How to be a Craigslist Furniture Shopper Super Person

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).

A fraction of my Craigslist Finds: Shelves – $10 each. Corner desk – $15. TV Center – $20. Chair and couch – $200. Steamer trunk coffee table – $10.

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.

Disclaimer:

While I was able to get a ton of furniture really cheap, I had several things working for me:

  1.  I knew exactly what I wanted so I could search very specifically.
  2.  I had a whole year to find exactly what I wanted.
  3.  I had free storage for whatever I bought until we moved.
  4.  I had access to several large vehicles big enough for hauling furniture.
  5.  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?

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The Easiest and Most Awesome DIY Shelf

Last Spring Luke and I made the most adorable and easy-to-make DIY shelves. So I am sharing the results here. I love LOVE the way this looks in our apartment. The dark wood and brown brackets lend themselves to our industrial-style living room, but if you painted the shelf and brackets white, It would look adorable in a bedroom or bright kitchen or dining room. While you can make just one, It is really the same price to make two, so why not make two!

Our DIY shelf, now our herb garden!

Supplies:

  • Wrought iron brackets from Hobby Lobby ($4 each with a coupon)
  • Board from Home Depot (Definitely under $10. Could be as cheap as $3)
  •  A dark wood stain (maybe $5, or try one of these DIY stains)
  • Sandpaper (optional)
  • Drywall screws with anchors ($3)
  • Drill (if you don’t have a drill, go buy one right now or you lose the right to call yourself a DIYer)

So how do you do it? It’s pretty simple, but here’s a step-by-step guide:

1. Decide how big you want the shelf.

We wanted one about five feet and another about three feet.

2. Buy your wrought iron brackets.

They have some lovely ones at Hobby Lobby for $5.99, but these are regularly on sale for half price. Or you can use a coupon. For a five foot shelf, I might get three. Otherwise get two per shelf.

Our Hobby Lobby brackets for the shelf over the kitchen table.

3. Buy a nice board from Home Depot.

To do this, see how wide you want the board to be. Definitely a little wider than your brackets, which probably means about eight inches.

Then pick out a very straight board that is at least as long as you want. Don’t worry about it being too long—Home Depot will cut it to whatever size you want for free. Since we wanted two shelves, we got an eight-foot board and had them cut it into a three-foot section and a five-foot section.

When deciding on the wood, it’s really up to you. We simply looked for whatever was the cheapest but still very straight and sturdy. I think it cost us six dollars.

4. Sand and stain the board.

We actually didn’t sand the board because we felt lazy. It didn’t really need it, so it looks fine. But we did stain it. We also didn’t bother putting polyurethane on it, but that’s probably a good idea. You should let the board dry for at least an hour before trying to put it up.

We went with a really dark stain we had on hand from when we put feet on the bottom of a steamer trunk to use as our coffee table. It worked out well because the color of the wood and bracket meld together for a unified look. I think I’ve seen this type of shelf before with a wrought iron bracket and a white board, though, so you can do whatever you want.

5. Screw the brackets to the wall.

Line up the shelf and brackets to where you want, making sure it’s level (f you are a real DIYer, you should also own a level). Mark the holes of the bracket so you know where to drill. It isn’t necessary to find a stud, but it might be nice. For any holes that don’t hit a stud, use drywall screw anchors. These strengthen the screw and wall so that it can hold significantly more weight. They are awesome.

We actually ran low on screws and so just put in two screws per bracket instead of four. Also, our lease says something about only putting in like four screws per wall, so we were trying to keep to that. Both shelves have been up for over nine months and they are holding up just fine with only two screws per bracket.

All this is held up by four anchored screws. Pretty great, huh? P.S. don’t you love my planters? Garage sale find. $1 each.

6. Place board on top of brackets.

Seriously, just place it there and you’re done! So easy, right?

7. Put awesome things on shelf.

The long one behind the couch became our herb garden. It adds so much life to our room! Unfortunately, I don’t have that green a thumb. That’s why all the plants look sad.

My awesome shelf.

I absolutely love the shelf over the dining table, though! It finally gave us a place to put a lamp near the table, so it gets enough light now. And it gave me a place to display my sister’s painting she gave a few Christmases ago, along with some antiques from my grandmother. And the pewter dish I just got from Luke’s aunt, which I use as a place to store keys and change when we come in the door. Isn’t it great?

Antique butter church, iron, and hotel bell.

Dinner Cheat Sheet for Gluten Free Cooking Newbies

I’ve already given a gluten-free cheat sheet for baked goods  and breads. This is a very long dinner guide. I know it can feel overwhelming when faced with changing how you eat! Hopefully this will ease the transition and show you that gluten-free cooking can be a walk in the park. If you have any questions or want a full recipe, let me know in the comments!

Italian/Pasta

These are the easiest recipes to transform into gluten free because there are so many great gluten-free pasta options. I like Tinkyada brown rice noodles (elbow pasta, fettuccine, lasagna noodles, shells, and other noodles available), but I also liked the consistency of corn-based noodles. Here are some favorites:

Chicken alfredo with broiled broccoli – Mix the broccoli with the sauce and noodles and it tastes great! I also have a great simple alfredo sauce recipe I’ll share eventually.

