I remember graduating from college being an important part in my life. I was set to get married a few months later. After that, we were scheduled to move to another country for what was scheduled to be a full year of teaching english. That plan didn’t fully pan out for reasons that I won’t get into in this post, and two months later we found ourselves moving to New Jersey to start our lives as a young married couple for the first time (again).

After we did some job searching and finding an apartment to live in, we had to furnish our very first apartment. At first this felt overwhelming because we didn’t have a lot of income coming in yet. We hadn’t started our jobs and we just graduated college. As I suspect many college graduates can relate to, we also didn’t have a lot of money in the bank.

Despite the consumeristic pressures to buy new, we were ably to furnish our first apartment for a total of $600. It’s true that we got some basic essentials (like a double bed from my wife’s parents), but for the most part it was true ingenuity, grit, and a little bit of luck that allowed us to furnish our apartment for such a small amount.

woman unpacking moving boxes in apartment

How We Furnished Our First Apartment:

The only way that we were able to fully furnish our apartment on a budget was by buying things second-hand or used. At the time, and still today, we use Craigslist to find and purchase absolute steals. After several years of looking back on our purchases to furnish our apartment, there are some that I wish I could replicate and some that I regret to this day.

When buying used, you have to know when to walk away (i.e. when a dresser smells horrible) and when to drop everything to go snatch up a great deal.

Craigslist gave us the opportunity to find quality furniture and/or accessories for a great price. I must admit we were quite lucky with some of our ‘finds’. The key to success with Craigslist is diligence and continual effort. Luckily, at the time when we were furnishing our apartment, I had a week before I started working at my new job. This allowed me to make multiple trips to various locations at all times of the day to accommodate the sellers (all the great deals had lots of competition).

Here are some of the gold nuggets that we found:

Dresser and Desk – $10

Our very first purchase was our best deal yet.  I saw an ad for a wooden dresser for $10. There wasn’t a picture posted on the online listing, but I decided to take the 15 minute drive to look at it. It was a nice, solid wood dresser that would cost at least $100-200 brand new. It did have a few scratches on the top, but for $10, you can’t ask for better. To my surprise, this seller also gave me a matching mirror and a desk that she didn’t want for no extra cost (She was unable to sell them at her garage sale the day before when it was raining). Several years later, we still have this dresser and mirror.

Table with Chairs – $60

We didn’t have the biggest kitchen (and no dining room), so we were looking for a small rectangle table with four chairs. We missed a few great deals by a couple hours and had to settle for a nice table and chairs for $60. This table lasted almost five years before we finally upgraded when we moved to a new city.

Kitchen Island – $50

This is one of my favorite purchases. We bought a kitchen island from a young couple who had just purchased their own home and no longer needed a kitchen island. The kitchen island came with everything: stainless steel countertop, knife slots, and 2 shelves. This would have easily sold for $200 brand new, but we secured it for a fraction of the cost.

This purchase reminded me of the great value that you can get when you buy used. Just because someone is discarding something does not mean it’s low quality. It just means that their particular circumstances have changed since they originally purchased it.

Two Loveseats – $110

We ended up buying two separate loveseats. We had originally purchased a loveseat/sofa set for $150. This was an incredible deal. Similar to the couple selling the kitchen island, another couple had decided to upgrade their furniture and we were left with the near-perfect condition of loveseat and sofa.

I’m not even joking. You could have seen this in a furniture store as a brand new sofa and loveseat combination and you wouldn’t have known that it was used. If you are wondering what the catch was and why we ended up with two loveseats instead of a stunning matching sofa / loveseat set, it’s because we failed to plan for one critical thing: the size of our front door.

This purchase, which we quickly loaded into our moving van, would have been the best deal of all of our craigslist purchases had our sofa fit through the front door of our apartment. When we returned with the sofa and loveseat, the sofa was about a foot too long to fit through the door.

It took me a while to get over the disappointment. And if I’m being honest with myself, there are still days that I think about that loveseat and sofa. We were able to sell the sofa by itself for $125 ($25 less than the price of the pair) and then had to buy another loveseat for $85 before our moving van had to be returned.

We kept these loveseats for about a year until we found a few used Ikea couches on Craigslist to upgrade our furniture. We continue to swap couches and loveseats for the first few years of our marriage. It wasn’t until maybe year 7 that we finally bought our first new couch. And if I’m being honest, it still pales in comparison to that first couch / loveseat combination. (Can you tell I’m still dealing with this one?).

A Few Other Items

We purchased a few more odds and ends to finish off our apartment. As I mentioned, my wife’s parents generously donated an old full-sized bed to us, to save us from that expense and the worries of bed bugs if we were to buy a mattress used.

While we did not have matching sets when we started out, we were able to get quality furniture for an affordable price.

How Much Money Did We Save by Buying Used Furniture?

Buying used as I said above is one of the best strategies for furnishing your apartment on a budget. For our very apartment, we were able to save a lot of money; money that we simply didn’t have at the time. In fact, I estimate that we were able to save over $2,000 than if were to get the exact same items brand new.

Best Tips to Furnish an Apartment for Cheap

Now several years later after now having lived in several apartments after that first apartment, I have come to learn the best ways to save money when you are furnishing an apartment. Many of our strategies stand the test of time and I now have a deeper appreciation for what we accomplished when we were 22 years old.

Here are some of the best strategies for furnishing an apartment without spending a lot of money:

1. Buy Used Furniture

This is kind of a given based on our story above, but the best advice that I have for anyone looking to furnish their own apartment is to move past the social pressures to buy new furniture and look at the used market. You’d be surprised by the quality furniture that you can find for a discount.

2. Take Your Time

One of the biggest reasons that people end up spending more money than they need is because they are in a hurry to furnish their apartment. Don’t feel obligated or rushed to fill your entire apartment. Sure, there may be essentials that will be difficult to live without, but don’t throw away money or sacrifice quality because you are in a hurry.

We made this mistake when we purchased a second dresser. I thought we absolutely needed another dresser and we ended up buying a low-quality dresser to get by. We later donated the dresser because it smelled so bad, and bought another used dresser to replace it.

3. Be Opportunistic

As I highlighted above, some of the best deals are those that won’t last for long. If you have the flexibility in your schedule and the commitment to look for good deals, take advantage of this and you won’t be disappointed (unless the couch doesn’t fit through the front door).

4. Plan Ahead

Along those lines, make sure you plan ahead with your purchases. This means having a vehicle to help you transport the furniture and maybe even a partner or friend to help you load it into the car. It also means measuring to make sure it can fit both in your car and your apartment. Make sure to consider narrow doorways, stairways, or hallways.

Don’t be afraid to ask sellers to send you dimensions before you drive all the way there. This can save you a lot of gas, time, and headache.

5. Consider All of Your Options

Last, but not least, when you are shopping for anything, especially furniture, make sure you perform a thorough search. The last thing you want to do is to settle for something before you know what the options are.

If you want to furnish your first apartment without breaking the bank, all you have to do is spend a little time and energy into being resourceful.