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Moving into a new apartment is exciting, but it can be expensive. Don’t worry, at Frugal For Less; we can do anything frugally. We’ll show you how to furnish your first apartment the frugal way!
Whether you are moving out of the dorms and into a college apartment or moving into your first” grown-up” apartment after college, it can be daunting when you realize just how much stuff you need.
But you can “creatively source” a lot of the items required to furnish an apartment and still have plenty of money left over for other things. Like rent and food!
Just the Basics
Furnishing an apartment is a lot like buying all the stuff you need when you have a baby. You actually need way less than most people think at least in the beginning.
An apartment needs a shower curtain, but it doesn’t need a sous vide machine. A baby needs diapers, but it doesn’t need a diaper wipe warmer.
People go completely overboard when buying things for their first apartment. And that’s understandable. When you lived with your parents, you had to accept their taste. Maybe Beanie Baby centered décor wasn’t your cup of tea.
But now you get to choose whatever you like, and that’s exciting. But you (probably) don’t have an endless supply of cash to buy everything at the same time. So when you start shopping for your first place, start with the basics.
Basics are a little different for everyone. If you drink a smoothie every morning without fail, a blender will be a basic for you but not for everyone.
The best way to determine what your basics are is to note down what you do and use on a typical day while you were living with your parents (because a typical day in a dorm is different. You didn’t cook).
Some apartment basics apply to all of us.
Things like towels, a shower curtain, bedding, trash cans, cookware (this will vary based on how much you cook, but even if you don’t cook very much, you need at least a pot, a pan, some silverware, a knife, a few bowls, and plates).
Cleaning supplies are often overlooked and even if you aren’t particularly neat and tidy, a day will come when you have another person over (your mom especially) and have to have at least enough supplies to make the place presentable.
Multi-purpose wipes can do a lot of cleaning jobs so if you are going ultra basic on cleaning supplies, that is the one thing to buy.
I’m also going to throw in what I think is a must-have basic for everyone, a slow cooker. Whether you are a good cook already or a complete novice, a slow cooker should be an essential part of your new kitchen.
It can turn cheap ingredients into tasty, healthy meals. It requires no attention from you once the ingredients are in the pot and it requires very little cleanup. Really, if you are not yet slow cooking, you don’t know what you’re missing. Get one!
Sure you could go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond or Target and get pretty much everything you need to furnish your first apartment but that certainly isn’t the frugal option. Nor is it going to make your new apartment look or feel like your own.
Everything will match, the art will be mass produced, and your place will feel more like a chain hotel than a home. You want your place to have some personality.
Creatively sourcing your furnishings can help you achieve that. When you don’t buy everything in the same place, you can create the eclectic look that makes a place home.
There are some things you should only buy new. I would not, and I’m sure none of you would either, like to use “previously owned” towels or bed sheets.
Mattresses are also not a good thing to buy second hand because they might contain bedbugs and any money you saved on the mattress would quickly be spent paying an exterminator. So those sorts of things are okay to buy brand new from a big box store.
Get the Word Out
Some people regularly get rid of things they aren’t using and no longer want or need. They sell them at a garage sale, donate them to a thrift store, or sell them on Craigslist or eBay. Some people do that but not most of them.
Instead, they store those things in the closet, in the garage, in the basement, and in the attic. Which means your family, friends, and co-workers have houses full of stuff they don’t want and would be happy to get rid of.
If you aren’t regularly popping into a thrift store or two, you are really missing out. People give away the most unbelievable stuff, some of it never even used and you can get it for next to nothing at a thrift store.
Some of the best finds are thrift stores are small appliances like coffee makers, blenders, and slow cookers. They are also an excellent source for dishes and silverware.
You can often find complete matching sets, but there is nothing wrong with non-matching dishes either.
Garage and Estate Sales
Garage and estate sales are excellent sources for furniture. People often have a garage sale before they move, so they have less stuff actually to move. If you prefer matching furniture like a bedroom or dining room set, estate sales are better than garage sales.
When someone holds an estate sale, they are often getting rid of everything in a house so you can buy complete rooms of furniture.
Craigslist is great for big, heavy items like couches and dressers. People want to sell their stuff, but they aren’t going to pay to ship it, so they offer items for local pick up.
If you have a truck, a friend with a truck or can rent a U-Haul, you can get these big-ticket items inexpensively.
Hear me out! Not any old dumpsters and for the kind of stuff we need, you probably don’t even have to get in the dumpster. If you have a college or university near you, skulk around the dumpsters at the end of each semester.
College kids throw away some fantastic stuff because they just can’t be bothered to cart it home. You can find small furniture items, decorative things, and if you check out the dumpsters at apartments that rent to students, maybe even bigger pieces of furniture.
Throw a Party
A housewarming party of course! For the price of a few pizzas and bottles of wine, you can get your friends and family to help you furnish your place!
Now, don’t get your hopes up too high. No one is probably going to gift you a brand new sofa from Restoration Hardware, but you might get a few sets of towels, some wine glasses, and some lovely scented candles!
