Ways To Save Money When Decorating Your First Apartment

Living alone for the first time is a big deal, but furnishing your first home doesn't have to be. According to Mindbodygreen, our homes are where we should feel the safest. They should be a quiet place away from the rest of the world to recharge, spend time with our families, and pursue what makes us happy. Having our living space reflect our personal style and values can contribute to this overall calm feeling.

When we move out into a space that is our own, what is meant to be a blank slate can actually feel overwhelming. "Living alone, especially if it's for the first time or even after a transition, can be a very emotional experience," said Rikki Clark McCoy, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. "There may be feelings of sadness or loneliness, but living alone can also be a time of learning to love yourself." To beat the blues without breaking your budget, you'll need to pick up a few tips. That's why we've put together this list of our favorite ways to save money when decorating your first apartment.

Make a budget before you start

You will spend less if you know exactly what you have to work with from the start. So as soon as you move in, sit down and draw up a realistic decorating budget. According to La-Z-Boy, the key is to budget for the bare bones of what you will need, then build in the exciting extras after you have those covered. This means that you should include things like furniture, rugs, lighting options, and accessories in the first run of your budget. From there, you can begin thinking of things like repainting, updating appliances, etc.

Next, think about the things you are willing to spend more on. For example, you might want to go overboard on a nice mattress and soft sheets, but you would be more than okay with an older, scuffed-up dining room table. Or maybe it's the opposite. Whatever works for you, be sure to write it down, so you can stick to it as you search. Some decorators choose to make an overall budget. Still, if you are decorating over a more extended period, you might instead be more comfortable creating a monthly spend cap.

Be ready for the whole process to take a while

The best way to save money when decorating your first apartment is to accept that the process takes time. There will be some awkward stages where you don't have everything you need, but if you persevere, you'll come out the other side with the home of your dreams. One thing to avoid is taking on too much debt to furnish things as quickly as possible.

According to MyBankTracker, using credit to pay for furniture and decor usually encourages buyers to spend more than they are comfortable with. You might have about $500 to spend on a couch, but you could be persuaded to lay out $4,000 with financing because you can spread it out over time. These purchases can quickly drive up your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) and hurt your chances of qualifying for a car loan or good mortgage later on down the line. When you first move in, prioritize larger purchases that you need for everyday life (namely a bed, plates, etc.) and let the rest of the decorating process play out over time.

Take it on room by room

Once you have purchased your larger anchor items like a bed, dining table, and eating utensils, it's time to start adding more personalized touches to your new home. To do this, consider which room you spend more time in and focus there first. According to Choice Home Warranty, while most of us have our own preferences as to the rooms we value the most in our homes, there are two stand outs we all have in common.

They are the living room and the kitchen, which makes sense as we need to prepare three meals a day and then need somewhere to relax after making them. That said, think about little things you can do to make each room better for how you tend to use it. If you spend lots of time in the kitchen and love using cookbooks, consider adding a small shelf to keep them handy. If you are tired of staring at blank walls in your living room, you can purchase inexpensive framed art at big box stores like Target, Walmart, and HomeGoods. Just be sure to hang them up with something like Command Strips instead of nails, so you get your security deposit back.

Put the word out that are you furnishing your home

When you move to your first home, let those in your network know you are searching for items to decorate it. In addition to posting in online marketplaces like Craigslist, Facebook, etc., be sure to post on personal social media, too. This widens the net of people available to give you used items and the number of people looking for items on your behalf. The perfect couch might not come across your newsfeed, but maybe your cousin or your favorite coworker will see the one you want.

According to Head Springs Depot, when you let your network know what to be on the lookout for, be sure to include just a few specifics to help them look. The main one would be the overall size of what you would like to have. For example, if you have a tiny apartment and your friend wants to give you a sectional that fits 12 people, it might not be the best fit ... literally.

Be willing to accept second best ... for now

When you are just starting out, you don't need to find the perfect items. Sometimes you just need a couch to sit on ASAP, so it doesn't matter that it's white fabric when you actually want black leather. If you are in need and something is free or low cost, take it. You can always work some DIY magic on it or trade it in for what you want later. According to Treading My Own Path, you can feel proud about shopping second-hand as you are responsible for keeping pre-loved items out of the landfill. In addition, you will never have to worry about getting rid of something that used to have a hefty price tag. If it was free coming, it could also be guilt-free going out.

As you shop second-hand, one thing to keep in mind is to be cautious about bringing any pests into your home. According to HowStuffWorks, bedbugs — while uncommon — are a horrible problem to come across. To this end, be careful about picking up upholstered furniture from the side of the road. Also, always clean furniture and check for evidence of bed bugs in every nook and cranny.

Buy cheap new items and add pizzazz

If you don't want to purchase second-hand, but higher-end furniture shops are out of budget, consider shopping at lower-cost places like Walmart or Ikea and adding your own character to the pieces. Ikea, in particular, is famous for its sleek, plain designs. While the building process might be notorious, it can be easy to upgrade a simple desk into something truly fabulous if you have the DIY skills.

According to Saws on Skates, leaning into DIY when furnishing your house is about so much more than just staying on budget. Really, it's about having the flexibility to create the exact look you want for each element of your home. You don't have to rely on manufacturers and mass production. Instead, it's very personalized. If you are new to DIY, don't think you have to splash out for expensive tools, either. Most hardware stores, like Lowe's, Home Depot, etc., offer tool rentals for a small fee.

