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FURNISHING YOUR APARTMENT ON A BUDGET – A handy guide for the thrifty renter

Posted September 22nd, 2009
by RentersInsurance.org Staff (no comments)

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We’re in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  You’ve heard practically every anchor on every news show tell you that ad nauseum.  Sometimes it feels like that news is a world away and sometimes it feels ever so close to home.

The fact that America is going broke doesn’t change the facts of your life.  And if you’re a renter then chances are you are now, or have before, been faced with furnishing your apartment on a budget.   If you’re bank account is more theory than actuality and your wallet is thin well then you’re well aware how difficult it can be to furnish your apartment.  Having a roof over your head at night really isn’t much solace when there’s nothing to sit on inside of that apartment.

We’ve crafted this article as a nice resource for the underpaid and underfurnished.  Consider it to be a guide to help you furnish your apartment on a shoestring budget.  I hope that you’ll find the tips helpful and the links great ways to find yourself some viable solutions for the thrifty renter.

Yard Sale Chair

A great example of a perfect yard sale purchse.

YARD/GARAGE SALES:
As the old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  Sometimes this can be true.   Finding a useful piece of furniture at a garage sale can be an amazing coup for the enterprising renter.  From beds to armoires to dishes and kitchen equipment, people are always trying to make a dollar or two of the household items that they are no longer using.  During the warmer months from Spring to early Fall, checking your neighborhood for garage sale signs can be a wonderful way to help you find furniture for your pad.  If you’re getting ready to go garage saling’, check out some tips from the Yard Sale Queen.  She’s got some great nuggets of wisdom for when you make your trip.

In addition to checking out the lightpoles and signs around your neighborhood, the larger yard sales will also advertise in your local paper.  Pick up the pre-weekend edition to plan your weekend out.  Your local paper’s website will also likely give information for Garage/Yard sales on the classified section of their site.

When you’re actually at the garage sale there are a couple of key things to remember when selecting furniture.  First and foremost, make sure that the furniture you’re looking to buy will fit.  There’s nothing worse than making plunking down $50 for a dining room table only to realize an hour later that it doesn’t fit in your apartment.   If you’re truly interested in buying a big piece of furniture, make sure that you have the means to get it home.  Don’t have a pickup truck?  Make sure that your brother-in-law will let you Buy Viagra Online. No Prescrition Needed borrow his F150 for the weekend.   When you do find a piece that is affordable and you’re not really sure about it, try to envision it not as it is at the sale, but what you can make of it and how it will look in your place.  A few years back I found this odd little coffee table that a craftsman had made himself.  At first glance, it wasn’t really much.  But I saw it as it could be and purchased it.  With a couple of coats of primer and a nice paint to match my interior I had purchased a coffee table for $10 that lasted me nearly 5 years.  Understand that what you are buying is most likely sold “as is” and you should buy accordingly. If there is a chip in the glass on that coffee table, make sure that you can live with it.  Also know that whatever you are buying is probably been used and abused for a long time, only being sold now because the owner has made an acceptable replacement purchase.  That’s fine if you’re talking about a broken-in recliner, maybe not so fine if you’re talking about a 15 year old mattress (sidenote: eeewwwww!) Lastly, believe it or not there is “Garage Sale Etiquette” that you probably should adhere to.  Among the rules the one that is most often disregarded is “the early bird.”  Skilled Garage Sale-ers will show up before the posted time for the sale making certain to have access to ALL the items and getting the chance to get the best of the lot.  While it’s perfectly acceptable to show up at the opening time of the sale, getting there 20 minutes before hand and circling like a vulture is just bad form.

If you keep your eyes open and follow the rules, you might just find yourself with a handful of pieces of furniture for your apartment for less than it would cost you for an ottoman at a big store.

An exciting online shopping adventure.

An exciting online shopping adventure.

EBAY:
Another great place to make the ‘gently used’ purchased.  In addition to having a full stock of retail furniture, Ebay’s Furniture Category is a great place to buy consignment furniture.  There  are a couple of benefits of Ebay over garage sales; it’s virtual meaning you never have to leave the comfort of your furniture-less apartment, and it is far more comprehensive with a great variety of items meaning you’re more likely to find the piece the you’re looking for.   If you’ve ever used EBay before, you know how easy it is to shop.  You can select the category you want (ie. bedroom sets or tables) and take a look at the inventory.  What’s really nice (especially within the scope of this article) is that you can sort by price.   If you don’t have much to spend (why else would you be reading this far into the article) then start with the cheapest and work your way up.