Time it Right
Specific items go on sale at set time of year. If you can wait until the items you need go on sale, you can score some big savings. Bedding goes on sale in January, mattresses in February, furniture in June.
Consumer Reports has a good list of when various items are on sale.
You Don’t Need a Lot
Sure it’s nice to have multiple sets of some things like bedding and towels and to have seasonally themed things like kitchen towels and pot holders, but if you’re using autumn themed kitchen towels in August, you won’t be arrested.
You can live with just one or two sets of most of these types of things until you can afford to buy more. Having less stuff also means less stuff cluttering up your apartment which is probably not exactly palatial in size.
Don’t Be Cheap
Remember, being frugal doesn’t mean paying the least possible amount for absolutely everything, it means getting the most for the money you do spend.
If you buy the cheapest bath towels, you might notice that they wear out really quickly, especially if you don’t have multiple sets and are laundering what you do have frequently.
You can find recommendations for practically anything. You will be able to research what brands offer the best value for your money whether you are buying towels or a vacuum cleaner.
Some things are definitely worth paying a little more for. Because you spend eight or so hours a night in a bed and sleep is essential to your overall health and quality of life, a good mattress and box springs are worth spending more for.
The same goes for a sofa. Even an inexpensive one is a pretty hefty investment, and you want it to last a long time. Don’t cheap out on these items.
Buy Multi-Purpose Items
Because you don’t have unlimited funds and because your apartment is probably pretty small, you want to buy items that can do double duty.
For almost twenty years I have used a cedar chest I bought on eBay as a coffee table. It holds various decorative knickknacks and doubles as a storage space for my extra blankets.
Because I have hundreds of books with which I refuse to part, my television stand has shelves under it enclosed by glass doors so I can not only store some books in there but still see them too.
I bought that at Nadeau. I can’t recommend this store enough. Nothing they sell is mass produced, all of their pieces are handmade out of real wood, no cheap particle board that bends and warps and falls apart in a year or two.
They sell a variety of furniture at really affordable prices. They currently have 40 locations in the US so if there is one near you, definitely check them out.
If you need a bookcase, a dining table, or a nightstand, why not try to make it yourself?
It does require some tools and space to work in which we may not all have access to but if you have a friend or family member who does have those things, ask if they will let you use them.
Now, I don’t know the first thing about woodworking or building furniture, but even I managed to make myself a pretty impressive little nightstand by watching a Youtube video and using my dad’s tools and workshop.
Believe me; if I can do it, anyone can do it because I am not the handy type. But man, after I did it, I was pretty sure I could perform successful brain surgery if I watched a Youtube tutorial on it.
If you don’t have access to tools or a workshop, you can still do some pretty impressive transformations on old furniture with some sewing, refinishing, and painting skills.
Live in It
Once you have the basics, take your time collecting everything else. Partly because you can’t afford to buy it all at once but also because you need a little time. Taking your time allows you to settle in and see what you really need and want in your home.
You might have thought you wanted a dining room table that seats eight because you were going to be throwing dinner parties at least once a month.
But as it turns out, you don’t like cooking that much. Or you are working too many hours to have the energy to pull off a dinner party. Or all your friends graduated and moved away, and you don’t have any new ones just yet.
So you didn’t really need an eight-person dining room table. A table that seats four is big enough. But you only found that out by spending time living in your space. Take some time to settle in.
You’ll Find Something Better
Back to my television stand. It was one of my essentials because you can’t really comfortably watch a flat screen while it’s sitting on the floor and I needed additional book storage.
I looked and looked, and all I could find in my price range was cheap, ugly pressboard stands that had that weird fake wood finish that you can actually peel off.
I hated them, but I almost bought one because well, I needed one and it was better than nothing. But the frugal part of me (also probably the stubborn part) just couldn’t bring myself to spend money on something so ugly.
So I waited and by pure chance, happened upon Nadeau. I saw the perfect television stand and made my mom stand there and guard it until I came back with an employee so no one would grab it out from under me.
If I had bought the ugly stand I would probably still have bought the nicer one but I would have spent more money than I could afford and I would be stuck with figuring out how to dispose of a large piece of furniture in a new city. So lesson learned, don’t settle!
What Makes a Place Home
It’s not the big, expensive items that make a place home, it’s the small things, and they don’t have to cost a lot. Things like candles, a small vase of wildflowers, lots and lots of books, personal photos, some kitschy throw pillows.
All those things can go a long way towards making your new apartment feel well loved and lived in.
A Big Step
Moving into your first apartment is a big step to helping you feel like a bonafide adult. But it’s only part of the process.
Being an adult also means learning to be patient, to delay gratification, to make thoughtful choices with your money, and learning how to live within your means.
Your first apartment is where you will learn and apply a lot of those behaviors. You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot, spending more than you can afford in the rush of excitement that comes with moving into your own place.
Don’t put yourself in a financial hole before you even really get started in your new life. You have plenty of time to furnish your new home.
Ask around, shop around, save up for the things you can’t afford right away. This is your home; you can’t just let any old thing have a place in it. When you see the right thing, you will know it. And that’s how you make a house a home, the frugal way!