How to easily upcycle furniture and save yourself thousands

upcycle furniture

There’s something innately cool about women who DIY. It might be the self reliance and self confidence that a woman with a hand tool exudes. We DIY upcycle furniture to save money and sometimes to make money.

What has this got to do with financial freedom, you ask? A big part of financial freedom is really thinking about where to spend your money and where not to. Upcycling furniture is a great way to revamp your home decor without spending big bucks. And then there’s the satisfaction you feel in your bones at taking something at the end of its ‘shelf life’ and make it new and beautiful again. You can even make it a side hustle. All it takes is just a few DIY skills and you can get some truly beautiful results with simple changes.

So let’s take a look at how to start upcycling furniture from scratch. We’ll also share 4 recent upcycle projects from the last 3 months, and how much money we saved!

What is upcycling?

Upcycling is the act of taking an object or material that is no longer wanted or needed and turning it into something new and useful. It’s a more environmentally friendly alternative to recycling, because upcycled products require less energy to produce than recycled products.

Furniture upcycling is the process of taking an old, outdated piece of furniture and breathing new life into it. Sometimes all that’s needed to revive an old piece of furniture is a little bit of TLC. Other times, a piece may be so badly damaged that it needs to be completely rebuilt from scratch. The good news is that there are loads of creative upcycling techniques to suit different DIY skill levels. You don’t need any particular skills to start!

7 reasons upcycling furniture is good for you and your wallet

If you haven’t upcylced anything before, here are 7 reasons to give it a shot:

  1. You get a custom outcome – you can transform an old outdated piece into something that is tailored to your home and decor. Check out our recent custom dining table transformation!
  2. You save loads of money on buying retail and buying new.
  3. You’re taking trash out of the system, which can only be a good thing for the environment
  4. You can do it as a side hustle! Seriously, sourcing free or cheap furniture, upcycling it and selling it on can be a great side hustle. It’s called ‘furniture flipping’. We have flipped the odd piece of furniture and know of folks who make good money from it.
  5. You get to learn new skills for free – just search what you need on Youtube.
  6. It’s creatively very satisfying. I love looking around my house and seeing the furniture we have upcycled and thinking “I did that and girl, it looks goooood’!
  7. It’s empowering! Once you can handle a drill, sander, and paint brush you’ll be amazed at the little home improvement projects you’ll feel confident taking on.

What do you need to start upcycling?

Some folks, especially women, are afraid to try DIY projects like upcycling furniture. They’re worried about not knowing what to do or about stuffing it up. But we think they are the perfect little starter project to get your feet wet with home improvement DIY!

  1. Imagination!
  2. Youtube! This is an unlikely second, but outside of my dad Youtube has taught us just about all we know about DIY home improvement. You can find how to guides on just about everything, from how to use a belt sander to the best paint stripping techniques for stained timber… Get on it!
  3. Universal screwdriver or drill – to remove fittings and hinges
  4. A drop cloth to protect your floors
  5. Paint stripper and paint scraper – especially if you want to remove stain from the timber
  6. Sanding tools – a belt sander for heavy jobs or an orbital sander for light ones
  7. Fine sand paper – to smooth the sanded timber to the touch
  8. New fittings or revived old ones
  9. Paint or stain – to refinish the furniture
  10. Sealer or varnish – to protect the paint finish and surface from knocks or bangs

Where to find furniture and what to look for

The best place to look for furniture to upcycle are your own home or garage (yes it’s true!), curbside collection, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist (in the US) or GumTree (in Oz). From our experience there are three types of items that both upcycle and on-sell really well:

Solid natural timber pieces.

If you can buy a side table, coffee table or chest of draws for the beautiful timber and strip it back to it’s natural grain these go on to sell well. Stripping paint or varnish from timber can be time consuming. But you don’t have to strip the whole piece! Check out our dining table transformation below to see what we mean.

Classic Ikea pieces.

Ikea is huge for a reason. The brand has some classic furniture lines that are affordable and that people really love. The Hemnes range is one. If you can find anything in this line in good condition, they on-sell quickly on Facebook market place in our experience. Classic Ikea lines like this one and good enough quality to upcycle and look really great.

