The Keys to Outfitting Your First Apartment on a Budget

June 21, 2024

Moving into a place of your own for the first time is a huge step. I remember my first post-college apartment move. It was nothing special, but it was mine. It came with a few new challenges and responsibilities and all sorts of opportunities. For the first time, I was able to decide how to decorate an entire living area and turn a blank slate into a home.

Here's some advice for finding what you'll need on a budget and a few inexpensive ideas to make otherwise unimaginative rooms come to life.

Look for hand-me-down and used furniture. Furniture – tables, chairs, bookshelves etc. – often takes up the most space and can be the biggest drain on your budget. You could start by mapping out your home using online floor plan software and determining what might fit where.

When it comes to finding furniture, friends, family members and friends of family members may have something they want to get rid of and simply haven't had the time or energy to do so. Also consider marketplace websites' free sections and the nonprofit Freecycle Network™, which hosts message boards where you can find local people giving away their unwanted belongings.

To find used furniture that's for sale, head to consignment stores, garage and buy-sell-trade social media groups. There are even startups creating online marketplaces specifically for furniture, although they're generally limited to large cities.

Get your kitchen in order. Many kitchen essentials, such as silverware, can also be found for cheap at second-hand stores. But if you're looking for something new, you can save money by shopping at discount stores and online clearance sites.

Avid cooks who want to invest in a few kitchen appliances might consider waiting for large seasonal sales. For instance, standing mixers, slow cookers and other small appliances often go on sale every Black Friday.

Brighten up the place. While your apartment may have overhead lighting, a few standing lamps can set a much nicer mood. The good news is lamps often stay in the corner and won't necessarily show a lot of wear and tear. In other words, this is another great buy-used opportunity.

Don't shop second-hand for everything. There are a few things you don't want to buy used: towels and bedding. Add mattresses to that list as well if you'll be looking for a new one.

When it comes to sheets, ultra-high thread counts could be more of a marketing gimmick than an indicator of quality. Try to focus on how the fabric feels, find a weave that you like and you might be pleasantly surprised by the low-cost options at big box retailers. The same test works for towels.

Purchasing a new mattress can take a big chunk of your budget. Consider one of the new online mattress retailers that sell high-quality goods for less. Buying a mattress without testing it first may seem weird, but many offer free returns within the first few months.

Add a few personal touches. You've got the necessities covered, but how do you turn a generic apartment into a place that feels like home? Think walls, windows and floors.

Rather than painting, consider a cheaper (and easier) route by opting for removable wall decals or wallpaper. There are all sorts of shapes, designs, prints and even adhesive chalkboards for under $20. You could also decorate with paper, canvas or metal prints of your favorite photographs. Windows can get a cover-up treatment as well, but rather than spending a lot of money on brand new blinds you can get curtains that add color or a pattern to your room.

An area rug can help tie a room together, but they can also be prohibitively expensive. This is another item that you might not want to buy used unless you know the seller. Luckily, home good stores and some big box retailers usually have at least a few inexpensive options.

Congratulations on the move. Outfitting a new apartment doesn't happen overnight. Especially if this is the first time you get to pick what to buy, it can take time to find your style and items to match. However, even with a limited budget, there's a lot you can do to make a space your own.

by Nathaniel Sillin