Optimizing your LEGO® Purchases

As with all hobbies, Lego model railroading is expensive, but you don’t have to be ultra-wealthy to make the most of it! There are those with more money than time who are content to pay market price for their brick, and those who prefer to invest their time into getting a better deal and more for their money. If you find yourself in the latter group, this guide is for you!

Order of Operations:

First and foremost, though it may come as a surprise to some, purchasing parts on BrickLink should ultimately be your means of last resort for acquiring parts for any given build. All BrickLink sellers are in the business to make a profit, so you can expect most of them to list their parts for as much as they possibly can while still remaining competitive with other stores. On top of that, some BrickLink stores even deceptively seek to earn a profit on things like shipping and handling. As such, your goal should always be to find as many of the parts on your wanted list (see how to create one for your project here) as possible through other means for less than the average BrickLink price. Every piece acquired through such alternative means is ultimately money saved on the build overall, leaving you with more money to put towards your next project! These potential means are listed below from most to least effective, and are best followed in the given order to achieve maximum savings.

Private Collections:

The first (and hopefully most obvious) place to acquire parts for your builds is your own private collection. Anything you already own costs you nothing, so it’s absolutely worth the time to find as many of the parts on your wanted list as you can in your collection, even if it’s not sorted. Additionally, through means like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, you can occasionally find people willing to practically give away bulk lots of unsorted LEGO to supplement your own collection that may contain pieces you need for current or future builds.

Bricks & Minifigs Bulk:

The second-best place to find a good deal on parts for your build would be your local Bricks & Minifigs (or similar) store. Obviously, this only applies to those who have one within reasonable driving distance, but more and more stores continue to pop up in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada, so it’s always worth checking to see if you have one nearby, because this is where the savings can be the most dramatic. All stores sell bags of used parts that you can pick out yourself from their bulk tables, with the amount of value you get increasing with each bag size. The largest bag (2 gallon), which retails for $80, yields an average cost of 0.02-0.03 USD per piece, regardless of size or rarity. So, if you take your time filling your bag, you should be saving 50% or more over BrickLink on any pieces you’re able to find from your wanted list. The savings continue to increase if you happen to be shopping during a sale or special bulk-picking event. It can be a somewhat time-consuming process to dig out what you need from the jumbled mix in the bulk tables, but the savings simply can’t be argued with!

LEGO Store Pick-a-Brick Wall:

The next best place to get a great deal on parts is a bit more situational. The Pick-a-Brick wall at your local LEGO brand retail store is an excellent way to stock up on bulk amounts of individual elements. The value is often exceptional and far better than BrickLink for all but the largest of elements. However, in terms of saving money on your individual builds, unless your wanted list contains large amounts of the same pieces, shopping preemptively is the best way to approach the Pick-a-Brick wall. In other words, the best way to save money here is by buying parts you need before you actually need them and adding them to your private collection in anticipation of future builds. To some this might seem wasteful or foolhardy, but the most serious and seasoned builders can attest to it. The more you build, the better of an idea you get as to what parts you use frequently and can never have enough of!

Online Pick-a-Brick and Bricks and Pieces Orders:

The next places to look for cheap parts require a bit of patience, and they are the online “Pick-a-Brick” and “Bricks and Pieces” services offered through lego.com. The two services are similar but driven to different purposes. The online Pick-a-Brick service is intended for buying bulk amounts of pieces, with a maximum quantity of 1000 per unique element and only certain elements/colors available. The Bricks and Pieces service on the other hand is generally intended for purchasing replacement parts, however you can order up to 200 of any unique element with part/color selection only being limited by what’s in production or currently in stock. Parts on either service generally cost more than the average asking price on BrickLink, but because pricing is based purely on manufacturing cost as opposed to rarity, you can occasionally find a better deal there on certain elements. This is especially true of brand new or recently recolored elements that have yet to show up in large quantities on the aftermarket. Shipping cost for both services remains the same low price regardless of order size, so it’s never a bad idea to check them for better prices before turning to BrickLink. The only downside is that delivery can take anywhere from a week to a month or more depending on the amount of orders being processed by the LEGO Group’s warehouses, so for these you may need to be patient.

Shopping Smart on BrickLink:

While the use of other means of acquiring parts ought to save you a ton on your build, you’re more than likely still going to have to turn to BrickLink at some point for some of the what you need. The “Buy All” feature within the wanted list interface that allows you to automatically fill store carts based on what an algorithm deems to be the ideal balance of element price versus number of stores is very useful, but it isn’t always perfect. (Avoid the “Easy Buy” feature as well, as it seems to be completely broken.) It tends to favor stores with more expansive inventory, but such stores usually charge more for their parts in exchange for the convenience of having more of what you need in one place. So sometimes it’s worthwhile to manually adjust your carts after creating them to optimize them for the lowest possible price. Also, as with the LEGO store Pick-a-Brick wall, it’s often good to preemptively buy cheaply priced extra parts from BrickLink stores you’re already buying from that you think you might need for future builds. It could mean the difference between having to buy from only 3 BrickLink stores instead of 5 when you look to order parts for your next build, which can mean some serious savings on shipping rates that continue to climb with the increasing growth of ecommerce.

Remember to BUILD IT BIG!