Invest in multi-purpose furniture

Furniture with more than one purpose can save you money because it does two jobs for the price of one. According to Coaster Furniture, another benefit is moving the item from room to room as you adjust things around your home. For example, if things are tight, the table in your foyer might be able to double as a WFH desk if you slide a small stool underneath it. As you settle in, it will be easy to find this dual-purpose item another home around your place.

Of course, the futon couch is the most common multi-purpose piece of furniture. Be encouraged: Gone are the days when guests have to suffer on an uncomfortable, lumpy mattress you've pulled out from under your couch. Now, plenty of futons and pull-out sofas are actually quite comfortable and stylish to boot (via Esquire). If you are working with a particularly tight space or budget, consider purchasing one for yourself instead of a full-size bed.

Scour the second-hand marketplace

Getting good deals online is a fine art that takes practice. According to Money Under 30, success starts with knowing what to look for in the first place. When you are searching to buy something new, most sellers know how to arrange keywords to get their product in front of you. However, when you buy second-hand, most people probably don't know what they are doing. You'll need to be a bit more creative in your combinations to find a good deal.

If you want a chestnut wood dining table, look for "brown dining table," "wooden dining table," and simply just "table," among other things. Next, filter out the listings using stock images instead of images of the actual item. These are more likely to either be scams or items in very poor condition. Don't be discouraged if you can't find what you are looking for right away, as new things are added daily. In addition, sometimes you can score a great deal by asking the seller if they have any other items to bundle.

Save money by using a tape measure

One of the worst things you can do when decorating your first apartment is to guesstimate dimensions. This is nearly a surefire way to waste money buying something that doesn't fit. According to Lowe's, when measuring the rooms of your home, always follow two simple formulas.

To find the area of the room, multiply the length by the width. This can help you figure out how much furniture you can have in a space while leaving room to walk around it. It can also help you determine things like the size of rug to buy. To find the perimeter of a room, add the length and the width instead. This can help you decide how long of a couch will still fit in the room, etc. If the room is an awkward shape, divide the room into as many squares or rectangles as you can. From there, it's safe to use the above formulas and simply add them together.

Be smart about when you choose delivery

Convenience fees can really add up if you are not careful. While it might seem like the more convenient option to just have Ikea, Target, and every other store you shop from drop things off, see if you can save money by picking them up. According to Moving.com, the key to packing your car with oversized items is to plan well before you set out. Think about taking the seats out of the car or laying them flat.

Check if you can bundle orders from each store to ensure you meet the minimum delivery threshold. If the threshold is high, or if the store doesn't offer free shipping, price out whether renting a car for the day would be less expensive than shipping charges. While smaller items that charge less than $10 for shipping are typically not an issue, when you start talking about furniture, prices can really begin to rise.

Don't worry about full sets just yet

Having a mixed and matched look is fine when you live on your own for the first time. You might have found a dining room table on Facebook Marketplace that's light brown, but it didn't come with chairs. Your aunt is willing to give you four chairs in great condition, but they are dark brown. If it's in your budget, just take them. According to Meg Made, mismatched furniture is easy enough to style. If you are given two chairs and need to source two more, embrace the chaos — it's in vogue.

While it can be great to look for things in common between our staple pieces, like similar colors or patterns, that can all be changed. Sourcing furniture and bits of decor from different sources is a prime opportunity to flex your DIY muscles. The same can be said for dishware, photo frames, and more. Don't overlook something because it doesn't fit or missing a few parts. You can always make up for those later.

Use fabrics to create dynamic spaces

Fabric is a cheap and easy way to spice up a space, which is great news when decorating your very first apartment. According to Toronto Star, window treatments are a great way to add personality to a room. Even if you are in a rental, you can avoid damaging the wall by drilling in a curtain rod by using a tension rod in the window instead.

Pillows and throws are also a great way to spice up a plain room. If you have a couch that looks a little drab, bright pillows and a well-placed blanket can work wonders. You can also tie the windows and sofa together effortlessly by choosing an area rug in the same color family. Rugs, even placed over the carpet, are an especially good idea to have handy in a rental because if you spill anything, it goes onto the rug you own instead of the carpet you don't. This makes it easier to get your security deposit back.

Invest in good lighting

A few solid light options can make or break your space. So, when decorating your first home, consider the dynamics of each room and how you might light it effectively. According to ArchDaily, bad lighting can make rooms look dreary and small, while good lighting can really open up a space. The key, according to experts, is flexibility. Be sure to "incorporate controls that allow for changes throughout the day. Ideally, you'd have the ability to adjust the intensity of your lighting with a dimmer switch," said Rebecca Hadley, manager of a lighting education center.

This way, you can have things bright and airy to complement the morning sunshine, but keep things dimmer around bedtime. It can be hard to install dimmer switches when you are in a rental, but you can still recreate the experience with lamps with multiple brightness settings. It's ideal for those who want to nurture our circadian rhythms by following outside lighting patterns. David Hakimi, who runs a lighting business, suggests we "use lights that feature warmer color temperatures — those that fall in the 2,700 to 3,000 Kelvin range and lower the intensity with dimmers." Lowering lights to this range can help reduce your blood pressure and relax you. Which is something all of us living alone for the first time can benefit from.