The grocery shopping approach to buying new furniture

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How many times have you walked into a supermarket to get a couple of simple items and walked out $100 (or more) lighter? There are two good ways to avoid that problem: 1) don't go food shopping when you're hungry, and 2) always have a list of what you're going to buy.

How does that apply to furniture shopping? If you just walk into a furniture store with only a general idea of what you want, you may walk out having spent several hundred dollars more than you intended to. And if you walk into one when you're in a furniture buying mood, it could be even worse. So take the grocery shopping approach; make a list.

Here's the plan.

1. Make a wish list. First, take a long and thoughtful walk around the house with a pencil and paper (or your smart phone). Make a list of all the furniture you wish you had. Then sit down and decide exactly what piece or pieces you need. Don't think about shapes, colors, or fabrics at this stage; just think about holes you need to fill. A new sofa. A new bed. A new cocktail table.

2. Establish priorities. Put all the items you've considered in order of importance, with what you need the most at the top. In other words, turn your wish list into a need-specific right now list.

3. Decide on a budget. Factor in the various ways you can pay for it: cash, credit, 12-month (or more) no interest, loan from a bank, etc. The two best methods of payment, of course, are cash and no-interest credit. If you are going to finance your purchase, settle on a monthly amount you can afford.

4. Make some preliminary decisions. Think about style, shapes, colors, textures, and functions. Look carefully at the room(s) your purchase(s) will be going into. Do you want more of the same? Or do you want to change the look? Your new sofa, for example, must somehow relate to the rest of the furniture, whether by contrast or by complementing it.

For more inspiration in creating a new look, you may like to read:

You might also like to check out Living Room Without a Sofa? Oh, My! In the end, your taste and sense of style are your guides at this step.

5. Make a shopping list. Even if you're just buying one piece. Put down the item and a description of it, based on steps #2 and #3. For example: a 100-inch sofa, contemporary style, comfortable enough to sleep on occasionally, in a dark neutral color to go with browns, dark reds, and deep yellows, that costs less than $1850. You may walk out with something entirely different from what you envisioned, but it should still meet your absolute requirements of size and cost.

6. Do some pre-shopping. Locate stores that might be a good bet to have what you're looking for. One good way to pre-shop is to go online and check the websites of furniture stores in your area.

7. Take the plunge. When you've got it all down on paper, go to the furniture store(s) you've chosen as most likely to have what you want, at the best price. Before you actually start shopping, spend enough time with your sales associate to fill him or her in on your situation. Show him/her your list. Talk about your needs. Listen to the response. With his or her intimate knowledge of their selection and prices, he/she may come up with an idea you haven't even considered. Some stores offer free services of on-site designer/decorators in their design center. A great place to get a second opinion, or professional help if you're not really sure that what you're planning is the best alternative.

8. Do your due diligence. Look carefully at what's available that meets your needs. In addition to obvious things like looks and comfort, consider construction details, type and durability of fabric/leather/wood, brand name, etc. Picture it in your home.

9. Think about the future. Most manufacturers give you a warranty against defects - from 90 days up to a year or longer. But you may want more. When you've made your decision, consider a furniture protection program. Most larger stores offer them. They're basically insurance against accidents that might damage or ruin your furniture. Like other kinds of accident insurance, they're of little value if you never need them, but can save you hundreds, even thousands of dollars if an accident does happen, and can give you some peace of mind.

So ... make a thoughtful, realistic list and stick to it. You'll have a much better chance of getting exactly the furniture (and groceries) you want and need, at a price you can afford.