How to Set Up a Comfortable Home Without Breaking the Bank

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In the Ford family, we’ve been doing a lot of shopping.

We left PNG with four suitcases.  Between everything we owned, we probably had about 20 boxes to our name.

It has been such an amazing blessing.  How many people get to start over?  When my wife and I were first married and setting up our home, we did a lot of conforming.  We set up a home like we thought we should.  We registered for the types of items all good little middle class people are supposed to own.  We bought things based mostly on others’ expectations of what we should have and own.

With this fresh start, we’ve been able to purchase items we know we’ll use.  We’ve been very intentional about keeping our home simple and clutter free.  That means not buying every item that adds an ounce of convenience, but instead focusing on items that provide multiple functions.

The Strategy We Used to Save On Our Household Items

1.  We’ll make every effort to find things used before we shop for them new.

This meant spending a lot of time at second hand stores, garage sales, and reviewing Craigslist.

As far as pricing, we’ve found the best prices are found at garage sales, and then second hand stores, then Craigslist.

There is a direct relationship between the convenience/time factor and the price of an item.

Since I’m self employed, I decided I’d be able to save more than I could earn if I spent a week trying to track down household items instead of working for a week and making one trip to a furniture store.

Sure, garage sales are cheaper, but they typically only happen on weekends, and you’re stuck with what they’re selling.  That means an entire morning of garage sales can yield very few purchases.  The second hand store is a little better because you’ll be able to look at several items in one store, but their prices are also higher than the typical garage seller.  Craigslist provides the easiest access to the best quality products, but at a price.

In fact, I paid $1 to get the Craiglist app on my iPhone.  It allows me to easily check updated items and to circle my favorites to show my wife.

Since we stayed with my in-laws for a week, we spent that entire week (almost literally) trying to track down as many second hand furniture items as possible before we moved into our rental house.

Tip: Always ask sellers if they have anything else they are selling.  When we went to pick up the bunk beds we bought off Craigslist, we noticed that the lady selling the items was moving.  We asked if she had anything else she wanted to get rid of, and we ended up with a storage rack, two bookshelves, and a cooler for an extra $30.  When we picked up our couch and love seat, we asked if they knew anyone selling a queen size bed.  The couple actually was, and ended up selling it to us for $15.

Negotiating: I’m not very good at negotiating.  I do get people to bundle, but I often don’t barter with people.  If I’m already getting a great deal, I’m happy to pay their asking price.  However, if you are a negotiator, you’ll likely be able to get items for a lower price than listed.

2.  If it’s not on sale (and perhaps even clearance) we’re not going to buy it.

Once again, this does require more time (popping into more stores more frequently).

However, we did our best to shop only clearance items.  Since we’re not picky about a lot of things in our home, we were able to save a bunch of money simply by asking if they had any items on clearance.

The pickier you are about style, the more you’ll pay.  The more flexible you are with colors and styles, the less you’ll pay.

Our daughter even got into the game telling us anytime she saw a 50% off sign because she knew if it wasn’t on the 50% off rack, we wouldn’t buy it.

3.  We’ll borrow an item if that gives us a little more time to find one on sale.

My in-laws have been very supportive through the move.  They offered to lend us a bed, but we bought one the day we moved in.  They lent us a microwave and a table.

Sometimes you just need a little extra time to find the item you’re looking for (if you’re trying to buy it second hand).  By borrowing those items, we weren’t forced to rush out and pay full price for something we felt like we needed.

4.  If we haven’t got it yet but need it very soon, we’ll pay full price for it.

Obviously, at some point there’s going to be something you’ll need to break down and buy at full price.  That’s fine.  It’s never our first stop, but eventually it is the right thing to do.

An Afterword About Buying Used Items:

As I’ve talked with folks about our house furnishing adventures, I’m finding that we all have very different ideas about second hand items.  Specifically, we all have different lists of what goes on the ‘nasty-I’d-never-buy-that-used’ list.

Beds and couches are items that most people get grossed out about.  I guess since we’ve been traveling for three months, we’re used to sleeping in beds other people have slept in.  We spent a month in Houston visiting a different family almost every night, so we’re used to sitting on couches others sit on.  How we dealt with the bed thing was to be sure we have two degrees of separation.  Since we bought used beds, we bought (on sale, of course) new mattresses covers.  We also purchased new sheets, so between a new mattress cover and a new sheet, I’m happy to sleep on a bed someone else used to own.

If it still grosses you out, then please let me know when I invite you to come visit me, and I’ll give you the phone number for the Holiday Inn that is about a minute drive from our house :).


  1. says

    I think the main issue everyone is worried about with used beds is bed bugs. As long as you can make sure they don’t exist and you’re OK with it used mattresses can save you a ton of money. Glad you’re doing what works for you!

  2. JD says

    I agree with you totally. We used to shop new only. Sad but true. Then we got smart and started the second hand shopping. I would say our house is basically furnished 1/4 new and the rest second hand. People compliment us all the time on our home. LOL If they knew how little $ we paid for things they would be shocked. Sometimes we buy dressers or coffee tables that aren’t the right color and out comes the paint and it is magic. We have our bed frame that cost $699 new from Pottery Barn (wrong color) we paid $75 for the frame and for someone to professionally paint and gild part of it for another $75. It is lovely. We want to be the best stewards we can be of our limited resources.

  3. says

    Great advice! Craigslist has been an incredible resource ever since I first started using it back in the early 2000′s, and is by far my favorite way to save money on household furniture and appliances.

  4. says

    I’d worry about bedbugs too… and I’d worry about the previous owners (especially kids) having peed the bed!

    Even so, if you buy a new sofa and bed, you can still buy used dressers, bed frames, tables, chairs etc. There’s TONS of money to be saved by buying new. We also buy all of our clothing at Value Village… and pay $100 for a whole year’s wardrobe update!

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