How to Nicely Furnish and Decorate Your Apartment for Under $1,000

When you move into a new apartment, you will undoubtedly need or want some items that you didn’t have in your previous apartment. Every apartment has a different layout, different windows, different amounts of storage space, and other subtleties that can invoke the desire to buy something that solves a problem—whether it’s a new couch when you move up from a studio to a one-bedroom, or some area rugs when you move from a place with carpet to one with hardwood floors.

But if you’re a young apartment-dweller who’s at a stage in life where moving frequently is the norm and paychecks are entry-level, it doesn’t make sense to buy expensive furnishings for your new apartment. That doesn’t mean you have to settle for dog-chewed furniture and posters taped to the walls, though. Here are some strategies for keeping the costs of furniture, decorations, and other housewares within your budget while avoiding the bachelor pad look.

First, there’s something you should know about the market for these kinds of items: for the most part, they have a very low resale value. Perhaps this is because many people think that other people’s used couches, beds, drapes, and dishes are contaminated in some way. While there are certainly horror stories of rat-infested sofas out there, most of the used items available for sale will be carefully screened by both you and the store that’s selling them. The low resale value of home goods makes buying them secondhand from thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay a great option. Consider mixing new items with well-cared-for secondhand ones to get the nicest look and the most bang for your buck.


  • To get the best garage sale furniture, you’ll have to be the dreaded early bird, so plan to set your alarm on Saturday mornings until you find what you need.
  • Supplement your garage saling with daily trips to all the local thrift stores to see what’s new. You never know when someone else might drop off your future couch. My $50 Salvation Army like-new La-Z-Boy recliner was a great find that I enjoy to this day.
  • Some people might think they have to buy new furniture because they need a store to deliver it to them, but if transporting furniture is an issue, just rent a pickup truck or cargo van for a few hours. Even with the added cost of a vehicle rental, you’ll still come out way ahead over buying your furniture new. If you’re the adventurous type, you can even hire a stranger off Craigslist to move it for you. $50 is a very reasonable offer for a short move of one large item.
  • Consider recycling furniture you find in the alley. If you live in an apartment-filled area, you’ll probably encounter a steady stream of abandoned furniture in your alley as tenants move out. Inspect the items carefully and clean them thoroughly with a bug- and germ-killing product. You may want to avoid soft items like couches, rugs, and mattresses altogether as they can harbor bugs. If you want to be more proactive about finding free furniture, get your hands on a pickup truck or cargo van and go on an alley crawl one weekend.

Housewares and Small Appliances

  • People are always getting rid of old dishes, silverware, and other kitchen items, which means that you can easily obtain them for free from friends who are moving, parents who have accumulated too many over the years, and thrift shops. If you’re the type who needs a perfect set of matching everything, this strategy won’t work for you, but if you care more about function, a couple of visits to Goodwill will allow you to cheaply accumulate a variety of interesting plates, bowls, glasses, and whatever else you need. Clean them with plenty of soap and very hot water and you’re ready to go.
  • Due to their relatively low cost compared to the other things you need for your apartment, things like blenders and toaster ovens aren’t bad candidates for things to buy new from the big box store. It’s hard to say how long the thrift-store one will last, but the new one will come with a warranty.


Once you’ve got the basics covered, you’ll probably want to personalize your space with some decorations.

  • One of the fastest, cheapest, and easiest ways to spruce up a living space is to paint it (check with your landlord first, though—many places don’t allow it). You can paint a room for around $25, including both paint and supplies, as long as you do the work yourself. The most time-consuming part is usually finding the right color—the painting itself is easy.
  • If you have ugly floors, get a few inexpensive rugs to add some warmth and color to your rooms.
  • If you’re the creative type, use your own photography or artwork and some inexpensive frames to decorate your walls. If you’re not, talk to a friend who is.
  • If your apartment doesn’t have adequate overhead lighting, buy inexpensive lamps to brighten your space.
  • Replace generic plastic switchplate covers with decorative ones.
  • Clean everything thoroughly. Ideally, a new apartment would be clean when you moved in, but depending on the previous occupant, the landlord, and the length of time the unit has sat vacant, it might be pretty dingy. Even an old, cracked countertop looks better when it shines.
  • If interior decorating isn’t your strong suit, that’s okay. Just ask some friends whose living spaces you like for suggestions. They’ll be flattered that you asked and probably be happy to give you their input (for free!) on how to decorate your apartment.

Following my own advice, I was able to decorate and furnish my first one-bedroom apartment for about $1,000. That’s not super cheap, but when you think about how a new couch alone can easily cost $1,000, it seems like a pretty good deal.

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Treasure Finding Tips From A Garage Sale Junkie
How Frugal Purchasing Habits Add Up
Fifteen Ways Being Uncool Saves You Money
You Never Know What You'll Find at a Garage Sale

Photo by The Pug Father

Post by Amy Fontinelle


Ginger said...

I love this article and have just subscribed!

Thanks for submitting to the carnival of Twenty Something Finances!

Carrie...On The Cheap said...

I really liked this post. Good points!! I really wish I could paint my apartment...but it's against the rules. :( And you are so right about cleanliness - even it's old and worn, it still looks better when it's clean!