How To Furnish Your House On Any Budget, Even For Free

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-02-2040

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

When there’s not much money to go around and you’re facing a financial bind, I’ve noted that different people have different ways of handling the situation. Here are some common ways of dealing with it and trying to make ends meet:

  • Some don’t notice the problem and simply borrow more, pawn the future to take care of the present.
  • Some close ranks, batten down the hatches and stop spending, living sparingly.
  • Some ask for help from family and friends, hopefully temporarily.
  • Some try to seek a way out of it by hitting the pavement or drumming up income producing opportunities.
  • And some become quite resourceful.

No Money? No Problem. You Can Live On Boxes.

Let me tell you the story of a guy named Jose Avila, who decided to make furniture out of Fedex boxes. I found this endeavor to be quite inventive, smart and yes, resourceful. He could have been inspired by this fellow and decided to get the shipping boxes for free from Fedex; the company obliged and he whipped up his furniture. Unfortunately for him, he got into trouble later when he set up a web site showing his furniture creations to the world, and Fedex decided to respond to him through their lawyers. The issue wasn’t that he got their boxes for free and used it for the wrong reasons. The issue, according to Fedex was that he wasn’t supposed to set up a web site to let everyone know that this could be done. They cited copyright infringement by the guy’s web site.

Incidentally, here are some samples of his ingenious work:

Fed Ex Furniture Bed
Fedex Bed

Fed Ex Sofa
Fedex Sofa

Fed Ex Office Desk
Fedex Office Desk

Fed Ex Desk 2
Fedex Office Desk 2

I’ve overhead a few people say that they wished they had this idea back in college; it would have saved them from sleeping on a ratty mattress or bare floor for as long as they did. As far as I know, you’re still allowed to get free boxes from shipping companies; just don’t tell anyone what you’re going to use them for.

How Your Financial Situation Sparks Your Furniture’s Evolution

This whole box furniture idea got me thinking about one of my favorite topics. I actually love furniture and home accessories. It’s sort of a weakness of mine. Though I may have mentioned ad nauseam how much I would have liked to get into finance if I hadn’t become an engineer, my right brain would still compel me to possibly try getting into other creative things, such as interior design or home staging.

So given my relevant albeit moderate exposure to this industry, here is how I would rank some furniture ideas out there in terms of price from the cheapest to the priciest when furnishing your house. The budgets I’ve listed are hypothetical and are my best guess, but this sort of thing is generally variable, depending on deals, negotiations, discounts, sales you can snag during your shopping expeditions.

Do it yourself and save a bundle.
Budget: <= $1,000 for everything

Calling all craftspeople out there. You’re creative? Live on furniture you fashioned yourself! If you’re really serious about going cheap, leave your mark with cardboard crafted items, recycled fabrics and wooden boards. Cardboard or moving boxes go for $3.00 to $5.00 a piece. But it’s free if you ask for it from Fedex, as we’ve seen. Buy the basic ingredients and make your own (check U-Haul for cardboard boxes). You can be as extreme as you want to be.

If you have a bare bones budget, then limit your purchases and buy used.
Your Budget: ~$2500 to furnish your house

You can get used items for $10 or $20 a pop. I’ve gone this route before, when I furnished the first apartment I ever lived in. I went to garage sales were I picked up:
Bookshelves for $10 each.
A mattress for $20.
A bunch of framed pictures for a $1 each.
Posters went for $0.50.
My apartment was very livable and I don’t believe people noticed the gently used items and my home’s more austere surroundings!

Still have a tight budget? Go to discount stores.
Budget: ~$5,000 to furnish your house

How about new, made to assemble furniture from Target or IKEA? You can also try the do it yourself route with furniture kits from discounted places. You may want to prioritize function over style. If you’re responsible for your own materials, you may decide to pass on the authentic woods with the higher quality finish to keep costs down.

