A month after my 21st birthday, Sara and I closed on the purchase of our brand new home. By most standards we were in an “okay” financial position.
I had a small amount of student loan debt, we had paid off the majority of the credit card debt we took out to pay for our wedding, and we had a small savings account. We had only been working full time jobs for about 8 months, but our income was very high, our debts were very low, and we had plenty of margin each month.
Like most American’s applying for a mortgage between 2004-2008, we could do more than fog a mirror, so we were approved to buy way more house than we needed.
We moved into our own little part of the American Dream and realized that we just went from a 400 square foot apartment to a 2,200 square foot house. Furniture that wasn’t made out of cinder blocks, plywood, and duct tape became a priority for us. (Yes I was 21 and right out of college.)
Not having any money in the bank to buy furniture we hopped on a furniture store website and applied for their credit card. We were approved with a $5,000 limit with 0% interest for 48 months. The next morning we went to the furniture store to pick out some new furniture.
The list of “must haves” went like this:
- Headboard/Footboard for Queen Size Bed
- TV Stand
- Coffee Table/End Tables
That’s it. We had looked on the website, had an idea of what we wanted and knew about what we wanted to spend.
What we purchased that day looked more like this:
- Queen Sleigh Bed
- Oversized dresser/mirror for master bedroom
- 2 night stands
- Sofa Table
- Coffee Table/End tables
- TV Stand
- Probably some other stuff too that I can’t remember but that Sara will remind me of after she reads this article.
They were having a “SALE” and it didn’t add that much to our monthly payment and we had 0% interest and we weren’t maxing out the card. We went in intending on spending about $1,500 and walked out spending well over $3,500. About a year later we spent another $800 on a dining room table that started falling apart before we even got it assembled. (The fact we had to assemble it should’ve been my first clue.)
Less than 24 months later, when our financial world began to cave in on us, all of this furniture was sold in a garage sale for $700 so that we could afford to pay the mortgage that month.
Sure, there were plenty of other poor financial decisions that we made in that 24 month period, like the 2 new cars, or the grandfather clock fiasco I haven’t told you about. But this was at the beginning of several major learning lessons for us about money and contentment.
First, we learned that the furniture we bought from this big box store was really quite terrible in quality. It wasn’t made from real wood. It couldn’t ever be refinished. It didn’t hold together very well. And the resale value sucks.
Second, when we started to recover financially and needed to refurnish our house, we learned that you can get some amazing deals on furniture if you’re willing to be patient and put in some hard work.
Here’s the new furniture we’ve put in our house slowly over the past few years, along with the prices we’ve paid.
Coffee Table & End Tables – $90 on Craigslist
I don’t know what this style is called, but I know that I have a 6 and 2 year old. Having furniture pre-distressed before they get ahold of it is pretty awesome.
This was our first “discount” furniture purchase. Sara was looking on Craiglist specifically for coffee tables and end tables and these were in our budget. The person selling them owned a small resale boutique and had already refinished these.
We met a few hours later, paid cash, and picked up our 2 new end tables and coffee table.
Office Bookshelves – $80 on Craigslist
This is the furniture where I realized my wife is really good at digging through the dark places of the internet for buried treasure.
I told her that I wanted 2 wooden bookcases with shelves on top and cabinets on the bottom that had a backlight. Basically, exactly what is shown in this picture. 2 weeks later she told me that she found them.
I negotiated over the phone with the people selling them and said that I could come pick them up immediately if they’d accept $80 for both of the bookshelves. They were asking $150, but they were also in the middle of moving out of their house and wanted them gone.
They accepted and I picked them up that afternoon with some help from my brother in law. Brand new, these cabinets cost over $1,000.
I will eventually refinish these to match the desk you see in the center of this picture. Speaking of the desk..
Executive Office Desk – $75 at Salvation Army Store
I knew for the desk in my office that I wanted an executive style desk, but I wanted it to be black. In the stores I could find what I wanted brand new, but they were all $800+.
One day while we were out driving around Sara suggested we stop in at The Salvation Army Store to see if they had any furniture we might want.
I walked in and immediately found this desk and knew that I could turn it into what I wanted.
We purchased it and then went to Home Depot to buy a refinishing kit and some new hardware. A few weeks later my desk was refinished and setup in my new home office.
For less than $100 total it was a great deal!
Dining Room Table – $45 Garage Sale
I’m always bummed with myself for not getting a “before” picture of this table because it was in super rough condition.
We were having our annual neighborhood garage sale and as Sara was driving by she noticed this table in someones driveway. I went down to look at it and thought it was perfect, but we weren’t really in need of a new table. We did want a new table, but we didn’t need one yet.
At the end of the day, the table was still there so I went and talked to the owner. He was originally asking for $90. I offered him $30 because it really was in rough shape. He countered back with $45 and I bought the table.
It took me a few months to find the time to work on it and strip off all the old finish, but it turned out amazing.
This month I’m building some matching farm benches to go on both sides of the table and they’ll cost me about $50 in materials.
Headboard – $Free – side of the road.
I’ll admit that this is when I thought my wife had gone a little crazy. She told her aunt that she was looking for an old door.
A week later her aunt shows up at my house with this old, dirty, nasty, wooden door.
That’s when Sara told me it was going to be our new headboard.
A few coats of paint and a creative hanging system on the wall and I love our new, free, headboard!
Nightstands – $30 online Facebook Group
We have 2 of these. They used to be white. An afternoon with a gallon of paint and they fit in our bedroom perfectly.
Even better is the fact that we only spent $30 for them both.
We talked about updating the hardware too, but decided to spray paint it silver instead.
Yes that is Jon Acuff’s new book, Do Over, in there.
These are just some of the major pieces of furniture we have found, refinished, and put in our home. It doesn’t touch the things like lamps and other decorations we’ve found. But of all the furniture we’ve purchased to decorate our home, the total is well under $1,000. What’s even better is that the quality of furniture we buy now is significantly better than anything we ever purchased new from a retail furniture store.
The Next 2 Refinishing Projects:
Sara told me she wanted a secretary desk for her to use in our home office. I knew that meant I was about to get another furniture refinishing project, so I made it hard on her.
I told her we could get one, if she could find one for under $100. I knew that even the ones in rough condition were selling for $250+. We agreed that if she couldn’t find it within a year, that we could up the budget.
I learned never to give my wife a challenge like this. 2 weeks later she found this one on an online app that a hoarder was getting rid of. Yes a hoarder was actually getting rid of something. We purchased this for $50.
It’s getting refinished to match the other furniture in our office soon.
We got this bench for our entry way because it is exactly what we were looking for to fit the space. It gives us a little extra storage and a place to hang-up coats and hats in the winter.
We found this in a boutique resale shop for $80, because it does still need some work.
For us, the cream color is a little too cream and the stain is a little too orange. I’m refinishing it this month to match our dining room table and it will look awesome.
For every dollar we save on furniture to decorate our house with, or for every dollar we save by not having brand new cars, or for every dollar we save when we negotiate, its a dollar that gets invested back into our dreams. It’s a dollar that goes back into the business. It’s a dollar that helps pay for Sara’s grad school. It’s a dollar that lets us go on fun vacations.
Just because you have a frugal lifestyle, it doesn’t mean you have to live a cheap life.