gold line svg


Budget Hacks: Caitlin Furnished Her Apartment Basically For Free (& You Can, Too)



*not caitlin’s apartment full of “free” furniture | photo by sara ligorria-tramp, from: a budget and renter-friendly makeover

An admission: even though I work here, an interior design website alongside a multitude of preternaturally gifted real-life professional interior designers, I still do not understand the new furniture buying process. How does anyone afford it? Did I miss this lesson in school? Are some people just super good at budgeting? Did you buy from a store with financing? Throw purchases on a 0% APR credit card?

Guys, I have a hot take and I’m not ashamed to share it: EVERYTHING IS EXPENSIVE AND I FEEL ANXIOUS WHEN I SEE A WHOLE PAYCHECK LEAVING MY BANK ACCOUNT AT ONCE. Furniture is expensive—and rightfully so, seeing that it’s kinda permanent and we LIVE on it—but I prefer spending my money on Postmates and bills (unfortunately, oftentimes in that order).

Now…in my last post, I walked you through the ins and outs of finding the best-hidden vintage gems without leaving your house. But today, we’re taking it to the next level: I’ve re-furnished my whole home for (“technically”) free and it’s time for me to bestow my best-kept secret upon the masses. Buckle up, because it’s anecdote time.

A few years back, I was really riding the mid-century wave and got a little out of touch with myself and my own interior style. One day I came home from work and realized my apartment was just so RED and had so much WOOD and oh my gosh, why was I 25-years-old with three Persian rugs? And yeah, it looked fine together…but it just felt wrong for me. Has anyone else ever had that? Getting so caught up in the pursuit of an aesthetic that suddenly one day you see your space with fresh eyes and you’re like, “OH NO. I love the ’80s! Why am I buying Chinoiserie tables and ginger jar lamps?!”

I wanted to refresh my entire apartment, so I got to work listing everything on Craigslist. Long story short: it was hard and I didn’t want to do it. There’s so much WORK that goes into selling your own furniture: photographing, listing, uploading the photos, setting the price, negotiating with lowballers, avoiding scam texts from people who want to “send you a check and then send someone to pick it up,” refreshing the listing, coordinating a pickup, transporting the item…ugh.

That’s when I stumbled upon my favorite secret: YOU CAN PAY FOR THINGS BY OFFERING UP YOUR FURNITURE AND DECOR. It is 2019 and folks, bartering is still alive and well!

Side By Side Block Yellow To Pink Dresser

Y’all know I’m a big fan of selling directly to local vintage shops (and if you don’t, it hurts my feelings that you haven’t read my opus here on how I made money sitting on my couch and sending dealers photos from Craigslist), but you can take it one step further and straight-up TRADE your furniture for their current stock. Here are some step-by-step instructions on how it worked for me, so you can follow in my footsteps:

  1. I spotted my dream dresser in a local LA vintage shop. It was pink and modern but also weird and kind of hideous (my favorite), so naturally I fell absolutely and irrevocably in love with it. It was SO FAR out of my price range ($2,250, to be exact) that it felt irresponsible to even be looking at it. You know how they tell you not to try on wedding dresses you can’t afford on Say Yes to the Dress? Kind of like that. 
  2. I texted the shop buyer—you can also try sliding into DMs on Instagram or sending an email to the address on the website—a photo of the dresser I had been planning on selling. I knew I could get about $400 for it on Craigslist with some persistence, but knew that with their reach, they’d be able to move it relatively quickly for about $800. I asked if she’d be willing to trade for my dream pink dresser. 
  3. The owner sent a counteroffer: give her my yellow dresser and 400 dollars. Progress!
  4. I looked around my apartment and spotted an old rug I had planned on selling and sent her the photo. Again, I would have probably made about $600 if I had posted it around, but knew that this retailer would be able to move it quickly for about $1,200. 
  5. We had a deal. The shop owner SENT A TRUCK the same day and her employees picked up my items, carried them downstairs, AND delivered my dream dresser. Overall, negotiations took about 30 minutes over text…and I didn’t have to lift a finger. 