There are drawbacks to using EBay as well.  Being an Auction Based website, you won’t know the final selling price until after the auction is over.  You can control your bids and you won’t purchase something for more than you’re willing to pay (save for a rouge mouseclick) but you won’t have the benefit of bardering with a garage sale owner to get a lamp for $.25.  And while being virtual is nice when you want to find a coffee table in your boxers but you also have to deal with making a purchase without having the benefit of seeing the furniture up close and personal.  There’s no tactile nature to your purchase.  You have to take it on the value of the photo.  Make sure to check the “sellers rating” and look at past reviews.  If everything looks good with the seller than chances are the items will match the description and photos.   The final drawback is that you’ll miss the instant satisfaction that you get with a yard sale purchase.  That kind of cocked smile as you drive away with a worn-in leather couch in the truck bed.  Instead, you’ll have to e-mail back and forth with the seller and await the delivery of the item.  But what you miss in real time gratification you will get paid back in giddiness as you anxiously await the doorbell signifying the FedEx man has brought you your Formica end tables!

The bottom line is that you’re not going to get away with the same kind of steal that you’d get at a yard sale, but you’ll make out far better than you would if you were to do a run to an Ethan Allen on a Saturday afternoon (save that trip for when you own a home and you and your spouse have turned a Saturday afternoon buying things for your house into an exciting event!)

CHAIN STORES (TARGET, WAL-MART, etc.)
Again, here you’re faced with making a sticker value retail purchase.  In this instance the idea of buying on a budget is a matter of perception.  To a 25 year old professional, the idea of buying a computer desk at Target might sound like a good deal.  To a 19 year old student in their first apartment, spending $100 for an T.V. stand at Wal-Mart might be a daunting proposition.

Buying furniture is expensive.  Outside of your home and car, furniture and electronics represents some of the biggest purchases the average consumer can make.  If you’re still in an apartment then chances are that a furniture purchase might be the biggest purchase you’ve yet to make.  In this regard, shopping at a large value based retailer like the ones listed above might be the most reasonable and achievable way to furnish your apartment on a budget.

A great benefit of making a furniture purchase from a Target’esque store is that it takes be best of the above tips.  It CAN be a virtual purchase requiring nothing more than a couple of minutes on a website and a credit card, or it can be an actual real world purchase where you can see and touch your furniture purchase.  I know that I’m missing some of the retail outlets here but I wanted to discuss these two because they’re the biggest and they have slightly different outlooks and inventories.

WAL-MARTWal-Mart

Consider it the muse for this article, Wal-Mart is THE place to furnish your apartment on a budget.  It leverages its goliath distribution and marketing to bring you the very lowest prices on practically everything and most notably furniture.  Wal-Mart.com’s Funiture store is a veritable smorgus borg of inexpensive (see: cheap) furniture.  Chairs, futons, beds, desks… you name it, you can find it here and at a lower price than virtually anywhere else.  As far as price is concerned it is unbeatable.  Where else can you find a $39.00 desk?  The online division has more selections and actually offers viable couches and beds.  In-store you’re going to find a more sparse selection but you can certainly find the essentials.  They have gone a long way in regards to design and aesthetic but make no mistake about it, this is still cheap furniture.  A lot of what you will purchase is made of “pressboard,” which is a mock wood made of compressed wood particles.  This is the kind of stuff that is great for a while but will ultimately begin to sag, bend and eventually break.  It’s not going to last you forever but it certainly is affordable.

TARGET Target

If Wal-Mart is the cheap shopper’s choice then Target would certainly be the trendy option.  Target furniture is the utter definition of ‘shabby-chic’.  While still made of similar quality, Target’s furniture options tend to have a more modern look and feel and tend to be more design friendly in appearance.  Like Wal-Mart, Target’s Online Furniture shop has far more selections that the in-store selection.  The costs, as compared to Wal-Mart, are slightly elevated but are comparative to the subsequent increase in quality and appeal.  But if you compare Target’s furniture to the larger retailers (Allens, Thomasville and Ethan Allen) you’ll see that the looks are similar but the costs are not.  Target is a great option for those who are budget conscious but want to still have a tasteful look.

MAKE A LIST OF WHAT YOU NEED (AND PRIORITIZE IT)
I remember one of the first times I went with a friend of mine to his buddies apartment.  I was 18 at the time and barely had a dime to my name.  When we went inside of his apartment I was floored by all the stuff that he had.  Of course it was furnished, but he had stuff… lots of stuff.  Stuff on the walls, stuff on the tables, just lots and lots of stuff.  I wondered how he could afford it all.  Looking back now I realize that he was older than we were and was probably about 30 (wow, it’s sad to admit that 30 seemed older at one point.)  I realize now that having stuff comes with age.  You amass things as you live, collecting knick knacks along the way.  I look at my house now and realize that it’s completely full of stuff, so much so that I don’ t have a place for it all.  As I’ve grown so too has my collection of stuff.

