Kali Hawlk

Financial Writer & Digital Marketer

Living Well Spending Less: My Old Couch is Here to Stay

 

That, my friends, is one.. uh, highly patterned couch that my parents kindly gave to me when I moved in with my then-boyfriend, now-husband nearly four years ago. Fast forward to today and it is still hanging out in our living room, along with a comfy recliner that also came from the same time period and place in my parent’s house.

So why I am I showing you pictures of my ugly doesn’t-match-anything couch? Because I feel like it is a prime example of how we’re living well spending less. In other words, this couch is smart frugality in action.Let me tell you a little bit more about this (Santa Fe style inspired?) couch.

This bad boy is the comfiest dang couch I’ve ever met. Goldilocks would love it – it’s not to soft and squishy, not to hard and and stiff, but just right. It’s perfect for sitting, lounging, reading, and napping. There have been more than a few nights where I simply couldn’t get to sleep in my own bed, but as soon as I plopped my pillow on that couch and snuggled up under a blanket, I went right to sleep.

To me, the amazing thing is not that my couch is a comfortable piece of furniture, but that it is a seventeen year old piece of comfortable furniture.

My parents bought that couch when they moved from a mountain cabin to a new home in the suburbs – in 1996. As in, I was six years old and have been sitting my butt on that couch ever since.

Seventeen years, people! It’s outlasted family pets, my school career (including college!), and has survived a total of four moves to different places, and has held up beautifully. The cushions aren’t flat, it hasn’t sagged, and it barely has a mark on it.

It’s one fatal flaw is that, sadly, it is tragically ugly.

Perhaps a kinder (and probably more fair) way to put it would be to say that it is terribly outdated. Fashion-wise, that pattern dates it far more than any visible wear and tear does. It didn’t bother me so much in our apartment, but when we started house-hunting, I told myself that the first thing we’d save up for to buy would be new furniture.

I’ve written before about how there’s only one piece of brand-new furniture in my entire 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom house. (Hang on, let me address that sentence before I move on: yes, our house is too big for two people, but when you buy at the bottom of the market in a low cost-of-living area you get sweet, sweet deals on places that are normally much too nice for you.)

It’s our mattress, which we bought in the spring. Everything else was either a hand-me-down from family members, inherited from grandparents who downsized, brought along from our childhood bedrooms, or a secondhand item scored from Craigslist.

So the couch is in pretty good company. But earlier this year, I nearly caved and bought a new set of living room furniture.

The couch and recliner don’t offer enough comfy seating when we have friends or family over, I thought. The couch sticks out like a sore thumb! If only I had a SOLID, neutral colored couch, this house would finally look like real adults live here

I started thinking more and more like that person I used to be before I got my financial mindset straight, the person that dreamed of having designer furniture in every room and creating a home that could have popped out of a lifestyle or design magazine.

We even went so far as to go to multiple furniture stores, pick out a few different sets of couches and loveseats and accent chairs that would be perfect, and I employed a few of my excellent negotiating skills to get a quote from salespeople that was far below the retail price.

But the closer we got to actually pulling the trigger on a purchase, the more I started thinking.. why?

Why spend between $1,000 and $2,000 on living room furniture when I had a perfectly good – no, more than just good – couch waiting for me at home that was given to me for free? What had it done to deserve to be thrown out? Hadn’t I learned not to judge a book by its cover?

In other words, did it matter if it was kinda ugly and didn’t match a thing if it served its purpose by being a comfortable place to sit, stretch out, or cuddle with my husband and kitties?

Of course it didn’t matter. There was no justification for dropping a couple Gs on something that I really only wanted for an aesthetic purpose – for looks. There was no reason why we needed to replace the couch, or anything else we owned that functioned well and served its purpose.

And that’s what being frugal, or living a frugal lifestyle, is really all about: wanting less, learning to not be wasteful, and being happy with what you have (especially when what you have works just fine!)

