Save Big on Furniture, Fabrics, Floors and More

Get the best insider tips on indoor upgrades for fall.

By Janice Lieberman from Reader's Digest | October 2009
Homeowners Admiring Decor©2009 Jupiterimages CorporationKeeping a stylish home does not mean you have to splurge.

Visit Janice’s blog, Here’s the Deal

When I finally moved from an apartment and into a house, I had plenty of space to fill but very little money. Luckily, my designer pal, Jeff Wade, knew how to work magic on an austere budget. He dragged me to a million sample sales. At one place, we scored so many insane bargains that I had to ride in the backseat, sprawled on top of fabric bolts. “What are we going to do with this stuff?” I asked. “You’ll see,” he said. And I did!

The owner of Chic Design on a Dime in Coral Gables, Florida, Jeff says anyone can score the kinds of deals designers get: You just have to ask. “Nothing is nonnegotiable,” he says. A few of Jeff’s best tips:

Furniture: Most furniture companies have an outlet or a website that sells floor samples, discontinued styles, and returned merchandise at 25 to 40 percent off the designer price (typically 40 percent below retail). Jeff scored a $6,000 armoire for $850 at the Baker Furniture outlet in Kohler, Wisconsin. Find out if your favorite store has an outlet. Describe what you’re looking for, and ask for pictures of what’s in stock. At boutiques, ask the owner if she works with “the trade.” Offer the designer price (usually 20 percent off retail at these smaller shops), Jeff says, and “nine times out of ten, she’ll sell it to you.”

Wallpaper and fabric: Fabric mills always have discontinued fabrics and wallpaper — often at 40 percent or more off wholesale. Call the corporate offices and ask if their showroom sales are open to the public. (Just make sure there’s enough material in stock for your project.) Rugs Department stores mark up rugs 500 to 600 percent, so stick with wholesalers. Ask for references, a money-back guarantee, and free shipping.

Flooring: Wholesalers offer “buy direct” prices online to the public for quantities over 1,000 square feet. One manufacturer quoted Jeff $2.95 per square foot for the same bamboo wood flooring he’d just bought at $6.95 (retail is $9.95).

Appliances: Ask your contractor where he gets his appliances. Many stores have a warehouse full of returns and floor models in mint condition, at incredible savings.

Sucking It Up

I hate the waste and expense of paper towels. But now there’s Skoy, a biodegradable cloth that dries quickly, and if you wet and nuke it regularly (it will be hot, so be careful), it won’t turn into a party place for countertop bacteria. One cloth is supposed to outlast 15 rolls of paper towels (I’m still testing it!), and at $6 for a four-pack, it’s certainly cheaper; see skoycloth.com. I like the artwork and the name — from the Swedish skoj, which means “just for fun.” A nice attitude to have the next time you’re sopping up spilled milk.

SSN SOS

As if we needed another reason to worry about identity theft: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered it’s fairly easy to guess the first six digits of a person’s Social Security number if you know the birth date and hometown. That’s because there are chronological and geographical patterns to the numbers.

The Social Security Administration is working on a method to generate randomized numbers. But what to do in the meantime? Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet, don’t write your number on a check, and don’t give out your number — or any other identifying information, like your birth date — unless it’s absolutely necessary. Says Alessandro Acquisti, lead author of the study, “People shouldn’t panic, but they should take protective steps. I added a credit alert to my accounts, and I’m careful about what I post online.”

3 Sites for Savings

lifehacker.com. A daily blog on how to do anything better — haggle, pack a suitcase, make a sports drink.

shopstyle.com. Don’t miss the sale “rack” at the “world’s most fabulous” online store. Dirt cheap to high-end. Sign up for e-mail alerts.

sitejabber.com. Consumers review online businesses and websites — most loved, most hated, and most useful. Save money and avoid rip-offs.

Janice Lieberman is the consumer correspondent on NBC’s Today show. Read her blog, Here’s the Deal, and send her your questions.