Furniture for Less

by Shaunna Privratsky

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Whether you are shopping for a single item or a roomful of furniture, price can be a large factor. Furniture store ads trumpet: 0% financing for two years! You have to read the fine print, however. When payments are due, if you are late or miss a payment, you are stuck with all the back interest, as high as 25 to 30%. Some places even require you to begin payments immediately. The 0% interest only applies if you make scheduled payments on time.

The best plan is to have the money before you shop. Then you'll have a budget firmly in place to avoid temptation. Our family's recent shopping spree began when my mother-in-law offered to replace our old recliner. The only stipulation was to find one in two days.

Without the luxury of going to all eighteen furniture stores in the Fargo/Moorhead area, I formulated a different plan. First, we went to a nearby store to determine the color, style and fabric we liked and to get an idea of price ranges. We fell in love with Microfibre, which is a suede-like material that repels stains, liquids and wear. The chair style we liked was $599 with a $30 delivery charge. The saleslady wouldn't come down a penny, so we said thanks and left.

Armed with the knowledge of what we wanted, I picked up the phone and "shopped" at the other furniture stores. I asked for style, fabric and price range. I eliminated all but two. On the second day, we went to the first of the two stores and found the perfect chair for $389 and the delivery charge was $20. The salesman knocked the price down to $350 and cut the delivery in half for a total of $360. We saved nearly $300 just by comparison shopping.

We are pleased with our new chair, which ushered in a completely different decorating style. It was a welcome challenge to redo our room and give it a cozy new look.

Here are a few tips I've learned when furniture shopping. Don't assume stores with "bargain" or "save" in the name are going to have the best deals. Shop around, even if it is only by phone. Your best bet is to go to the stores so you can see the quality and style for yourself.

Choose clearance items carefully. Other names for clearance items are scratch and dents, markdowns or discounts. You might be able to spot the problem immediately, like a scratch on a coffee table that you're sure you can sand out or a tiny rip in a chair you can repair at home.

If you can't find any noticeable damage, ask yourself why the item is drastically reduced. Perhaps the company has had problems with that brand or a large amount of dissatisfied customers. Or maybe the store is only clearing inventory that didn't sell well and you are cashing in on a terrific bargain.

Most furniture stores have a "no return" policy on clearance items, so check very carefully for stains, rips, holes, marks or other defects. Sit and lounge on chairs and sofas to see if they are comfortable at all angles. Beware the too-soft chair or couch! It may not have the support you need. It will also wear out much faster than sturdier models. I once bought a faux leather couch on clearance. I was in a rush, my children were tired and cranky, and I paid $300 without really checking over the couch.

The minute we got home, the problems started. One of the side panels was loose and the trip from the store had loosened even further. I tightened the screws I could see, but some were fastened internally so I couldn't tighten them.

The couch was very soft, for about three months. Then the bottom literally gave out. The springs sprung, the cardboard (yes, cardboard!) holding up the cushions collapsed, and I was left with a couch no one could sit on. Of course, the store would do nothing as per their "no returns, no complaints" policy. I propped up the cushions with thin plywood and sewed extra pillows into the cushions for comfort.

I ended up selling the couch less than six months after I bought it, much smarter but $300 poorer. Here's what I should have done in the store. I should have at least taken off the cushions. Then I would have spotted the inferior cardboard support system and known immediately to walk away.

If possible, tilt the piece on its side or back so you can see the bottom. Notice if it is nicely finished with a dust-cloth, or sloppily stapled or glued. On upholstered furniture, sewing is the best, staples are second and glue is a poor third form of fastening. Heat, cold or humidity can adversely affect glue and leave you with ruined or broken furniture. Don't let salespeople rush you or intimidate you. It is your money and your decision.

Always ask for the lowest possible price. Often salesmen bluster and say they can't go any lower, but 99% of furniture retailers have 300% markups or more. Usually salespeople have the authority to offer at least a 10% price break. Let them know the price you will pay (within reason, of course), and often, you'll get 10 to 20% knocked off the "lowest" price. When talking price, be courteous and nice and refrain from threatening to "go higher up." You'll only antagonize the salesperson and lose bargaining chips.

Shopping for furniture can be a chore, or it can be a fun experience. Do a little homework, comparison shopping and go test-drive a new sofa. You'll be getting the furniture you want, for less.

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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