Decorating Your First Apartment on a Budget

Moving into your very first apartment is one of those unforgettable milestones in life. In addition to the sense of freedom and independence, a new apartment is like a blank canvas that you can decorate entirely to suit your taste. However, as exciting as it is, filling up an empty apartment can be a pricey process – especially if you’re still a college student.

If you don’t know where to begin, it can be daunting to strike out on your own. But there are tons of clever apartment decorating ideas on a budget that can get you off to a thrifty start. Here are a few of our favorite tips:

1) Define your budget and stay within it.

It’s hard enough to save up enough for a security deposit and first month’s rent. Coupled with the need to buy new things, first-time renters can quickly dig themselves into debt. Be honest with yourself about what you can afford, and if your budget is $1,000, then commit to figuring out how to furnish an apartment for $1,000.

2) Plan to take it slow.

There are only a few things you need immediately to be comfortable in your new place: a bed, a sofa, a table and chairs, some basic kitchenware and a lamp or two. Decor, non-essentials and big purchases that require saving can all wait until you’re ready to buy more.

3) Envision how to furnish an apartment from scratch.

Decorating Your First Apartment on a Budget | The Light Lab

While your new apartment is still empty, take photos and measurements of every room. When you need a break from moving, you can sketch out a floor plan and let your imagination go wild as you doodle in furniture and decorations. If you can see your perfect apartment in your mind’s eye, you can make an accurate list of the things you’ll need to make your vision come to life.

4) Borrow.

If you have family or friends with extra furnishings or kitchenware, they might be happy to let you have them. And if they need them back, they might loan you what you need until you have the savings to buy your own. Spread the word that you’re starting out on your own, and don’t be afraid to ask!

5) Know where and when to shop.

Thrift stores, garage sales, online listings and estate sales are the places to go when you want to make furnishing an apartment cost less.

If you don’t like the idea of buying used furniture, knowing when to buy new furniture can also help you save. New furniture styles come out in February and August of every year, so furniture stores usually have big sales every January and July. Holiday weekends like Memorial Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day are also popular times for deep discounts.

6) Take something old and make it like new.

If you spot a low price on a thrift store find, but it’s just too ugly or  worn out, don’t give up! Imagine what difference a fresh coat of paint, some new hardware or a nice slipcover can make. With the right perspective, even worn-out furnishings can be just right.

7) Paint!

If your lease allows it, pick a color scheme and repaint a few walls to decorate with color. The dramatic results compared to the low cost of supplies makes this one of our most effective apartment decorating ideas on a budget.

8) Soften the lighting.

Many apartments feature overhead lighting that can be a bit harsh. But with some inexpensive floor and table lamps — or maybe a cheap paper lantern hanging from the ceiling — you can make spaces feel cozier. LED bulbs are a little more expensive upfront, but they’ll save you money in the long run on your monthly electricity bill.

9) Favor photos over art.

Acquiring even thrifty art can make furnishing an apartment cost a lot more, but most photo finishing retailers will make prints for a few cents to a few dollars apiece, depending on size. At those prices, you can decorate your walls with memories for little more than the price of frames.

10) Don’t forget the houseplants.

They’re cheap and they add a splash of life and color to any room! You can decorate bookshelves, windowsills and even your patio or deck with potted houseplants.  If you’re unsure of what plants would be best for your apartment, check out our “What Plants Can I Put in My Apartment” blog post!

And if you sign up for one of our fixed Texas electricity plans, you’ll lock in a great energy rate for the duration of your contract and save on your electricity bill every month! Yes, even during those hot summer months! That’s more savings for you to spend on decorating your brand new apartment.

Good luck, and happy moving!

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Josh Crank is a freelance writer with a background in legal journalism, travel writing and marketing. He's found his perfect fit in writing about home maintenance and repairs, energy efficiency, smart home technology and other topics to help readers make home life green and comfortable. Josh lives with his wife, two sons and endlessly howling beagle-basset hound mix in New Orleans.