Looking back, I can’t help but feel a little ashamed. That couch is something to be proud of, not something that I’m trying to kick out of my home. It’s well made and durable, and more importantly, I’ve spent years reading books, cuddling with my pets, watching movies with friends and family, and taking the time to unwind and decompress with that couch.

Getting rid of it just because it’s just not pretty as it used to be feels sort of like abandoning your grandma because she got old.

I thought that, since college, I had become a truly frugal person who wasn’t interested in comparing what I had to what someone else did, or who wasn’t worried about what someone else would think about my not-brand-new possessions. But I clearly still had – and have – lessons to learn.

Even the most frugal folks who think they’ve learned to shun consumerism need a good reminder of the basics from time to time, and my most recent friendly reminder that there’s better uses for my money than spending it on more material stuff came from my old couch. Thankfully, I got the message in time to save my money, and I continued on the right path that will allow me to reach my big financial goals if I can continue living well spending less.

I may have been tempted by the idea of having something new and fancy, but in the end I stayed true to the person I want to be: a practical, sensible person who doesn’t get caught up in the need to have the latest and greatest, and a person who would pass up an afternoon of shopping for a few hours reading a good book with what feels like an old friend.

In what ways are you living well spending less in your own life? Do you have a tangible reminder in your home of what the frugal lifestyle is all about?

61 Comments

  1. We spent a lot of time looking for a dining room set for our house that we bought 1.5 years ago. Ultimately we decided to use my parents old set that they were storing in the basement. Price? Free. I used to think the set was so ugly but now I love it. I grew up eating at that table as a kid. So much history and so many good memories with that set. Great read, Kali!

    • Thanks Liz! And I can relate.. I had a dining room set on my “wish list” for a while, but we ended up being gifted a table and chairs from my husband’s grandfather (and it’s an antique set, so I think that’s cool!) and a refurbished Hoosier cabinet from my mother-in-law. Free is always a great price, and especially when it came from family and has many memories with it.

  2. Great post Kali! For us the items that we are keeping even though they are getting to be past their prime are our cars. They have tons of cosmetic problems but they run fine and get us from A to B. That’s actually the topic of my post for today, so this is very timely!

  3. We have a used Craigslist kitchen table/chairs that we got for about $150. Such a good deal! I think being content with what you have for as long as possible is the best way to save money and live well all at the same time. There are many things in my house I could spend money on, but I try to hold off as long as possible because I really do have everything I NEED.

  4. Most of our stuff (except for mattress) is bought used, or a handy me down. I have been coveting a new sectional from PB but, I balk at the price of it. Great post on maintaining frugality. Definitely inspirational.

  5. I’m 43 and the stuff I have in my apartment was bought either used or given to me for free (including my couch too, but it’s a nice forest green color at least). :) Still, if something is in good shape there is no reason I need something else. I think it comes down to the reason you’re buying it. If it truly serves a purpose, then by all means. But if it’s because you think you should, then you probably shouldn’t.

    • Well said! I agree that the bottom line is that if you actually need something that serves a purpose, then sure, go for it. But if you’re just being picky, then there’s no reason to spend money to get something else when what you have serves you perfectly well.

  6. If you don’t like how the couch looks, buy a couch cover. That’s what my husband and I did when we first rented our furnished condo. The couch is horrendous, but its a pullout!!!! It has allowed us to have so many guests stay with us in a one bedroom condo.

    • We actually tried a couch cover at one point, and I liked that it gave me a solid-colored sofa, but the overall look was far worse. It looked like we threw a bedsheet over it! I just haven’t been able to find a slipcover that actually fits this couch – if you have any suggestions for well-made, great-fitting covers, I’d love to hear them!

      • I love this post! I also was thinking during reading it, “why don’t they get a couch cover?” I haven’t bought one but have seen a lot of stretchy-type couch covers that instead of looking like a bed sheet look in the photos like you can tuck them into the crevices and create a reasonable-looking approximation of a solid color couch. Check out the reviews and see if they’re any good! :)

        • I will keep looking for covers, but honestly, I’m almost too frugal (or is it cheap?) to even bother spending the money on that. For our size couch, covers start at about $100 and go up from there. I’d rather spend that money on new paint for the kitchen. If you couldn’t tell from the photo, that yellow is almost uglier than the furniture :P The couch as it is doesn’t drive me as crazy as it used to – I’m almost more fond of it now because it is kinda wild looking with that pattern!