Anything retro.

in 2014 we bought a deceased estate investment property with some beautiful retro walnut timber lounge chairs and a sofa, in mint condition. I regret every day that we didn’t buy them as part of the sale. It was the kind of retro furniture you see selling for thousands a piece in designer furniture stores. Retro timber furniture at a reasonable price is extremely sought after. By simply re-upholstering the cushions we could have made decent money upcycling that set. The same goes for anything retro that is upholstered with a skirt. Remove the skirt, maybe add some legs and bob’s your uncle.

4 easy techniques to upcycle furniture (for beginners)

These are simple techniques that you can master without extensive DIY experience, and use to build confidence for more complex upcycle projects.

1. Remove components – fixtures, upholstery or panels.

Often less is more when it comes to modernising something. Removing strategically from a piece of furniture can truly transform it from piece that belongs in your nanna’s house to a contemporary statement piece. We say ‘strategically’ because you don’t want to remove anything structural – bracing or framing for example. It’s more about removing ornate decorative panels, fixtures such as handles, decorative metal, fabric skirting and sometimes legs. You can also remove glass panes or mirrors to contemporize furniture. Look for outdated decorative detail that is screwed, nailed or ‘puttied’ on. This way you can take it off without damaging the furniture itself.

2. Simple repairs.

We once made a quick $60 buying an Ikea tallboy on Facebook and then flipping it within the same afternoon. The original owner didn’t want the tallboy anymore because the backing panel had come loose and popped out. We simply unscrewed the side panel, slid the backing into place again and tightened all the screws. Voila! Perfectly good classic Ikea tallboy ready to on-sell. Solid or classic furniture with loose screws,, nails, hinges, and handles can be revived with simple repairs.

3. Clean, polish and replace hardware

This one’s easy because all you need is:

  • cleaning agents (which you’d probably have at home),
  • timber polish or wax
  • a screwdriver or drill
  • fittings, which you would either buy new or you could upcycle the original ones with etcher and spray paint.

You’re looking for classic pieces of furniture in great condition that you can clean, maybe polish the timber and either remove, improve or replace the old outdated hardware. It’s best to find these types of items free (like sitting on a curbside) if you want to upsell as their is less room for arbitrage. You could also look to arbitrage different marketplaces. Garage or estate sales, Craigslist (in the US) or Gumtree (in Oz) can be great to source super cheap items that folks just want to get rid of. Facebook marketplace is a good platform to upsell these once you’ve upcycled.

Back in the late 1990s I lived and worked in Japan for a couple of years, in a town called Kobe. We were dead poor when we arrived to our empty company lodgings. We ended up furnishing our whole house out of curbside finds . We’d go on ‘gomi’ hunts at midnight once a month when the neighbours put out their unwanted bulky items. We’d clamber up giant piles of furniture and return home with the most incredible stuff! Everything free, everything in working condition and perfect for this type of upcycling.

4. Stripping, sanding and repainting or staining

Up the skill curve slightly (but still at beginner level) comes repainting or re-staining techniques. Repainting or staining furniture is not just a matter of slapping on new coat of paint. A lot furniture is finished with protective varnishes or shellac paints. Some furniture looks like timber but it’s actually timber veneer. If you paint straight over these sufraces with normal paint, chances are the new paint won’t stick and your freshly upcycled piece will be chipped and peeling in no time!

Paint and stain is as much about preparation as it is application. 🙂

upcycle furniture
Stripping and sanding this 20 year old Tasmanian oak tabletop back to its natural timber

There is additional equipment for this method. You might need paint stripping agents, a paint scraper, sand paper, power sander, paint brush, primer, paint, clear varnish and so on. You also need to know a little about working with wood – how to follow the grain and what grit sand paper to use and when.

Once you’ve mastered these techniques you should feel confident to step the upcyling up a level. More complex techniques involve patching, or some basic joinery to add panels, rattan, decoupage, unholstery and so on.

Our projects (and how much we saved)

Many of you will know we moved to Tasmania and bought a new house in August 2021. Like any DIY enthusiasts, we’ve been steadily working through a ‘to do’ list of improvements to make the house our own. Here are 4 upcycle projects we’ve done in the last 3 months around our new home!

These 4 projects cost us a total of $240 and took around 11 hours to complete.
We estimate we saved around $2300 on buying the same items retail.

Custom oak dining table.

We have a solid Tasmanian oak dining table in a classic french provincial style that is about 20 years old. The table had been stained various colours over its life. After we moved house, the dark walnut stain didn’t suit the light Tassie oak aesthetic of our new kitchen. Because I knew the table was Tassie oak underneath, I decided to take the tabletop back to its original raw and natural finish.

