old wooden desk

Inside: Shopping for second-hand furniture can be challenging and frustrating. These tips can make it more bearable (and successful)!

In our recent move, we got rid of a lot of our furniture.  I shopping for second-hand furniture at two thrift stores last weekend to see what I could come up with for our new family room space and the dining room.

Three hours later, I came home empty handed.

Part of me wanted to cry because I view shopping as a sad waste of time.  I’d rather be spending that time on a million other things.  At least if I put in the hours, I want there to be something to show for it.

But I took solace in the fact that while three hours for nothing didn’t seem like a win, it actually was.  I didn’t buy anything I didn’t love.  And by love, I mean, jump for joy that it will be in my home kind of love.

Furniture depreciates quickly. Browsing the Craigslist ads yesterday, I saw a Threshold Target chair originally priced at $299 sell for $40.  It was in great shape – beautiful!  Someone beat me to the punch, or I’d be sitting in it right now.

At the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, I saw chairs in far worse shape priced at $60 or higher.  Granted, the profits are for charity, however I saw little rhyme or reason to the pricing.  One chair was $10 while the next was $30.  All these chairs probably cost more than $300 new.

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That being said, second-hand furniture can be well worth your while.  You can save a bundle and find treasures, priced low simply because the owner wants it gone as quickly as possible.

The only trick is finding them.

Keep these guidelines in mind while you shop.

how to shop for second-hand furniture, getting good deals on second-hand furniture

Shopping for Second-Hand Furniture: 4 Tips

1) Set a budget (both money and time).

Your Money Budget

Shopping can be exhausting, especially if a particular trip proves fruitless. When you come up empty-handed, it is SO tempting to just pull out the credit card and buy the first new chair you come across.

I’ve been there.  Buying new is much easier, and if you haven’t set a budget ahead of time, you might just give up and give in.

Talk with your spouse about your home furniture/decor budget.  Maybe it’s a one-time lump sum for a new house.  Perhaps it’s a monthly allotment if the needs aren’t too pressing. Whatever the case may be, discuss it with your spouse and agree on a number.

Two Options if an Item is Priced too High


If you find something you love that’s more than your budget, ask the owner to come down on the price.  Americans aren’t used to bartering (I hate it).  But in other cultures, bartering is a given, and all price tags considered negotiable.  We can afford to learn something from those cultures.  Be bold, be brave, and just ask.  The worst they can say is “no”.

Look for Time-Sensitive Discounts.

Another option is to pay attention to store notices and signage.  When I looked at the wall of the Habitate for Humanity Re-Store, I saw a sign listing discounts given after the furniture had been there a certain amount of time.  After one month, the price is cut by 20%; two months, 30%, and so on.

If you see that the date on the price tag is a couple days away from being discounted, and you don’t love the price, consider being patient.  Come back in a couple days.  If it’s still there, get it!

Budget for Shopping Time

Next, decide how much time you can afford to give to shopping.

The reason I wanted to cry yesterday is because I spent WAY too much time shopping, more than I intended.  I walked around one store several times, hoping something would jump out at me the fourth time around.  I also didn’t follow guideline numbers 3 & 4 until the end (my search would have been MUCH shorter).

If you go over your time budget, you will end up exhausted and discouraged.  Giving up will be extremely appealing.  Decision fatigue is real, and you WILL be tempted to buy the next thing you see if you keep going (leading to major buyer’s remorse).

To avoid purchasing something you don’t actually love (or even need!), decide how much time to dedicate each week to your search.  Also specify store shopping versus internet browsing.  Sometimes, Craigslist is a better option for me as it allows me to hone in on exactly what I’m looking for.  If nothing new shows up and fits my needs, I’m done.

2) Give your spouse veto power.

almost bought a couch my husband hated.  I loved it.  It was the ONLY thing I found that I loved.  It was a brown leather couch, with nailhead trim and recliner seats.  It was $45.

I really wanted it.

Thankfully, I had the sense to text my husband a picture just to be sure.  He said he trusted my purchases, but just to be sure…. Turns out he hates leather. Who knew?

He also would be the one to arrange to borrow a truck, pick up said truck, get the couch, carry the couch into the house, return the truck…  You get the idea.  It was his time and energy I was volunteering, for something he didn’t love that wasn’t perfect (one of the couch cushions wasn’t in the best shape).

As much as I wanted to throw an adult tantrum [cue the pout, almost tears, and shoulder slump], I reminded myself about the home I’m building: it’s for everyone in our family, not just me.

If everyone doesn’t love to be there, what’s the point?

So, I left my beloved couch behind (the couch that would have been the only thing to show for my hours of furniture shopping).  And I’m glad I did.

3) Know yourself.

Do you love DIY projects? Or are you just as likely to put off doing them? (Me!) Are you in a season of life when it’s feasible to accomplish a complicated job and do you have the space to leave it unfinished in between chunks of time?

I would love to be a DIYer.  I have great vision, but some projects I have absolutely NO desire or energy to actually execute.

I circled several chairs multiple times, seeing how they would be a great chair if they were just re-covered.  It’s only $5, I reasoned.

But $5 for a chair that will stay ugly because I never end up finding time to fix it is a waste of money (and space!).

4) If you don’t love it, leave it (with one exception).

There were several chairs that I could have lived with, but again, why spend money on something I could only “live with” when it’s not urgent?

One Exception to This Rule:

My only exception is when it is urgent, like when we needed a dining room table.  I found one on Craigslist for $20.  It’s far from perfect (laminate instead of real wood? yuck), but it gets the job done, and I think I can probably handle spray painting it when I get around to it.  Pinterest finds make it look simple enough.

And it I never get around to refinishing it?  Well, it was only $20, and we can save for another one in the meantime.

Happy Thrifting!

What are your tips for successful second-hand shopping?

I spend less than $500 a year on quality clothes for a family of 6.


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