It’s impossible to get everything you want, ESPECIALLY when you are on a budget.  The only way to do it is to have a clear understanding of what you need and get those things first.  When you’re trying to furnish and empty apartment try getting the big stuff first.  While you may want that nice magazine holder for the bathroom it’s probably not nearly as important as having a toothbrush holder!  Here’s a small list of things (somewhat in order) that you should get first and foremost.

used couch

"Gently Used" is kind of a stretch.

BED:   Makes sense right?  Having somewhere to sleep is or should be the most important piece of furniture in an apartment.  In my first apartment I thought I could get by with a $5 blanket and a pillow.  That was a mistake.  Get yourself a bed.  Buy a used bed if you can, but try to get yourself a new mattress.  If you need to buy the cheapest mattress that they sell then so be it.  But if you can afford it, try to go one or two levels up as the marked difference in comfort is worth a slight increase in price.  You’re also going to need a nice bedset (comforter, sheets, pillow) to go on the bed.  Like the mattress, this is probably something that you’re going to want to buy new. In an absolute budget pinch, get some bare bones essentials of sheets, pillow cases and a blanket.

SOFA:   If you have an apartment with nothing more than a bed then you’re going to have trouble when company comes over (at least when it’s more than one guest).  A sofa gives you and your guests a place to relax at your apartment.  As this is one of the ‘big ticket’ items, you’re probably going to want to get it second hand if you’re on a budget.  In addition to the places listed above, check the classified section of your local paper, your local classified magazine, or websites such as Craigslist.org to find a used sofa for sale close to you.

KITCHEN EQUIPMENT:  Depending on the size of your apartment, this may include a small table and chairs.  Start with dishes and silverware and work your way forward.  Lots of retailers offer very budget friendly collections that can allow you to get cooking and eating for around $35.

TV/STAND:  Talk to your older friends and relatives.  Chances are someone you knows has an extra old TV that they’re willing to loan/give you.  And if they have a TV then they probably have an old stand.  “Repurposing” sturdy items such as plastic milk crates can work in a pinch.  As discussed earlier, Target and Wal-Mart offer inexpensive options for TV stands and the like.

Having the above items will get you started in your apartment.  From there you can work towards having other items such as a dining room table, end tables, a coffee table and stuff for the walls.

VERSATILE FURNITURE

Fashionable, functional, versitle... and totally awesome.

Fashionable, functional, versitle... and totally awesome.

Beanbag chairs aren’t just for College Freshman.  Sometimes you can find that cheap and versatile furniture that fits for your place.  As it is a matter of cost, why not get one piece that does 2 or 3 different things?

FUTONS: It’s a couch, no it’s a bed, no it’s a couch-bed.  The futon is the cornerstone of any no-frills apartment.  It can function as a couch during the day and can become a bed at night.  A must have for any time you plan of having guests “crash” at your place.

SLEEPER COUCHES: It’s like the updated (and pricer) version of the futon.  While stashed away this looks and acts exactly like a sofa.  Less conspicuous than a futon, most people don’t recognize a sleeper couch until the bed is pulled out.

BEAN BAG CHAIRS:  Alone, they are a wonderful choice for very cheap seating.  Put two or three of them together and you have buy viagra today an instant ‘ghetto-bed’.  Not a great option for when the relatives come to stay but perfect for a friend to sleep at 3 AM while still drunk on Absolut and Cranberry.

CHAIR BED:  The modern futon has given birth to the chair bed.  Usually made of foam, these items look like an oversized recliner.  They pull apart to make a makeshift bed. Ingenious.

LINKS
Here are some links for you, the renter, to help you furnish your apartment and to give you tips and tricks in general.

TARGET.com – Target’s Website
WAL-MART.com – Wal-Mart’s Website
CRAIGSLIST.org – Online Classifeds
BEANBAGCHAIROUTLET.com – Online Bean Bag Chair Retailer
CHAIRBED – Overstock’s Chair Bed
EHOW – Article on how to Furnish an Apartment Inexpensively
YARDSALEQUEEN – Referenced in this article, check her out if you’re gonna’ yard sale.
IKEA – The Swede’s know how to make good, modern, cheap furniture.
APARTMENTS.COM – A designers guide to furnishing your apartment.

So there you have it.  A guide to furnishing your apartment on a budget.  Leave a comment or drop us a line at news@rentersinsurance.org to let us know if we’ve helped you or how we can help you in the future.

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