Furniture Shopping for Your Apartment on a Budget
While it’s possible to buy furniture on a pretty slim budget, it’s not always the kind of stuff you want in your apartment, humble bank account or not. Here at Modernize, we’ve been through enough flimsy futons and dressers that never quite shut to know that sometimes high quality is worth the price, especially when it comes to furniture. The question is, how do you find a good buy when you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck?
There are two schools of thought on the matter. You can spring for the really cheap stuff (i.e., KEA and Target-level pieces). This is a great idea if you’re only planning to keep your furniture for a couple of years and then upgrade. Or you can play the long game: buy the expensive stuff now and hang on to it for as long as you can—or at least until you’ve earned back your money. However, price isn’t always a reliable indicator of quality. And sometimes, the low-budget stuff is all you can really afford. Below, we present some little-known insights that will help you get the best bang for your buck.
Know How to Spot Quality Construction
To put it bluntly, but a lot of furniture is pretty much junk. Cheap pieces are made to be disposable. The EPA reports that US citizens throw away 9.8 million tons of furniture each year! You can combat both the furniture waste epidemic and the long-term squeeze on your wallet by inspecting each piece for quality construction. Look for items that are made with solid wood rather than particle board, and skip anything that’s stapled or glued together. Check the drawers to make sure they slide in and out evenly, with no visible gaps on the sides. For upholstered pieces, choose fabrics and colors that suit your lifestyle. Kids and pets can tear up a suede sofa in five seconds flat, so choose something that can stand some wear and tear, especially if you intend to keep it long-term.
Go for Secondhand Fix-ups, Rather Than Brand-New
There’s no shame in buying used. Some sensational finds are available on sites like Craigslist, Ebay and Freecycle. And you can nab some pretty nice pieces at estate sales and garage sales if you’re willing to put in the time. If you’re creative and into DIY, you can even dress up scratched or dinged thrift-store or curbside finds. Using the tips above to locate quality pieces, you can then sand and refinish them to your liking—a new coat of paint or stain can hide a lot of blemishes. If your furniture is upholstered, you can use replacement couch cushions, which will hide stains, fabric tears, and other issues.
Opt for Neutral Colors and Use Accent Pieces to Dress It Up
You can fix a tear with replacement cushions, but you can’t exactly hide your past bad taste. If you want your sofa or armchairs to last, do yourself a favor and opt for timeless colors: neutrals like beige, gray, black and brown. The same goes for fabrics. Muted, unobtrusive options like leather, vinyl and cotton blends will stand the test of time. They may not be the most eye-catching items, but they’ll withstand the ever-changing tide of furniture trends (see: burnt orange corduroy and imitation cowhide). Once you have some mainstay pieces, update with stylish throws, accent pillows and lamps to keep your apartment living room in vogue. And that stuff can all be bought cheaply at big box stores.
Don’t Spring for Financing Offers
A lot of new renters get fooled by these kinds of promotions. A furniture store offers to waive your interest for the first 18 months, or tells you they’ll let you take home everything for free—zero dollars down! That may seem like a good deal at first, especially if you have a lot of space to furnish on a limited budget. The problem is, most stores that offer these kinds of financing options have a significant markup on their furniture prices already. So you’ll end up spending a lot more than you would if you went with a thrift store find for now while you saved up for a more substantial purchase. The same thing goes for buying with a store credit card. Unless you think you’ll be able to pay it off quickly, you’re better off opting for something you can afford today. Interest on these kinds of offers often kicks into high gear once you move past the promotional period. If you have deferred interest, you could easily tack on an extra $1000 in the first month. Unless you think you can pay it off quick, stick to buying upfront.
Try Out Your Negotiation Skills
Here’s something you might not know about furniture stores: the salespeople at these places expect you to do a little haggling, especially if you’re making a big purchase or buying a lot of furniture at once. The floor prices on these items are definitely not a firm offer, and sales are often meaningless, since the prices may be inflated as it is. Do yourself a favor and do a little shopping around: you’ll be better prepared if you know what that new sofa is really worth at other retailers. Plus, you can use that knowledge as ammo when you negotiate. Ask your salesperson why you should buy the living room suite here when you can get it down the street for as much or less.
Buy at the Right Time of Year
Unless you need a couch right this instant, you’ll be better off waiting to get your furniture. Inventory clear-outs for furniture stores usually occur around the Fourth of July and Christmas, so you can sometimes make off like a bandit if you sit it out until these times of year. Memorial Day and Veterans Day also offer some pretty great furniture sales, but you may have to contend with the crowds during these times of year. Likewise, if you’re looking to score a sweet curbside find, wait until bulk collection day in your neighborhood, then borrow a friend’s truck and take a look around. You never know who’s offloading a beautiful sectional or particularly luxe kitchen table. You may just be rewarded for your patience with the find of a decade—and a year’s worth of furniture for cheap!