I by no means have any interior designer skills, at all. My clothes barely match, let alone my house. I totally prefer functionality over anything else. Almost everything in my house is second-hand stuff I acquired one way or another, with the exception of our beds and kitchen table and pots and pans. One time in my life I actually purchased a new living room set...and it didn't last. Between kids and pets it got completely ruined over the years, and I learned my lesson about trying to have brand new furniture I spent a lot of money on. One day I can have nice stuff; right now is the time to have stuff I won't cry over if it doesn't last.
Since we knew for so long ahead of time that we would likely be moving, I had an advantage of being able to plan ahead to look for stuff I knew I would probably need. We came from a very small space, so what furniture I did have was minimal, so I had a running list of stuff to find. I kind of put it out there to everyone we knew that we were looking for things to furnish a house, so if anyone was upgrading we would gladly take their old stuff. A relative of my husband's ended up going into a retirement home, and had to get rid of most of their furniture. Somehow, it got offered to us about 6 months before we moved. My mom was awesome enough to let us use a spare room in her house to store everything. We ended up with a ton of stuff from just that alone: a dining room table and chairs, buffet filled with dining room linens, 2 twin beds that are super old but in good enough shape for small kids, a couple of sitting room chairs, a small pull-out sofa, a couple small bookcases, and a nightstand. Through word of mouth, I also was able to get a dresser, a ton of really good bed linens, and a couch and loveseat from coworkers. Someone at my husband's work gave him 2 big coffee tables. Everything we have been offered has been in pretty amazing condition, considering someone else was just getting rid of them. I also scored a really great older wooden desk and a sewing machine built into a desk from my mom's neighbor's estate. They were cleaning out the house to sell and they asked if we wanted anything. Not that I sew, but it works and is a cool thing to have for when I have time to learn.
That is my first piece of advice: don't be too proud to ask or take what other people are getting rid of, within reason of course. Most people won't offer you some falling apart junk in the first place. I made sure everyone knew I was looking for furniture. I took anything people were willing to give me, knowing somehow I would find a use for it all, or I could down the line. Knowing I was moving where I had plenty of storage made it easier in case I couldn't find a spot for something right away.
The next piece of advice is to never rule out what you can find at thrift stores, specifically Goodwill. I suggest Goodwill because in my area they tend to outshine all the other thrift stores I have visited in what they carry, how clean and organized the store is, and the quality of the items. I have 4 Goodwill stores between where I live now and where I used to live, and I would visit them all in the same week over the span of a couple months. I stocked my linen closet with tons of towels that were all very bright and thick and new and were about $1.00 a piece. Sunday through Tuesday they have a tag sale, and the color changes week to week. So if it's a yellow week, all yellow tags have an additional discount. I also got placemats, bathroom rugs, laundry hampers, and dishes at Goodwill as well. The biggest thing I have had to watch is every now and then you get something priced a little funky, like way too high. When that happens, I usually ask someone about it, and if its pretty obvious they will adjust the price. And the Goodwill stores by me tend to get a lot of clearance stuff from Target, like overstock or end of season items. These items are almost always priced higher like you would find at Target on clearance, and although new with tags/in packages, not worth it for me to buy at Goodwill.
Other things that are great finds at Goodwill are pictures, wall hangings, and furniture. One of the Goodwill stores near me has great furniture...think older stuff made of real solid wood. I once bought a dining room buffet and a really nice dresser for $30 each, and 2 matching older lazy boy recliners that barely looked used for $20 each. My daughter always finds really cool clothes for herself, brand name stuff at places we don't shop, like Justice. Most of the kids clothing is $2.00 per item in general and in pretty great condition. Goodwill also different sale days where different areas of the store are 50% off. They also do a late night sale once a month where the entire store is 50% off. I have never gone to one of those because I have heard it can be a bit insane.
I know lots of people who love to find stuff at yard sales, but I have always found them to be hit or miss. They are almost always on a weekend when I am at work, and you usually have to drive around to a bunch of them and maybe you will find something. However, if I happen to drive by one and see there might be something I want, I will stop. The stuff I look for the most is the outdoor play stuff for smaller kids, the climbers and slides. That stuff is so expensive new, but made to last and if you don't mind the sun faded look, it can be a real steal. I have found a few items from people closing their home daycare over the years.
Another way I was able to get stuff on the cheap was to shop my mom's house. Seriously, her and my dad collected so much stuff over the years. My dad especially was a picture and furniture hoarder. They would constantly get new stuff and put the old stuff in the basement where it has piled up. There is also a lot of stuff from my grandparent's house that she kept. She talks about going through and cleaning it out but never does, so I go down and see if there is anything I want and she is more than happy to get rid of stuff that way. There were a lot of wall hangings I loved as a kid, like this old wooden one with my favorite prayer and another religious one that hung in my Grandmother's kitchen.
The final thing I did over the years was to not really get rid of stuff. The biggest thing was kitchen stuff, as the amount of cabinet space was something that varied the most depending on where we lived. Rather than get rid of stuff I couldn't fit, I put all the "overflow" stuff in a box and left it stored, especially since I knew it was a more temporary thing. When we got to the new place, I rediscovered some of my favorite cooking items I didn't have the space for and hadn't used in years. I saved a ton of money just by hanging onto things I could use in a bigger kitchen instead of getting rid of it.
