Monday, July 1, 2013

Furnishing Your First Apartment On A Budget: 10 Items You CANNOT Live Without

You've saved and saved and finally got your own place. Then the sad reality hits.  After you pay your first month’s rent, security deposit and moving costs there is no money left to furnish your new place. Are you doomed to sleep on the floor of an empty apartment?  I would argue no. In this post, I am going to provide a few creative ways to stretch your dollar, even if your furnishing budget is, well, zero dollars. If you can manage to scrounge up an extra $500 dollars, you’ll have plenty of places to get exactly what you need to make your new apartment comfortable.

If you have absolutely no money to spend on furnishing, there's many places where even an empty wallet goes a long way.

  • Castaways from family, friends, coworkers: Check out grandma’s basement; find out who among your co-workers is redecorating or moving; ask your super to let you know when your neighbors throw out furniture. Get the word out as widely as you can that you’ll take anything they don’t need.
  • Street finds: Walk or drive around nice neighborhoods the night before garbage pick-up.  You may need to do this with a friend, so that you have help hauling your goodies home.
  • Craigslist Free: Everyday hundreds of people post furniture/appliance giveaways that they do not want to take with them on their own moves. You should know that there will be a lot of competition for good stuff on Craigslist Free so be friendly and punctual!
  • Freecycle is another great, less known website where users post what they are looking for, and users post what they are offering. The larger the city/area you are moving into the more that is usually offered

As your furnishing budget hits the big double and triple digits, many new places become affordable.
  • Stoop sales and yard sales: Great sources for small decorative items and sometimes even smaller pieces of furniture, such as chairs or side tables. Yard sales are often loaded with dishes and kitchen implements so you can use them to equip your kitchen. Now is a great time to scout for stoop and yard sales, because people use them to get rid of the assorted and sundry that turn up in spring cleaning.
  • Thrift shops: Most cities have a number of thrift shop options, running from national (Salvation Army, Goodwill) to ones kept by local charities (for example, Housing Works in NYC). With stoop sale and thrift shop bargains, adding a few dollars of paint or a fabric remnant, can turn them into a treasures.  
  • Online deal sites: A relatively new budget furnishing resource. These sites are for a knowledgeable shopper who knows what comparable items sell for in retail stores. It's important to watch out for the shipping cost that can make a bargain not so, particularly for lower priced items. Look on sites such as  for everything from furniture to bedding. Plus, unlike many deal sites, they have free shipping for purchases over $50!
  • Big Box stores: As your budget gets closer to $500, you can start checking out your local Ikea, Target, Walmart, Ollies and other large chain stores. They may not be affordable all the time, but when they run sales, bargains can be had.

Further as the post title suggests, I’ve selected 10 items you shouldn't live without, as well as how much estimated you'd spend on them–minimally. Let me know what you think–and if there any must have items I missed!

  1. Bed/Couch–$200. The first item on the list has to be a bed. Without a bed, you’re just going to feel like you’re couchsurfing and won’t feel settled.   But, yikes, a bed is probably the most expensive item in any first apartment. What can you do to avoid spending your entire budget? First, do some futon research. My cousin actually preferred sleeping on his futon even though he had the cash to get a bed. They can be truly great, especially for those living in studios–as they will, of course, double as a couch.  Try to find one from a friend or check Craigslist–but beware bed bugs. Plenty of people need to sell furniture and are bed bug free–but just FYI.
  2. Dining Table, chairs–$100. Try finding larger items either at Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  You can find a total gem for very little $.  The trick here, though is time–as it will likely take longer as every item is unique. Also give freecycle ago!
  3.  Dresser/Hangers for Closet$50. Depending on the apartment you find, you may not need a dresser as you have enough closet space. But, if you do, dressers go for pretty cheap on Craigslist–and can also be found easily in resale shops. I got mine 4 years ago for $50–an Ikea model already put together by a neighborhood friend moving away. Their loss–totally my gain... As for hangers–see if your local dry cleaner would have any extra to spare. Or, see if you can bring some from home.
  4. Silverware/Dishes$0-50. See if your family has any older dishes that they have stored in the basement. I was surprised that my mom had two sets from my childhood that they never got rid of, that I quickly claimed. If you aren't so luckyWalMart and Ikea have some pretty reasonably priced cutlery that doesn't look worse for the wear after use.
  5. Bedding$0. Additional items to see if you can borrow from your parents. While it’d be great to get a new comforter, that’s an item that can wait for the holiday gift list. Especially if you’re coming from college, you should already have bedding that you can re-purpose. If not, try a site like that often has bedding sales. Also check discount stores like TJ Maxx Marshall or Ross stores.
  6. Shower Curtain$20. Water on the bathroom floor is slippery and not ideal. Spend the twenty bucks.
  7. Trash cans$20. Find the cheapest ones you can for the moment. You can always upgrade later. Don't underestimate local dollar stores for these types of purchases!
  8. Laundry hamper$0. Again, just bring whatever one you stuck in the closet after the last time you lived in a dorm. Or, spring for a small basket that can serve as a laundry hamper for the moment.
  9. Towels$0. Another item you should already have access to. If not, go to Target and get some cheap towels.
  10. Pots/Pans$40. If you must–you can get buy on one cheap frying pan and one cheap pot to boil water. You’ll replace when you can.
Just in case you have a little extra:

ETC Items $20-70 - When you’re at Walmart or IKEA getting dishes, see what else you’d want to spruce up your apt, mixing fun with necessity. They have all   sorts of little fun items like $2 candles and $5 mirrors. Also, see if they have extension cords--which are always needed. Also, try to find a cheap lamp, as light’s always important.  Another item to consider are bedroom curtains, to keep out that always pesky morning light.

Hope you found the bare bones list above helpful. You’ll note I didn't include a TV (as streaming computer content can suffice) or some typical items like coffee tables/nightstands.  If you can spring for these items, by all means–you will enjoy them.

Also, I *did* assume that you would have a few items to start out with, which hopefully isn't an unfair assumption. If that’s not true, use the tips I listed above and don't forget to utilize your networks! Using Facebook, for instance, would be super easy to ask friends to contribute their slightly used furniture items to your new pad. Someone else’s castoffs could totally be your treasure!

Happy shopping!

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