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In college, thrift like your wallet depends on it

By Courtney Linder / Columnist

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What do you think of first when you hear the words “college apartment?” Front lawns, covered in beer bottles and debris?  A futon covered in stains of which you dare not question the origin? Perhaps the unfinished basement, reminiscent of Buffalo Bill’s kill room in TheSilence of the Lambs, complete with a homemade beer pong table?

When moving into your new house or apartment in South Oakland, it’s not a question of whether your place will get trashed over the months, it’s how much. So, why waste money on new furniture and appliances?  The answer is, you shouldn’t.

There are certain qualities of the poor-­college-­kid lifestyle that you should take pride in­­ — one of which, is your knack for thrifting.

As of 2014, it cost about $10,100 per year to live on campus at the University of Pittsburgh. It’s no wonder that so many of us move to North and South Oakland to escape this raid on our wallets. If cost was our main concern for moving out, then it should resonate in our furnishings.

According to The Association of Resale Professionals, there are currently over 25,000 resale, consignment, and not­-for­-profit retailers in the country. There has been a 7 percent increase in the number of these stores in the last two years, as well.  This is likely due in part to economic factors, and in part to the rise of shabby-­chic culture.

Thrifting is not just the poor man’s dream, ­­but also, the college student’s.

When I signed the lease for my first apartment, my initial excitement plummeted when I realized that I didn’t just have to pay rent, but also purchase furniture. To buy a mid­range bed set from Ikea, it costs $169 for the Sultan Hanestad mattress and $179 for a Hamnes bed frame. I don’t have $348 to part with, a situation that resonates with most Pitt students.

So, to save money, don’t start at a retailer. No, not even Ikea. The best place to find great prices on relevant items is at the Pitt “Free & For Sale” page on Facebook. The group has over 5,800 members and offers a wide assortment of knick­knacks and useful fixtures. The group’s description itself, notes that there are “fridges, futons, textbooks, and tons of other stuff.”

This summer, I found a girl on the “Free & For Sale” page selling a similar grade bed set to the one I was looking at on Ikea. Only this one was better — it had drawers in the bed frame and the headboard was a bookshelf.  She set the price for both the bedframe and mattress at $90. So not only am I saving money with this arrangement, but space as well. The deal freed up $258 for more furniture, appliances, and other fun stuff.

If there’s nothing you like on the “Free & For Sale” Facebook page, hit Goodwill — the $4 billion non­profit organization. Now that you’re poor and paying thousands for tuition, thrifting never sounded so trendy. There are at least 10 Goodwill locations in the Pittsburgh area, including one on Wood Street and two on East Carson Street.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for at one specific Goodwill, don’t give up.  Go check out another, each one has different items. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, head out to the suburbs where there are even more Goodwill locations. Pitt students receive a Port Authority bus pass for all of Allegheny County, so the options are nearly limitless.

Also, if you go to Goodwill stores in wealthy neighborhoods, they will usually have better furniture, clothing and kitchenware than most Goodwill shops in the city. These are the best places to get your cups, plates, and appliances, in my experience.

If Facebook and thrifting both fail, ask your family for free stuff.  My friends have the pleasure of sitting on a tribal print sectional couch from 1988 that is older than I am. Granted, you can feel the springs in it and there are age old cat hairs stuck to it, but it was free — plus vintage is totally cool.

But perhaps the most innervating furnishing method I can suggest is dumpster diving — or at least curb shopping.  It sounds gross and somewhat questionable, but it is 100 percent legal and 100 percent free. Since garbage is property that has been abandoned by the owner, it is not subject to privacy laws — so you can dig right in. This is best for large items like tables, chairs, couches, and televisions — ­­it can get a little dirty if you try to pry open a garbage bag for a cutlery set, something I don’t recommend.

When thrifting for furniture, in particular, don’t always judge a book by its cover. Look for pieces that have utility and durability. Just because something is unattractive, doesn’t mean you cannot doctor it up. Find wooden desks and dressers, maybe consider painting them. This way, you save money and get to let your creativity shine.

Buying cheap fixtures for your first apartment is nothing to be ashamed of — I, personally, take pride in it. If it is likely that someone might puke on your couch or spill something on it (which, let’s face it, it totally is) why break the bank?

Living with other twenty­somethings can sometimes be a compromise, but not one that has to affect your wallet. Take advantage of someone else’s misguided abandoning of great items, participate in resale. After all, it’s like recycling, but better.

Don’t worry, if your parents come to visit and think your apartment is full of “crap,” here’s a cop out: tell them it’s vintage. Thrifting is cool. I’m sure Macklemore would approve if your parents don’t anyway.

Write to Courtney at CNL13@pitt.edu

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In college, thrift like your wallet depends on it