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Ask DSM Readers: Saving on Household Essentials

by Tara Kuczykowski on July 29, 2010 · 26 comments

kitchen essentials

Every week I'll pose a question for you to share your experiences and tips. If you have a question that you'd like me to post, I'd love to hear from you!

Recently, Kelsey emailed to ask if I had any tips for college students or young  couples who are setting up their first home. When you're first starting out the amount of stuff you need to buy can be overwhelming.  There's kitchen pots and pans, dishes, furniture and bed sheets.  All of the "essentials" can quickly add up.  I thought I'd open up this question to the Deal Seeking Mom readers, especially related to kitchen essentials.

What items do you consider to be essentials? Where do you find the best deal on them? Is there a certain time of year that you shop for these types of items?

Join the discussion -- add your two cents to previous Ask DSM Readers questions too!

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rebecca July 29, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Last year, my sister went through an awful divorce and she had to get rid of a bunch of household stuff very quickly because she was moving back in with my mom. Freecycle.org was a savior! The things she gave away went to people who needed them. Freecycle was also very handy later that year. My sister sent her boys to visit their dad with all their clothes for a 3 month court ordered visit. When she went to pick them up, their father sent them back home with only the clothes on their backs. I got on freecycle straight away and found some clothes for them to start school the next week.

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2 Ana July 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I wouldn't have thought of Freecycle, but yes, Rebecca is right.. they are awesome! We started out with pots, pans, and plates from an estate sale. Sure they weren't pretty, but they got the job done (you only really need a big soup/spaghetti pot, a smaller pot, and a wok-type pan for eggs/stir fry, cooking meat, etc). We bought one set of cooking utensils (spatulas, whisk, etc... less than $10) and one set of cheap silverware, and one set of cups. Aside from those "essentials", we just added as we went, and never at full price. Goodwill and Craigslist are great resources for used stuff (tables, chairs, etc). We did save up our money to buy a new couch eventually, though.... there's just something about used ones that I'm not too keen on.

When it all comes down to it, you really don't need much. 4 sets of silverware, 8 pots and pans, a drawerful of utensils, etc. are all overkill when you're just starting out. You can handwash your few plates and silverware, and if you have guests, you can pull out your stock of paper plates (that you got free/super cheap with coupons, of course).

When I was in college, some of us would "borrow" plates from the dining room. I kept two plates, two sets of silverware, and two cups in my room all year to use, then returned them to the kitchen when I left for summer.

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3 suzette July 29, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I slowly acquired everything at garage sales. I didn't miss an extra $5 or $10 a week at a garage sale to pick up the essentials. If I would have had to buy everything at once I would have easily spend $500-1000. Then when I got married we registered for the items that we needed to replace.

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4 Ruth Ann July 29, 2010 at 1:40 pm

For your first stuff, especially for college students, don't worry about getting high end, expensive or even really good stuff. Start out with basic equipment. That will help save money, make you not as upset when it gets misplaced (or broken or taken by roommates, left behind in apartments, etc), help you learn what you really need and what you really will use and want in good quality.

Multitask and reuse. Don't worry too much about pan lids. A cookie sheet/jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides) will work just as well. Jars from peanut butter, salsa and other things of similar size make great drinking glasses (especially if they're glass...but plastic works too). Those cheap cups you get from restaurants, especially with kids meals can be washed out and reused. Talk to anyone who has kids and they will probably be more than happy to save you some (or give you some from their probably overflowing cabinets).

Thrift stores and garage sales are you friend. Friends who are moving and/or getting married are even better (since they're more likely to give you stuff for free). And, while it's not fun to think about, older relatives downsizing, moving to nursing homes or dying are other great sources for housewares, especially kitchen gear. Let people know what you need. I've had multiple people give me stuff they had around their house and were planning on getting rid of at some point but hadn't gotten around to it yet.

And, most importantly, especially if you get stuff for free, when you're done with things, pass them on. Housewares (along with many other things) roll down hill. When you're in a position to no longer be at the bottom, return the favor and give/sell your things to people who are in need of them.

