How I Decorated My First Apartment For Less Than $500

So much finance content on the internet is not relatable and looks a lot like “a week on vacation in a popular tourist spot on a $200,000+ joint income” and not at all like “struggling to survive and pay all of your bills on an average salary without eating ramen noodles six nights out of the week.” The latter better reflects my own lifestyle and expertise… so that’s what I’m going to write about today. Welcome to my Ted Talk.

Back in 2017, I wanted to become an adult, so I moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Long Island (yes, on Long Island) conveniently located five minutes away from my parents cats and across from where I went to high school. As a thrifty bitch who loves a good deal or freebie, I scavenged the internet like a hacker and scoured the streets like a raccoon to furnish my place for as cheap as possible. Within a month, I furnished my new apartment at a grand total of less than $500. Here’s how I did it.

The Basics

I found the apartment on good ol’ Craigslist. Sketchy? Yup. A game of Russian roulette? Totally. Successful? Surprisingly. 

After three years (literally three whole years) of actively stalking Craigslist ads with all of the necessary filters checked off and only paying attention to listings with more than two photos, my search finally paid off. I had found an ideal spot for a twentysomething with a steady paycheck (I worked in-house full-time back then) who wanted to live on her own without being robbed of joy and fun from being broke every month.

My one-bedroom apartment was super cute, spacious, and clean with freshly painted walls, an awesome landlord, and no rules aside from no pets. It was already furnished with a TV stand, a couch, a rack to hold all of my tequila bottles and assorted tea boxes, and kitchen appliances (stove, dishwasher!!!!, and fridge). 

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(new) home sweet home 🏡✨

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My monthly rent was $1,250 with ALL utilities included. JACKPOT! I got SUPER lucky…

…except there was a catch, and that catch was living in a basement apartment below a sweet family of four which included two little devils boys who enjoyed running back and forth across the floor over my head all day every day and waking me up at 5am every morning and making me lose my goddamn MIND. My mom warned me living in a basement apartment was a bad idea, but, in true fashion of all daughters who obviously know better than their mothers, I was like, “no, you don’t know what you’re talking about and I want to move out, so this is fine.” 

It was not fine. Avoid basement apartments at all costs.

The Sh*t I Paid For

Bedroom: $0

I didn’t have to pay for a bed, dresser, bookshelf, nightstand, or standalone mirror because I already had all that stuff. I basically just had to move everything out of my bedroom at my parents’ house and into this apartment (with the help of a true hero and his trusty sidekick aka my dad and his trailer). 

Kitchen: $370

The kitchen was the most expensive room to furnish because I love to cook and I had absolutely nothing I needed to cook with. Let me tell you, this sh*t added up REAL quick. You don’t just need a toaster, a mixing bowl, plates, silverware, glasses, and a pot and pan. Nope! You need dish rags, pot handles, cooking utensils, sponges, measuring cups, cutting boards, cookie sheets, tupperware, multiple pots, multiple pans, mason jars, placemats, coasters, a kettle, a strainer, a garbage can, and a million other little things you don’t immediately think about when you need to furnish a kitchen. 

Bathroom: $79

Besides my shampoo, conditioner, body wash, razor, and toothbrush, that bathroom was going to be empty. Some bathroom buys included hand soap, hand and shower towels, toilet paper, a toothbrush holder, a shower rack, a bath mat, a shower squeegee, and a little garbage can. I’m a germaphobe, so I also bought a new slow-close toilet seat. I squat in public bathrooms so there was no way in HELL that I was going to sit my ass down on some stranger’s used toilet seat on the reg. It’s a small detail, but I highly recommend you do the same.

Cleaning/Essentials/Misc.: $45

Cleaning was naturally a top priority before moving in and while living there. Again, germaphobe. I also needed to create a little first-aid kit and stock up on meds and all those other fun miscellaneous things. I bought a dustpan, a broom, paper towels, trash bags, dishwasher detergent, Q tips, Advil, dish soap, Mr. Clean Erasers, hydrogen peroxide, and sage (because spiritual cleansings are also necessary). 

Living Room: $0

I threw my TV on the TV stand and extra blankets from my bed onto the couch which already had a couple of throw pillows on it… and voilà! A fully furnished den for zero dollars. I also brought over my six pets plants with me which definitely helped to spruce up the place. Yay, nature. 