Side By Side Block 3x2

This was LIFE-CHANGING FOR ME. I didn’t have to meet a stranger. I didn’t have to send a thousand messages back and forth. There were no delivery fees. I didn’t even have to leave my house! And most importantly, I SPENT NONE MONEY. No dollars! I started using this strategy for everything. My mid-century credenza, some side tables, a leather club chair, and a travertine coffee table were traded in for a huge ’80s laminate buffet, a velvet lavender waterfall bench, and a black-and-white striped sofa. In another case, I negotiated a pair of ’70s chairs down from $1,000 to $300 by throwing in a ton of vintage art and vessels.

Now, there’s not a ton of incentive for any vintage shops to tell you about this seeing that like money is generally the preferred payment type for all goods and services…but there’s a ton of value for business owners in moving inventory and bringing new pieces into the store, for free, without having to head out on a buying trip. And there’s also a kicker: you do need to start out with some vintage pieces in fairly good condition. The bright side? I already wrote a guide on HOW TO DO IT for VERY CHEAP. (Have I plugged my last post enough yet?) This won’t necessarily work with your furniture from CB2 or West Elm…but I don’t even understand how to afford any of those things anyway. 

So y’all, next time I walk into my apartment and have a total meltdown (“WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE TOONTOWN IN HERE?” — me, one day in the future, maybe?), I’ll be able to swap everything. For (basically) free. It’s sustainable, a win-win for both me and my local retailers and I CAN’T BELIEVE NO BLOG EVER TOLD ME ABOUT IT. So now, my friends, please go into the world: next time you want to refresh your home, make it easier on yourself…and your wallet. Reach out to your local shops and offer up your pieces as collateral. Report back with your findings. I hope my life hacks serve you well. 

Fin Mark


Never miss a single post and get a little something extra on Saturdays.

Comments are closed.
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

This is crazy. Caitlin, you’re my spirit animal/human. When I read your last post -that you plugged a ton of times in this one 🙂 – i knew it. I have been doing the same thing for years, but you had taken it next level with going straight to vintage dealers. Genius! And then when i started reading the beginning of this post, i thought you were going to say that you furnished your apt by keeping some of your vintage finds and using the profits from selling other finds to pay for the ones you kept. Because that’s how… Read more »

Caitlin Higgins

AHHH THANK YOU! I love authoring things on behalf of the universe!!! Please update me on your furniture swap!!!





Caitlin Higgins

Aw shucks :’)


The Yellow and Pink drawers are quite bealutiful Caitlins. Thanks for sharing.
If you ever need antiques and vintage item for your decoration idea consider visiting this website. It has listings of most popular antique stores and vintage stores nearby.


Hi where can we find the black and cream striped rug and tan and cream rug?

Caitlin Higgins

here’s the rug from the header photo 🙂 –

Cici Haus

This is so smart!! I love reducing waste and it feels better when you can directly change out beautiful things for more beautiful things. I have an incredible 60s Danish table and 70s leather dining chairs that won’t work in my new house (so heartbroken about it!), so maybe I can find something that will work by trading these! Thanks!!


Any chance of seeing the finished product? I’d love to see how you put all these pieces together!


Was thinking the same thing. Would love to see Caitlin’s space!



Caitlin Higgins

Ah I’d love to show y’all!! Maybe a MOTO in a few months?! We’ll see 🙂

Emily Bowser

We’ll make sure it happens asap


This is brilliant! I wish I lived in a bigger town to do this more effectively, but going to keep it in mind the next time I see something I want for my home. I currently have a bit too much in my storage shed that could be used for bartering. Thanks for the tips!


I’d love to see how you styled your new finds! Show us, pretty please!


Yes!! I want to see the pieces in action!


Wow, this is amazing! I love the flexibility and sustainability of it!


I effing love the acknowledgment from a design website how EXPENSIVE it is to buy furniture new! It is so refreshing! This is a great tip I had never thought about! Thank you so much!


