Oh, not that I have any tips on how to actually buy a home frugally (um, buy low and sell high!), but everyone knows that the money is just starting to flow out the door when you first buy the house. After that, you have to start moving in, and that’s where you end up nickeled and dimed to death, right?
The very pretty Allison writes:
I have been a fan of your website for many months now, and appreciate your ideas and advice. My husband and I will be first time homebuyers by the end of this month. This is wonderful, but leaves little money to do aesthetic fixes such as painting, putting up a backyard fence, getting new furniture (patio furniture too), etc.
Do you have any advice on ways to find good deals on things such as paint, or light fixtures, and especially furniture?
Allison gets an A+ for sucking up. Good work, Allison! I, however, get an F for timeliness, because Allison sent this to me a month ago and probably already moved. Whoops! Sorry about that! Let’s see what we can do, anyway.
The first thing you need to do—if you haven’t already—is go sign up for 10% off coupons from both Home Depot and Lowe’s, assuming that you have local stores where you can use them. The good news is that every time you move, you can sign up for 10% off coupons! The bad news is that (assumedly to prevent abuse of said coupons) they can take a while to come. These are excellent items to have in hand, though, for when you do the big trip where you buy all of those little things like door stops and blind pulls and lightbulbs and you get to the checkout line and realize you have $800 worth of stuff in your cart.
Not that that’s ever happened to me. Ahem.
Alright. A few things about the kind of stuff you’ll buy at the home improvement store:
Don’t skimp on paint. I want to save money on paint, too, but the reality is that cheap paint is, well, cheap paint. And it isn’t cheap if you have to repaint a year later. Do some poking around online to get a sense of what’s worth it and what isn’t. I had already read that Behr paint was highly-rated but then I had several contractors tell me that “it’s called Behr because it BAREly covers!” I used Behr in my old house and had some chipping problems. Lowe’s house brand is ValSpar and I’ve used that with good results. Do your own research, of course, and then check to see if stores around you ever put stuff on sale. But do not just buy the cheapest paint. Please.
Invest in items you’ll use, buy cheap for things you won’t. If you’re going to be cleaning out rain gutters twice a year, for the love of all that’s holy, buy yourself a decent ladder. On the other hand, if your husband is fixing that one funny pipe that requires a specialized strap wrench that you can’t used anywhere else in the house, buy the cheapest one they have. This is common sense, of course, but the point is to stop and think: How much will we use this? For many items, the price difference is small, but it adds up.
Prioritize your needs. If there are no lights in your kitchen, you need new lights. If the lights in your kitchen are ugly, you don’t need them, you want them. Take an honest assessment of your budget and categorize purchases into three categories: To Do Right Now, To Do In A Year, and To Do When We Can. Seeing it all laid out in a grid will help you figure out what you can afford.
For patio furniture, you probably already know that this is the wrong time of year to get a smoking deal. It’s not impossible, of course, but the best time to get a deal on outdoor furniture is at the end of the season. If you don’t want to wait a couple of months, check out Target (free shipping on select patio stuff right now), Overstock, and your local “bargain” stores like Big Lots. Heck, even places like the grocery stores ’round here carry patio sets, so depending on what you want and your timing, you may luck into a deal.
Overstock carries a ton of discounted regular furniture as well, although of course the problem there is that you don’t get to see it in person. We bought our dining room furniture at Pier 1 after visiting it several times; the salesgirl finally took pity on us and told us when it was going on sale. As soon as it did, we snapped it up, along with a store credit card that gave us another 10% off and some bonus certificates for a future purchase. (We later spent them on a coat rack. Score!)
You really need to spend some time trolling your local furniture stores and figuring out what you want before you know what compromises you’re willing to make to get things cheaper. Are you willing to buy furniture you’ve never touched in person? Are you willing to take a “scratch-n-dent” item in return for a discount? Do you have your heart set on a particular item that can only be gotten a particular way, and therefore the right thing to do is just put on your big girl pants and pay up? You’re the only one who can answer those sorts of questions.
For me, for example, there were years where I bought those cheap office supply store bookshelves, and because I’m a total book hound they periodically fell apart and then I bought more. They were cheap, but they were also ugly, and furthermore, not very sturdy. One day I realized that I could shell out money for some real bookcases and only do it once, forever and ever amen. That was a good day.
Bottom line: Be mindful, and the rest will follow, grasshopper.
Readers, more tips to share?