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Can you remember your first home, be it an apartment, a small house, a dorm, or even a room for rent? Do you remember the hand me down furniture, the poster art, and the sparse decoration? How about the fact that it was probably devoid of any color besides earth tones? Are you blushing or even cringing at the thought? Most of the embarrassment from entertaining guests in our home was due to a tight budget, but that doesn't have to be any excuse for future generations.
Furnishing a home on a budget is quite simple if you pay attention to some basic money saving tips. First of all, when you're looking to furnish a home, always shop around. Buying on impulse is a good way to wind up with a thin wallet. While you may love all the extra features of one item, you may find a similar item down the street for half the price of the original one. Secondly, shop for quality. While you may spend very little money on something, if it was poorly constructed or falls apart in a week for some other reason, it's money you're going to have to spend to replace it. This situation can be easily avoided by checking the construction, the quality of the materials used, and how it will stand up to constant use. By spending a few dollars more, you can often avoid the headache of breakage. That's not to say that you should buy the most expensive one, as that would defeat the purpose of a budget.
While the idea of having a cozy, well furnished little home is, well, a cozy one, you should start with the basic furnishings and add as your budget allows. Generally the basics would be items that go in the two most used rooms- the living room and bedroom. A set of laundry hampers for clean and dirty clothes, while fully functional could be more efficiently replaced with a dresser. The living room floor, depending on your type of carpet, might be very comfortable, but a small sofa might be easier on the back.
Most people will spend a great deal of money right off on a dining set. The dining room should be a low priority as far as an itemized budget is concerned. Many American families will dine in front of the television set on a TV tray anyway, so let's save that money for something else, shall we?
While furniture can make a home look a little more lived in, naked walls can be as dismal as naked floors. Shelves are often very inexpensive, and if you have the means to make your own, the cost can be next to nothing. Many people also have little knick-knacks that they've collected over the years that would go very well on them as well. Used art can turn a short wall that would otherwise look very dreary into a welcoming sight. Being on a budget is an opportune time to pick up a few art related hobbies, since you can turn your own watercolor or oil designs into gallery style works of art.
But wherever do you find these alleged "bargains"? There are many places to go shopping for home furnishings and housewares, some being better than others. Furniture stores are often the first place many turn to for furniture, but while the quality and selection are often the best of any other place, it's not necessarily the best place to go bargain shopping. Due to the high quality and selection, most stores feel justified in charging whatever they want. Therefore, if you want to shop in furniture stores, shop at a time when the entire store is on sale. Spring is a good time for such sales, as it's often an attempt to close out old models of furniture to make room for new ones. Don't be afraid to take a second look at any "defective" furniture sales. Often times, this simply means that there may be a small chip somewhere or that the runner on a dresser drawer is broken or that a handle or two is missing. Some of these things are very easy to replace. If it's broken glass, however, leave it be. Replacing glass can get pricey, especially if it's specially shaped or a specific type.
A very unlikely place to look for housewares and furniture is an antique store. Most all of the items in such places are donated and in very good shape. Often the only maintenance needed on items in an antique store is a good scrub. The primary reason that most antique stores can be the source of good deals is that some people don't know the true value of what they have, and nearly all prices are negotiable.
Other avenues to explore would be garage, yard, and estate sales. As with antique stores, nearly all prices are negotiable. Items found here are generally quite inexpensive, but some of them may be in poor shape, so watch for cracks in support beams, or frayed and unraveling material. While there are online home furnishing stores, most should be avoided, as they're highly overpriced once shipping is included, and you can't see or feel the quality firsthand. Other places, such as Fingerhut, provide inexpensive housewares that come with a 30-day in home trial and have arrangements for low monthly payments. The thing to be cautious of is again, the quality of materials. Watch for even tiny cracks in furniture or shelves, and return it if you don't think it will be able to withstand constant use.
There you have it- the ins and outs of home furnishings. And when all else fails, go by gut instinct. If you think you can get it cheaper, or find a better one elsewhere, do it. You'll be saving yourself money and headaches in the end.