My husband and I recently bought a home roughly twice the size of our old one. We enjoy the extra space, but several rooms in our home are completely devoid of furniture. Since I’m not impressed with the high prices and low quality of most “big-box” furniture stores, I’ve slowly been amassing bargain-priced pieces on the secondhand market. Whether you’re looking to furnish a college apartment or a fancy formal living room, there are lots of ways to score good, solid furnishings on the cheap. Use these strategies the next time you shop.
Look everywhere. Yard sales are always good options for finding furniture, especially during the summer. Estate sales can be promising, too, especially if you’re looking for higher-end pieces or furnishings with a more formal flair. Local Craigslist classifieds also have a spot for furniture; in the Dallas area, where I live, hundreds of new listings appear in the category every day. Thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill may also carry furniture, though some locations tend to have more of a selection than others. Can’t afford much? Try to score free furnishings on your local Freecycle group or by trolling your town’s neighborhoods on the evening before the garbage company picks up large items.
Bring cash. With the exception of some estate sales and thrift stores, most secondhand furniture sellers want cash for their goods. If you think there is even a small chance you may be interested in an item, make sure to have the money in hand when you arrive. Say you find the perfect dining room table at a yard sale. In the time it takes for you to find an ATM and return, another buyer could snatch it up.
Don’t count out not-quite-right items. If you’re willing to put in a little time and elbow grease, you can turn an outdated or beat-up piece into a beautiful, functional piece of furniture. Light scratches on a table, for example, can be remedied by refinishing; ugly drawer pulls on a dresser can easily be spray-painted or replaced. If you like the look of painted furniture, you can even create a piece that’s truly unique. A few months ago, I painted a nice (but boring) cherry-finish desk a delicate shade of seafoam green and turned the hardware from brass to white (see picture). I’m currently on the hunt for a cheap, garage-sale chair that I can paint to match.
Haggle when appropriate. If someone is asking too much for an item, don’t be afraid to (politely) ask if they would take less. Lowballing isn’t wise, because the seller won’t take you seriously – but offering a price that’s 20% to 30% less is usually appropriate. Another hint: The longer the item has been for sale, the more likely the seller is to cut a deal. Whenever I peruse Craigslist for furniture, I bypass the newest ads and scroll back to listings that have been up for at least five days, then send an email with my offer. Using this technique, I was able to reduce the price of a vintage telephone bench from $85 to $55.
Other ways to save money at home:
- Free wheelchair ramps and home repairs for needy
- How to save money on air conditioning
- Get charities to take your unwanted stuff
Tim Marlow says
Nice article Jennifer. My wife and I recently bought a much bigger house like you did and we have furnished almost all it by restoring second hand items. It was actually really good fun as well as being much cheaper. I would encourage all your readers to do the same.