          • Yeah couch covers are surprisingly expensive! My mum gave me one of her old ones, but otherwise I would never purchase one.

          • That was my first thought, too. That, um, highly-patterned couch is, um, very highly patterned. A cover would make it less highly patterned, but they are quite pricey. That couch looks brand new! I cannot believe it is so old. Good for you to keep it! Same philosophy can be applied to cars.

          • I agree, covers are pricey. And hey, it could be worse. It could be, I dunno, a leather and seafoam green sofa or something like that instead ;) Definitely will be hanging on to it for a while! And great point about the cars – I agree, you should apply the same if-it-functions-it-stays mindset to older vehicles, too.

  7. I love the couch as a metaphor (and not just because we have two used couches, that don’t match each other). Well written article, Kali.

  8. That couch looks pretty comfy to me! I wouldn’t upgrade! And yes, we have our share of things that have outlived their beauty but not usefulness!

  9. Love this post, Kali! Until I moved in with B in 2012, I had a *wood panel* huge, heavy TV that stayed with me from third grade (as the family TV) through college and most of my adulthood! I would get ragged on so much about how antiquated it was, but it still worked so why bother replacing it? It irks me at times when people buy things just to have the latest and greatest, especially phones and cars, when their previous possessions still work and in great shape (plus I hate to think of all the waste that piles up of still very functional objects). I hope you have many, many more years of fond memories with your couch. :)

    • Thanks Anna! We had that same sort of TV for years when I was growing up! Also, great point – I can’t imagine (and don’t want to think about) the amount of waste people produce due to how much perfectly good stuff they just throw out. I’m glad I came to my senses in time to realize I truly don’t need anything – especially not a new couch!

  10. A good half of everything in my apartment was given to me by someone. My sofas, night stand, bed, microwave and probably other things I am forgetting were just handed to me. A few other big ticket items, like my blender, came from holiday or birthday gifts.

    I think my reminder, is my box TV. Man, do I ever want a nice HDTV, especially now that I have have PS3. I keep thinking about it, but I’m looking for a deal. We’ll see. That thing may still be there for a while.

    • It could very easily be there for a while if you’re like me – I furniture shopped for months trying to find a great set for a super low price, and the longer I looked the more I didn’t want to buy anything! I can definitely understand wanting a new TV, though, especially when you have a very old one. Just keep waiting for a good sale to save as much as possible!

  11. I seriously love that pattern. It’s amazing. And it’s awesome to see your frugality in action! We have an old couch that we paid $100 for from one of our friends when he was moving, and years later, we have only gotten a cover for it. $20 beats $2000… Keep living well!

    • Whoo! Glad to hear you do indeed like the pattern! It’s really not THAT bad, it’s just very.. pattern-y. Lol. I think once we update our floors and paint the kitchen something not-yellow, the whole downstairs will be better in the looks department. Glad you’re also on the hand-me-down couch train! :D

  12. This past summer we bought a patio set for $150 at a garage sale. We had been looking for one at Lowes and Home Depot but they were so expensive ($600 to $800). I’m glad we held off and got a much cheaper one instead.

    • Nice! Definitely a great deal. I haven’t had much luck with garage sales – not many around us to begin with – but we scored a kitchen table and chairs of Craigslist for $80. There are some wonderful deals out there if you go looking for them!

  13. My one cat sits in the exact same spot – right in the middle of our couch. We just got our new-to-us couch for free about a month ago now, and it’s fine for us, and the cats absolutely love it! It’s a cream color with light blue, green and purple floral-y accents. It’s hard to describe, but suffice to say we got it from an elderly couple, so I kind of know how you feel. As long as it’s comfy and clean, though, that’s all that matters! You could possibly look into getting a slip cover for it, too. We kept our old futon so there’s enough sitting room to entertain. I probably would have taken my parents’ old living room set when they moved, had it not smelled of smoke :/. I’m all for freebies right now; furniture is not cheap!