Ditto on this point. While I appreciate Emily has always kept a foot on the ground, I really appreciate all the young talented voices on this blog that realize swapping out couches is not something the average person can do. Honestly I have had more anxiety about spending money on a couch than I did about getting married. Why is everything I like $5 thousand dollars? Except the stuff that is $10k, lol. Anyway, LOVE the idea of using young knowledge of the vintage trade, what prices are, to get what you want. Only thing is you may be underestimating… Read more »

Erin m Glabets

This is awesome. Also, who makes that amazing round black bookshelf in the corner?!


I love you, Caitlin! You are an amazing girl and will go far, and even if you don’t, you will be happy and secure because you are not into debt up to your eyeballs. That’s what I call peace. I love to see common sense, creativity, and work ethic combined in this 21st Century.

Caitlin Higgins

This is SO NICE. THANK YOU. (May or may not print it out and hang it on the wall behind my desk NBD)


Ditto on “want to see Caitlin’s place”. Now I’m curious. About what future toontown looks like.


Really cool post! Inspiring for me and my 64 lamps… ????


Brilliant! Maybe some of the pieces that I’ve been drooling over aren’t out of reach after all. Thank you Caitlin!


This is a great tip! I so agree – I do NOT understand how so many people buy all of the things and I appreciate that it’s not just me. LOVE the pink dresser!

Paula Carr

Love this. Just LOVE this.

E. Klein

Would’ve loved to see a quick snap of Caitlin’s place as the header for this post (even if it isn’t “blog worthy”) but I understand the benefit of a jazzy finished photo as the lead. Sigh! Good tips!

Emily Bowser


Caitlin Higgins


Mary H

These are all great ideas. However, as a financial person, I’d like to point out that this is not “free”. and your “kicker” was you had to have pieces (of some value, not IKEA stuff starting to fall apart) to trade to start with. Where did these come from?? Free from relatives. But this just me knitpicking your “free” assertion. The idea to trade is absolutely genius!!

Caitlin Higgins

Ah unfortunately for me, I don’t have any family out here on the west coast to give me anything for free (or actually any living relatives, period, haha — TMI?!? We’re all friends here, right?!) BUT absolutely found some CHEAP Craigslist scores. Just had to be patient and find the GOOD DEALS. Probably put down about $800 a few years back across everything (sofa, chairs, tables, credenzas, dressers, etc.) and have just been trading ever since!! So YES, definitely an up front investment, but haven’t had to drop any money since, so DEFINITELY WORTH IT 🙂


Beautiful decoration , nice color settings specially white color living room is my best choice. black and cream striped rug is so nice. If anybody need specialized mill-work kitchen cabinet and others just click on :


Thank you! I needed this! For 10+ years, I was a craigslist pro and was very proud of how cheaply I’d furnished my home and ppl were shocked when they heard it was ALL craigslist. And then I got farther in my career and started making more money, and having less time to source via CL, and my babies became kids so my childcare expenses went down as my salary went up…so I’ve started buying retail. Not even to-the-trade… Room and Board and WestElm and Anthropology…. And your posts have reminded me how much I loved to Craigslist… the joy… Read more »


Love this. Last year I was in need of new dinnerware, and obsessing over new and vintage sets. Eventually I found a massive set of 1970s Wedgewood stoneware I fell in love with and bought for a steal- $20 on a local bidding site. It had eight complete place settings, a set of tea cups, coffee cups, tea pot, serving bowl and serving platter. Fantastic, but I didn’t actually need all those pieces or have room to store them. I didn’t want to break up the collection hastily, so I sat with them for a bit, just getting a feel… Read more »

Hannah Gokie

I wish I lived in a bigger city to make this work for me, because I can definitely see it being something I get obsessively into VERY QUICKLY. Omaha, NE just isn’t quite big enough to have a vintage shop like that (my favorite one was in Lincoln an hour away and they just closed their physical storefront, unfortunately). Such a genius idea, though! 🙂

Go To Top