Finding cheap furniture for your first apartment

Furnishing a First Apartment

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Tips and Tricks for a First Apartment

Finding Small Scale Furniture

Furnishing a First Apartment

I am seventeen years old and about to move out for the first time. The apartment that I am looking to rent is small and unfurnished except for a bed and refrigerator. Do you have any tips for finding and/or fixing cheap furniture?
Christina L. in North Carolina

Don't Forget to Ask Around

Here are the cheapest ways to furnish a new apartment:

  1. Ask around. You have family, friends and neighbors who may have useful bits and pieces filling up garages and spare rooms. They may have items that they would like to donate to such a worthy cause as yours. Maybe you could even barter a favor by mowing their lawns, washing their cars or some other help that you could offer in exchange for these items that are in their way and would be so useful to you. It's a win-win situation.
  2. Frequent yard sales. Look around and get a feel for what a good price is for the items you need. You might have to refinish or paint an item here or there, but paint is always the cheapest way to freshen up a room or a piece of furniture.
  3. Visit thrift stores. Check out the stores in your area that offer furniture and kitchenware and visit them often. Call and ask how often they put out the "new" items. Ask them if you could leave a list with them and if they would contact you about the items that you need if they happen to come in.
  4. Don't forget dollar stores. These are good places to find cheaper kitchen items, especially if you would like to be the first owner of your dishes. (Some folks are more squeamish about "used dishes" than others are.) Most of them have a good selection of not only dishes and silverware, but also all of the measuring cups and other necessary kitchen utensils that will get you started.

Amy T. in ABQ

The Price Is Always Right

See if there is a local "Freecycle" group on It is a swap site where people list either items wanted or items offered. Often, people who are moving offer free furniture or other household items. You may have to pick it up or arrange your own delivery, but the price is right!

Tips: Buying Furniture for Less

From Finding to Fixing

Finding "cheap" furniture can be fun:

  • Visit your local Salvation Army store.
  • Go to church garage sales.
  • Check out
  • Ask friends and family if they have or know of anyone wanting to unload something.

For artwork:

  • Calendars have great pictures and look professional when framed.
  • Books are also a good source for artwork.
  • Take your own pictures and blow them up at a copy center like Kinkos in color or black and white and frame them.

To give new life to a piece of furniture, the DIY website has great instructions at Also, Christopher Lowell has some great, easy-to-follow books that are available at your local library or on, such as You Can Do It! Small Spaces and Seven Layers of Design .

Do You Live Near a Military Town?

Check out pawnshops if you live in a military town. Also, check at storage rental places. Many soldiers rent space and then abandon their items if their tour is extended. You may be able to pick up some cheap items this way.

College Cast-Offs

When colleges close for the year, students leave a lot behind. Call the local colleges and ask if they have a free pick up day or a lawn sale day for student cast-offs.

One's Trash is Another's Treasure

Once a month, our community has bulk trash days and everyone can place large items they want to get rid of on the curb for pickup. Many times there are furniture pieces included with someone's bulk trash. Sometimes, the items are beyond repair, but most of the time the pieces just need gluing, a new shelf, or a new paint job. I saw an entire dining set once! It is nice to ask the person throwing away the item if it's okay if you take it, but 99 times out of 100, they're just glad to have it gone.
Kris W. in Gilbert, AZ

Custom Mirror Furniture

Use broken mirrors to turn a throwaway piece of furniture into a beautiful piece. Use your own compact mirrors or other unused mirrors or collect them from dollar stores or secondhand stores. While you're out looking for mirrors, pick up some cheap furniture. Don't worry if it's made of plastic or has an ugly finish as long as the shape is what you want.

If the mirrors are small enough, use them as is or use tile snips to break them into smaller pieces. Use glue made to adhere to mirror backing to attach them to your piece of furniture. Once the glue dries, spread grout over the surface (following instructions on grout package) and you'll end up with a gorgeous piece of furniture for minimal bucks.

The Beauty of Estate Sales

If I had known about estate sales back in college, it would have changed my life. Some folks need new, but I love eclectic even to this day. Things are often nicer at estate sales than at garage sales and most have furniture. Learn estate sale basics like being there early to be the first visitor. On the second day, things are often half price. Also, there is often a bidding that takes place on items over $100. Take a list with you of things that you need, needed sizes, etc. and don't forget a tape measure. You can negotiate. Get to an estate sale very early and pick the brains of the "experts." Most are there for specific items they resell on eBay, etc. and often they are not after "kitchen or houseware" items. If you need kitchen stuff or dishes, often there are a lot because "the kids" have those things already, so they sell Mom and Dad's stuff.

Estate sales offer great furniture at bargain prices

It's Okay to Ask

When I first moved into my own home, I let everybody I knew including those at work, church, school, etc. that if they had any furniture they were thinking of getting rid of, I was in the market for inexpensive furnishings.

Amazingly, I was given enough furniture that I had enough to furnish four to five apartments. I asked each person if they wanted it back if I already had a similar item. Most people said that they were just looking for a way to get rid of it and I could dispose of it any way I chose. They did not want any payment, just an empty space in their own home.

Some of the pieces were junk and I happily used the services of a friend's truck to haul them to the dump. Others were put on Craigslist and sold for enough to cover dump fees. Some pieces were perfect but not useful to me and brought enough money to purchase the items that were not donated. Since I had permission to sell anything I didn't need, I always disclosed the profit and offered to share with the donor. Very few accepted my offer and wished me well in my decorating.

Some pieces were shabby and only needed to be reupholstered. By taking a class at a community college in upholstery, I was able to redo some really fine hardwood framed sofas and chairs in leather for a fraction of the cost of having it done. I have a leather sofa that I had redone in 1976 that looks as new as the day it was recovered. In the 40 years of my marriage, we have purchased only a few pieces of furniture. The ones we kept and reupholstered are of a classic design and we enjoy them as much as we did when we acquired them. Pieces that were not right for us were either sold or passed on to other people who were, like us, furnishing a first home.

Society teaches us to give but not to ask for help when we are in need. Learn to swallow your pride and put out the word when you cannot afford something. You will probably be surprised at the generosity of others you don't even know. Check the Pennysaver flier for the free items and see if there is something you can use.
Vera M.

You might also like: 6 Cheap Home Organizing Ideas

Thinking "Outside the Box"

Don't dispose of your moving boxes. They make great end tables. Throw some colorful material, old curtains, etc. over them to match the other things in a room and they'll blend right in. Add a small pillow under the covering and you have a footstool (just don't sit on it!). Add a lightweight board between and atop four stacked boxes (two on each side) and you have a knick-knack shelf. You can cover the boxes any way you wish for a truly original look.

For more heavy-duty furniture like a desk, concrete blocks are so very versatile! A few of those with a nicely painted board over them make a nice desk. A couple of decorated soup cans or cheap disposable food containers will hold your supplies. Another cut-down box will make a nifty paper tray and a paper-sized box will serve as a file cabinet. Again, you can stack the stronger ones on a closet floor if you have no linen closet and use them for linens and out-of-season clothing.

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If you lack a dresser, buy an inexpensive hanging shoe/slipper holder with the little pockets for each shoe. Each pocket can hold underwear, socks, scarves and gloves. They'll be visible and instantly identifiable. These never become obsolete!

My visitors usually do not know that my end tables and footstools aren't the "real" thing. I moved into my very first house six months ago and I'm still using some box "furniture" and the hanging shoe holders!
R. Steele

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