Grand Total: $494

Ta-daaaa! I furnished my entire one-bedroom apartment for JUST SHY $500 but under $500 nonetheless.

Where I Scored My Deals 

*record scratch* *freeze frame* I bet you’re wondering how I got here. Trust I’ve been a cheap bitch my entire life, so I’ve had plenty of practice for this very moment. Here’s where I got my goods (and where you can get yours too):

Marshall’s, Home Goods, and TJ Maxx: Ahhh, the trifecta of budget bitch paradise. The holy grail of deals. My favorite part about these stores is that they always have bomb-ass clearance sections packed out with slightly damaged items that are still completely usable, like the kitchen-sized garbage can I bought for $10 that was originally $30. PRO TIP: If you ever see a shirt with a hole in it or a crack, dent, or rip in anything at any of these places, ask the cashier for a discount. They’ll almost always give you 10% off. 

Brad’s Deals: Brad’s Deals is a godsend. The website rotates amazing limited-time offers every day, including my favorite deal: $2 bath towels from JCPenney. Best believe I stocked up on 12 of those huge, fluffy bad boys in all the funky colors.

Walmart: Yes, Walmart is its own planet with aliens and wild creatures lurking in the isles. Yes, Walmart is stocked with basic kitchen essentials on the low-low, like a 12-piece nonstick T-fal cooking set for $49 (compared to $59 at Bed, Bath and Beyond) and 4-person dinnerware sets complete with big plates, small plates, mugs, and bowls for $21. 

Dollar Tree: DOLLAR TREE IS THE BEST. Why? Because IDK about you, but I’d rather spend 99 MF cents at Dollar Tree for the exact same sh*t that costs $4/pop at Stop & Shop. HelloOoOo, no brainer. I stocked my entire kitchen with Betty Crocker spatulas, ladles, whisks, utensils, muffin tins, baking sheets, Ziploc bags, napkins, pot holders, and decorative towels. 

Family: My brother gave me an old lamp and a Swiffer mop. My parents let me use their spare Dyson vacuum. Reduce, reuse, recycle from used hand-me-downs. 

Free sh*t off the side of the road: This one takes more effort and less ego, but it’s totally worth it. You never know what type of gems people are throwing out. One day, I was driving to my best friend’s house and there was a ton of stuff at the end of her neighbor’s driveway with a “TAKE ME” sign next to it where I grabbed fancy serving bowls, cute little dinner plates, and some other goodies for a whopping $0. One man’s trash is another woman’s treasure… and I love trash! But please note: NEVER take a couch, bed, or anything that’s made of fabric off the side of the road. That’s how you get bed bugs.

What I Learned

As you can probably already tell, I don’t like spending more money than I need to. That’s because money is the root of all evil. Also because I literally don’t have the extra money to spend, but whatever. 

Yes, I was really fortunate to find a place with some furniture and appliances already in there, but what I learned from moving out of my parents’ house while I was on a budget is valuable for anyone and everyone moving into a new place for the first time.

Be cheap. Use coupons. Shop at budget-friendly stores. Ask for discounts. Take the time to scout good deals. They’re out there—you just have to be patient. Kinda like what I tell myself about finding my soulmate (hi, hello, where are you?).

Don’t go overboard. Since this was my first apartment, I had no idea what to expect, so I just got the essentials for as cheap as I could without compromising quality. There’s no need to go crazy and stock up on every little thing that you think you *might* need down the line. Wait to buy that Magic Bullet Blender. Save your money and start with the bare minimum. 

Take help where you can get it. Friends, siblings, parents, and loved ones are there for you. Let them help you however they offer, whether it’s giving you an old piece of furniture or a housewarming gift. Accept freebies. Don’t feel guilty about it either. Express your thanks and return the favor when/how you can. Or don’t. JK.

Enjoy the process. Have fun moving into your new place! Sure, it might leave you broke as a joke and depress you along the way, but you got this. Moving is super exciting, especially when you’re moving out of your mom and dad’s place and into your own. Just be smart about what you’re spending and where you’re spending it. Money may come and go, but the stress that comes along with spending it memories you make are always here to stay. 

Images: Naomi Hébert / Unsplash;, Giphy (2), @morganmandriota / Instagram; betchesluvthis / Twitter