Personal Finance 

Furnishing Your New Place

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Fancy Schmancy FurnitureWhen I moved from Pittsburgh to my new apartment near Baltimore, I had almost no furniture. I had a desk from IKEA that we still use today but very little else. When I made it to Baltimore, I didn’t buy any new furniture because my roommate already had a whole bunch of stuff like couches, dining table and chairs, etc. I moved two more times after that, once to be closer to work and then again into our first, and current, home; and felt lucky that I “accidentally” learned the key to furnishing your apartment: keep things inexpensive and light.

Inexpensive because you will want to save as much money as you can for other things, be it trips to the bar to socialize with new friends or an emergency fund. Light because you will probably move again and you don’t want to burden yourself with a lot of “stuff” so early on.

If you’re moving into a house that you bought, consider buying furniture that lasts because you won’t need to move. Otherwise, keep it light and cheap. You’ll thank me when you move in a year.

This post is part of Bargaineering’s 2010 New Graduate Guide series where I’ll share my insights and offer my financial guidance to the graduate class of 2010. This post is part of day 3, putting down roots at your first place.

IKEA Furniture

IKEA furniture is not built with durability in mind. It is remarkably inexpensive and durable enough for furnishing your first place, but not something you expect to keep around for decades. My advice for new graduates is to purchase furniture that is static, with few moving parts, from IKEA because those will last the longest. Bookcases and desks are ideal. I still have the desk I used my sophomore year of college.

IKEA furniture, especially pieces with moving parts like drawers, don’t travel well. They aren’t designed to take lateral stresses and so the screws and the wood take a massive beating. My advice is that you shouldn’t expect something with moving to survive more than one move. Each move will shorten it’s lifespan tremendously.

Buy Second Hand

I discussed IKEA furniture first because much of the second hand furniture you’ll find will be from IKEA. If you scour Craigslist, you’ll find scores of listings of people selling or just giving away furniture. Never pay more than half the retail price for something for sale second hand and never buy anything made by IKEA that has moving parts.

Never buy a mattress second hand. I think you can do the math and figure out why. If there’s one thing you want to buy new, it’s a mattress.

Free Furniture

Craigslist and Freecycle are your friends when it comes to getting free furniture. You can get anything from a chest of drawers to artificial Christmas trees (I’ve gotten both off Craigslist) if you are patient enough. If you do go the free furniture route, be sure to inspect it carefully whenever you pick it up. It’s free but you don’t want to be hauling away a big piece of junk. Inspect it as you would something you’re paying for, even though you aren’t.

Finally, what’s nice about getting furniture for free is that you can donate it whenever you move (or are ready to get better furniture). If you have nice enough furniture, a lot of places will pick it up, saving you some time and hassle.

Do you have any tips for furnishing your first place?

(Photo: vallderdesign)

{ 12 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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12 Responses to “Furnishing Your New Place”

  1. lostAnnfound says:

    Hit up family/friends for any unused pieces of furniture they are willing to get rid of for free or cheap.

    Also, quality is very important. When my husband & I got married 20+ years ago, my parents gave us the dresser, bureau with mirror and matching nightstand that I had been using since I was 18 and even today it is still in very good shape, nothing loose or falling off. Also have the dresser given to my family as a gift by my godmother when I was born, had it refinished 16 years ago when my first child came along and it too is in very good condition.

  2. Ron says:

    “If there’s one thing you want to buy new, it’s a mattress.”

    LOL! That’s the truth. There’s an icky reason a mattress gets heavier through the years …

  3. I agree with the second-hand furniture. Not only are you getting another use out of the furniture, but you are also saving tons of cash as well.

    I also agree with going to Ikea, but just make sure to get the better quality items. Many of the items my wife and I bought for our house from Ikea are made of solid wood that have stood up really well since we bought them.

  4. eric says:

    IKEA and Craigslist are definitely a recent grad’s friends 🙂
    Family members and friends will often donate old furniture if you ask.

  5. moljacks says:

    Just make sure that whatever you get, you take care of! I have some “crappy” Ikea furniture that has stood the test of time because I took care of it.

  6. Shirley says:

    Your first furniture has to be practical and usable and the free-er the better. Your first place is not a showroom, it’s where you live.

    We survived just fine with brick and board bookslelves, and patio table (sans umbrella :-)) and chairs in the kitchen until something else was available. We upgraded as finances allowed for wants instead of just needs.

  7. zapeta says:

    We got a lot of our furniture second hand from friends/relatives who were getting new. The rest was Ikea or cheap stuff. Less furniture is less money spent and less to move so I really think minimizing the amount of furniture you have is a great idea.

  8. Judith says:

    Bargaineers should also be regular users of the Freecycle websites. They’re all over and you can also get free furniture there.

  9. daenyll says:

    I built my furnature. Dresser (basically a nice shelf with canvas ‘drawers’), and night stand, coffee table and tv center (glorified brick and board style> nice red oak tops over stained plywood boxes) the boxes work nice for packing materials for moving and are versatile for changing configurations in different sized apartments I’ve lived in thru school. My desk and kitchen table are easily dissasembled for ease in moving as well.

  10. Shirley says:

    I remember a friend building his kitchen table out of wooden boxes and plywood. This was before Freecycle came about and it was out of necessity rather than choice.

    Since he also used it as his desk, the up standing corner boxes also served as cubbyholes for his book and paper needs (BC… before computers… anyone else remember those days?). It was not very pretty but for his needs and finances it was certainly practical.

  11. Tim says:

    I completely disagree. Having moved into and out of four continents, and 14 times in the past 18 years, buy quality, buy solid wood furniture and it will last and take the wear and tear of moving. cheaper furniture that you have to replace or you discard ends up costing you much more in the long run. when i first started out, i cannot tell you how many particle board media centers I bought, broke and replaced after moves which could have been better spent towards well built furniture.

    i’m also in the camp that if you buy a house, you will enjoy the house more if you make it a home. we have friends who are unhappy about their house, but at the same time they are unwilling to make it a home by doing things like painting, buying some furniture, etc. you don’t have to buy new, you don’t have to buy all at once, but make it a home for heavens sake.

  12. Stacy says:

    This is well needed article! I’m on my first full year out and I was thinking about getting a whole furniture set from “Aarons” but reading this makes me reconsider! Thanks

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