When I got my first apartment, I didn’t have a stick of furniture. I had been living in dormitory accommodation, and pretty much everything had been provided. The dorms weren’t too bad, but they were super old (1920’s build!).
Living in a heritage building was cheap, but it had its trade-offs – intermittent power outages, flaking lead paint and having to share it with all manners of other creatures and insects (like mosquitoes which would keep me up at night). I had just finished a probationary period at work so money was tight, but I really wanted my own private space, so I was determined to move out on a budget…
Step 0. Look for the right apartment
Whilst this step can seem like a no brainer, choosing the right apartment for you is a crucial step. Being a keen member of the FI RE community, and working away often, I knew I wanted something low footprint and low maintenance. Living in Australia’s biggest and busiest city meant that size came at a hefty premium, so picking something well below my means was a high priority. The right option for me was a two bedroom apartment – a good compromise between size and practicality, which still gave me plenty of room for my hobbies and study, and extra room for guests to sleep.
Step 1. Make a list of what you think you need
If you’re anything like me, going grocery shopping when you’re hungry is a recipe for disaster. You end up with a shopping trolley full of things you don’t really need. The same can be said for furnishing an apartment – Before you run off to the closest IKEA or department stores, you should critically analyse what you actually need. If not, you can easily find yourself surrounded by junk which you never use, and which you don’t value. Take a look at the list below and modify it as you see fit!
- Pot and frying pan
- Cooking utensils (think: Wooden spoon, spatulas and whisk)
- Glasses and cups
- Small appliances
- Bath mats
- Shower curtain
- Computer chair
- Filing Cabinet
- Flat-screen television and TV unit
- Coffee table
Step 2. Prioritise the things that you value
If you splurged out on every single thing that you thought you needed, you’re easily going to blow your budget and be surrounded by crap. Don’t be tempted by all the marketing hype, especially when it comes to deals and markdowns (20% off doesn’t mean you saved 20%, it means you spent 80%!)
Think about what is most important to you – what do you value? By cutting down on additional clutter you don’t need, you can free up more of your budget to spend on the things you care about, and the major purchases.
Take it from me – Don’t skimp on the bed. Sleep is one of the most important things for your health, so a high quality mattress and sheets was a big priority to me. I also really valued having a high quality cooking knife, so I splashed out on one high quality Japanese steel blade for the kitchen. Other things like office furniture were less of a priority to me, so I went with the cheapest I could find.
Step 3. Reach out to your social circle
Chances are if you got this far in life you have a pretty decent social circle. Your family, friends and colleagues have most likely all been in your situation before, too. Ask for help, and see if there is anything going – a lot of people have excess household items they don’t use anymore. We live in a ‘disposable society’ where most people want new furniture or household goods on the regular – if you’re not picky, you could score yourself a heap of furniture and appliances for free or at a really cheap price.
I was amazed at how generous my friends and family were when I moved into my own place. For example, my Mum gave me a really good quality cutlery set which I would have never been able to afford to buy on my own. My subsequent Birthday and Christmas gifts have all been focused towards my new place, (my sister gave me a really nice matching bath towel and mat set!)
Step 4. Get Savvy – upcycle!
As I said before, people have too much stuff. The relentless churn of advertising encourages the less disciplined and spendthrifts to constantly spend and replace. As a result there is a lot of high quality and barely used second hand furniture looking for a home.
So much so, that in some places such as in Canberra, Australia, you practically can’t give this stuff away. People need to engage hard refuse council pick up and even pay commercial rubbish disposal companies to get rid of their old furniture.
This generates a lot of listings on online classifieds such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or Craigslist. They are a veritable treasure trove and epitomise the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. I was able to find a great 5 piece dining table and chair set on Facebook Marketplace for $20! Check often, and search by ‘Newest listings’ to find the latest advertisements.
I happened to be driving one afternoon and spotted an amazing big and sturdy coffee table on the side of the road earmarked for hard refuse collection; luckily I drive an old station wagon with roof racks and always keep some tie downs in the back. After a good clean and polish, this has become one of my favourite things in the apartment and often my friends and I gather around it with drinks.
Step 5. Don’t be in a rush
Haste makes waste! For the first two weeks, my living room ‘couch’ consisted of two $5 camping chairs from a hardware store, and a big fuzzy blanket with an assortment of pillows. By removing the time pressure, you give yourself a great advantage in searching for and negotiating good deals.
Step 6. Gradually upgrade
Now that you have decked your apartment out, over time you will probably want to upgrade to some nicer things, such as matching crockery rather than your collected odds and ends. Whilst this is a fairly normal tendency, just keep Step number 2 in mind, and prioritise the things that you value.
For example I really wanted an automatic mixer for my kitchen for some reason. I upgraded from my manual ‘Whisk and fork’ approach and splashed $120 for a brand new kitchen mixer (well… it was heavily discounted at the time). I have used this mixer a grand total of about four times in the past year – perhaps I could have done without it!
How I furnished my apartment for $1000
Here is exactly how I furnished my two bedroom city apartment for less than $1000. I prioritised, maximised my use of personal classifieds, haggled, and took my time over a period of a month to get everything that I needed.
- Queen Bedframe: $50 on Gumtree
- Mattress: $300 brand new from Snooze
- Sheet set: $49.99 from Target
- Dining Table and 4 chairs: $20 on Gumtree
- Coffee Table: Free on side walk
- Couch: $80 on Gumtree
- Espresso machine: $30 from a work mate
- Bedside Cabinets: $40 ($20 each) from Target
- Office Desk: $20 on Gumtree
- Kitchen items (Toaster, Kettle, Utensils): $50 from Big W
- Fridge: $120 on Gumtree
- Iron and ironing board: $40 from Big W
- Washing machine: $160 on Gumtree
- Crockery (assortment of odds and ends): Free from a family friend.
- Guest mattress: $20 inflatable mattress from Target.
The bottom line is that you don’t have to break your budget to furnish your new apartment. A dollar saved is MORE than a dollar earned (more of this in my budgeting and money management article) which puts you much closer to reaching Financial Independence. By being disciplined and practical, and introspecting on what you value, you can furnish your apartment much more cost effectively. Put those savings towards something you value highly – like a good quality mattress and bedding, or your investment portfolio of high quality stock market ETF index funds!
Get FI !