When you can’t afford furniture, believe it or not, you have options. It’s also a more common problem than you may think. Here are some offbeat options to help you find furniture until you can afford something better. It’s entirely possible to furnish your home inexpensively if you need to.
Spread the word
I don’t blame you if you feel shy about just coming out and asking people for furniture. I didn’t do that when I first moved out on my own. But if you spread the word with your friends and coworkers that you’re moving, you’ll probably be surprised how many people will ask you if you need any furniture. Many people have old furniture in their basements that they don’t use and wouldn’t mind giving to someone who can use it.
So there’s no harm in spreading the word. You can be subtle about it.
The good furniture tends to go fast at thrift stores, but stores like The Salvation Army do try to keep some furniture in stock. It’s always worth paying your nearest thrift stores a visit to see what they might have. It won’t be expensive, because they want the furniture to move fast.
I can’t speak for other cities, but at least in St. Louis, St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores are an excellent place to get new mattresses.
Most Goodwill stores aren’t big enough to have a large selection of furniture, but their outlet stores are. They have a good selection of furniture and it’s extremely cheap. It’s cash and carry, so bring a large vehicle.
Although people think of it as a source of building materials, the Habitat for Humanity Re-store often has some furniture. If you need a $20 kitchen table, pay it a visit. The Habitat for Humanity Re-store is also a good place to get material for making your own furniture (more on that in a minute).
Other secondhand stores
Local resale and consignment shops can be a decent source for inexpensive used furniture. You do have to be careful with these types of stores. Some deal in inexpensive goods and others deal only in upscale items. It’s not a bad idea to call ahead to get an idea of the type of store it is before visiting.
Craigslist and local Facebook for-sale groups
Your local Craigslist or Facebook for-sale groups are another excellent source. Other people are constantly replacing furniture and looking to unload their old stuff. Prices will vary but frequently you can get useful items cheaply. Even if you can’t afford furniture in the more normal venues, this often works.
When people need to liquidate an estate quickly, they hold an estate sale. Think of a garage sale where everything in the house is for sale. Some estate sales sell premium furniture at premium prices, while others just price stuff to get rid of it.
You’ll get the lowest prices on furniture that’s a bit dated, but not old enough yet to be retro-cool again.
Take a look at estatesales.net at the sales in your area. and take a look at the pictures. Pay attention to the pictures of the living room, the bedrooms, or whatever rooms you need furniture for. If a sale looks promising, visit it. You’ll get the best selection on the first day. You’ll get better prices late in the day on the last day, when they’ll mark stuff down in hopes of someone being interested.
If you take the last-day strategy, be sure to have a truck and the tie downs you need. Depending on the sale, you may have to haul the furniture off right away. I have some more estate sale tips if you need them.
Make your own when you can’t afford furniture
If you have some basic tools or can borrow some, it’s surprising how much furniture you can make using basic dimensional lumber, like 2x4s. I once made myself a desk using wood I salvaged from a demolition. You could turn my desk plans into a table by just using longer boards. Even if you can’t salvage wood, you can save a fortune by buying cull lumber.
Youtube is full of plans for making simple and surprisingly good-looking furniture from basic off-the-shelf lumber, often using just a circular saw and a drill. The rustic look is very much in right now, so if you can afford some lumber and some polyurethane, you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice style, even if you only have basic tools and minimal skills.
If you already have outdoor furniture but it’s damaged, or you can get worn-out outdoor furniture cheaply, often you can repair and paint it and make it like new. If you need shelves, in a pinch you can improvise with cinder blocks and boards. When I was growing up, we had shelves made of cinder blocks and boards for years. And a set of cinder blocks and boards my first college roommate passed down to me got me through college too. It’s entirely possible, 20 years later, someone’s still using those.