12 Ways to Get a Steal on Craigslist

When we bought our house two years ago, we had essentially no furniture. To give you an idea, I’d made my previous dresser out of cardboard boxes–so, we were faced with a pretty blank slate. Solution? Craigslist, make our own, garage sales, and the side of the road.

But most especially, Craigslist–the font of incredible used goods. If you haven’t purchased new furniture recently (or ever), take a gander at the prices. Go ahead and look. Mortified? Horrified? I certainly was. Even Ikea, the bastion of affordable furnishing, is still more expensive than used–I know this because I price-checked every single used item we bought.

Craigslist chair, table, and decor!

Craigslist chair, table, chair and decor!

I became a Craigslist maven. I stalked the furniture section early every single morning and learned the going rates for each type of furnishing to ensure we weren’t overpaying (possible to do even with used stuff!). The minute I saw an item I liked, I’d email the person and we’d arrange to pick it up as fast as humanly possible. 

Craigslisting is both art and science. I honed my skills over the year that it took to furnish our home and, through this experience, compiled…

The Frugalwoods Ultimate Craigslist Tip List!:

  1. Don’t search for the specific item you want.
    • Do not type in “dresser” or “couch” as not everyone shares the same furniture nomenclature. The typos on Craiglist are equal parts disturbing and hilarious. So, tough it out and browse the entire furniture section daily. Plus you might use items not for their intended purpose, such as:

      A bedside table we use as our TV stand

      A bedside table we use as our TV stand

  2. Do consider the driving distance to the seller.
    • A long drive should be factored into the cost of the item and may make something less of a good deal.
    • It probably doesn’t make sense to drive an hour for one small side table, but it might make perfect sense for an entire dining room set.
  3. POUNCE asap!
    • If you see a good deal, other people will too. Email the seller immediately, be friendly, and offer to come right away.
  4. Ask the seller for dimensions.
    • Don’t rely on the photo–get the actual, factual measurements. We were burned by a gigantic couch and a micro-chair. Seriously this was a doll-sized chair being passed off as a regular human chair.
  5. Do haggle.
    • After you arrive at the seller’s house, offer less than asking price and be prepared to pay cash. Don’t haggle by email in advance.
    • Once you’re at their house, chances are they want that thing outta there so badly, they’ll be willing to make a deal. I’ve never paid the full asking price. Even $20 off is a savings!

      Possibly our best Craigslist find ever: solid wood dining room table & chairs for $75!

      Possibly our best Craigslist find ever: solid wood dining room table & chairs for $75!

  6. Ask if they’re selling anything else.
    • This is another great tactic to employ after you’re at the seller’s house. Sellers are often in clean-out or move-out mode and will happily throw in a few other items. This can yield a major bundling discount. Again, they want to get rid of it and you’re already there with cash in hand.
    • When we bought our couch side table, the sellers were moving and we ended up also buying a mirror, a blanket (pictured above), and some power tools.
  7. Don’t be squeamish about buying couches or beds.
    • I’ve purchased both off of Craigslist and lived to tell the tale. We did “vet” the sellers by entering their home and determining they were clean and didn’t have bugs. And if you get a bad feeling, just walk away. You’re not obligated to buy something just because you came to look at it.

      Craigslist couch! And side table. The coffee table was handmade by Mr. Frugalwoods

      Craigslist couch! And side table. The coffee table was handmade by Mr. Frugalwoods

  8. Be flexible and consider well-made furniture that’s an ugly color.
  9. Don’t be matchy-matchy.
    • I think an eclectic blend of unique pieces is vastly more appealing than identical twinsies that look like a showroom floor. Plus, it’s very difficult to get everything to match when buying used.
  10. Focus on quality.
    • Don’t buy cheap Ikea stuff used. Buy “real” furniture that people are discarding because it’s out of style or old.
  11. Be patient.
    • You’re not going to find everything in a day. We slowly furnished over the course of a year, which I’m glad about. We also have several very lightly furnished rooms–no need to cram stuff into every corner–just buy what you need to be comfortable in your dwelling.
    • We spent very little money and were able to find free cast-offs on the side of the road too!