    • I’m absolutely on board for freebies. Furniture is ridiculously expensive, thanks in part to some crazy markup. I’m glad we made the decision to keep the couch and forgo trying to buy a brand new set for the living room. I completely agree with you – comfy and clean is what matters most :) Sounds like both of ours pass the kitty comfort test, too.. bonus points!

  14. You could always just get it recovered to make an entirely new couch for incredibly cheap. My parents have a couch that is older than I am (24) — but that awesome leather couch is still kicking. They’ve gotten it touched up before, but it’s far cheaper than buying an entirely new one.

    I’m in the no furniture at all end of the spectrum. I feel too nomadic to have much furniture and could easily get rid of anything in my apartment.

    • That’s an interesting idea – I have never looked into that before, so thank you for sharing! That might be an awesome option for us, because I truly do love the couch itself. I’m just not a fan of the pattern. If I could get it recovered that would eliminate the slipcovers-look-like-bedsheets problem and it would completely update the couch itself.. hearing about your parent’s furniture gives me hope that mine could keep on goin’ for another 17 years! Thanks again for the tip.

      Sometimes I wish we were a bit more nomadic and had even less stuff than we already do now, so I’m actually a little envious of your setup. No frills, no fuss – sounds perfect :)

  15. Could you get it reupholstered or maybe buy a neutral coloured cover to go on top? Just a thought.

    • I hadn’t thought of getting it reupholstered before – I may look into that now, though! We’ve tried the cover thing once and it was really terrible. I don’t know if we have a funny sized or shaped couch, or what, but the covers I’ve tried for it so far have not worked at all. But like I said, I may check out the reupholstered option :)

  16. I have a couple new things, but honestly most of my stuff is hand-me-downs. Our couch is new-ish (and crap – they don’t make them like they used to!), futon (klik-klak) is new-ish (only thing that would fit into the apartment I lived in five years ago so it was my couch), and my pub-style kitchen table was bought new (but at 60% off). Everything else has been passed around the family – which means I still have the solid wood, dove-tail bureau that I had when I was 2.

    It makes for an eclectic style, but boy is furnishing a home expensive!

    • Alicia, that was our thought too when we were looking for new living room furniture – everything seemed so cheaply made and like it wouldn’t hold up at all! I have to agree, things just aren’t made the same anymore.

      I like how you put that, that a home full of hand-me-downs just has eclectic style! I can work with that :) Especially because as you said, it’s insane how much it would cost to buy brand-new furniture. Buying for one room is out of control, I can’t imagine buying stuff for a whole house.

  17. This is a great one to send to the wifey. We spend years debating the ole couch. We actually ended up selling our old one and getting a different one through craigslist. Much to her delight, we were able to get new comfy coutch for about the same price as we sold the old one for. A win win!

  18. The only brand new furniture we have is our bed (and our coffee table but I got that free). Our current couches are all freebies from other people, and all our previous couches have been too actually! I don’t care about having pretty or matching interiors.

    • More and more I find myself not caring about having anyone else’s idea of a “pretty” interior to my home. As long as things work as they are supposed to and are clean, that’s all I need. I like my stuff and that’s what’s important, seeing as I’m the one living with it! :)

  19. Finding comfy furniture that lasts can be extremely challenging. I say hang on to that thing for as long as you can. You could take some fabric and sew on a cover to change the color of it. This way you can change the look of the couch but still enjoy it’s comfortable embrace. Although I don’t think the couch is all that ugly. But I’m also a dude, so what do I know. :)

    • Absolutely. We will definitely be hanging on to this one. It’s served me well for a good long time so I see no reason to get rid of it just because it’s not up to date.

      And I appreciate you saying my couch is not so ugly after all :D It’s really not that bad, I do like the color scheme, it’s just.. busy. After reading everyone’s comments, I may look into getting it reupholstered so we can bring it into the current century!

