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My oldest son moved into an apartment with two roommates a couple of weeks ago, and his budget for furniture was essentially zero (good thing his old man was there, huh?). He lives in another city, and I was returning home two days later, so we had to furnish his new pad in a rush and on a tight budget.
A bed was the first priority. No one wants to sleep on a used mattress, especially with bed bug infestations in the news daily, so we knew we had to splurge on a new mattress and box spring. But he plans on living in his new home only a year, so we did not seek a top-of-the-line bed.
We went to Sleepy’s, a chain of bedding stores in the East, and found the very least expensive bed on the floor, about $200 for the set. The salesman asked if I wanted to buy the frame, too, but at $70 I took a pass. I knew I could find that somewhere else, and bed bugs don’t live on frames.
Now, this bed is nothing special, but while we were there a couple came in and was offered an amazing deal on a much better mattress. Here’s how: They acted serious enough to get a salesperson’s close attention, but quickly complained about the price. The salesperson went to his computer and found a comparable bed on closeout at another Sleepy’s location for half the price of the set in the store.
The sales guy wanted them to pay for the closeout bed in his store so he would get the commission, but they said they wanted to try it out first. In frustration, the salesman offered them the exact same price on another comparable bed in the store, even though it wasn’t on closeout! The couple didn’t buy the bed — I don’t think they were ready to buy, no matter the price — but it was plain to me that the salesperson had a lot of latitude on price, something I’ll remember the next time I’m shopping for a new mattress.
Our next stop was a thrift store, and a frame was on the top of my list there. Sure enough, I found a perfectly good frame for $12 — $58 less than the frame at Sleepy’s. We also picked up a wooden two-drawer cabinet my son could use as a nightstand for $9. It probably wasn’t designed as a nightstand, but it was perfectly suited for the job. My son also bought several full-season sets of popular TV shows for about $1 each — when we got into the car he said he’d seen some of them on eBay for $40 or more!
Next on our list was more seating. My son’s apartment has a cozy living room perfectly suited for video game playing and movie watching, but when we arrived the available seating was exactly one easy chair. The boys were not going to sit on each other’s lap, so we decided some kind of couch was called for.
The first thrift store had nothing decent in that department, so we tracked down a Goodwill store. The store had minimal furniture, but among the clutter was a solid-looking love seat. There was no price marked, and it took at least 15 minutes to find someone who knew the price (or had the authority to make it up). But that was a minor inconvenience. The price ended up being $35, which was well within the budget, and two store employees kindly loaded the loveseat into the back of our rental van.
(Interestingly, I offered both employees a $5 tip; one refused it and the other took it.)
We still needed some kind of desk for my son’s bedroom and some more storage. With time running out, we opted for Home Depot. We checked out the small selection of do-it-yourself furniture, but it was beyond the budget. Then we found a six-foot folding table with a metal frame and plastic top — the kind you would set up for extra seating at Thanksgiving.
This table was perfect for our needs — lots of surface area, easy to fit in the van, and less than $30. For extra storage, we found a plastic snap-together set of shelves designed for a garage or basement, and a set of plastic bins with lids. The total cost for the set was under $40.
We returned to the apartment, and a couple of hours later my son had pretty much everything he needed to get comfortable in his new quarters. The total hit to the budget (not counting the rental van, which we needed to get all his luggage from the airport to his apartment anyway): less than $350!
You probably wouldn’t furnish a permanent domicile with the low-end purchases we made that day, but for students or first-time apartment dwellers I highly recommend the process we went through.