Saturday, 11 August 2012

How to buy furniture on a budget:

A friend sent me a text today asking advice on how to furnish a flat (or, in her case, a house!) cheaply.  Although I've only been doing the unfurnished flat dance for a couple of months now, I've already learned a lot of valuable lessons and made a couple of mistakes that some of you might benefit from hearing about...

1. Don't assume anything.
When you are viewing an unfurnished rental property (or even just before you sign the lease) always be sure to find out exactly what will come with the flat.  Luckily, our kitchen came fully kitted out with a fridge freezer, oven and washing machine.  I can't even comprehend how expensive it would have been to buy our own appliances, so always make sure to check before you set your heart on anything!  Even things as trivial as curtains are worth asking about.  The windows in our flat are extremely tall (109 inches from floor to ceiling) and we didn't think there would be any curtains there when we moved in.  Thankfully, there were!  (And even though they aren't exactly to my taste, at least we have time to save up for some nicer ones.)

2. Ask family and friends for charitable donations.
First of all, before you go spending any money at all, make sure you look in your parents' loft for any hidden treasures.  Both mine and Craig's parents have offered furniture to our cause, and even items as small as lamps can come in handy.  Also check with family or friends who you know are moving in the near future and might be looking to get rid of some things.

3. Check Gumtree.
And FreeCycle, Freegle, CraigsList and all those other websites that list free or second hand furniture in your area.  Some sellers will offer to deliver the furniture to you, but, if they don't, make sure you have the means to transport it yourself before you commit!  Also check on eBay for items in your area that you could go and pick up for cheap (usually marked as 'collection only').  However, always remember...

4. No picture is a bad sign... 
This might seem obvious, but if a seller or donor on one of the above websites has conveniently forgotten to put up a photo of the item that they are trying to shift, then it is probably in a bad state, or at least a worse state than their description might imply.  (This rule also applies to flat hunting.)

5. Bargain Corner!
Bargain Corner at IKEA, is like Gumtree in person.  The following would also apply to ex-display stock sales in other furniture shops.  As far as I know, there is a Bargain Corner in every IKEA in the UK, not just Edinburgh, but please let me know if I'm wrong!  Everything there is either an ex-display or slightly damaged item of stock, all being sold at a reduced price.  Craig and I bought our three seater sofa from Bargain Corner in the Edinburgh IKEA for £80 (reduced from £240) and paid £13.50 to have it delivered to our flat when we moved in (we actually bought it three weeks before we got the keys).  If there is damage to the item you're interested in, you can assess it in person and weigh up whether or not it's worth the money before you shell out, which makes Bargain Corner infinitely better than Gumtree, in my opinion.  Our sofa came without a cover, but we decided that covering it ourselves would be easy enough and that £80 for a sofa was too good a deal to miss!

6. Furniture charity shops are your fair weather friends.
Some large charity shop chains have dedicated furniture shops, and there are quite a few near us in Edinburgh.  These shops will usually be able to deliver the furniture to you, which is a bonus if you don't have a big enough car (or any car at all).  While we were on the hunt for bargain furniture, we visited The Bethany Shop, British Heart Foundation and Barnardos, but didn't actually end up buying anything because (and here's the bit that might make me sound like a bad person) quite a lot of their stock was overpriced for what it was.  It seems likely that a lot of the good furniture gets snapped up quite quickly, leaving room for disappointment.  Don't get me wrong: definitely do go in if you pass one of these furniture charity shops, but always check the quality of the items you're thinking of buying.

7. Consider kerb crawling.
Okay, I've never actually picked an item of furniture up from the side of the road and taken it home, but a friend did once talk me into adopting a chest of drawers that had been abandoned in the hallway outside his flat by someone who was moving out next door.  I used it for a year in Dundee, and ended up bringing it down to Edinburgh with me, where it has come in very handy!  Although it's by no means an antique, it's still in good condition and was absolutely free.  (We saw a similar, but smaller, chest of drawers in one of the above furniture charity shops for £60.)

My adopted chest of drawers in action: not perfect but pretty good for a freebie!

8. 'They keep it hidden for a reason...'
For (supposed) ease and to keep our costs down, Craig and I ordered a few items of furniture from Argos.  In all honesty, the quality isn't that great, and we've had difficulty having items delivered because they've been in and out of stock.  It will do for now, but I can't imagine that much of it will last for any length of time.  As a friend said to me: 'They keep it hidden for a reason'.  If you have to choose your furniture out of a catalogue without ever being given the option to see it in person, you're probably going to end up disappointed.  Bear in mind that photographs can be taken and manipulated to make anything look good.

9. Don't panic!
Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give you is just to keep a straight head, be realistic and to not spend all your money straight away.  We have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for the last three weeks (crack den chic, as Craig calls it), but it has given us time to choose and order a bed frame we want, as well as staggering all our costs.  It arrived today, and it's lovely!  We also lived out of suitcases for a couple of weeks, which can be frustrating, but was worth it for the same reasons.  As long as you have somewhere to cook, somewhere to sit, somewhere to wash and somewhere to sleep, you'll be okay.  Save up for the extra items and you'll be able to buy higher quality furniture and decorate your home over time.

Tiny Craig trapped in the huge box that our bed came in!
I hope all or some of these ideas come in useful if you are moving into or thinking about renting an unfurnished place (or even buying your own home: scary grown up stuff!).  Do you have any top tips for buying furniture on a budget?  If so, please leave them in a comment for me and anyone else to read about!

Have a great weekend!


  1. Recycling centre in Dundee! Has saved many lives (and corners which required odd items of furniture). Maybe there is an Edinburgh equivalent?

  2. The Recycling Centre is magical! I've looked for an Edinburgh equivalent, but no luck so far :(