Photo by Youssef Sarhan on Unsplash

If you want to be the proud owner of an iPhone XS, it'll cost you. Buying the sleek new model direct from Apple will run you about $1,000. But if you buy one second-hand, you could find the same device for nearly half the price. The rub: Buying used smartphones can be risky business. Due to scams and carrier limitations, you need to do some serious research, hope for the best, and prepare for hitches before (and sometimes, after) you lay down your hard-earned cash. That doesn't mean you shouldn't consider purchasing a used smartphone—which could save you hundreds if you know what you're doing—especially as the new year rolls around.

"When supply outstrips demand there are bargains to be had," Matt Barker CEO of second-hand camera marketplace MPB tells Gizmodo. "January just after the new year is the best time to buy... the supply of second-hand gadgets surges after Christmas as unwanted presents get sold."

If you're looking for a used smartphone sold directly from the seller, head over to Swappa, the online gadget marketplace, or even eBay. Craigslist has seller-direct options as well, but the lack of public reviews makes it harder to vet the seller. Meanwhile, Gazelle and Best Buy work with third party intermediaries who verify the phone's condition, but that can makes the prices steeper. (Note: we're not talking about refurbished phones, which usually are factory direct models that come with a warranty and an even higher price-tag.)

So say you've found a used smartphone at the cheapest price possible. How do you know it's going to be scratch-free, reliable, or generally in working order? You don't. But you can do some homework before you make your purchase.

Step 1: Really examine the listing

Listings for used phones bare some telltale signs of reliability. You want to make sure your seller has plenty of legit, positive feedback from buyers, and real photos of the individual product—not just shots ripped from the original retailer. "Look for five-star reviews, and avoid listings with stock photos," writes Popular Mechanics' Alexander George.

Step 2: Know the code

A crucial step in your purchase is obtaining the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) code, which can be found on both IOS and Android devices and included in your seller's listing. (If your seller doesn't list the code, you can ask for it directly.) When you enter the code either into Swappa's code checker, or on your own mobile carrier's code checking page (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all have one) you'll be able to find out whether the phone is able to activated. If it was lost or stolen and someone is attempting to resell it, chances are it will be locked by the carrier. That means you'll end up with a device that's unusable.

Step 3: Check with your carrier

You also want to confirm that the phone you're purchasing is compatible with your carrier (regardless of what the listing says), which you can do by visiting their website or calling them up and reading them the IMEI code. They'll be able to detect if the device is compatible with your plan or not.

Step 4: Ask the seller a few more questions

Don't be shy about asking for additional information, like whether or not the device includes the original headphones, charger, etc. You also want to get any details about scratches and other possible exterior or interior hiccups with the phone before you decide to make your purchase. If the price is too good to be true, there's usually a reason.

Finally, check that the seller has a solid return policy—this will save you big if your phone isn't up to snuff. "You've got to know who you're buying from, so you have recourse if something goes wrong" Dillard tells Digital Trends. "If you buy second-hand from a retailer, make sure they have a good return policy."

Step 5: Pay with extra security

Before you decide on a payment method, consider where and how you're making your purchase. "Experts recommend looking for trusted payment gateways, including Braintree and PayPal, and buying from stores that use services like CheckMEND to flag up stolen goods," writes Gizmodo's David Neild. "Buying with a credit card rather than a debit card can give you some extra protection in terms of getting refunds for faulty goods—check with your credit card issuer to see if anything like this is available for you."

Step 5: Seriously inspect your new smartphone

If you can meet a seller in person to examine the phone before you make the purchase, you can decide if it's worth the money, or even negotiate a lower price if you spot any inadequacies. If that's not an option, you should still scan the phone like a human x-ray machine, looking for dinks and damages, once it's arrived via mail and you're holding it in your hands.

"Obviously, scratches, dents and cracked glass will be evident by handling the phone," Ben Edwards, chief executive of used-tech marketplace Swappa tells the New York Times. "Water damage is harder to spot from the outside of the phone, but every phone usually does have one or two moisture indicators — sometimes behind the battery, sometimes in the SIM card tray. That's one of those things that should be checked once you've got the phone in hand." You'll also want to charge the phone and insert your own SIM card.

If there are unexpected issues, you can contact the seller for a refund or discount, or if you used a credit card with protection, you can dispute the purchase.

Step 6: Restore Factory Settings

The final step is to restore the factory settings on your phone. This isn't just to wipe the slate clean on a used phone, but to check that the device isn't still linked to any cloud accounts that will disrupt your service. Once you're able to login to all your own accounts you will be rewarded with a new-ish smartphone you don't have to pay off for the next hundred years.

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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.