      Funky Craigslist chair. I might repaint the arms, but I can't decide on a color...thoughts?

      Funky Craigslist chair. I might repaint the wood frame, but I can’t decide on a color…thoughts?

  12. Have fun!
    • We had a great time doing the Craigslist thing. Keep a sense of humor and don’t overpay out of desperation–the right items will come along eventually.

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19 Responses

  1. Mr. 1500 says:

    Another good post! I have one question for you though regarding this:

    POUNCE asap!
    If you see a good deal, other people will too. Email the seller immediately, be friendly, and offer to come right away.

    I agree. I’ve posted stuff and within 5 minutes, had 20 emails. I think some people just sit on CL all day, especially the “free” category.

    Anyway, there are some tools/app where you can configure filters to send you an alert when an item comes up. This seems much better than looking at CL 50x per day. Have you tried any of these?

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks! We’ve had mixed results with saved searches.

      On one hand, they can be a convenient way to tame the firehose of listings. Nothing more convenient than checking your email.

      On the other hand, we’ve found some of our best deals on things where the seller didn’t use common keywords. One the reasons we got such a good deal was that we weren’t competing against the searching herd.

      For furniture, Mrs. Frugalwoods just spent 20 minutes skimming the entire furniture section early on Saturday Morning to see what was recently posted. People use all sorts of crazy spellings and different nomenclature to describe what you might be looking for.

      If you want something particular though, especially a brand name, saved searches are the best. Just make sure to include several permutations of the spelling of that brand name. People can’t spell to save their life.

      As for tools, I use IFTTT. Works well, and come to think of it… managing a bunch of saved searches using IFTTT would probably make a good post 😉

      • Mr. 1500 says:

        So right about the spelling. I wonder how many of the adults I know spelled their way out of the 2nd grade. It’s horrifying!

        Thanks again for the tips and the IFTTT (speaking of crazy-ass spelling) recommendation.

  2. FI Fighter says:

    Great tips! I have a ton of old items to sell, and I will need to rely on Craigslist to get the job done. The haggling is something I’ve gotten very used to doing… when both buying and selling!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by! Haggling is definitely key for buyer and seller. You’re reminding me that I have stuff I need to sell too…I love that Craigslist is this ongoing circle!

  3. Noreen Valentine says:

    I usually go to the category (say, furniture) and search the name of the towns adjacent to mine, one-by-one, and see if there is anything I’m interested in within the distance I’m willing to travel…If I’m desperate, I’ll search on the item (and not limit myself to adjacent towns) but only enter a portion of the spelling (say, refrig, instead of refrigerator) because if they spell the word incorrectly, maybe the got the portion that I’m searching correct. If I’ve got the time, I’ll sit there an go through the entire category but that’s a lot of viewing in the Boston area.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a great system! You’re spot on with the misspellings–that’s one thing I learned pretty quickly! You’ve got to account for every possible permutation of the word :).

  4. Patrick says:

    After reading your post, I have to share the best Craigslist Typo my wife and I have come across in our never ending searches for furniture, the seller who said, “No low-balling, I won’t sell this stuff for Penis on the dollar.”

    On a more practical note, one of my favorite tools on Craigslist is using the Map tab that shows the location of all items listed. It’s easy to zoom in on your neighborhood or within a few miles to see what treasures are almost right at your door.

    • Heidi Schlegel says:

      That’s hilarious!

      I once saw a couch on Craigslist listed as “genitally used.” I really hope they meant “gently used!”

  5. FrugalFox says:

    We recently got a coffee table from Gumtree (Craigslist UK equivalent). We used some paint we already had from decorating and purchased some varnish for the top. The table looks amazing. Somebody already offered me 10x the cost to buy it.

  6. jennifer kellogg says:

    I have the same bed frame as you! IKEA all the way for that one.

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