Have some money to spare? Go retail.
Budget: $10,000 – $25,000 to furnish your house

Raise your budget somewhat and check out retail stores. Most people will visit Levitz, JC Penney and Macy’s for their needs. You won’t go wrong by doing so and will probably get good deals for entire room sets especially when they go on sale.

Custom crafted can go either way.
Budget: Variable

Outsource the building of your furniture by designing your own and have someone else make it, or have someone else do it all for you. Prices are variable in this area because it all depends on who’s crafting the pieces. If your neighbor is a skilled woodworker or cabinet maker, you may get a good price in this regard. Hire anyone with a name and watch the prices soar.

Buy from catalogs but prepare to spend.
Budget: ~$10,000/room

You can step up quite a bit by buying furniture through catalogs. There are some cool sources out there such as Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, Ballard Designs. Spend more and you’ll get the likes of Horchow, if they’re your style. Beware though, at this point, sales don’t make as much of a dent on the prices and furniture is often sold as singles to extract the most from your pocket.

If you have the money, go top of the line with brand names and solid reputations.
Budget: ~$20,000/room

When you have arrived, you may want to decide to stretch your budget further and may be interested in high end works such as Thomasville or Ethan Allen or bump it up with Century, Bernhardt and the like.

The world is your oyster, buy the stuff that actually appreciates.
Budget: $200,000/room

Genuine restored fine European antiques may actually hold their prices or are rumored to appreciate in value with time. At these price points, you’ll need to be insuring your property as well. Unless you’re prepared to spend the equivalent cost of a brand new car on a single table, then it’s best just to find inspiration from the authentic designs and hunt for decent reproductions.

My Furniture Buying Program

If you’re a real shopper, you may decide to incorporate online comparison sites throughout your quest to find the best deals out there. That’s certainly one way to go about it, especially if you’re looking for individual items rather than attempting to furnish your entire house all at once.

The thing about furniture is that they are seasonal and cyclical and go on sale quite often. Furniture lines are discontinued quite often, and those on the verge of extinction will get marked down. So make sure you check for sales schedules at stores you visit. Also, stores provide financing terms for their furniture, which I’m not an expert on because frankly, I’ve never gone down this path before. Instead, I’ve always opted to buy used and cheap stuff when my budget dictated it.

Lastly, there may be delivery and shipping fees associated with your furniture purchases unless the store provides the service for free. So you’ll need to include these and other potential fees such as insurance (for truly high priced items and collectibles you’d like to protect) to your final figures.

In closing, I’d like to think that if I were in a bind, I would go buy used and get myself that $10 chair off of Craigslist or the classifieds since I don’t believe I’m handy enough to fashion stuff out of raw materials. But as time goes on and I find myself with more funds, I’ll go up that furniture ladder of incremental beauty and elegance, and replace one piece at a time, building the interior rooms of my dreams.

If there’s any furniture buying tip out there I’ve missed, please feel free to fill in the gaps!

Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneymonk February 20, 2007 at 3:05 pm

Not sure about the Fedex furniture. My eyes are blury from just seeing the pictures.

I will take #3

Budget: ~$5,000 to furnish your house

I love IKEA and Target! woot

Silver Lining February 20, 2007 at 7:54 pm

Most of my furniture is from high-end lines bought at outlet. I have a solid teak, four-poster Henredon bed that I bought for $800. The bed is stunning and I saved a bundle–the retail price is in the low five figures. I have gotten some stuff from Baker and Stickley at a Baker’s closeout store, and have found some other designer pieces on eBay. The stuff won’t usually be at IKEA prices, but closer to Macy’s, and much better quality.

I also buy from antique stores. I love finding unique furniture there, and the prices are great!

Silicon Valley Blogger February 20, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Hi Silver Lining… Ah a fellow furniture enthusiast :). What a great find on the four poster. I can’t believe the deal you got for it! Where are these outlets pray tell? My guess would be North Carolina where they make all of this? There aren’t very many bargain places here for high end furniture — it’s just one of those things the West Coast traded for the good weather ;). Thanks for the tidbit!

