My Best Advice for Thrifting and Flipping Furniture for Cheap + Photos

  • I’ve been thrifting and flipping furniture for years. My most important tip is to have fun.
  • If you’re looking to upcycle pieces, make sure you find quality stores and haggle for prices. 
  • Look for solid furniture and don’t be afraid to use Pinterest and think outside the box. 

I’ve been upcycling furniture with my mom since I was 12 and we haven’t stopped since. We have over 33 flipped items in our flat and each tells a story. 

Whether you’re looking to profit or you want to give your home personality, here are my tips for thrifting and upcycling furniture on a budget:  

Find a local thrift store with affordable prices

Seeking out a good thrift store or charity shop is essential. 

I frequent a secondhand shop near me that sells brilliant buys for great prices. Recent purchases that I plan to upcycle include a $35 cupboard, $14 hat stand, $28 shelf unit, and $35 desk.

If you like something, don’t hesitate to buy it

Orange desk drawers drying on a balcony.

I found a great shop, where I found a desk I’m painting.

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If you come across a special piece and worry it might be gone by the time you come back or decide how to flip it, your best bet is to put down a deposit or purchase it. 

Like my nan used to always say, “If you want something, put a deposit on it.”

Don’t be afraid to haggle

If you think the price of something seems a little steep — or if you’re on a tight budget — try to haggle.

Don’t be unreasonable, but keep in mind that even getting $5 knocked off of a price feels like a big win. 

Look for solid, high-quality furniture 

A sturdy thrifted desk

I always seek out sturdy furniture, like this desk.

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If it’s not solid or you can’t fix it up, don’t bother. I would recommend staying away from faux-wood furniture. Cheap items won’t last, it doesn’t look good, and it’s awful to work with. 

I also avoid any type of shiny furniture that might require sanding beforehand. I never buff a piece before painting it and I also don’t use primer because, to me, it doesn’t make a difference and I like to keep things cost-effective.

Floral hand-painted table

When it comes to painting, be patient and trust the process.

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I would look for furniture that doesn’t wobble or looks like it doesn’t need a lot of work done. Anything in a dark wood, like pine, is ideal to work with.

Remember that good paint doesn’t need to be expensive 

It’s easy to get sucked in with expert waxes and chalk paints, but you really don’t need them. A simple matte emulsion (water-based paint) does the trick.

I’ve used basic emulsion on every piece of furniture I’ve worked on. Sometimes I add clear varnish if I want a glossy finish.

Cheap tester pots are handy for working on smaller projects, like mirrors, frames, and jewelry boxes. Larger, more standard cans of paint are perfect for bigger jobs like desks, tables, and wardrobes. 

Don’t be afraid to sift through some trash

Mirrors on balcony

My mom found my trough in the trash.

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Some of my best treasures have been free finds.

My mom once found the dreamiest trough in our trash area and we decided to work our magic on it. We cleaned it and painted it white and still have it to this day — it houses our flowers on the balcony.

If you see an old piece of furniture at the edge of someone’s property, ask if you can have it. If you see something on the side of the road, take it.

Use sites like Pinterest for inspiration

Before and after of cupboard

Use Pinterest to make old furniture feel new.

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Some of my best ideas come from sites like Pinterest or Instagram. I constantly find unique color schemes, fun patterns to try out, or a different decorating approach — like stenciling or using gold paint for metallic accents. 

For the cupboard I recently upcycled, I used an image of a similar one on Pinterest as inspiration. 

Be patient and trust the process

When painting your piece be patient and start off with a thin coat. Wait for it to fully dry before adding more layers. Slathering on coats too quickly can make your paint lumpy. 

Also, trust the process. When I painted florals on our table, I kept thinking I was doing a bad job. But I kept going and now it’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve worked on. 

Think outside of the box and use a variety of tools 

Painted chair with sunflower

Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.

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All of my furniture is bright, bold, and wacky. I love using vibrant colors, patterns, stencils, and funky knobs to take pieces to the next level.

Being innovative with your ideas is such a fun way to experiment. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

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