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5 Emily E July 29, 2010 at 1:42 pm

If youre looking for all new items Big Lots has most of the essentials at a good price. Five and a half years ago I bought plates, bowls and big serving dishes that all matched at .99--dishes-- to $5.99--serving platters-- a piece. And we're still using them! I also bought a box of glasses there for around $10 and havent had one break yet. Also stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, Marshalls etc will carry higher end pots and pans at a discounted price. I think when it comes to pots and pans its better to spend a little more money up front rather than have to keep spending money and replacing items that wear out quickly with use. And no one wants to eat flakes of nonstick pan with their eggs!

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6 Jennifer W July 29, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Garage sales. Craigslist. Freecycle. Parents house or grandparents house (or aunt, uncle, etc.). Just talking about moving into your new place, but not asking for things, works too. It may take a week or two but coworkers and friends may start showing up with things for you. Make a wish list so you know what you need and what you want. Keep an eye on prices. Right now there are a ton of deals for back-to-school (irons, plastic wear, etc.). The best time is Black Friday. New $5 coffee makers, $3 irons, $4 toasters, etc. I asked for things for many birhtdays and Christmas from my parents until I got settled.

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7 Kelly July 29, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Ikea housewares!

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8 Megan July 29, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Wow, most people I talk to don't know about Freecycle, but I'm sooo happy to see so many people mention it! I have used it to get rid of stuff before a big move, just so I don't have to move as much. I've also gotten my husband a new wallet (they aren't cheap and we didn't have a dime to spend on it) and a microwave for our new apartment.

Truly, it's a great way to not spend money and to get things you need when they are a necessity, but it's also a fantastic feeling to get rid of things to those who need them more than you. I've given away lots of craft stuff I just have no interest in to a mom with kids during the summer and a microwave cart to college kids living in a new apartment.

I've actually gotten some newspaper coupon inserts this way too!!! :D

As far as other ideas, I would have to say garage sales are good and make sure to watch the clearance shelves in the home department areas of stores. I have the best luck at Target.

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9 TRINA July 29, 2010 at 2:12 pm

FOR NEW ITEMS TARGET HAS THE BEST CLEARANCE I HAVE EVER SEEN.FOR THE ITEMS THAT DO NOT SELL THEY DONATE THEM TO THE GOODWILL IN MY AREA SO THAT IS ANOTHER HOT SPOT TO CHECK OUT FOR NEW ITEMS AS WELL. FOR REGULAR KITCHEN UTENSILS WALMART HAS A DECENT SELECTION FOR A DOLLAR OR LESS. OTHER IDEAS ARE TO REGISTER FOR A HOUSE WARMING PARTY OR GOING TO COLLEGE CARE PACKAGE ALOT OF THE STORES ARE OFFERING THIS NOW WHERE YOU PICK OUT THE ITEMS YOU WOULD LIKE AND FAMILY AND FRIENDS CAN PICK UP THESE ITEMS FOR YOU AS GIFTS. THE ITEMS NOT PURCHASED THE STORE GENERALLY OFFERS AN DISCOUNT OFF SO YOU CAN PURCHASE THEM YOURSELF AT A CHEAPER PRICE. IF NONE OF THESE ARE OPTIONS GARAGE SALES ARE YOUR BEST BET BECAUSE YOU SEE FIRST HAND WHAT YOU ARE GETTING AND YOU CAN ALWAYS TALK THE SELLER DOWN USUALLY TO SOMETHING YOU CAN AFFORD.

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10 Angela July 29, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I would suggest having a Pampered Chef show and you can earn free, 1/2 off and discounted kitchen products. If you live around the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, I can help you otherwise check out http://www.pamperedchef.com and find a consultant in your area.

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11 Loren July 29, 2010 at 2:58 pm

The best place that I have found to get great kitchen stuff cheap has been the Williams sonoma outlet in Virginia I used to live 10 minutes from it but have since moved, Homegoods is also a good place to get quality items pretty cheap.

