Furnishing Your Apartment On $500 or Less

We’re often asked for advice about how much to budget for apartment essentials.  For instance, “What kinda apartment can I get for X amount per month?” Or, “If I have $1000 to move cross country. . . what then?” And, perhaps the most frequent . . .  “How can I furnish my apartment without totally breaking the bank?

We hear you. It’s always a bit of a challenge prioritizing basic necessities. So, we’re introducing a 3-part mini series designed to sort out what to do with $500, $1000 and $1500+.

We’ve selected 10 items we think you shouldn’t live without, as well as how much we’d estimate you spend on them – minimally. Let us know what you think  – and if there any must have items we missed!

1) Bed/Couch – $200

The first item on the list has to be a bed. Without a bed, you’re just going to feel like you’re couchsurfing and won’t feel settled.   But, yikes, a bed is probably the most expensive item in any first apartment. What can you do to avoid spending your entire budget?

First, do some futon research. My cousin actually preferred sleeping on his futon even though he had the cash to get a bed. They can be truly great, especially for those living in studios – as they will, of course, double as a couch.  Try to find one from a friend or check Craigslist – but beware bed bugs. Plenty of people need to sell furniture and are bed bug free – but just FYI.

You should also be able to find beds on Craigslist for $150 or less if you feel adventurous.  .but then you’ll need to spend money for a couch separately.

2) Dining Table, chairs – $100

Try finding larger items either at Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  You can find a total gem for very little $.  The trick here, though is time – as it will likely take longer as every item is unique.

You can also check out the organization FreeCycle – which is all about free-recycling. My old roommate gave away her TV and her desk through this network, and said she’d also had successful finding dining room chairs., so def give it a go: http://www.freecycle.org/

 3) Dresser/Hangers for Closet $50

Depending on the apartment you find, you may not need a dresser as you have enough closet space. But, if you do, dressers go for pretty cheap on Craigslist – and can also be found easily in resale shops. I got mine 4 years ago for $50 – an Ikea model already put together by a guy who was moving to Iowa. His loss – totally my gain.

As for hangers – see if your local dry cleaner would have any extra to spare. Or, see if you can bring some from home.

3) Silverware/Dishes $0-50

See if your family has any older dishes that they have stored in the basement. I was surprised that my parents had two sets from my childhood that they never got rid of. . . that I quickly claimed.

If you aren’t so lucky – Ikea has some pretty reasonably priced cutlery that doesn’t look worse for the wear after use.

4) Bedding $0

Additional items to see if you can borrow from your parents. While it’d be great to get a new comforter, that’s an item that can wait for the holiday gift list.

Especially if you’re coming from college, you should already have bedding that you can re-purpose. If not, try a site like overstock.com that often has bedding sales.

5) Shower Curtain $20

Water on the bathroom floor is slippery and not ideal. Spend the twenty bucks.

6) Trash cans $20

Find the cheapest ones you can for the moment. You can always upgrade later.

7) Laundry hamper $0

Again, just bring whatever one you stuck in the closet after the last time you lived in a dorm. Or, spring for a small basket that can serve as a laundry hamper for the moment.

8) Towels: $0

Another item you should already have access to. If not, go to Target and get some cheap towels.

9) Pots/Pans $40

If you must – you can get buy on one cheap frying pan and one cheap pot to boil water. You’ll replace when you can.

10) ETC Items $20-70

When you’re at IKEA getting dishes, see what else you’d want to spruce up your apt, mixing fun with necessity. They have all sorts of little fun items like $2 candles and $5 mirrors. Also, see if they have extension cords – which are always needed. Also, try to find a cheap lamp, as light’s always important.  Another item to consider are bedroom curtains, to keep out that always pesky morning light.

Hope you found the bare bones list above helpful. You’ll note that we didn’t include a TV (as streaming computer content can suffice) or some typical items like coffee tables/nightstands.  If you can spring for these items, by all means – you will enjoy them.

Also, we *did* assume that you would have a few items to start out with, which hopefully isn’t an unfair assumption. If that’s not true, try adding items for resale shops, stoop sales, and friends who may have extras!  Using Facebook, for instance, would be super easy to ask friends to contribute their slightly used furniture items to your new pad. Someone else’s castoffs could totally be your treasure!

