4 Rules for Buying First Apartment Furniture

Furnishing your first apartment is a big budget item and it’s easy to make costly mistakes if you don’t plan carefully before heading to the store. If you follow these four rules, you can save big hassles and lot of money later on.

1. Decide if you plan to keep the furniture for one year or for the long haul

Many people opt to take the low-cost route (IKEA, Target, etc.) when furnishing their first apartment, knowing that it may not pay to take the furniture along in their next move. But if you’re looking for a little stability in your new set-up, you may want to invest in — or “appropriate” from willing relatives — at least a couple of pieces of furniture that don’t require assembly.

If you decide to shell out on the good stuff, keep in mind you’ll have three choices next time you move:

  • Take the furniture with you, which could be very expensive if the move is long-distance
  • Sell it, which takes time and energy to do and inevitably brings in only a fraction of what it cost
  • Donate it to friends, neighbors, or charity — which can be surprisingly difficult and thankless, since people are apt to see through your magnanimity to the hassle behind dealing with the furniture
  • Haul it to the curb and leave it to the elements, the sanitation department or another first time renter, whichever comes first.

2. Measure twice, buy once!

Before buying anything bigger than a breadbox, measure doorways, hallways, stairs, and elevators that your purchase has to pass through on the way to your new apartment. Draft an accurate floor plan to make sure that whatever you buy can squeeze into the space you intend to place it.  And if your geometry skills aren’t up to Euclid’s standards, familiarize yourself with the furniture store’s return policy before signing on the dotted line. Pay especially close attention to re-stocking fees that can come to bite you even if the place offers money back returns.

Pro tip: Take especially careful measurements of any kinks or turns in your staircase if you have to haul large pieces of furniture up narrow stairways so common in older buildings.

3. It’s OK to take it slowly

You finally have a place to call your own, but after paying the first month’s rent and security deposit your funds are too tapped out to even cover a futon sofa for the living room. Meanwhile, your new job is 24/7 and you have no time to shop around for bargains. It is no shame to live with bare essentials (bed, maybe couple of chairs and a table) until you have some more time and money. Even your parents did not furnish that house where you grew up overnight.

4. Make a budget and stick to it

Whatever your budget, there is usually a way to find what you need, if you have little patience and creativity. Just keep in mind it can get very tempting to overspend when you can buy furniture on an installment plan or put it on your credit card.

Budget $0-250

When your budget is minimal, don’t be ashamed to get as much as you can for free. If you have relatives living in the city where you are moving, you are in luck. If your family really loves you, someone may even deliver the stuff to your new place just to get rid of it, but the rule of thumb with free furniture is that you usually have to pick it up, which requires access to a car or van.

If you have no local connections, you might be able to scavenge enough usable furniture from the street by checking out the more posh neighborhoods the night before the garbage truck comes by. Street finds are okay when it comes to furniture you can clean and disinfect thoroughly, but you should avoid anything with upholstery or cushions that could harbor small living things, like bed bugs.

Craigslist, EBay, local second-hand stores, and the Salvation Army are other places where you can get really low-priced finds, but they require some sort of transportation, or at least a few friends willing to lug stuff across town.

Budget $250-500

Now, in addition to the cast-offs and street finds, you can add stores like IKEA, Target and Walmart  to your list. Always check online for coupons and special offers before heading to the store.

Pro tip: If you need a desk, a chair, or a couple of bookcases but don’t have a car, check out Staples and Office Depot. They offer next-day free delivery on purchases over $50.

Budget $500-1000

Now you’ll have enough room in the budget to buy a decent mattress and still have money left over for a few other pieces. In addition to the stores mentioned before, also check out Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie for furniture with a little more personality.

Pro tip: Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie have some great sales at the end of each season — we’re talking $10 curtains and rugs — on anything left over, and the floor models can usually be purchased at a sharply reduced price.

Budget $1,000-2,500

At this level you can actually have enough furniture that your guests won’t have to sit on the floor. You can furnish both your living room and your bedroom. Most of your new furniture may still require some assembly, but you can start checking out sales at major department stores. And don’t forget Craigslist — unless you’re too snobby for that now, you big spender!

Budget over $2,500

You are now getting into a territory where your furniture arrives fully assembled, possibly smelling of real wood. You are ready to check out stores like Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, or Restoration Hardware.

Good luck! Let us know what tricks you found useful to get your first apartment furnished.

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