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12 Dizzy Mommy July 29, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Salvation Army has been a life saver for my family. They have some really cool unqiue stuff. If you go on the half off days then its even better. Plus sometimes you can even find brand new items. I got my shark steamer both for the floor and hand, and a shark hand vac, and regular shark vac for $100 because somebody returned them to Meijer and Meijer cannot restock shark products they donated them to Salvation Army and they worked fine.
The other thing is Target has coupons for essentials. I got the new Giada set a couple months ago for $70. It was on sale for $100, I had a $20 off Target Coupon, plus a $10 Giftcard with $100 purchase. It was normally like $150 or something so to me it was a great deal.

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13 Jenna July 29, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I have in storage enough to furnish four homes, I live in area with folks who really have to do without. I try to get the items in peoples hands who truly need them. Only to have my time wasted and people treat me nasty. I have taken to craigslist with listing items and giving free items with each of my listings. If you wish to contact me at mountains2009 at g mail dot com I can make arrangements for things to go to those in need. The items are great and all of my customers have been extremely happy with all items they recieved.

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14 Amanda July 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Things I would pay "real" money for:

- One GOOD all-purpose skillet (I use Earthpan with Sandflow)
- One GOOD knife (my grandparents bought me an expensive one)
- One decent set of sheets

Everything else, try to find on craigslist, freecycle, goodwill, maybe Walmart, or best yet, FREE from friends and family. When we moved to our first place and told people we needed home stuff, we were given a free washing machine, armoire, coffee maker, comforter, vacuum cleaner, steam mop, dishes, toaster, tools, air conditioning unit, lamps, TWO kitchen tables, one set of chairs, lazy boy couch with recliners, love seat, chaise lounge and probably other stuff I am forgetting. We were SOO grateful! Just let the word out about what you need, and I bet a lot of people have it lying around unused :)

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15 c July 29, 2010 at 5:31 pm

you need a basic paring knife(think dollar store), a 2cup pyrex glass measuring cup(you can microwave in it) , a plate , a cup, a spoon, a fork, and a steak knife. It would be nice to have a plastic cutting board, a medium pot for boiling (that can also go in the oven)and a non stick pan(or an iron skillet that can go in the oven to)..... that's all you really need....to get by

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16 CJ July 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Dollar stores are great for getting a cheap start - dishes, glasses, silverware, utensils, dish cloths and towels. Over 20 years later I'm still using inexpensive dishes that my mom bought for me for me when I was starting out and a kitchen table that a friend gave me, they've held up well and have met my needs.

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17 Rachel July 29, 2010 at 7:41 pm

I agree with so many of the comments on here! I had a summer clerkship in a different state from my law school a few summers ago and sublet a place. Foolishly, it appears, I assumed the people I was subletting from would leave some dishes or utensils, but no! I didn't have the ability to go home and get mine, so I had to buy as little as possible for as cheap as possible as I was clerking for legal aid - for free. First stop was the Dollar Tree- I got two big dishes, two bowls, two glasses, two basic sets of eating utensils, a pitcher for tea or crystal light, and one (quite terrible) paring knife- all for ten bucks! All but the knife are still in use by my sister now. Oh- I also got a cookie sheet and pizza tray there, but I ended up borrowing a skillet from a friend who lived in town.

Also, I agree with the commenter above about re-purposing things. Until we got married, my husband and I used cookie sheets for lids on pans, tweaked recipes to fit whatever casserole size dish we had, and washed our one nice paring knife every day, sometimes several times during meal prep! The mismatched dishes and cutlery just added to the fun of starting a new house and life together!

Additionally, while living in Columbus (have some Jeni's ice cream for me!) I found that the Goodwill on Morse Rd often resold items that had been returned to Target. Nearly-new stuff for a fraction of the cost! I imagine this is common in other cities as well.

Finally, if you're willing to spend a little more but still get a heck of a deal, I've had tremendous luck with finding bowls, glasses, nicer pots and pans, and all sorts of utensils at my TJ Maxx and Ross stores. Until you have the fully-stocked and matching kitchen, enjoy the fun of collecting the stuff you need and being creative with what you have.

