Furnishing a home practically and beautifully does not have cost thousands.
This chest cost us a total of $20 (for new hardware). (friend)
This desk: completely free! (Though it will probably be getting a new coat of paint soon). (friend)
Our incredibly well-made kitchen table: free + $10 in supplies to refinish. (family)
We splurged on our 1930's antique sideboard at $55 (Craig's List)
Our Garden Center: free! Plus $20 in new hardware. (friend)
Our two sofas - one was free and one was $65. (Goodwill & a friend)
So how do you spend very little, feel good about re-using, and have a beautiful home? It takes a little bit of time; you can't usually find the perfect piece immediately, but with a little patience, you can build a home. And just remember all of the money you are saving!
Where to Look:
Craig's List : Check your local Craig's List often. Check the "free" section too! Don't be afraid to make an offer if the price isn't right. You should rarely pay full price - unless it's already an unbelievable deal. Checking often will give you a "feel" for what is reasonable, and what is some pompous overpaid jerk who couldn't sell his sofa for $700 at the country club yard sale. Blogs like Nuestra Vida Dulce help you find cool items too!
Really really Free Markets: Look for local free markets. There is one in my town, and people bring what they don't need, and take what they do. It's a beautiful thing. Most big cities have them - and some small ones too! Google your city and "really really free market" and you never know what you'll find. If you'd like me to help you look, just send me an email. And if you don't have one, consider starting one! They often meet at local parks.
Aunt Nora/Lena/Betty's Secret Stash: Ask your family! Every family has secrets, and most have extra furniture in their garage/basement/attic too. This goes for friends as well. Think of it as a symbiotic trade - they will feel just as good about it as you will when they have extra room, and aren't reminded of that time they were drunk and ran into the dresser and woke up with seven cats and a possum on top of them two days later. So don't be shy.
Yard Sales: Check the papers. Plan a route, or free-style it with some bagels and coffee at 6 AM on Saturday morning. Sounds like some good, clean, family fun. Until you brawl with a 75 year old lady over a crystal vase. You might want to tell the kids to stay in the car for that one.
Dumpster Diving (Neighborhoods & Apartment Complexes): Drive through neighborhoods the night before trash day. It's pretty easy to do a drive-by, and if you find anything that would otherwise party in a landfill for a couple hundred years, you can clandestinely throw it in the back of the car. Also, apartment complexes are a great place to check for furniture lurking outside the dumpster. We got our bedroom nightstand this way!
Thrift Stores: Goodwill, Salvation Army, & independent thrift stores are great places to check for cheap furniture. And you can always ask them to lower the price if you think it's too much!
Overstock.com: Definitely not free, but sometimes they have really good deals - and their shipping is only $2 even for furniture! Can't beat that. We got our Serta King Size Memory Foam Mattress on there for quite a bargain.
Set a budget: And stick to it. Decide what you have-to-have new, and what you can shop around for a used piece. We are in the middle of our living room remodel. We know that we want new white sofas, but a desk, coffee table, end table, and accessories we will look for used.
Make a List: If you are looking for several pieces for different rooms, make a list of what you need/what space you need it for...that way you only get pieces you really need, and you don't forget a space when you are groggily yard sale-ing at 6 AM after a crazy night of dumpster diving.
Haggle: Sike yourself up, and don't be afraid to negotiate!! Simply say, I'm on a strict budget and I can't pay more than "X amount", can you do that? Don't pay more than your budget.
Be Patient. If it's not what you want, don't buy it just because it's a good deal. Wait for the right piece.
Don't underestimate the power of paint. New paint or stain can completely change a piece. Don't let the really ugly and outdated wood or paint job deter you from a piece with great character. The same goes for new hardware!