In my quest to become a welcoming and frugal housekeeper, I discovered a love of Craigslist. I have always been a thrift shopper, so most of my clothes don’t come to me new. But shopping for furniture was something entirely new to me when I got engaged.
Furniture is expensive. Just look at the price tag of a couch when you are in Macy’s or another department store and you’ll see that. That’s why Craigslist is so awesome. You can get really nice stuff for a great price if you have the time to find exactly what you want, and you are willing to go for a drive to get it. Luke and I managed to furnish our whole apartment with some incredibly nice things for only $700 (okay, we had a few freebies like a free desk. But most of it was from daily Craigslist surfing).
Like most things, however, your best success will come with organization and forethought. Here is a list of seven ways you can become a Craigslist connoisseur and find awesome furniture for cheap:
1. Decide Where You’ll Drive
If you don’t live in a big city, you might want to consider looking at a nearby city’s Craigslist for more options. So since I’m in Central Illinois, I would want to be looking at Chicago or St. Louis. Set these boundaries before you start looking so you won’t waste time searching in unrealistic locations.
You also need a pick-up truck, trailer, or suburban that you can borrow to pick everything up (if you don’t own one). Ask permission to use the truck BEFORE you ever need it. That way, when a great deal comes along, you can just check to see if the truck is available, not whether you can use it at all. And if you are going to be driving three hours one-way to get something from another city, you probably want to clear that many miles with the truck’s owner first.
For example, when I was living in Chicago trying to gather furniture for our first home, I generally stuck to results in the western suburbs. When calculating gas money, stress, and time, it just wasn’t worth it to me to go downtown Chicago for a couch I might like. So I never did, although I did look occasionally. The one time I went really far was when we got our couch. It was clear past Joliet and took an hour and a half to reach. But since our couch is EXACTLY what we wanted for an AWESOME price, my dad kindly drove with me to get it in his Suburban.
2. Give Yourself Time
Don’t get discouraged if you don’t find what you want right away. You’ll get the best deals and be happiest if you think of your Craigslist shopping as a long-term investment. The more you get familiar with Craigslist, the more you’ll know a good price when you see one. And the more you shop, the more you’ll know what you want. I took months to collect all our furniture.
Assuming finding all the great furniture you want will take time. DON’T WAIT to look for furniture until you are already in a new place with no furniture! It would be very uncomfortable to sit on the floor for a month, waiting to find the “perfect” couch. Having time (and a free storage place) was one of the best things about my Craigslist searching. Thankfully, I had my sister’s basement to store everything until we moved.
3. Take Action as Soon as you See What You Want
If you see something that is perfect and at a great price, don’t wait to call on it! If it’s that great a deal, chances that somebody else has already snagged it are pretty high. This happened to me several times. So call, email, or both as soon as possible. If I really wanted something, I did both. A few times I was the first to email but not to call, so I missed out.
4. Check Craigslist Twice Daily
This goes hand in hand with the previous step—the more often you check, the more likely you are to see a great deal before everybody else. It amazes me how fast I got in the habit of checking Craigslist—once as soon as I woke up, and once around dinner or before I went to sleep. Checking twice daily also doesn’t take that long because you are already familiar with most of the posts and are just checking out a handful of the most recent ones. You won’t need to dig pages in—you’ll have already seen those posts.
Here’s the thing about these two steps: they may not be a big deal if you are just in Central Illinois. But in Chicago? Yeah, you’ll need to be pretty aggressive. And by aggressive I mean fast and consistent, so check twice daily and call on it ASAP.
5. Be Creative in Your Searches
When you are starting your search, begin limited and move broad. I began searching by limiting location to Chicago Western Suburbs, typing in “red leather tufted couch” and capping the price to $200. Once I had gone through the handful of results, I removed “red” and searched for any leather tufted couch under $200. Then I removed “tufted,” and then “leather,” and then I added “red” back in. I interchanged the word “couch” for “sofa.” I searched the whole Chicagoland area occasionally, when results were particularly slim. You get the idea. I did the same thing when looking for our bed, entertainment center, and hutch.
I also moved around my price limitations. Since there were dozens of posts with no price listed (which generally means they are expensive, I found), I created a bottom price of $10. After all, who is going to be selling a couch worth owning for that or less? Occasionally I removed the bottom price or raised the top price, depending on the results I was getting.
6. Be Consistent
If you say you are going to pick a couch up at 5pm on Friday, do it. Nobody appreciates getting blown off. And if there is a waiting list of takers, you probably just lost your shot. It really does depend on the person, though. For instance, if my dad and I had been an hour later getting to that couch, the seller already had another buyer to pick it up that day. However, when my parents forgot to go pick up our bedroom set, the seller very graciously rescheduled, and even put up with my parents running an hour or so late to get it the second time. So it does depend, but don’t take chances if you really want something.
On that note of consistency, sooner is better than later when you really want something or know there is a waiting list. Don’t wait until the end of the week! Make time in your schedule and get it tonight or tomorrow if you can.
7. Be Smart
If you are a girl, take a guy with you to the seller, whether it is your dad, spouse, brother, or friend. While I basically took on the Craigslisting by myself, Luke was very insistent that I always had something with me. Usually it was my dad, but I think one time I went with my mom.
I never had a bad or creepy experience with Craigslist, even with the “might be too good to be true” deals. So I don’t think you need to get paranoid. But all the same, assume that there are creeps out there and take intelligent precautions.
While I was able to get a ton of furniture really cheap, I had several things working for me:
- I knew exactly what I wanted so I could search very specifically.
- I had a whole year to find exactly what I wanted.
- I had free storage for whatever I bought until we moved.
- I had access to several large vehicles big enough for hauling furniture.
- I was in a metropolitan area with a lot of foreclosures.
This last one may seem a little weird to bring up, but foreclosures probably mean the best deals for Craigslist shoppers because owners need to get rid of almost everything as quickly as possible. This was during the spring and summer of 2011 when foreclosures were at record highs, so the market may have been flooded with awesome furniture at low prices. I’m not really sure if it made a big difference, but I’m guessing it at least helped.
All that to say: You can find awesome furniture for less than half the regular price on Craigslist. It might actually be one of the best ways to find furniture, as there are plenty of standard couches, beds, and tables for great prices. If you need appliances, my mom and sister both got nice dishwashers AND nice washers and dryers from Craigslist. For the more artsy or bohemian, Craigslist is like a giant garage sale where sooner or later you will find that awesome antique table or chair that has just the perfect character for your home. That’s what happened to us!
Phew! That was a long post. So, what do you think? How has your luck been with Craigslist?