Your first home, whether it’s a free-standing starter house, a condo in the sky, or something in between, is a reflection of you. Or at least it will be once you figure out how to furnish it on a tight budget.
Consider our checklist for turning your new house into a home without breaking the bank.
1. Look around you
It’s great that you’ve been finding inspiration in Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds of perfect homes, but unless you have a boatload of cash, achieving those looks all at once might be unrealistic. Instead, take inventory of everything you already own. Make a list and then cross off anything stained, damaged, or that you can’t stand the sight of any longer. Once you have a “keep list,” sketch out where each item will live in your new home. If there’s not enough closet or cabinet space, let it go. Move only what you’ll actually want to unpack.
2. Hit up the relatives
It’s always a good idea to wait until you’re in your home to get a real feel for what’s lacking from your “keep list,” but now is an excellent time to remind your network that you’re open to future donations. Maybe you could use that coffee table that Mom has long wanted to replace or the pull-out sofa that a friend needs to unload now that they’ve turned a guestroom into a nursery. Just make sure whatever you acquire is in good condition and that you really need it!
3. Don’t go room by room
Many new homeowners set unrealistic goals of having homes entirely furnished by move-in day — a mistake that could easily blow an entire budget getting one room perfect with no way to finance the rest. Instead, concentrate on the basics: a sofa, a mattress, dressers for clothing storage, window treatments and a proper place to eat. This approach will make your home livable while you fill in the empty spaces as you go. Letting your new home speak to you will help you prioritize purchases that are functionally and aesthetically just right.
4. Second-hand is your friend
One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but neon beer signs and cinderblock bookshelves just don’t cut it anymore. Today’s high/low decorating trend is all about finding items with character that can’t be bought at big box furniture stores. Yard sales, flea markets and online auction and swap sites like eBay, Etsy, Craigslist and LetGo are excellent sources of both inspiration and bargains. Besides, why buy new when recycling home goods keeps these items out of landfills?
5. Paint is your friend, too
Don’t be dissuaded if a pre-owned side table or coatrack is a little worn or the wrong color. That’s what paintbrushes are for. Head to YouTube for DIY tutorials on turning eyesores into conversation pieces. The same goes for walls: a fresh coat of paint can be the cheapest way to refresh a new home. Feel free to experiment with colors knowing full well that if you don’t like a finished look, you can always change it. And consider new, easy-to-remove peel & stick wallpaper for low-cost temporary room makeovers.
6. Mix it up
Bargains are easier to find when you’re open to anything and don’t have hard and fast rules about style. Take advantage of opportunities that drop in your lap, such as a vintage lamp that makes a bold statement, or an amazing discount on an eclectic dining room set. By mixing and matching, your style won’t be easily pegged as mid-century, early American or industrial. Your style is you! And by having a collection of pieces in a range of styles — from newly purchased to refurbished finds — you’ll won’t need to replace everything if your preferences shift slightly down the road.
7. Suck it up: Buy a few good pieces!
While buying pre-owned items for your house will help you save money, there are a few new purchases for which you should budget. Come across a to-die-for garage-sale bedframe? Spring for a new mattress, it’s where you’ll spend a third of your life. For just a few hundred bucks, there are many mattress-in-a-box brands to choose from, and most come with a 100-day money-back guarantee. Has your college sofa seen better days? You don’t need to spend a lot to replace it: Ikea has well made Scandinavian designs at a fraction of the cost of high-end alternatives. And don’t skimp on quality linens and bath towels for you and future guests. Finally, nothing beats a new set of kitchen knives; splurge on those, and you’ll have them your entire life.
8. Indoor plants can create a mood
Plants immediately bring the outside in and are an inexpensive way to fill awkward empty spaces. They are living things, though, so look for easy care varieties that will be happy with however much natural light will be available. Be careful, though; if you have a green thumb, you may also end up having a long-term relationship: Christmas cactuses and Boston ferns purchased for next-to-nothing at a big box hardware store can thrive for decades.
9. Art for art’s sake
The best way to make a house homier is to hang art on its walls! We’re not talking pricey paintings or frames, either. Enlarge a favorite photo, scour flea markets and estate sales for pieces that speak to you, or head over to affordable art websites such Minted, Society6, or 20X200, whose mantra is “Art For Everyone.” One expert tip: never buy art to match the sofa!
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to furnish a house from scratch. If new furniture won’t fit in your budget for the foreseeable future, it’s time to get creative and fill your space with a style that matches your personality, needs and your wallet.