It's not just first-time homeowners who have to find budget furniture. In fact almost everyone, at one time or another, had to furnish a home or apartment on a budget. I know that I borrowed furniture from my parents, gratefully took grandparents' offerings, and shopped at garage sales.
But eventually I wanted something to trade out the hand-me-downs from family and strangers for things that would actually help me create a more mature and coordinated home.
I had to find ways to stretch my mini-budget without sacrificing my taste for nice things. I was surprised to find out how many places there were to find bargains.
Don't expect to find exactly what you want or need. You might have to be creative and adapt what you can find to what you need.
Learn to see pieces for the details and lines they have, not just for what you can put in them. If you see a beautiful teak table instead of the mahogany desk you need, thing about refinishing it and adding filing drawers. A period side table can be painted and moved into the bedroom.
Don't buy a piece if you'll need to do too much work on it. Think about your skills and the time you have and the space you have to work in.
See if your neighborhood has some of these sources for budget furniture:
You might be able to walk next door on a Saturday morning and find just the piece you need. What your neighbor is getting rid of may be just the piece you need. When shopping at a garage sale, always bring cash, look for defects, and be ready to negotiate on the price. It's usually expected and you can often get a great bargain.
Many communities and colleges stage flea markets on weekends at large parking lots. Vendors set up their wares and you can wander around looking for what you need. Beware: you might not find what you need but you probably won't get away without buying something.
Your Neighborhood Dumpsters or Curbside
As you take a walk around your neighborhood, keep your eyes open for furniture pieces left on the curb. The end of the month is a good time, since that's when people are clearing out their homes to get ready to move. "One man's trash is another man's treasure," as the saying goes. I found a great wrought iron table and bench on the curb once--both at the same house. I sanded off the rust and painted the pieces with rust-proof finishing paint. The table is on my patio and the bench at the end of my bed.
Thrift Stores and Junk Stores
Local charities, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army often provide thrift stores where people can bring their household discards and unneeded furniture to donate for tax deduction. The money raised from making sales goes into your local community to help those in need. It might take a few trips and perseverance, but if you're successful you'll really get a bargain. Enlist friends to be on the lookout, too.
A great strategy for consignment store shopping is to introduce yourself to the owner and ask them to call when your needed item comes in. People bring their things to be sold and they get only a portion of the sale. A hospital in my community has a consignment store that receives beautiful estate pieces. I've sold and bought things there.
Model Home Furnishings
Home builders contract with designers to decorate and furnish their model homes. If you see a model you like, ask the sales office when they'll remove the furnishings. Ask where they sell their pieces. You might even be able to buy a roomful of furniture, coordinated by a designer. And you'll get the pieces well below market price. Beware of fading, spots, or wear-and-tear.
Design Center Showroom Samples
Most large cities have Design Centers and Merchandise Marts that have "sample sales" monthly or quarterly where discontinued furnishings that have been used as showroom samples are sold. The sales are often advertised in local newspapers.
Furniture Store Scratch and Dent Rooms
Almost every furniture store or department has a back corner where damaged pieces are sold at deep discount. Visit often to keep an eye on what goes back there.
Furniture Store Clearance Outlets and Sales
Many major department and furniture stores have outlet center with ongoing or periodic furniture sales. Often the tags are marked with dates and prices are reduced every 30 or 60 days. Furniture in these outlets may be either scratched, a second, and overrun, repossessed, or otherwise imperfect. However, prices will generally reflect any imperfections and may also be negotiable.
Auction Houses and Online Auctions
These are a great place to find unique furniture and decor items. If you actually go to an auction, visit on preview days to check out each piece for damage. If you're buying large furniture, you need to find out where your item is located. It wouldn't make any sense to pay more for shipping than the actual cost of the item. You'll pay dearly for real antiques but can get a great bargain, especially if there aren't any other bidders.
Trade with Family or Friends
I gave my brother a large cabinet for his living room and he gave me my grandparents' living room table. When they moved out of state, we traded back. Great deal!