1. When moving into a new dorm room or house, start by deciding what furniture you need and where you will put each piece. Make a rough floorplan. Measure how much space you can allot each item.
2. Make lists of “wants” versus “needs.” Tackle the needs first; wait for the best price or right piece to come along for the rest.
3. Be creative. A sturdy box with a cloth over it can stand in for a table, bricks and boards for bookcases, etc. And some furniture can serve two purposes. I recently made a nightstand from a piece of canvas and a wooden hatbox. It’s fun to repurpose!
4. Think small. Buying diminutive sizes often costs less. Do you honestly need a dining room table that seats six? How about a cozy table for two instead?
5. Ask friends and family if you can borrow furniture. And post what you need on your Facebook page. If you have friends who are about to rent storage units, offer to store their furniture at your place-no charge!
6. Did you know that Craigslist has a Free section? Check there first, then scan the regular furniture listings. If you can’t find what you need, post a Wanted ad.
7. Join a local item recycling list, such as Freecycle or FreeSharing. You’ll find anything and everything, much of it decent quality. Respond to offers that interest you immediately. When posting a Wanted ad, specify exactly what you’re looking for and how far you’ll travel to get it.
8. Make Saturday mornings yard-sale-ing time. Find listings in local newspapers, on Craigslist, and at http://gsalr.com. Show up at the end of “Everything Must Go” sales and see what kind of deal you can cut.
9. Search Craigslist for “garage sale leftovers,” or drive around after 3 pm on weekend days.
10. Pay special attention to estate sales, a great place to find home staples, kitchen items, etc., for cheap. Ask local estate sale companies to add you to their email list.
11. Dive into free boxes. Particularly on the West Coast, free boxes are a very popular way to adopt anything from clothing to pots and pans.
12. Scavenge. You’d be surprised what furniture you can find sitting curbside, just waiting for you. Search nice neighborhoods during large-item pickup nights. And be sure to scout college areas at semester’s end.
13. Rummage sales and flea markets offer many options in one place. Arrive at the beginning for the best selection, or at the end for the best deals. Don’t be afraid to inquire where the leftovers are going.
14. Haunt thrift stores. People often donate items in excellent condition, and some have cheap furniture yards. Call to find out what time they put out new merchandise-and when they run sales.
15. Help fund construction of Habitat for Humanity homes within your community: shop at your local Habitat ReStore. Most have furniture, home accessories, building materials and appliances, sold at a fraction of retail.
16. Attend a local auction. You can find them in newspaper ads or by searching online, at http://www.auctionservices.com or http://www.auctionzip.com. Get on their email lists.
17. If you’re new to town, seek bargain-hunting advice from longer term residents.
18. Don’t forget about used and consignment furniture stores, which can be plentiful in college towns. Inquire about student discounts.
19. Store closings and liquidation and tent sales are great for finding affordable furniture, sometimes “scratch and dent” gems.
20. Build your own. Simple plans are available in books, magazines and online. A bookcase is a piece of cake!