Lasagna – Make it and freeze individual pieces for easy dinners.

Photo Via Flickr by Sea Turtle

Spaghetti – So fast and filling!

Mostaccioli– This is a great lasagna-like recipe. It rocks. And it’s easy.

Stuffed peppers – Ground beef cooked with onion and garlic, mixed with two cups of rice and about two cups of canned tomato sauce. Put into sliced-open and seared or boiled green bell peppers, sprinkle with cheese, bake for 15-20 minutes. A pretty fast and easy recipe, especially if you already have leftover rice. I’m pretty sure this recipe originally came from Betty Crocker.

Pizza – For a night when you have a little more time. Check out my Carbohydrate Cheat Sheet for good pizza recipes.

Mexican

With my recent discovery of how much I love avocado and cilantro, I make a burrito bowl or stuffed peppers probably once a week. Look online for salsa chicken or easy enchiladas!

Burrito Bowl – Love how you can make your own bowl at Chipotle? Replicate it at home with a little cilantro and lime in the rice, salsa chicken or beef in the crockpot, or just plain old taco meat (awesome for last minute dinners that need to be fast).

Mexican Stuffed Peppers – Love love love this recipe. I posted about it here. And the green salsa (that’s candida diet friendly) that it calls for is AMAZING. you’ll love it, I promise, so make a triple batch 🙂

Baked Enchiladas – Any enchilada recipe will do with gluten-free replacements like corn or rice tortillas. This is a great recipe for rice tortillas, which tend to be stiff, because this keeps them moist and yummy. Hardly distinguishable from gluten versions.

Crockpot salsa chicken or beef – There are several versions of this:

  1. Take a can of salsa, a sliced onion, and a sliced pepper, and dump it over a few frozen chicken breasts.
  2. For a beef or venison roast, pour a can of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce over the roast (but watch out because this can be spicy! Also, a venison roast will need to cook for a solid 9 hours to get tender enough.
  3. For either chicken or beef, use a small can of chopped green peppers, a packet of taco seasoning, and some broth.

Whichever version you choose, cook on low for 7-9 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. All options are great with a burrito bowl or on sandwiches.

Beans and rice – Cook the beans in the crockpot, cook rice, and serve with salsa, sour cream, and avocado. Surprisingly filling.

Baked Chicken

I love making baked chicken dishes because they generally include few ingredients and can cook really fast. I like to cut deep slits in each chicken breast to help it absorb the flavor better and help it cook faster. For the lemon pepper chicken, I sear the meat on a pan first because I think it adds some extra flavor.

Lemon pepper chicken – Dash of lemon juice and lots of lemon pepper. Sear first, then bake at 350 for about a half hour.

Incredible chicken – This is from a Ravinia Festival cookbook. It calls for butter, garlic salt, and brown sugar. I don’t really measure anymore and it always tastes amazing.

Heroin chicken – A quick Google search will turn up several versions of this recipe.

Stir Fry

Another fast meal that can be ready in a half hour—especially if you slice up chicken and freeze it for easy cooking.

Cilantro lime chicken – An amazing recipe that I plan on sharing with you soon!

Asian lettuce wrapsI use this recipe from Allrecipes.com. I added a half head of cabbage instead of some of the other veggies and made my own hoisin sauce replacement. I loved it. Hubby liked it, too, but it wasn’t his favorite. Just make sure you use gluten-free soy sauce!

Other Favorites

The grill will become your best friend. There are so many great recipes out there! I also love my crockpot if only for how easy it makes pulled pork.

Pulled pork – A splash of apple cider vinegar and salt is all it takes, and then choose your favorite BBQ sauce for it (make sure it is gluten free!). 4-5 hours on high, or 7-9 hours on low, or until it pulls apart easily with a fork.

Hamburgers and brats – Sauté some onions with this and eat with mustard. It tastes so good I don’t even miss the bun! Although you could use lettuce or GF bread. If you toast your pamela’s bread, it just starts to warm up and curl over on itself, perfect for holding a hotdog or brat.

Kielbasa and cabbage – This is another super easy meal. Quarter a head of cabbage, and put it in a big pan with one or two packages of sausage. Let simmer until a little brown on the bottom, or until cabbage is cooked through. The sausage will give its flavor to the cabbage.

Poppy seed chicken – Yet another recipe coming soon! You can look up versions on the internet, though.

Baked or grilled salmon – Try it with a little white wine, mayo, and herbs and it tastes amazing. Also great with tons of butter, lemon juice, and some other herbs. I also just made salmon fish sticks that were awesome.

BBQ chicken – Pretty easy. Just continually add your favorite sauce as they grill.

Oven-fried chicken tenders or fried chicken – So good. The tenders cook super fast. Can be a bit messy but oh so good. This skillet fried chicken recipe is easy and pretty fast, too.

Breakfasts

I love breakfast foods. Particularly biscuits and gravy—one of my favorite dinners! Other options:

  • Waffles
  • Omelets
  • Eggs and toast
  • Baked GF oatmeal
  • Rice cereal or grits

So if you are going gluten free and wondering what in the world you will make for dinner, here are a ton of recipes that I use or that my family uses on a regular basis.

What about you? Do you have an awesome go-to dinner? I’d love to hear it!