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Save Big, Spend Money Like the Wealthy

Updated on April 22, 2011

Buy Value: Save the Planet and Your Wallet

So much of what we buy is disposable and winds up in landfills, draining our savings and contributing to piles of garbage that ruin the planet. Buying things that don't last or have value that lasts is one way that we impoverish ourselves. If you are just starting to furnish a home space, I recommend 2 opposite approaches. One will save you lots of money. The other will cost more, but make you money over time.

Furnish your living space with free items that can be re-purposed and refurbished spending little money. Don't buy a new living room or dining room suite from a chain furniture store. Instead, join your local FreeCycle group, go to estate sales, hunt in warehouses and yard sales.

Why should you not buy at furniture stores? New furniture has one of the highest markups of any item, as does fine jewelry. That is, the final cost is usually 5 times that of the components. Labor, design, transportation and resale profit cost more than the fabric, wood and other materials to make furniture. The surprise is that, just like a new car, the value of mass manufactured furniture goes down as soon as it's used and continues to decline.

The Nate Burkus show recently had an episode on how to make dramatic shelves from old end and coffee tables. By sawing them in half, to get a width of about 1 foot, and stacking these, you get the benefit of the design of legs and trim and a unique shelving.

Most towns have collection sites for things people are no longer allowed to throw in the trash. I got double pain sliding glass doors for $25 as such a place. I used them to replace rotting siding on a garage. I use my broken dishwasher as an extension of my kitchen counter and to hide drying dishes. I hate dishes on the counter top.

You may say that you don't want other people's smelly sofas, neither do I. Many items offered for free are in good condition. If the springs are gone on a sofa, there are supports that you can buy to remedy this. Colorful throws, bedspreads, curtains and tapestries can hide ugly sofas and chairs.

Lamps are expensive purchased new, yet so easy to make.  Find an interesting support, attach it to a base, buy the socket, wire and plug, assemble.  Old lamp shades can be recovered with fabric or paper and glue.  Rusted metal objects can make artistic supports to use as lamp bases.  Watch out for "Tiffany" lamps.  Many are not real antiques.  Artisans, often found at summer art in the street markets, are making stained glass lamps that may retain value.

Dining room sized tables can be made from a large piece of glass or wood and any supports that you like. Legs of such supports can be cut to the height that you prefer. A glass shop can cut heavy glass to size and smooth the edges to make a table top. Better, use an old solid wood door and cover with a beautiful table cloth. If you have to move, you can recycle such a table and take only the cloth. If you want to keep the table, it comes apart easily.

Buy like the rich. Buy antiques; buy one-of a kind objects; buy from craftspeople and artists. Buy objects that will increase in value. The next style that will be officially antique is Art Deco. Antiques of the future can be great buys. You may not think that you have money for that, but it's better to get one valuable piece than a bunch of junk. Seek out one-of-a kind objects, like backdrops or other original art and furniture made for a theater production. If you live in an apartment, what a great way to bring color and drama to those white walls! What fun you'll have exploring and hunting for such treasures.

How do you make a room filled with this and that look good? Unify with color, style and texture. If your things are all one color or type of wood, use different textures to add interest. If you are going to have different fabrics in a room, look for a unifying color or colors and include solids in those colors. For example, I got dining room chairs at Ross, but only 2 of each. One set of 2 chairs has beige, soft mossy greens, violets and wine colors. The other 2 have only the beige colors. Both are floral themes, but one is dramatic, the other subtle, and the chairs are the same style, have the same lines. Visitors have commented that, at first, they didn't even notice that I have different chairs. Don't be afraid to mix styles, too. A pair of dramatically different chairs can look great.

We often furnish our homes based on past trends and needs where cold winters required rungs and heavy stuffed furniture to make us feel comfortable. In the U.S. many have left the cold North East for the South and South west; population in Florida, California and Arizona have grown over the past 40 years. Yet, people living in these warmer climates still furnish a home as if they lived in Victorian England or Vermont. We have ways to make homes warmer without rugs and stuffed furnishings: floor insulation, electrically-heated floors, double pained glass windows. Think about your needs, style preferences and climate before you buy. I'm not asking people to give up a comfortable recliner. Do, consider, however, whether you really needs rugs. Carpet and rugs get dirty fast, trap dirt, contribute to allergies, and decline in value, unless they are antiques. Of course, you have no choice in an apartment or other rental situation. If you do have a choice, you may want to consider a painter's canvas drop cloth and paint it yourself. This would be a good choice in dinning room, where you should not have carpet where food is regularly eaten, any way.

What about the bedroom? People have been sleeping on flat surfaces, and complaining about back aches, for hundreds of years and only recently are new types of mattresses available. Ideally our bodies should be in the "astronaut position" for sleeping: head and torso, thighs and legs elevated with knees bent. This is the position of a reclining chair, though most are angled a bit too high at the torso part and not high enough for the legs. A reclining lawn chair may come closer. You could easily make a bed with such a lawn chair, especially if it comes with cushions. You'd need a mattress pad, doubled, to separate your body from the usually plastic cushions and give breathing space for sweat to evaporate, or sleeping bag. A note here about bedding, leave bedding folded open to allow sweat to evaporate in the mornings. It can look good folded half way down, exposing sheets to the air. This will be much cheaper that the new beds that adjust to firmness or those that are like hospital beds.

If you try these ideas, please leave a comment.


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