This is the first in a series of practical examples of how people put frugal notions to use in real-life.


I often claim that the back porch is “my favorite room in the house”. It’s true. This is partly because it’s situated at the home’s northeast corner, which is perfect for Portland weather. But mostly I love this place because I’ve been able to furnish it cheaply and effectively.

This is a self-portrait I took this afternoon, as I convalesced from the flu.

When we bought the house, I paid the former owners $20 cash to keep the chair on the left. It’s a perfect chair to sit in and chat. It’s handsome and comfortable, if a little old. The wooden stump, which makes an excellent footstool, was a gift from a friend. It can also serve as extra seating.

I bought the endtable for $5 from a garage sale. It’s old and it’s ugly, but it’s perfect for the back porch. There’s a drawer (for matches and pipe tobacco) and a lower shelf (for magazines and trashy novels).

The chair in which I’m sitting was a $20 purchase from craigslist. The summer we bought the house, my wife and I became craigslist junkies. We bought several large mirrors, a desk, a metal cabinet, a futon, and this chair. It’s a monstrosity: all wood and spring. The cushions are nothing but foam wrapped in pillow cases. But it’s damn comfortable. I keep a $3 Goodwill blanket draped over the chair because it has also become a favorite for the neighborhood cats. (It’s easy to wash the blanket. Eventually I’ll replace it with something just as cheap.)

Finally, the footstool was another $5 garage sale purchase. It, too, can be pressed to serve as an extra seat.

This corner of the back porch is a relaxing haven. When we host dinner parties, it is the favorite retreat for the men, who crowd together to share their various vices and to engage in fine conversation. I furnished the spot for only $53.

(Let it not be assumed that I am always able to exercise such frugality — the book that I am reading in the photo cost $39.95! We each have blind spots.)



I’ve mentioned three important sources for cheap furniture: friends, garage sales, and craigslist.

In my circle of friends, we often offer each other perfectly good sofas or desks or chairs for free or for very little money. Family members, too, sometimes have furniture they’re seeking to get rid of.

Garage sales almost always have furniture of some sort. You can find cheap stuff — like my footstool and my endtable — but you can also find good deals on quality furniture. In two weeks, when we participate in the annual neighborhood garage sale, we plan to offer a perfectly good loveseat, a nice dining room set, and some quality easy chairs. We’ll ask a little more for this quality furniture than we would for other stuff, but the prices will still be bargains.

Craigslist is the ultimate frugality resource. Scanning the current listings for furniture in Portland, I can spot a pair of end tables for $5, a $20 easy chair, and a $45 faux leather loveseat. You can’t always find quality furniture at these prices, but you can certainly find furniture that is functional.

(More on the quality vs. price dilemma in the future — it’s an issue we all struggle with.)

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