Golbguru February 23, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Yeah..I guess you are talking about a big house. 🙂

Either we don’t have any taste at all…or we are really frugal…or may be it’s just that we are students; our apt is furnished less than $400..that too it was just a one time cost. 🙂

Even after I get a job, I am sure I will find furniture worth $5000 as *ridiculous* 🙂

Karla (threadbndr) March 2, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Haunt second hand stores and ‘antique’ stores in smaller, rural communities. Buy pieces that need to be refinished or upholstered. Both are fairly easy skills to aquire. Watch for stuff on Craig’s list and Freecycle and the local ‘bargin shopper’.

Ask around to friends and co-workers.

Last, if you can, buy real wood, not chipboard and MDF. With the real deal, you can paint, refinsh, strip, finish again, cut down, add onto, etc.

Marco August 1, 2007 at 7:32 am

Nice one on the Fedex furniture… Maybe I’ll try remodeling my furnitures… hahaha! seems cool!

Di August 12, 2007 at 2:22 pm

Just seeing a FedEx box now gives me the giggles:-)

Love your ideas on decorating for all budgets. One big bonus we have discovered is to go to upper scale neighborhoods where they often leave “free” stuff on their lawns that they are getting rid of.

One of our friends managed to get slightly used higher end nursery furniture for nothing.


Ola May 14, 2008 at 4:15 am

Oh wow, furniture for a really small budget. Good idea, but I prefer a regular ones then such modern ones 😉

Ro August 11, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Craigslist is the shizzle! 🙂

I furnished my whole loft with $300, wedding gifts (mostly kitchen stuff from Crate and Barrel), and $500 in gift cards.

My husband, the chea–I mean most frugal man on the planet would not let me spend any wedding cash.

My two favorite pieces from Craigslist:

-Antique table with two leaves and four chairs
I recovered the chairs with a beautiful aqua colored, polka-dot fabric.
-A 1940s writing desk

I made the curtains for our 14 ft. floor-to-ceiling windows using fabric glue and tension rods–you couldn’t tell is was not sewn.

All of my bedding was bought at discount stores–Ross and Marshalls.

If you’re lucky, you can find “staging” furniture on Craigslist. A lot of realtors have no use for this slightly used furniture. I’ve also seen furniture for free on Craigslist. People just want someone to get the piece out of their house–I always see pianos on that list. 🙂

Happy Shopping!

Real Estate Jim September 18, 2008 at 11:50 am

These are really creative and useful ideas that make one think twice about going out and laying down a lot of money on furniture. Thanks for sharing!

Home Improvements November 20, 2008 at 6:47 am

The Internet can also be a source of discounted and free home items. CraigsList in particular offers ads by city. You can browse ads or place one yourself for a specific item.

Go Contempo December 13, 2008 at 11:57 pm

Hmmm, strange, but cool. I could see Andy Warhol making a furniture/art piece out of FedEx boxes. 🙂

Belwith December 15, 2008 at 1:14 pm

What a comprehensive furniture article and review! Also great Fedex furniture guy’s website.

Szenovera December 25, 2008 at 7:49 am

Another interesting matter to get nice furniture but save a lot money. Thanks to sharing it.

George Furn March 24, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Pretty neat idea. Have you seen the Japanese furniture design of rooms that fold up. Its worth checking out. I have it on my furniture blog, but i’m sure you can google it as well!

Furniture Cowboy Blog June 30, 2009 at 8:33 am

I love the fedex furniture!

Eileen July 9, 2009 at 9:46 pm

that was called a very good way of recycling. using boxes for home uses. it looks fine at first but as i continue to look at it, it becomes like room with garbage, can you cover it with something to hide the logo of the box? lol

Ruth July 20, 2009 at 1:29 pm

You know what, I’ve been going through so many sites about “being on a budget”, I have gotten some good ideas, but some, well, it doesn’t matter how skint you are, I’m just not going to do. But this is classic, if I were about 30 yrs younger, I’d definitely give it a go. Good fun!