Well . . .  or something like that.  Just remember – what you are trying to do is give yourself the basics that you can’t live without. What you’ll do in the next few months is improve on items one at a time until you actually LOVE everything you own. It’s a longer process – but it’ll work, and won’t break the bank.

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Author My First Apartment

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I've lived in apartments in 6 cities (including 2 foreign countries). Does that make me an expert? As of now, my ceiling isn't leaking and I don't have rodents (knock on wood) -- so I'm going to say yes . . . but ask me again tomorrow:) These days, I'm enjoying life Chicago style, but my years in Brooklyn are never far from my mind. P.S. By day I work at Cars.com, but these opinions are totally, 100% my own.

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Comments (21)

  1. Avatar Deanna

    For couches or chairs or anything else I would used Furnishare all the items are used but professionally washed and some items are super affordable on a budget so your safe from bed bugs and anything else!!

  2. Avatar a

    you can get a lot of items at the dollar store-shower curtain for a dollar instead of $20. You can even get a cute target shower curtain for less than $10. thrift stores and garage sales can get you non scratched plates, cookware and flatware for next to nothing. Pick things up as you find them, you can get by with one pot and plate in the beginning and then find the nice things over time. I’ve found all kind of high end household items and furniture for a steal just by being patient and bargaining. I’d rather get it barely used and clean it well to look like new than spend full price on something that can just be found much cheaper with a little effort.

  3. Avatar leslie

    dishes can be gotten at a thrift shop. $1 each. I like corelle because they are lightweight and sturdy. Plus you can mix and match if needed. Per person, you can start out with just 1 dinner plate, 1 bowl, and 1 lunch plate or smaller. Dollar tree has 15 oz glasses I am assuming $1 each and about 9 oz glasses too.
    walmart mainstay coffee cups are kinda cheap. 1 per person.
    walmart has cheap sets of silverwear.
    get a skillet at the same place, can get a 2 piece set.
    1 qt pot
    trash can: walmart or if you have a 5 gallon bucket you can use that at first.
    bed: if you are really broke you can start out with air mattress and get something better later.
    2 towels
    washcloths as needed.
    plastic outdoor chair and tv tray for setting or dinner
    might already have a tv or computer.
    put back 10% or more of your income for emergencies, upgrades, large purchases. yes all three of those. Though I would have at least 6-12 months rent saved up at all times. not saying you have to spend on rent but just a figure. If you can’t save 10% you need to figure something out so you can.

  4. Avatar Tariq Dulaihan

    what can I pay for my new bedroom, living room, bathroom, and the Garden.
    I want nice and simple things that make the room like the space in a bottle,
    alos is $1000 enough to get all those things from Ikea?

    • Admin Admin

      Hi Tariq,
      You could get everything from Ikea, but check back next week. We have a post scheduled for 9/22 on how to furnish a studio for $1,000 using many different stores and resources.

  5. Avatar sabrina

    Dollar store and dollar general,good will and thirft shops are fantastic ideas too! You can buy online in bulk too for plates and cups ecr!

  6. Avatar nle

    you can also get a pot/pan set at your local dollar general or family dollar for $20. Don’t forget Dollar Tree for other basic household items!!! Dollar tree is a lifesaver

  7. Avatar John

    Great advice. Just getting my first apartment during college, got a low budget, and this really put everything into perspective for me. Thanks so much!!

  8. Avatar Lisa

    Thank God for dollar stores! Shower curtain for at most 2 dollars, and plenty of dinnerware.

    • Sisko Sisko

      Thanks Lisa for a great suggestion. Here’s an article from NYTimes that shows how someone scored all the basics (except furniture) from dollar stores.

  9. Avatar Kelly

    Old Navy gives away hangers for free. Just go in and ask and you’ll walk you with as many as you want. I’ve been working there for 3 years and we throw away hundreds of hangers everyday

  10. Avatar Tina

    AWESOME ADVICE!!!! Even though this is not my first apartment, it’s been so long since I’ve had to start from scratch that I forgot the list of basic necessities. Fantastic advice and checklist…. this is coming from someone who’s been in a few homes & apts. Cheers!!!

    • Alissa Alissa

      Hi Tina! Thanks so much for your sweet note – we’re so glad you found it to be helpful!