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"Getting money is like digging with a needle;
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Tips for Inexpensive Deals on Furniture

I like to buy healthy, non toxic furniture that is either solid wood, glass or metal at good prices. I know you can get pressed wood products cheap at places like Target and Ikea, but for me the off gassing from the chemicals from pressed wood furniture isn't worth the long term health issues.

Listed below are my tips of where I've gotten nice furniture at great prices over the years.

1. Estates sales - Whether this option works for you or not I think depends on what part of the country you live in. When we lived in the Midwest, we found great buys at estate sales, but not so much when we lived in the South or on the West coast.

Our best buys from estate sales were all wood, antique pieces that we used ourselves for decades. Only recently we remodeled our home and replaced our old antique estate sale buys, but they are still living on and in use at a friend's house.

Well made, solid wood pieces of furniture can literally last for decades, so when you find pieces like this snatch them up! Buying those antiques when we were young was one of the best investments we ever made.

(One of the worst investments we ever made was buying stuffed chairs at an estate sale. Anything with stuffing can get moldy, so for things like couches and mattresses we now only buy new at discounted prices.)

2. Garage sales - It is time consuming process but if you have more time than money this can be a great option. Try going early to get the best picks, or go later in the day when prices are marked down. One of our frugal neighbors told he furnished his whole home from garage sales, including things like TVs. We once bought a brand new looking dining room table at a garage sale for a fraction of what a new table would have cost at the store.

3. Thrift stores - Most of the stuff I've seen at thrift shops has been pretty beat up, but there are still bargains here and there to be found. Many of the items that make it to these shops are fairly beat up, but if you don't mind doing a little painting or staining there can be some good buys here.

patio table and chairs   Purchase inexpensive director's chairs for starter pieces, then move them to the patio or den when you add better pieces. - from Stretching Decorating Dollars

4. Overstock.com - There are some things that are great buys at Overstock and many products where you can get better prices and faster delivery at other sites like Amazon, but for wool rugs and furniture, especially all wood furniture, the prices at Overstock are pretty hard to beat.

I prefer to buy all wood furniture to avoid the off gassing of chemicals from particle board and engineered wood. With Overstock they have descriptions online of the the kind of wood used in all of the furniture products, while we've found that furniture from the local stores is often either unspecified as to the contents or is made from man made materials.

I bought a beautiful buffet table for my dining room at one third the price of a similar table at Crate and Barrel. My Overstock buffet is solid wood while the C+B table was pressed wood. The drawback to Overstock is many of the pieces have to be assembled. I just pay my kids to do that for me, but if you don't have anyone mechanically inclined in your household, then this may not be the best option for you.

5. Ikea - Cheap but not recommended. One of my sons and I are sensitive to formaldehyde, and even just walking into an Ikea store gives us headaches because of all of the man made products with chemical components. I know other people may not be as sensitive to formaldehyde as we are, but perhaps we are like the parakeets the miners used to use to sniff out dangerous fumes. If the furniture fumes make people like me and my son sick, they probably aren't the best alternatives even for less chemically sensitive people.

6. All Wood Furniture Specialty Stores - Much of the furniture with four figure price tags at places like Macy's and Penney's is actually made from pressed wood. We have found healthier, better quality, less expensive, longer lasting furniture on sale at stores that specialize in solid wood furniture. Most of our bedroom furniture has come from sales at a local wood furniture store.

7. Watch for sales at retail stores and seize the day when you find a great sale. Years ago, a local retail store had a scratch card sales event. Shoppers got a card when they entered the store and scratched off a box to get a percent off their purchases for they day, even sales prices. On my card I got one of the rare 30% off pieces, so I went wild and bought a dishwasher, a living room set and a rocking chair and more. The pieces were already on sale, so I got everything at below cost. (One of the sales clerks later told me they lowered the maximum percent off of future scratch card events specifically because of the money they lost on my shopping spree.)

8. Negotiate - I know it isn't easy for everyone to do, but you really can negotiate prices at retail stores on big ticket items like furniture. What I do is just say. "I can get this item for X amount at your competitor, if you can beat that price I'll buy it here instead." If you can get it online, then take in the screen shot of the item's price online. I've done this with appliances and have gotten Best Buy to beat the online prices posted at Home Depot.

9. Unfinished furniture - If you have more time than money, you can buy unfinished furniture and then stain or paint it yourself. My mom used to buy unfinished furniture from Penny's catalog and then just paint it over with regular house paint.

10. Slipcovers - Instead of getting new couches, this year my plan is to buy slipcovers for our old couch and love seat sets.

11. Consignment Stores - We've purchased a few things at consignment stores, but because of the overhead involved and the store and original owner both needing a cut of the sales price, I've never found any earth shaking bargains at consignment stores. In fact, the last store I went into I thought I could have purchased most of the pieces cheaper brand new at Overstock.

12. Make Your Own Furniture - Be creative and make a trendy end table from a bunch of cut logs. Or how about a plank over books or cinder blocks for an instant coffee table, for a shabby chic look? One of my first wall ornaments was an old wooden typesetters drawer I bought at a flea market and filled with little knickknacks. It was cheap, fun to decorate and a great conversation piece.

13. Inflatable Furniture - For kid's rooms at home and college dorm rooms, this may be a good option as air filled furniture is easy to deflate and move to another location. Target has an assortment of inflatable furniture you can buy online, even a queen sofa bed!

14. Check out freecycle.org. You know the old saying, one man's trash is another man's treasure. You probably won't find an elegant, antique, mahogany coffee table to freecycle.org, but then again it is hard to argue with a price of free for the taking. Freecycle matches up people with used goods, including furniture, to give away with those in need. You can clear out your own clutter by offering items or put in a request for something you need.

15. Scavenge - Much of the furniture from my first apartment all came from my relatives' basements.

16. Scratch and Dent - check out the bargain sections at your local retail stores. You could save a bundle by not being too picky about small scratches or marks.

17. Buy plants - Plants can provide fresh air indoors, detoxify harmful chemicals in the air, are colorful and can be an inexpensive way to use up space in an otherwise sparsely furnished apartment.

18. Use patio furniture on the inside - One of my first dining room tables was a metal outdoor patio table and chairs that I bought marked down at the end of summer and used in my kitchen. Patio furniture is usually made to be durable so it lasted quite a long time.

19. Cost Plus World Market - They carry many trendy, all wood pieces of furniture at reasonable prices. We bought a solid wood bookcase here for a little over a hundred dollars. We liked it so much over the years we've ended up with 4 of them in different room in the house.

20. Use tablecloths creatively - Buy cheap, beat up tables at garage sales and Goodwill, and then cover them in floor length table cloths.

21. Reupholster - Instead of buying new, see if you can reupholster old chairs or couches.

22. Look for deals on Craigslist, including the free section.

23. Old fashioned luggage trunks can make trendy coffee tables. I had one I found in my grandparents' basement that we used in our homes for decades.

With a little elbow grease, creativity and imagination it is quite possible to furnish an entire home on a limited budget.

Selected References -

1. Chun, Cherie. "Inflatable furniture is cheap, hassle-free, and just plain groovy!." Honolulu Star - Bulletin. Honolulu Star Bulletin HI. 1998.

2. Hatherly, Joanne. "12 steps to finding good (and cheap) furniture." Winnipeg Free Press. FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership. 2006.



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