Cutting costs without sacrificing style

Furnishing Your First Apartment on a Small Budget

by Rebecca Rogge


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When I signed the lease on my first apartment, the search, the fees, and the security deposit overwhelmed me. When I walked in the door to an empty home, I was rendered totally hopeless by the realization that I would somehow have to furnish it on the remainder of my limited finances. I cringed, thinking of my friends' sparse, mismatched apartments and resolved that somehow I would escape settling into first-apartment ignominy. With a few adventures and mistakes along the way, I now have a beautifully furnished and decorated apartment for about $300. Along the way, I picked up a few tips that helped me cut down on costs without sacrificing style.

Be Patient

The first thing to do is realize that your first apartment won't be furnished overnight. While it may be tempting to buy everything in one quick trip to Target, that will be expensive. Patience and ingenuity will pay off in the long run, if you are willing to wait for the funds (and best deals) to come along. You may need to make numerous trips from the consignment store to Wal-Mart to your parents' basement and back to the consignment store. You may need to spend multiple Saturday mornings out roaming the streets for garage sales. Try to focus on the journey, not the destination. Instead of being irritated every time you see your mattress on the floor or eat dinner at your coffee table, enjoy your adventure as you hunt for a piece that is both affordable and fabulous.

Be Picky

It doesn't matter if it's ridiculously cheap or even free; if it's uncomfortable, unstable, or just plain ugly, think twice before bringing it to your first apartment. Sometimes, when you just can't take your empty nest any longer, you may be tempted to bring home the couch with the weird spring that pokes you in just the wrong place every time you sit in it or the orange chair your mom swears is "well constructed." If it hurts your back, leave it. If it hurts your eyes, leave it. The only exception to these rules is if you truly need something (say, if your clothes are getting ruined from being on the floor), and you promise yourself to replace it just as soon as a better piece comes along. Otherwise, be wary of allowing the wrong piece to come into your home and then forgetting to replace it because you're used to seeing it there.

Be Positive

That being said, the old adage, "Beggars can't be choosers," still applies. If you have a hankering for a sleek, painfully-priced designer chair for your first apartment, keep your eye out for a thrift-store version featuring similar modernist lines. If you're craving a colorful dresser but are underwhelmed by plain wood Salvation Army versions, buy a can of aqua or orange paint and make a project out of it. Try to see beyond the superficial and look for pieces with a sturdy build and "you" styling that can be made-over to mimic your personal preferences. (When assessing not-yet-ideal furniture, make sure that it is functional or can be fixed with minimal effort; in most cases, you shouldn't have to pay more to revamp an item than you purchased it for.)

Let your style and personality rule in your first apartment. Don't be afraid to try the unique and different. It's your place. You're the only one you really have to please!

Take the Next Step:

  • Want more decorating ideas for your first pad? Consider some of these affordably stylish decorating and furnishing tips.
  • Looking for simple, practical, hands-on home decorating help? If so, then Love Your Home is the perfect ebook for you!
  • Whether you're a recent high school or college graduate, we have the answers to many questions of interest to 20 Somethings just starting out.

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