I did the same thing with all of my baby stuff and kids clothes...I have literally saved every single item that was worth saving. My sister had gotten rid of all of her baby stuff after her third child and ended up having a fourth a few years later, and my cousin who had 6 kids ended up having a 7th, and both of them literally had to start over from scratch for baby items. I remember thinking how much money they wasted by getting rid of everything only to have to buy so much of it again. So I became a hoarder of all things baby. And then as my oldest got older, of all older kid clothes. Even when we went through 8 years of IF and I thought our family was complete, I wouldn't let go of anything. I have saved a lot of money over the years because of all the hand me downs, and now baby clothes and supplies. Instead of having to buy all new wardrobes, I can get away with a couple new things each, and of course shoes, which don't hold up well as my kids are super hard on shoes. I know it is hard when you are short on space to save things; the first instinct is to get rid of stuff. I was lucky that my mom had plenty of space in her basement and she didn't mind letting us store a lot of the bulky items and extra boxes.
I also do all the other stuff, like cut coupons, look for/wait for sales, utilize online discount codes, and shop at places like Walmart and Sams Club. It is also helpful to have a good idea of how much things you buy often cost at several stores, so you know when a sale is really a sale. Sams club doesn't always have the cheapest price per unit. I have found that CVS can really have the best price on over-the counter medicines like allergy pills and medicine for acid reflux, and often vitamins if you combine their sales with their coupons. They generally let you stack coupons, too, so you can really save. If I am not in dire need of something, I usually try and wait it out until I get a good coupon or promo code, especially if I can't find one for online sites, or if they have a 10% off but I know I can get a 30% off one if I wait a few days. Old Navy is a store that will let you bring your receipt in for price adjustments for up to a week. One year around black Friday I took the same receipt in 3 different times because they kept dropping the prices that week, and I ended up saving over 60% in the end. Many other stores have the same policy, or will allow it if you ask. I once reordered Christmas presents 3 times because toys r us online kept dropping prices online and I ended up spending a fraction of what I normally would have.
As far as my pets go, I have 3 dogs and a cat. The biggest tip I learned about saving money on them is to buy a higher quality dog food. It costs more per bag, but because it contains better ingredients and less filler, and generally has a higher calorie content, the dogs actually need to eat less of it so it lasts longer. A 40lb bag of the cheap stuff only last a fraction of the time that the more expensive stuff does. I also started using my local animal welfare society for reduced cost vaccines and vet visits. It is all on a walk-in basis, but really worth my time to go by how much I save on vet visits. I know most county run animal control facilities also offer rabies clinics for $5 a shot, but that is all you get. Where I go, the vaccines are a little more, but you get a quick vet exam as well.
One huge way I am saving money this year is that I switched over to my employers health insurance, even though I am only part time. I spent a lot of time researching mine and my husbands plans, asking coworkers about how they felt about the coverage, checking coverage amounts and participating doctors, and running numbers on things like premium cost, amounts of the co-payments, deductibles, and prescriptions. I made a comparison list so I could see in black and white and then did a final cost analysis. Even though I will pay more for my premium because I am only part-time, the coverage is WAY better, with 1/4 of the deductible than I previously had. And because more of the cost is pre-tax, it lowers my overall taxable income so it will really help me at the end of the year. I also switched my car insurance to a plan with a huge discount through my work. If I had stayed with my old company, which is supposed to be one of the cheapest, my home owners insurance would be $300 more than it is now, and my car insurance $60 more a month, even with the bundle for identical coverage. By taking the time to make a few phone calls and run some numbers, I am saving a ton of money. It is a tedious task, but worth it in the end.
My final piece of advice here is that if you are looking for a big ticket item like a TV, Black Friday sales are the way to go. Wait, I know...Black Friday, really?? Listen, I am not a black friday shopper, at all. My sister is, and she has always gone out and braved crowds. But two years ago we really needed a new TV. We only had one TV in the house, it was old and tiny and slowly things on it were starting not to work. I asked my sister and she was looking for one too, so she scoped out Black Friday deals. My husband and I decided that would be our one big gift to each other for Christmas that year if we could get a deal and actually end up with a TV. My sister and I both got one that year, and last year went out and got another one. We bought one for my mom as her Christmas gift from all of us kids, and one I stashed at my mom's house until we moved, so our house now has 2 TVs, one on the main level and one in the basement. The price was even cheaper last year, but the first year it was still a great deal. The biggest advice is to check all the ads that come out, and call ahead to the stores to see just how they are working their black friday sales. Every store has a different quantity of any given sale item, even different locations of the same store will have different quantities and run the sales differently. We went to the same store and location both years, and they changed how they did the sales from one year to the next. Our store even changed how they were running the sale at the last minute because of the amount of people who starting lining up early. Having a plan before you go is the best bet. That was the only thing we were shopping for, so we had one of us go get in the checkout line while the rest of us got the TVs. I would never go just to shop. It totally amazed me some of the crappy toys and things people had in their carts, as if everything was a great deal. I will say that 2 years ago I did end up also grabbing a bike for my son, as his birthday is just before Christmas and that was what I had planned on getting him. On our way to the checkout line I stumbled upon a random palate of the bikes and it happened to be exactly the size and color I would need. For things like a TV there are great deals to be had on that crazy shopping day, but only if you are able to truly plan ahead, unless of course you dig that sort of madness.
So those are my tips and tricks for being