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.
Don’t feel pressured to fill the home with furniture and decorations right away. Going overboard and overspending can put a dent in your budget. You’ll want to choose your battles strategically and determine where to invest and when low-cost alternatives make the most sense.
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.
Your first calls should be to friends, family members and friends of family members. They may have furniture that they want to get rid of and simply haven’t had the time or energy to do so.
If you’d rather not go the hand-me-down route, some marketplace websites have free sections. The nonprofit Freecycle Network™ hosts message boards where you can find local people giving away their unwanted belongings. Particularly if you live near a university, you could find lots of great deals around the end of a term.
You can also find used furniture from a variety of places. Consignment stores, flea markets, estate and garage sales and buy-sell-trade social media groups may be filled with high-quality pieces. There are even startups creating online marketplaces specifically for furniture, although they’re generally limited to large cities.
Second-hand furniture also presents an opportunity. You can sand and paint or stain solid-wood furniture, giving it a new life and ensuring it’ll match the room. Couches or chairs can be made to fit your personal style with a new slipcover.
Before buying furniture, you may want to use online floor plan software to create a mockup of your home. You can see what fits where and get a sense for how adding something to a room will affect the space.
Get your kitchen in order. Many kitchen essentials, such as silverware, can also be found for cheap at second-hand stores. However, if you’re looking for a matching set you might have a better chance at a garage or estate sale.
When buying new, you can save money by shopping at discount stores and online clearance sites that specialize in offering name-brand products for reduced prices.
Avid cooks wanting to invest in a few kitchen appliances might consider waiting until large seasonal sales to make these purchase. 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 come with overhead lighting, a few standing lamps and reading lights can set a much nicer mood. The good news is lamps often sit in the corner and won’t necessarily show a lot of wear and tear. In other words, this is another great buy-used opportunity. You may want to start with a very basic placeholder while continuing your search for a low-priced replacement.
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 texture test works for towels as its often a matter of personal preference.
Purchasing a new mattress can take a big chunk of your budget. At retail shops, some people put as much effort into negotiating the sale price as they would when buying a used car – and for the most expensive mattresses the same amount of money could be on the line. 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.
Often you can’t paint a wall if you’re renting. Even when you can, you may have to repaint it before moving or lose part of your security deposit. Decide whether it’s worth the time and money, as an accent wall in your kitchen or bedroom could be a lot of fun.
Go with 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 order paper, canvas or metal prints of your favorite photographs.
Windows can also get a cover-up treatment. Rather than spending a lot of money on brand new blinds, you can opt for curtains that add color or a pattern to your room. Whether they’re closed and keeping the light out or open and framing your window, it’s a great opportunity to personalize a 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.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney
This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It’s always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.