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18 Peggy July 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Goodwill, in Springfield, OH, almost always had stuff from Kmart, Target, etc. I grabbed up about 12 pairs of Hanes underwear for myself that came from Kmart. Also if you have a Salvation Army store in your area, those are good. Consignment stores sometimes have clearance sections when their inventory is coming to the end of it's time limit. Yard sales can be gold mines too. I recently bought some plastic tumblers and measuring set and chip clips at Walmart. They were all a $1 each. They had blue, green, orange, etc. The measuring set went from a cup down to 1/4 tsp. Also the chip clips were in a little bag that ranged from tiny to chip bag size, I think there were 6 or 8. Not bad for a dollar. Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Big Lots, are all great CHEAP places. I've bought curtains at Dollar General more than once, blinds too. You do what you have to do sometimes. Cheap curtains are better than none.

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19 Peggy July 29, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Also check your local newspapers for Free Ads. Some newspapers allow you to place an ad for free if the item is less than $100. Lots of those ads are placed by people who want to get rid of items for FREE!! You just have to pick it up usually although some people might be nice enough to haul it if it's a big item and you only have a car. It never hurts to ask if someone can haul it for you and you can offer to give them a few bucks for gas.

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20 Rita Collins July 30, 2010 at 12:30 am

I don't know if I missed this response, but for my first few apartments I bought "Kitchen in a Box" and "Bathroom in a Box". I believe I purchased them at Target. Granted, this was years ago. However, I still have some of of the silverware, bowls, and other items. This was perfect, especially for just one person.

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21 Jan July 30, 2010 at 9:12 am

Amazon codes! If you have an Amazon Visa card or do online surveys, collect codes and keep an eye out for Amazon's 4-for-3 kitchen sales. I just picked up a few things cheap that way. Well, free actually, because I used gift codes. :-)

And I'll second the Freecycle and Craigslist recommendations. Also estate sales and local thrift shops. Look for Farberware and Revere pots and pans. Mine are from the 1950s and still going strong.

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22 Mellora July 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm

For cooking utensils good on non-stick cookware the Dollar Store is a great place to start! I got everything I needed there back in college and am still using most pieces today -- almost ten years later!

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23 Nicole July 31, 2010 at 2:41 am

Definitely check out Target's back to school clearance, they have a really great selection of college and starter silverware/plates and it gets marked down really cheap at the end of August - mid September. I go to OSU so this always works out really great for me, 2 years ago I found a College 08 boxed set with 4 heavy ceramic plates, mugs, and bowls for only $3.91 each. I didn't need the mugs, but I purchased 2 sets and they worked out really well for my roommate and I in our first apartment!

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24 Chris M. August 3, 2010 at 10:32 am

Lots of great ideas above. Here's a little tip to make your garage sale/thrift store finds a little more 'pulled together'. Pick a color--perhaps your favorite color or something that matches your kitchen--and buy all of your dishes in different hues of that color. For my first apartment in college, I chose yellow. I found yellow bowls and mugs, plates with yellow designs, and even yellow glasses and serving dishes. Everything was really, really cheap but it looked cool together because it didn't match but still coordinated. Blue is another great color to do this with. Buy a couple of dish towels and potholders in your matching color at a dollar store, add in a few basic pots and pans and some cheap silverware (you can also find this at Goodwill) and you're good to go! But be advised, if you want non-stick pans you're much better off investing in a quality non-stick frying/saute pan and getting the rest of your pans as not non-stick. I made the mistake of buying a set of super cheap non-stick pans for my first apartment and the non-stick coating literally flaked off into my food each time I used them. It was disgusting and not at all healthy for me, I'm sure.

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25 Sarah August 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

To start out, I would recommend just hitting up a Dollar General or Family Dollar store, and buying all the essentials, then as you get tired of the cheap quality of one item, you can replace them one at a time, rather than focusing time, money & energy getting quality items at a good price all at one time. And who knows, a couple of them might be just fine & you realize you still use it after a year & only cost you a dollar or two.

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26 Heather October 4, 2010 at 10:54 am

My family just started over in a new place and we just bought the cheapest we could find of all the basic essentials. This was a mistake!!! Many of the items were useless after washing once (like the cheese grater that rusted). We now realize that the extra 0.20 to 0.50 cents to get the next step up would have been the better deal.

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