How to furnish your first apartment on a budget

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Moving into your very first apartment is exciting. You think about what kind of furniture you’re going to get, dream of what you’ll shop for at IKEA and put adorable throw blankets and pillows on your wish list on Amazon.

Yet when it comes to actually budgeting for all the necessary things for your new place, everything suddenly starts to look so impossibly expensive. Especially considering that when you’re moving into your first apartment, you’re probably not making enough money to spend thousands of dollars in a matter of weeks (not yet—you’ve got to think positively, my friend!).

It’s okay, don’t freak out. I’ve been there—moreover, I’ve been there more than once. Let me tell you all about furnishing your apartment from ground zero and buying all the things it needs without going broke.

When I moved states, I didn’t bring any furniture—or anything for my new home for that matter. It took me over six months to get my apartment to where it is now, and it’s finally almost perfect.

And I’m going to tell you exactly how I did it.

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Ask friends and family

If you can avoid spending money at this point, do it. You can start buying furniture you like and other things later, gradually, without putting yourself in debt—and your budget in a state of perpetual panic.

One way to get things for free is asking your friends and family members if there’s anything that’s just sitting around their home that they could give you. We all horde things unconsciously, and chances are, you’ll be able to score quite a few items.

If you don’t live too far from your family, see if they won’t mind lending you some of those things that have been gathering dust in their garage for about a decade. And maybe give you that old, weird-looking side table they’ve been thinking about donating anyway.

Even if you don’t get any furniture pieces that way, every little thing counts. Small purchases add up quickly.

When I was buying all the necessities for my kitchen, from cutlery to glasses to a toaster, I stuck to low-cost options on Amazon and still ended up spending $500. Yes, I know. Trust me, I was shocked too. So, when my old landlady gave me a little chest of drawers and a couple of pans (she’s the best), and my former co-worker donated a dinnerware set and some pots to me. I was extremely excited.

All I had to do was ask, and I highly recommend you do the same before you go and spend your hard-earned money.

Get a 0 percent APR credit card

You reached out to all of your relatives and friends, but your new apartment still looks empty and sad. It looks like you’re going to have to spend some of your money after all.

Don’t panic. First, let’s try and leave your debit card alone—it’s rarely a good idea to subject your checking account balance to a significant drop. Now is the time to get a 0 percent APR credit card.

I can tell you’re looking at me weird. Am I really advising you to get into credit card debt? This sounds crazy and outright terrifying. But hear me out: Many good credit cards give you a period where you don’t accrue any interest, some up to 20 months.

Set a realistic budget for your apartment expenses (err on the side of caution) based on how many months of zero interest the card offers, get everything you need and maybe even score some nice rewards and savings.

Set a realistic budget for your apartment expenses based on how many months of zero interest the card offers, get everything you need and maybe even score some nice rewards and savings.

For example, when I was furnishing my apartment, I used the Discover it® Cash Back card that comes with 14 months of 0 percent APR (11.99 to 22.99 percent variable interest thereafter) and saved $325 after spending $1,500. No interest paid.

The main thing here is to make absolutely sure to pay your credit card bill every month as much as you can and to not overspend. The sooner you get rid of the debt, the better for your financial (and mental) health.

On a side note: Many of the 0 percent APR cards target cardholders with good to excellent credit, but don’t let this discourage you. My credit is far from perfect—and a few points from good—and yet I was able to score a couple of nice rewards cards. Check CardMatch™ to see what you can get.

Avoid other types of debt

A 0 percent APR card is the only kind of debt I’ll recommend in this case. You don’t want to spend any money on interest.

Many stores offer to pay in installments, but this way of financing is not sustainable if you’re buying multiple items. Plus, the terms are often unclear, and while you’re thinking you’re avoiding interest, you may find that you’re actually paying so much in it, your other credit card debt would get jealous.

True story: When I financed my bed from a furniture outlet, I noticed my automatic monthly payments were too low for me to pay it off in six payments as I thought I was doing to avoid interest. That was what the salesperson and the financing language had led me to believe. As a result, I had to find the financing provider website (which wasn’t easy), create an account and make payments manually. Otherwise, I’d end up paying for my bed for two years and spend over $1,500 on an item that cost a bit over $600.

Many stores offer to pay in installments, but this way of financing is not sustainable if you’re buying multiple items. Plus, the terms are often unclear.

Shop used furniture

Now that you know the best way to secure the funds for your furniture shopping, it’s time to figure out where you’re going to shop to save you the most money.

My next piece of advice is to shop for used furniture. You won’t believe the bargains you can find. Try your local thrift stores and flea markets, and of course, don’t forget to check the infamous Craigslist. But remember to exercise caution when meeting with sellers, and never meet them by yourself.

There are other great websites and apps for selling and buying used items. You can find practically anything.

For instance, my friend was able to score a couple of adorable reupholstered accent chairs on OfferUp. Sometimes you can negotiate with the seller for them to deliver to you for a small fee or even for free if you can’t come to pick up your purchase.

If you’re an Amazon kind of person, it has an option to buy used as well. Just click “See Used & New” under the price of the item you’re looking at, and you’ll see a list of sellers that offer the same item used. You’ll be able to see its condition and description of any wear and imperfections.

Look for furniture deals

If the idea of used furniture in your home just doesn’t sit right with you, that’s understandable. You can still get excellent pieces at a decent price.

Check out furniture outlets that often carry great items at lower costs. Since that might still be pricey, make sure to also check big-box retailers like Target, Walmart and IKEA. They resell returns and pieces with slight imperfections, and this is one of the best ways to score a deal.

On Amazon, you’ll find returns in the “New & Used” section when available. They might take longer to be delivered, but the savings are worth the wait.

Finally, keep an eye out for sales. Amazon Prime Day is responsible for half the furniture I currently own. But even outside of big sale events, there’s always a chance to find a bargain if you’re looking hard enough.

Happy housewarming

Congratulations on your very first apartment, a very important milestone on your path to actual adulting! Filling out an absolutely empty space with furniture, décor and all the necessities can be a doozy, but there are multiple ways to do it the smart way and on a budget. I’m so excited for you. Enjoy and shop carefully!