One of the biggest expenses when buying a house actually comes months or years after you purchase it. We often don’t think about buying furniture until after we buy our home and realize some of the rooms are empty. Most people buy their first house without much furniture or move from a small starter home to a larger home that they expect to live in for a long period of time.
I am going to tell you how I was able to save almost $20,000 buying the furniture for our home. This was after we moved out of our condo into a house that would fit our family. I made this article very detailed so if you want to get right to the numbers scroll down until you see the data table. For the full story: keep reading.
For most of us when we buy that bigger long-term house we made a financial stretch. I don’t recommend that you make a financial stretch – I am just pointing out that many times that is what ends up happening.
So you get that big cashier’s check and go to closing to buy your dream home… and then you realize; wait I don’t have any furniture!
At this point you have the following issues facing your budget:
- higher mortgage payment
- higher monthly utility bill
- higher cost of monthly maintenance and risk of higher expenses if something on your bigger house breaks
- higher cost of maintaining land and property (riding lawnmower, landscaping tools, mulch and weed killer)
- a depleted bank account – usually a lower or non-existent emergency fund – I don’t recommend that but yes it happens
- other costs to paint or do minor upgrades to make the home you bought suitable to your own tastes
With all of the above headwinds you walk into one of your rooms and see this:
It is very deflating to walk into a room and see only one small two-person couch or a couple folding chairs. If the above picture had carpet I might think it was taken in my first condo. And in my first home after we moved out of the condo we had some room with no furniture whatsoever!
Spartan Living: No Furniture!
So what’s wrong with having some rooms with no furniture? I actually asked that question to my wife. I was very hesitant to purchase any furniture. Why in the world would I “waste” money on a crazy combination of wood, foam, and textiles that I would only use as a place to sit when I could invest that money in the stock market?
I was ready to live the next 10-15 years with a bed, a couch, and some folding chairs.
Thankfully God gave me a wonderful wife to talk some sense into me. She helped me understand that if we wanted to have friends over and have a place for them to sit we couldn’t just pop out a folding chair and say “welcome!”
Thankfully reason prevailed and we decided to get some furniture. I still think there is something to this notion of living without a bunch of furniture cluttering up one’s house. What is ultimately going to happen to that furniture? It’s just going to get ruined, go out of style, or need to be moved to a different house later. I’m still convinced that my total happiness would be higher if I had less stuff.
But a more balanced person might look at me right now and note that I’m sitting on a nice couch with my feet propped up on our coffee table with my phone and some other things on the end table next to me. OK! I guess you’re right that it makes sense to get some furniture.
The Strange Case of Expensive Furniture
One of the things I realized with great shock and horror upon moving out of my parents house and setting up my own place is how astronomically expensive furniture is. When we look at furniture for our home I often ask my wife if the item she likes has gold inside it. Because looking at the prices it seems like that must be the case!
There are several con artists out there who happen to be in the home furnishing business: Pottery Barn, Pier 1 Imports, and Crate & Barrel to name a few. Sure you can spend $5,000 on a vacation, a used car, a starter investment account for a child in the family, to save towards a downpayment, to give to charity… or buy a single couch!
You can even try to go the IKEA route which I actually do recommend. But even with that you are still filling your house up with a bunch of stuff which only goes down in value. Furniture is a very bad thing to spend a lot of money on – very much like a car or clothes. It ends up being a status symbol or a premium luxury item that loses its value very quickly.
If you haven’t seen the prices of furniture lately just check out some of the leather sofa “collections” (with that kind of description you know it is going to cost a lot!) at Pottery Barn. Why save $10,000 when you can buy a…. sofa?
I don’t want to be too hard on anyone who loves fine furniture. It is nice to sit down on a fine leather couch. And I understand that good craftsmanship and quality materials cost more than cheap stuff at IKEA that may not last.
But there has to be a better way – and there is!
The Genesis of an Idea
My wife and I were committed to staying on a cash budget and not buying things on credit. We wanted to stay out of debt and save for the future. One of the things we realized is that we didn’t seem to have money to spend on furniture because we were committed to saving 15%- 20% of our income.
We actually had to make the choice of spending thousands on furniture or investing thousands in the stock market. Because we consistently chose not to spend our savings on furniture we ended up having very little of it.
But we still had some spending money. Each month we both get an equal amount of spending money and at the end of the year when the taxes are done and if I get an annual bonus we both get an allotment of spending money to use throughout the year.