The table top now ties in beautifully with our Tassie oak flooring and trims, and the legs are painted to match the colour of surrounding cabinetry and window treatments. We LOVE the result!

Cost: $30 for paint stripper, $149 for new Ryobi battery, $15 for sanding belts.

Time: 8 hours

Retail price purchased new: $1700

Cute fire wood storage.

For this project we found an old plywood box with rope handles on a neighbouring farm. The box was chipped and falling apart, but we thought it would make the perfect storage for our kindling. We re-screwed the box together, used wood putty to repair the chips, and then gave the whole thing a sand down on the outside. Then it was just a matter of applying some primer, three coats of paint and some stencilled letters. The best thing? This was all done with materials and tools we had on hand!

Total cost: Free!

Time: 2 hours.

Etsy for price firewood storage: $115

Standing desk with a view.

This standing desk for two is upcycled from the solid timber barn door we had in the kitchen and no longer needed. We bought some raw timber and 4 hinges and made two trestle frames to hold up the barn door table top. It’s large enough for the two of us to work without rubbing elbows and then there are those dreamy views of rolling hills and the mountain..

Cost: $45 for the timber and hinges

Time: 3 hours

Retail price for timber trestle desk: $500

upcycle furniture

the Cow Bar.

One of the best parts of our new home is the outdoor area. It overlooks our little creek and gives stunning views of rolling hills speckled with Friesian cows. Not to mention our Mt Roland on the horizon. We recently christened our outdoor space “The Cow Bar” with this honorary sign. It all started with a piece of timber salvaged for free from the local waste transfer station. After a simple sand and paint, we stencilled the letters on and then attached some rope to hang!

Cost: Free

Time: 1 hour

Etsy price for custom timber sign: $100

Our first steps into the world of off-grid living

Off-grid living

It’s been 2 months now since we moved into our humble home in rural Tasmania and began our adventures in off-grid living.

Time for another update to our financial freedom journey!

What a busy period, with lots of adjustments – work, lifestyle, home life, finances, remote business running – just about everything really. 🙂

Unpacking into our new life

Before the dreaded unpacking, we camped in our little cottage for two weeks while the floors were re-done. I wouldn’t recommend it, but the floors look great.

We also had a wood heater installed, which makes for a cosy winter night with a glass of red or a tasty craft beer. The first night we ran the heater I worried we might burn the house down while we slept (we’re Queenslanders after all!). Now we’re chopping wood like maniacs and drinking more red wine than ever. Something about those flickering flames… 🙂

Cheap and cheerful $100 DIY reno

We love a DIY reno and also completed a cheap and cheerful do-over of the once ghastly pink study.

To make the standing desk for two, we bought $45 worth of timber and hinges and built two trestle legs. We then repurposed a beautiful, heavy timber barn door from the kitchen into a gigantic desktop. Add some crisp white paint to the walls and ceiling and voila! The room is perfect, with a picture window so pretty it’s a dangerous distraction from blogging.

The study is where I work when it’s raining out, which it almost always is in Tasmania!

We’ve had to pinch ourselves a lot in these last two months. We feel like we’ve stumbled into a huge slice of luck to be living here. But then, I’m a firm believer that luck is the meeting of preparation and opportunity. And our financial freedom was a journey we started 8 years ago…

We’ve met our curious cow neighbours and our thin Queensland blood has proudly survived the winter frost and a late spring snow.

Urban life to off-grid living – what has the transition been like?

One welcome adjustments and part of our financial freedom plan has been our move to off-grid living.

I confess, we’re not entirely off grid. We do have power lines. But we are off-grid for our water, waste water, septic, rubbish and 80% of our heating. For these life-time urban dwellers, it’s been a fun and a learning experience. So what exactly do we do differently now?

We manage our own water supply

Our water doesn’t just turn up at the tap as it does with urban living. It’s on us to make sure we have enough water and that it’s sufficiently clean to use and drink. We run two water pumps and two ‘pump and gravity fed’ rainwater tanks. The water is not clean enough for our liking so we have ordered a whole-house water filter to be installed before the main pump to clean up the water supply to the house. We double filter our drinking water through a Dolton tier one drinking water filter inside this cute and custom pot-belly pottery urn.