Jay July 21, 2009 at 10:06 am

I absolutely love the idea of fedex furniture. Although the bed does not look as comfortable as I would like, at least all of the decor in the home will match perfectly together! 😉 Moving boxes are great for everything.

Jen August 14, 2009 at 9:31 am

Great ideas, thanks I love the Fedex boxes. I am on a cheap budget, I have four girls. 2 year old triplets and a 4 year old. Thanks for the ideas!

Roll Off Detroit September 10, 2009 at 9:15 am

Awesome idea with the fedex box furniture. Not the most practical perhaps, but totally unique

Case Ernsting September 29, 2009 at 8:56 am

Great post! I bet you could sell this furniture for a little more than you bought it for. Customizable, cheap, comfortable…what’s not to like!?

Outdoor Furniture Plans November 20, 2009 at 11:03 am

I love the minimalist style and your article is very appropriate especially for the college students who need to furnish their dorms!

Jess@Oak Furniture November 25, 2009 at 2:36 pm

hehe really funny post .. you got me laughing .. it’s a good way to take advantage of the FedEx boxes..they charge so much..

kosmo @ The Casual Observer April 24, 2010 at 8:16 am

How’d he build the computer from FedEx boxes? I want the instructions!

basicmoneytips April 25, 2010 at 4:59 am

Amazing, such an interesting concept. I think doing stuff like this is cool, but as you get older, are you going to be satisfied having friends over and enjoying the evening on your box furnature? Should it matter? Probably not. Will it? Probably.

Personally I think you can get some great deals off Craigslist, the want ads, or garage sales.

Mikaere May 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Wow! What a house. I must say the guy in the article has a knack for building stuff out of boxes. Very creative indeed. I am thinking that you may need to get fire alarms in there just in case….. but that is the first time i have seen something like this; i just adore the computer desk.

Youris June 20, 2010 at 7:26 am

haha.. great furniture ideas.. give inspiration for us to made furniture with cheap budget

Eric Seaton August 6, 2010 at 2:44 am

It just goes to show . When you have a limited budget and put a bit of thought in to it you can really come up with some innovative ideas. Other people’s surplus can be someone else’s comfortable bed. Thanks for the great ideas. It’s really is surprising what’s out there.

Mabel August 30, 2010 at 12:41 am

I think these ideas are quite good because these tips can inspire people who have very little money and who need furniture.

indiaallen10 October 6, 2010 at 2:03 am

Wow, surprised he hasn’t done an exhibition with those creations!

Good idea about designing your own furniture, also a good idea to have a look in charity shops, sometimes get some good ‘vintage’ finds! Never thought about it like that, but yeah, good idea for getting someone to actually create the furniture for you. Been looking on the internet for carpenters to do this and came across loads of websites — pretty confusing, but there are helpful ones out there. 🙂

overstuffed chairs March 9, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Wow! I like those boxes used as furniture. The desk looks perfectly functional. You could paint it. Kids would love it I bet. Cute idea.

Deb March 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm

The Fedex furniture is just fun to look at (a novel idea), but I don’t think it is very practical. There is always someplace to find ‘throw-away’ furniture that someone else doesn’t want. You can clean it up, fix it a little and make it your own that way.

Silicon Valley Blogger March 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

I’ve been furniture shopping lately to replace worn items and found out that the latest in furniture “fashion” has changed over the years — probably because of the impact of the economy and the current demand for more affordable (albeit disposable) pieces. The old style stuff I like is harder to come by, so well, if I go fortune hunting in estate sales, I may have better luck on finding something I’d like. At any rate, there doesn’t seem to be a monopoly on cardboard furnishings, which some people have happily embraced — as you can see here:

Mac Box Sofa
Mac Box Chair

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