Furnish your home without breaking the bank

In recent years, the concept of furnishing your home cheaply has been more or less hijacked by Ikea - the Scandinavian no-frills, flat-packed furniture store. Its wide selection of cheap, basic furniture has helped fill the gap for people with bare homes and small budgets.

But Ikea doesn’t have to be the only option for people on a shoestring budget. So before you get in your car, head for the retail scrum and probably part with more cash than you intended, it’s worth taking a look at the alternatives.

Furniture for free

The first thing to do is to hunt for freebies, which is actually easier than buying secondhand. Websites like snaffleup.co.uk, freecycle.org and gumtree.com advertise furniture that people are giving away, so it’s worth checking these sites on a daily basis.

You can also sign up to their mailing lists to make sure you’re not missing out on any goodies. The website policy may state that you have to give first to receive, but this should be easy if you’re also looking to de-clutter your home.

When you’re getting furniture for free, you obviously can’t have specific requirements. But, as long as you’re prepared to be creative, you can turn something old and scruffy into something funky and fresh looking. This may mean painting or re-covering.

Don’t forget that you can also accessorise furniture – although a sofa might be old, if you team it with some bright cushions, it can look as good as new.

You can also go the whole hog and re-cover an old sofa or armchair that you’ve picked up for free. This might not be as expensive as you might think. Make sure you shop around for a price you are happy with. At bemz.com, for example, you can recover an Ikea Ekeskog armchair for £57.78. The site also lets you sample different colour schemes by dragging and dropping colours and patterns on to furniture styles to see how they look.

Revamp your old stuff

If you’ve managed to acquire some furniture of your own over the years but it’s no longer to your taste, don’t write it off as a lost cause. “Revamp your existing furniture: paint wooden dining chairs for a fresh new look or give an old chest of drawers another lease of life with some new knobs,” advises Marie Nichols, deputy style editor at Ideal Home magazine.

She adds that the best way to make a big difference for minimal cost and effort is to paint a ‘feature wall’ or hang wallpaper. “It takes a couple of hours, but will totally transform a room for under £25.”

Trawl second-hand shops

We’ve spent a decade turning our noses up at second-hand furniture, but now it’s back on the agenda with a bang. With attitudes changing, not only is it good to be ‘green’, but shopping for second-hand furniture is now seen as cheap, fun and even trendy.

Visit your local auction house for a fun morning out, and scour second-hand furniture shops like Emmaus – a charity staffed by homeless people where they restore unwanted second-hand furniture donated by members of the public before putting it up for sale in the charity’s 17 community shops across the country.

And don’t forget car boot sales, charity shops and recycling centres. Marie Nichols says: “Modern vintage is a really strong look right now, so car boot sales and charity shops are a great place to shop for a bargain. Mismatched china, old leather armchairs and vintage frames can be mixed in with shop-bought reproductions to give a room real style and character.”

Hit the budget stores

Even if you decide to buy new furniture, there are plenty of budget shops to visit before you head to Ikea – many of which you may never have previously considered. “Supermarkets are selling great value homeware now,” says Nichols. “The new spring collection from Sainsbury’s, for example, looks really exciting, and Asda has several non-food stores selling furniture, accessories and electricals. Matalan is always worth a look too.”

Take a look at eBay, the online auction site, as well. Nowadays it’s far removed from its roots as a sort of online jumble sale. You can pick up brand new bargains from private and professional sellers.

The good thing about buying larger household items such as furniture and rugs from eBay is that, because of their size, you have to pick them up yourself. This cuts down the competition, so you’re more likely to bag a bargain.

Go online for discounts

Even if you do want to buy your furniture new, don’t just wander into John Lewis and be tempted by displays of mock lounges and bedrooms. Instead, look online at discount websites. You can often find the same item that you would find in the store for considerably less.

While shopping online for furniture can seem daunting, remember that shop displays are rarely an indication of what your home will look like. Rooms are all different shapes, sizes and colours, and the lighting is bound to be different. Shopping online means you will have the opportunity to print out an image of the item and use it as a swatch to match up colours directly in your own home.

Thrifty online furniture shoppers should also take advantage of shop bots. These are price comparison sites that trawl through lists of retail prices to find the cheapest for the item you want.

However, it’s worth using more than one site before you make any decisions because not all retailers have relationships with all of the shop bots – kelkoo.co.uk, pricerunner.co.uk and pricegrabber.co.uk are three of the most comprehensive sites.

As retailers become credit-crunch savvy, don’t overlook the raft of discount vouchers available either online or hiding in magazines and newspapers. Some of these deals are so good that you’ll often find it’s worthwhile buying the newspaper or magazine simply to get the vouchers – even if it then goes straight into the recycling bin.

Another way to find cheap furniture is by visiting furniture warehouses. They often offer discounted deals on last year’s stock, and, while they mainly target buy-to-let landlords, there’s nothing to stop homeowners using them as well.

Do a spot of bargaining

Lastly, if you do find yourself in a department store, having fallen for a new and rather expensive dining table, bear in mind that the opportunity to hammer down the asking price has never been better.

With the current market conditions, it’s perfectly acceptable to haggle. Or if you can’t secure a discount, you can ask for free delivery at the very least. Shops are desperate to sell so anything goes.