There’s nothing like the overwhelming task of furniture shopping to make you feel broke, bewildered, and longing for the good old days of college when it was acceptable to use plastic egg crates for your clothes and hang tapestries as “artwork”.
But let’s be honest. Those creepy pictures of tiny babies sleeping in flower buds have no place in a “grown-up” apartment, nor would you (or I) want them there. So what does a girl with dreams of a home fresh out of the Pottery Barn catalog do to furnish a big space on a small budget?
Shop with a less is more mentality.
I happen to be that girl, so I’ll use my current situation as a basis for the tips below. I’m moving in with my fiancé in two weeks. His old apartment can only be described as “brown”. And the furniture I’ve had for the last six years has seen better days. So we’re starting from scratch.
Step 1: Make a list of needs vs. wants.
It’s time to be realistic and separate “the needs” from “the wants”. Of course I want a flat screen TV to mount above the fireplace. But this isn’t an episode of Cribs, people. Putting money towards a couch, bed, and dresser will go much further for now. Deal with finding the necessities first and then slowly acquire the items on your “wish list” over time.
Step 2: Do your research.
Pick up a stack of design magazines and catalogs to get inspired and find your style. I love Domino and Elle Décor. Flipping through the pages of West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Crate & Barrel will give you great ideas for setting up your space. Web sites like Point Click Home can also spark your inner interior designer. This prep work will help you figure out what’s in your budget and what you should save up for later. And stay on top of big sales which are popping up everywhere.
Step 3: Scour your ‘hood for hidden gems.
From antique shops to garage sales, you can always refurbish something old to make it shiny and new. And sometimes it pays to go to local stores to find a great deal. I stumbled upon a small shop called Hip and Humble Home right down the street from my NYC apartment. Lucky for me, they were having a sale where everything was 50% off. Hello, unexpected bargain! And the owner’s pet parakeet oversees what's going on at the register. There’s nothing like a talking bird to reaffirm that you must have the media stand. Done and Done.
Step 4: Get over it and go to Ikea.
I know what you’re thinking. “Ikea is so first year out of college!” Well, this mammoth bargain furniture headquarters is perfect for items you just don’t want to spend a fortune on. Why pay $800 for a dresser when you can get something simple and stylish for under $300? You can download room planners to help you figure out what you need before stepping foot in the store. And apparently their Swedish meatballs are to die for. It’s a win-win.
Step 5: Visit Jennifer.
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but the "Jennifer" you see in all the ads is actually my good friend Samantha. And when I saw Sam staring at me from an ad on the subway one morning, it dawned on me to check out the Jennifer Convertibles store. Not all couches are sofa beds and they have tons of styles, fabrics and package deals. They even offer insurance that guarantees someone will come to your house and clean up any unfortunate stains and spills. And if they can’t, you get a new couch.
Step 6: Head to the ‘burbs.
Hit up all the big box stores and outlets that suburbia has to offer. Home Goods is great for those on a budget. From bedding to rugs, pillows to picture frames, their shelves are full of goodies at discount prices. You can’t search for specific items online, but you can stop in frequently and see what’s in stock. I bought a rug that cost $600 less than I would have paid at a specialty rug store. Marshalls and TJ Maxx also have huge home sections where you can find accent pieces and accessories for a steal. Pottery Barn and ABC Carpet and Home have great outlet stores as well. And Target's Simply Shabby Chic line is adorable for any room in your house.
Step 7: Bring the ‘rents.
If you’d rather walk barefoot on hot coals than spend time with your mother-in law, this tip is not for you. But, if you can handle it, parents have been around the block and know how to make snap decisions, determine cheap from chic, and advise on all things we’re totally clueless about. My soon-to-be-mother-in-law saved us from a few disasterous decisions.
Step 8: Keep your priorities straight!
There’s only one Martha Stewart in this world and that’s plenty. It’s a-ok if everything’s not perfect when you move in. And who are we kidding? All your friends care about is that there’s food in the fridge when they come over.
For more tips on how to buy on a budget, click here for our holiday gift guides.