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Cheap ways to furnish your first place

Setting up your own apartment? Here's how to do it without a big hit to your bank account.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 6, 2012 7:51PM

Image: Moving boxes (© Michael Hitoshi/Getty Images/Getty Images)Sonya Ann, who blogs at A Mom, Money and More, is helping her college-age daughter collect items for her first apartment. Thus far they've gotten cookware, dishes, loads of cleaning supplies, flatware, a couple of lamps, a comfortable chair and a garbage can.

Total expenditure: less than $165.

How'd they get all that so cheaply?

Simple: They got some of it for free, and they paid less than retail for the rest of it.

"With a little ingenuity, time and creativity, you could furnish an apartment for $200," the blogger says.

She posted a list of basic apartment needs, which recent grads and others will find helpful.

Use that list and the following tactics to make your place look the way you want, but on a budget.

If it's free, it's for thee

Start by shopping in other people's houses. Get Grandma’s former kitchen table out of the garage. Your godmother's old easy chair will take on new life with a simple homemade slipcover.


"Most people are more than happy to de-junk for a good cause," Sonya Ann says. Put the word out among relatives, friends and co-workers. Somebody, somewhere has a frying pan or a set of sheets that's not being used. (Post continues after video.)

I've seen lovely furniture and housewares on The Freecycle Network. The "free" section of Craigslist is worth a shot as well.

Or shop at "curb mart," choosing furniture people leave on sidewalks or street corners. Given the recent surge in bedbug infestations, inspect upholstered furniture carefully.

If you go to yard sales, look for the "free" box. Yes, it's where Happy Meal toys go to die. But I've also found things like food storage containers, a small saucepan and a cast-iron skillet.

Cheap thrills

Speaking of yard sales: Sonya Ann bought Anna a potato masher, clothes-drying rack and  bagless vacuum cleaner for $3.50. Yes, a full-sized vacuum. Summer is prime yard/rummage sale season, so start shopping.

Anna spent just under $46 at two thrift stores. Your mileage may vary, since some stores are great and others are disappointing. Two tips: Ask about sales and be clear on the return policy.

About $75 went for cleaning supplies and housewares at a dollar store. Sonya Ann acknowledges that some of those items would have been cheaper at yard sales, but "it was nice just to pick up matching things."

Another hit-and-miss proposition: bargain websites such as Dealnews and My Bargain Buddy, which offer linens, housewares and furniture along with electronics and fashions.

What does an apartment need?

Sonya Ann's list should be amended to suit your personality. For example, some people will never use kitchen shears or a rolling pin. I do suggest some kind of list, though. Otherwise your first casserole might finish baking just as you realize you have no oven mitts.

If you've never lived on your own you'll be surprised how many things are needed to set up housekeeping. This is especially true of anyone raised by helicopter parents who made sure their kids' feet never touched the ground.

Andrea from So Over Debt recently wrote about a former co-worker who called the landlord to replace the light bulb in the fridge. The man was shocked when his colleagues laughed at the story.


"You mean I'm supposed to know how to do stuff like that?" he asked. "Doesn't that defeat the purpose of renting?"

For some young grads, living independently will be a series of discoveries. One of the first (and best) is how satisfying it feels to set up your own place, even if you have to share it with multiple roommates. You get to choose the color of those oven mitts, and to put up the posters or prints of your choosing. Before you move in, though, I'd suggest you learn to change a light bulb.

More on MSN Money:

Jun 7, 2012 9:00PM

Estate sales in older neighborhoods yield people cleaning out almost everything...go the last day for the best deals and make an offer.


While the wealthier neighborhood estate sales have the crowds clammering for good deals on all the antiques and collectibles, the older/cheaper neighborhoods are deserted pricing the basics to move quick.

Jun 11, 2012 2:00PM
I buy alot of items at yard sales and thrift shops.  I always clean and disinfect them before bringing them in my apartment.  Craigslist is a great place to buy items and you can always negotiate the price.  I dont mind obtaining items from the curb; especially at the local college when school lets out.  If I can't use it, I call friends with college age children who can.  I am proud that I never pay retail for ANYTHING!  I outfitted my sons apartment for around $500 and that included everything he needed. 
Jun 8, 2012 8:54AM
I cannot tell you HOW many Freecyle groups wouldn't accept my membership, and it has happend with friends too.  It's like they want to keep their little free thing going amongst friends and exclude outsiders. 
Jun 7, 2012 8:55PM
More power to those who can pick up an item at a garage sale or second-hand store and not wonder about all of the awful places it's been and the sickening things it's done before you became the latest owner. I just can't do it.....
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.