How to Furnish an Apartment on a Budget | Jonan Everett

Art by Jonan Everett

How to Furnish an Apartment on a Budget

•  4 minute read

You don't want to sleep on the floor, but you only have so much money to spend on furniture. What do you do?

So you’ve done the (almost) impossible: After months of searching and viewing, you’ve found your ideal apartment. The only problem? It’s entirely empty.

My new housemates and I found ourselves in that very situation — an ideal four-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York, with a huge kitchen, bathroom, and living room. All four of us had just moved from another continent during a cold, dark December; none of us had jobs yet; and once the security deposit and broker fee was put down, we were left with little money to spend on our new abode.

So how do you furnish an apartment to your liking while restraining your inner interior designer? First, make a list of the things you really need. The fairy lights, plants, and other decorative stuff can come later. But where to buy the actual furniture? Here’s what we found:

How to Furnish an Apartment on a Budget | Photo courtesy of Emm Finnerty
Furnishing an apartment. Photo courtesy of Emma Finnerty.
  1. Local stores
  2. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist
  3. The Street
  4. Ikea
  5. Online
  6. Dollar stores

1. Local Stores

When it comes to larger items like mattresses and wardrobes, you want top quality at the best price possible. I was shocked at the cost of bed frames in large chain stores, so my housemates and I went to a local store in Astoria, our neighborhood in Queens, and asked for the best price if we were to buy four beds from it. Then we tried three more stores, getting a better price at each when we revealed what its competitors offered us. We ended up with three full-size mattresses for $200 each, with bed frames and free delivery.

One of my housemates, Taylor, 24, decided to order at Walmart. Though the bed turned out to be fine, she had to lug it from the neighbor’s house, up the stairs, and set it up herself.

“I scoured the internet for hours looking for the best-priced deal and eventually found a bed on Walmart for less than $200,” she says. “They delivered it to the wrong house, so I had to carry a massive box from my new neighbors. The bed took almost three hours to put together, but in the end I saved almost $40. Because money was supertight, I was glad I’d spent the time to read reviews and find the best quality for the best price possible.” Bottom line: Research, competitive analysis, and a little sweat labor saved the day.

Local stores gain from your business and from word-of-mouth. Neighborhood shops are always key places to start, but online stores give you an insight into the pricing landscape.

2. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist

With Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, you have to be careful about bedbugs and scammers. Even so, Marketplace is getting easier and easier to use and has a plethora of used furniture to peruse, not to mention that communicating with sellers is a breeze and organizing a meet-up is simple.

Craigslist requires making a lot more phone calls, but negotiating that way is a lot easier than through texting. Of course, exercising caution with the person you’re dealing with and making sure Facebook and Craigslist has a process in place to protect you, the buyer, is key. Know your rights before entering into any online transaction. And because people online can literally be anyone, be sure to bring a friend when picking up your goods.

That said, one of my friends, Sinead, 24 used Facebook Marketplace and scored a $129-worth Ikea bed frame for $60 from a woman who was moving. The seller had dismantled it and lived nearby, so one UberXL and a decent tip later, Sinead had a bed frame for half price.

“I really had my heart set on this particular frame, but there was no way I could spend a dollar more than $100 after paying for everything else,” she says.

“The deposit on my new apartment put a pretty big dent in my savings, and though I was extremely wary of buying from Facebook, it turned out to be a great deal. The bed frame was practically brand new, and it looks amazing.”

3. The Street

No, hear me out! Every second Wednesday or so is recycling day in my neighborhood. The streets are filled with perfectly good furniture that people toss because it’s too much of a pain to sell or properly give away.

Obviously, you have to be really careful here — there’s often a good reason these things are left at the curb, and many landlords don’t allow secondhand furniture in their buildings. Never take upholstered chairs, be wary of anything with fabric, and check every crevice for bedbugs. We didn’t end up having to bring in anything off the street, but our neighbor David has furnished his entire apartment with mite-free street furniture, including a perfectly functional flatscreen TV.

4. Do the Ikea Thing

If you’re splitting the cost three or four ways, Ikea is often the cheapest way to furnish a new apartment. The retailer has lowered its delivery price significantly (it starts at $25), so the need for a U-Haul or a man with a van is no longer an issue. And come on — you’re not going to fit that clothes rack on the subway.

My housemate Niamh and I went to the Ikea in Brooklyn and ended up putting in a big order of important things. When divided by four, it worked out to $12 each, including delivery and taxes. When you can divvy up the cost, everything works out much cheaper and with a lot less hassle.

5. Go Online

Once you don’t mind getting your hands dirty and hammering a few nails, you can order large items online. Online stores like Amazon and Walmart often ship for free if you spend a certain amount. Niamh got an armoire for less than $100 on Amazon and assembled it using a screwdriver from a dollar store! You could also use apps like TaskRabbit to hire someone to assemble a piece of furniture if you really don’t want to spend the time.

6. Dollar Stores

For when you want to buy cups, wastepaper baskets, and other small items, dollar stores and local discount stores are the way to go. When you eventually want to purchase decorative items, be creative with cheap things. For instance, I bought a small marble soap dish for $3 and use it as a jewelery holder. A little DIY can make an inexpensive flowerpot look like a million dollars.

Acquiring the furniture you need doesn’t have to be difficult or pricey. Being savvy and knowing when to splurge and when to spend is key when it comes to outfitting your home — that, and staying off Pinterest.