And that is when my wife had her genius idea: “why not use the cash we get for spending money to buy some furniture that people are selling in classified advertisements?”
Saving Thousands on Furniture
Buying furniture through classified advertisements, especially those advertised on Craigslist or local Facebook groups, is an amazing way to save thousands of dollars. A few benefits:
- get furniture at a massive discount – usually more than 50% off retail
- haggle with sellers to save even more money
- meet new people (caution: when meeting these people always let your spouse or someone know where you are and when you should return – not every situation is safe) Go with your spouse, a friend, or family member if possible. This also makes it easier on your back.
- get furniture at a massive discount and resell it for a profit
And the numbers are amazing. I’ve been wanting to tally up how much we have actually saved over time with our furniture purchases. My wife and I have had some conversations and we had been throwing around maybe $5,000 to $10,000 in savings as a rough estimate. I have really been encouraging her to not buy furniture for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. But if we have to buy it – I am glad to save thousands doing so.
One note – I had to estimate some of the retail costs. I tried to be conservative based on what I see listed on websites and what we knew about the various lines of furniture being offered by the various brands at the time. So let me know if you think I am way off on some of these. I don’t buy furniture at retail cost (except for one major exception) so I am not the expert there.
Here is a table of our furniture purchases over the past roughly 6 years showing the retail cost, our cost, dollar savings, and percentage discount:
Notice that we are generally buying pretty decent furniture brands like Pottery Barn, Pier 1, and Bassett. We also do get things from Target and IKEA. Everyone has their own tastes.
But look at the bottom line! We spent less than $8,000 to buy $26,000 worth of furniture and that is a conservative estimate. The average savings was over 70% and the lowest amount we saved was 50%.
Another interesting thing is to look at where we saved the most money. The larger items are obviously the bigger opportunities to save more dollars. Additionally, the better brand names also offer the better opportunities to save. This is a situation where you get into the difference between avoided cost and cost control. When you measure avoided cost you can show more cost avoided the more that you purchase, “the more you buy the more you save.” This isn’t a good thing if you are buying too much.
But we were able to finally put furniture in our den which hadn’t been furnished for several years. The key is patience.
The top three items where we saved the most on a dollar basis were all Pottery Barn items and all fairly large. They were two large couches and our extendable dining room table.
I will also point out that the sectional couch in the den came with an Ottoman as well. It really makes the den look much better compared to the empty space that was there before.
Another nice item that we got as part of a set was from a couple who were looking to sell their home and were staging it with a different style of furniture. They were told that young buyers didn’t like this style so we were the happy beneficiaries. This was a craigslist item.
Tactics For Buying Used Furniture
The savings I demonstrated from buying used furniture are truly amazing but they do not come without some hard work. It takes a long time to search listings of furniture. It also takes time to wait patiently for the right furniture to come up for sale. Sometimes the better items will be purchased by someone else before you can get to it.
The other thing to keep in mind is that you will have to get the furniture yourself. So this may be difficult if you don’t have a truck or if you don’t have someone to help you pick it up. One suggestion is that you can use a mini van with the seats removed to pick up most of these items. For instance my wife and I picked up our large dining room table in our minivan and it just barely fit.
Look in the classified section of the nicer neighborhoods where you live. We often find that the nicer things that we find are in the nicer neighborhoods in the area.
Be a Discerning Buyer
Because you are buying furniture that was previously owned you still want to be a discerning buyer. I recommend asking several detailed questions before traveling – why are they selling it? Moving? Get more pictures if looking online. We prefer to buy upholstered furniture that has a slipcover so we can wash everything.
The hardest part is being willing to say no to a seller after driving an hour to make a purchase. But remember, you don’t want to do all the work of loading and unloading heavy furniture just to get home and not like it. We did this one time and ended up reselling the item. But it was very frustrating to have to lug that huge couch around and store it for months. The silver lining was that we sold it for a profit and made a few hundred on it. There is such a huge discount on pre-owned furniture.
Use the following sources to find pre-owned furniture: Craigslist, Newspaper, and Facebook Groups. You may find others in your area. The key is to keep your quality standards high and look for special situations where someone’s style has changed, they are moving, or their kids or other family members have left the house.
Have you found a great deal on furniture? What are some other items that you have found to be massively discounted and yet completely useful when purchased used?