  20. Looks like a good couch to me…plus the cat approves! If you really don’t like the print you could buy a neutral cover when they’re on sale!

    • And kitty approval is all that really matters, right?! :) I will try to keep an eye out for sales on slipcovers, but so far my experience with covers has been underwhelming. After reading some of the comments here, I may look into getting it reupholstered, though. That would freshen it up a bit!

  21. I bought my couch and recliner for $200 from a neighbor when I moved in and it’s serving me perfectly!!! :) And I don’t think all hope is lost on your couch, you just have to work a little harder to make the rest of the living room compliment it!

    • Nice job on scoring a sweet deal on that furniture! I’m so glad I didn’t totally lose my frugal head and replace this couch with new stuff. It’s just a little dated but that doesn’t stop it from working wonderfully as a comfy place to hang out!

  22. Just tweeted a picture @ you but I have the same exact couch! Too funny. Love this old lug of furniture but it sure doesn’t win any beauty awards. I will say I like to imagine it as retro cabin chic… The flannel squirrel shaped pillow I added helps to keep the illusion alive. Great post, as usual :)

  23. Now that’s being frugal! Why opt for new and fancy things when what we have are still working and serving their purpose. The couch still looks good to me. I’m sure to everybody else too. How do they say it in the US? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Couch looks fine so no need to fix it by spending for a new one.

  24. I had hand-me-down couches for years and only got rid of them when one was too ripped to be even semi-respectable and the other got peed on by the cats. Probably too long to hand onto them. But new couches can get crazy expensive. We actually splurged on ours and got a big red comfy couch with tons of room on it for family snuggling/playing and we love it, but we’re hoping it lasts a really long time. If I was in your shoes, I’d be sticking with the one I had too.

    • Peed on by cats is a perfectly acceptable reason to get a replacement, I think. Lol. Especially if there were quite old/secondhand to begin with. I think after our experience with this couch, whenever we do get a new one it will be a splurge, too. I want to make sure we buy something high-quality and extremely comfortable so we can wear the snot out of that one, too!

  25. I don’t think it’s ugly! It’s very… tribal! Urban!

    • I can see you’ve been practicing you positive thinking!! Haha :D But I’m glad you don’t think it’s ugly, makes me feel better. I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world, it’s just very.. well, you just can’t miss it in the room.

  26. The couch comfort thing is HUGE. It’s really hard to find a comfy couch. We’ve kept our old beater way too long because of that. So if yours is in good shape (and it looks like it is) slouch down and enjoy!

    PS and just imagine how paranoid you’d be with a new couch and cats. And don’t think they wouldn’t sense your fear and retaliate on the couch the first time you do something to displease their highnesses!

  27. Good for you for sticking with the couch! When we moved into our last apartment in Ohio, we bought a new couch and a new bedroom set. After all, we were adults with adult jobs, we totally deserved to drop $3,500 (financed!) on furniture. Well, then we decided to move across the country and got rid of everything that wouldn’t fit in our car. We sold the furniture, but used the money to move instead of paying off the furniture. Now I still have the debt but not the stuff. Silly Erin…

    Keep the couch, but maybe get it recovered if it would make you feel better. If the couch is as comfy as you say it is, that’s probably a better option than buying a new one anyways!

  28. Your post has me getting a bit sentimental! :-)

    We have a long history of keeping couches well past their prime. However, I will say that one of the first items that we purchased after getting out of debt is a new couch for my living room (I am sitting on it now). We did save up for a few months and pay cash, however!

  29. I love it that you’re still rocking that couch! Almost everything I have has been hand me downs or stuff I’ve purchased on craigslist etc. I felt so spoiled when I moved in with boyfriend and he had actual furniture from the furniture store.

    • Actual furniture from the furniture store? Spoiled indeed! ;) I’m sure we’ll eventually buy some new furniture, but I can imagine that time won’t come until some of our older stuff actually breaks or is no longer functional at all, and not a day sooner.

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