as well as support your local mom and pop shops. Keep a wish list going inside the kitchen cabinet (where mine is) and then when the sales come, go buy it 🙂

    Patience, and preplanning, save a LOT of money 🙂

  5. Craigslist is definitely a great place to buy tools. I do like pawn shops for these types of items too. Any used tools can be acquired at a great price, and it is almost a waste of time to buy these things new at lowes or home depot…if you ask me.

  6. Hey Jason, I also like saving money a lot. But when it comes to tools, I didn’t have a grandfather like yours. So I had to buy my tools one at a time. My approach is really buy-it-when-i-need-it, so you could imagine, I didn’t really save any money. But now, I’ve organized my tools and looking at buying new ones. I’ve been learning about where to get cheaper ones.

    btw, it’s my first time on your blog. looks nifty and useful!

  7. When I got my first car my dad made sure I had all the tools I would need to change a tire and the spark plugs. I can’t say that I remember how to do either of those things but I still use that tool set around the house. Tools, and the knowledge of how to use them, are excellent gifts.

    We always check craigslist for tools and have been blessed with neighbors and friends who are generous enough to allow us to borrow theirs.

  8. Going to tool swaps can also be a great idea – if, for some reason, you have two of one tool, or a paint stripper that you can’t see yourself using again, bring them to a tool swap to exchange for that new wrench you need 🙂