In return for our efforts, our variable water cost is zero. Our infrastructure costs are sunk and contained (no water utility to put up the fixed cost component of the water bill). And we don’t complain about the rain.. 🙂

We heat our home ourselves

We had 5m3 of dry timber delivered just after the wood heater was installed. Wow. That ended up being a lot of timber! We were stacking it for days inside our shed. Two months in, we’ve used about 1/4 of our timber supply. At $120/m3 delivered plus fire starters, we’re paying $90 per month for whole of house heating.

We live with less waste, more sustainably

Here’s a revelation for you. There’s no curb-side rubbish collection in the middle of rural nowhere. Who’d have thought.

This means that we have to take our rubbish for a drive to the transfer station each week. As we are putting it in the car, we find we are way more careful about what goes into our bins. We compost our kitchen waste. We recycle everything, especially paper and cardboard into our heating supplies. We live more consciously about our waste, and more sustainably because of it.

The same concept applies to our septic and grey water. We don’t use toxic chemicals down the loo, the sink or for cleaning. This keeps our septic system healthy and respects the surrounding farmland where our grey water filters.

We are rewarded for doing these things with much lower Council rates and a satisfying sense of living more lightly on the land.

We’re more self reliant

The transition to running our own systems hasn’t been hard. There’s no noticeable difference in the quality of the essential services that we now provide ourselves. But we do feel more self reliant and prepared for any future.

And that was a big part of our ‘Plan B’; a plan to rely less on centralised systems for our own well being.

Our next step off the grid will be uninterrupted power supply, and to build a growing tunnel for home-raised fruit and veg. So much to do and learn, this retiring from a wage earner job thing sure is hella busy! 🙂

That’s all great Tara, but now show me the money, right!

Net worth

Our net worth has grown by just under $55k in the September quarter, mostly due to cryptocurrency and some superannuation gains. We also added a new ‘digital assets’ category to our portfolio. This covers off the websites and domains we own. Property still makes up the largest share of our personal wealth. We also continue to hold more cash than our emergency fund rules require as we didn’t make large investments during the quarter.

Debt position

Our good debt position hasn’t changed as we have interest only loans on our investment properties. Bad debt remains at under $10,000. We funded our move in cottage renovations with cash that we had put away because the home cost less than we had budgeted. Oh, and some sweat equity!

September quarter income

Our Airbnb income this quarter was down on expectations thanks to two weeks of lock-downs in August. We’re not complaining because we know pandemic lock downs have driven many tourism businesses to the wall.

To manage this risk ongoing, we’ve been building up a business emergency fund for our Property Management business. It’s a strategy we’re using for peace of mind that we can ride through the uncertainties of living with a pandemic. We didn’t have to draw down on that fund in August, which we are grateful for.

Our expenses

If you’re wondering how expenses might change with your financial freedom, here’s what ours now look like. We live on around $3000 per month – less than half of what we lived on in Brisbane! With lower living costs, our money goes further. This geo-arbitrage strategy has helped bring forward our financial freedom date by years. It should definitely be on your radar if you’re open to it.

Not counted in our living costs is the capital we put into setting up our cottage – $36,000 from savings. This included:

  • new floors throughout
  • wood heater supply and install
  • NBN wireless connection and phone signal booster antenna
  • DIY study renovation
  • a new doorway to bring the stunning mountain views into the loungeroom,
  • some new large appliances and yard equipment
  • additional kitchen cabinetry
  • water filter systems
  • Snake mesh fencing – which we’ve half installed
  • Ikea shelving for the study
  • new blinds, which have yet to arrive.

Savvy spenders, not frugalistas

Our largest expense by far this quarter was food. We’ve spent more than usual to stock up our fridge and deep freezer. Rent comes in second but it’s all from July, before we had our new home. Happily, we’re no longer paying rent.

While we’re living on about $750 per we, we’re not practicing frugality. We still go out and eat out every weekend. We’ve been on a weekend trip to Launceston and a couple of day trips. It’s just that, where we live means we don’t ‘incidentally’ spend money on things like Uber, take out and coffees. It’s much easier not to consume blindly when the shops are a 35 minute drive away… This too has been intentional.

Our savings rate

Because our income was down this quarter, our savings rate also dipped from July’s 75%.

We still managed a healthy 52%. You can check out how much you need to be saving to win your own financial freedom right here.

Our investments

In July, we said out next investment would be a rooftop solar system, which we expected to give us a return of around 20% each year. We haven’t had solar installed because it rains a lot in Tasmania. We still intend to go solar and hope we can get it installed over summer and take another big step in our off-grid living adventure.

In September we did invest some fiat currency we had sitting on the sidelines into three Layer 1 crypto projects. These investments are already paying off.

We also made a small investment during the quarter into a US based innovation ETF with a very savvy fund manager. We’ll reveal all in a post at some stage. But first, back to the off-grid living thing – there’s wood to be chopped!

Til next update, have fun, be happy and do good!

We bought a new home with cash!

We bought a new home with cash

Here’s the first of our updates on our personal assets, income and savings. Our big news for July? We bought a new home with cash!

So here we are in July 2021…we’ve pulled it off!

When we decided to sell up in Brisbane move to Tasmania in mid 2020 we had one thing on our mind. Financial freedom. We cooked up a plan during the lockdowns of 2020 to pimp our home with some clever DIY renovations and sell up. Our aim was to take our profit and our savings and buy a house for cash.

It’s a strategy called geo-arbitrage and you can use it to bring forward your financial freedom date, just like we have.

We worked out that Tasmania was a viable option for us to pull off some crafty geo-arbitrage. Tassie also provided the sustainable living, self-reliant lifestyle we were after. We wanted no neighbours, a spectacular view and some room to grow food. Most of all, we wanted to lower our living costs.

After three months of careful searching, we’ve pulled it off!

Views to the mountains over our back fence

How geographic arbitrage smashed our housing costs

In many cases homes are not assets (an asset puts money in your pocket at the end of the month). This is generally dependent on the type and cost of housing. When we moved to Tasmania we wanted to buy a home that we could count as an asset. Let me explain how we’ve found exactly that.

Our cost of housing in Tasmania will be around $3500 per year.

Here’s the breakdown.

Typical housing costsOur new home
Mortgage$0 – owned outright
Water$0 – two tanks and pumped creek water
Sewage$0 – Septic
Grey water$0 – pumped grey water system
Power$1900 – grid but soon to have solar PV
Heat / cooling$800 – daytime from solar + wood heater
Council Rates$874

The way we’ve wrangled it, as long as our home appreciates in value by >$3500 per year, we can count it as an asset. We figure that’s likely given the strapping pace of inflation, at least in the near term. We also calculated our Brisbane housing costs by way of comparison. Here’s what that looks like:

Housing costBrisbaneTasmania
SewageSee Rates$0
Grey waterSee Rates$0
Heat / coolingSee power$800
Council rates$1420$874

What this means for us is that we have to make $23,000 less in income each year to live in Tassie. And that’s just housing costs. It’s not living costs.

Geo-arbitrage is an underrated weapon in the arsenal of any financial freedom seeker because you can use it to cut one of your biggest living costs – housing.

Our net worth

As at July 2021, our net worth is north of $1.5M. Just goes to show you don’t need millions to be financially free! You just need to kick ass crafty about it. 🙂

Our good debt position

Our net worth is calculated after debt is deducted.

We hold (indirectly) good debt on our investment properties. I say indirectly because we have company and trust structures in place. So the debt is not on our personal balance sheet. These mortgages are paid by other people, through the property investment and management company we run. These investment properties are assets not liabilities because they put money in our pocket each week as you’ll see when we get to “Income’ down below.

Our bad debt


We have zero bad debt at the end of each month (bad debt takes money out of your pocket). That’s right. Zero. The only bad debt we carry is credit card debt, which is cleared in an auto sweep of the card. Every. Single. Month.

We do use our credit card to give us free stuff. We direct all of our expenses through the credit card to earn cash rewards, which we use to buy groceries. So far this year we’ve earned roughly 77,000 points or $350 worth of free food.

Credit cards can make you money if you use them the right way.

Our July income

About half our income this month was rental income. We worked 4 to 5 hours a week for this income. We’re still keen to save and invest so we had earned income in July as well. Our capital gains is mostly from shares we own. We also had a small bit of income from cryptocurrency. Our profit income covers things we like to do on the side – retail arbitrage (reselling), cash rewards, and other online income. We’re working on diversifying our income streams further in the medium term.

Our July savings rate

75%. Huzzah!

Our next asset investment?

A solar PV system.

We’re still a bit too heavy in cash so we are looking for new investments. (Cash is trash). We’ll likely buy a solar power system, which we expect will produce an ROI of 23% year-on-year, with a payback of 4.25 years. Not a bad outcome.

We’re also busy building digital assets that will pay us an income in the future. More about that later….

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