How to Make Your Apartment Livable On the Cheap(ish)

Do you know what happens when you move across the country and only bring what will fit in a Ford Focus? You have to buy stuff to live. Well, you don’t have to — but I’m a big fan of not sleeping on the floor. As such, we’ve spent a decent chunk of cash on making this place livable. We’ve also learned how to save some money to do so.

1) Floor models are your friend.

Our application for the new apartment was approved the day before move-in, so we needed a mattress quickly. We headed over to a nearby mattress store that sold locally-made quality mattresses. We found the one we wanted at a cost of $519 and asked the salesperson if we could have it delivered the next day. Unfortunately, there were no available queens in stock. Then we were sad.

“However…”, she said, and our ears perked up. There was an upgraded version of this as a floor model that she offered us for $30 more. Within about five seconds of laying on it, we were sold. And that’s how we got an $849 mattress for $549, delivered the next day. And no sales tax in Portland. Score!


A lot of this was being in the right place at the right time, but always pay attention to the possible availability of floor models. You can often get expensive items at deep discounts. Like $300 off a mattress.

2) Google it before you do anything.

Macy’s had a bad ass sale this weekend, with most items 30%+ off. We headed out to purchase our dishware and pots and pans. After finding the perfect on-sale goods, the cashier informed us that by opening a Macy’s credit card we could save an additional 15%. I was conflicted. On the one hand, I didn’t want another hit to my credit after the apartment application. On the other hand, I did want to save the 15% and I had the cash to pay it off immediately. Predicament.

After a bit of thinking, I decided to use my best friend Google to find out if any coupons were available. Lo and behold, I found a 15% off coupon that the salesperson neglected to mention to me. Saved the money, no credit hit, no hassle.

Store credit cards are tempting for sure, especially for people like me who are super gullible and easily persuaded by salespeople. Shameful, I know. But always Google deals first to see if you can save the cash another way.

3) Distinguish between needs and wants.

Believe it or not, you can live without most furniture. It’s NICE to have furniture but it’s not an absolute requirement, especially for singles or young couples without children. That being said, we don’t have any. No bed, no couch, no chair, no desk, no dresser, no table. Like I said, we DO have a mattress. A mattress is a requirement for me. A bed to put it on? Eh, I can wait a bit. We also didn’t buy a comforter set. We bought sheets and we have a blanket we brought from Ohio. That will do for now.

Now this next one might sound weird to you. Remember, we live in a studio and there are only two of us. We have two plates, two bowls, two mugs, two knives, two spoons, and two forks. That’s it. In our itty bitty kitchen, we don’t really have space for dishes to pile up so we decided to avoid having too many dishes. My minimalist self dorks out a bit about this stuff. I really dig having limited dishes to do because dishes are evil.

Moving into a new apartment doesn’t have to be crazy expensive up front. Buy the stuff you NEED — remembering to Google and check out floor model options — and wait on the stuff you just WANT. It’s so important to stay liquid until the regular paychecks are rolling in. A nice couch won’t feed you — unless you eat it. I don’t advise this.

After the paychecks are regular, start saving up the cash to buy the “wants” and make your apartment look like a home. C’mon guys, let’s attempt to exercise control. (That last statement was more for my benefit than yours, delayed gratification sucks.)

What do you think is actually necessary to make a place livable? How did you save the last time you moved across the country without furniture or a U-Haul?

[Image from BuzzFeed]


  1. That’s good advice about the mattress. We’re going to need to buy a new one when we go home, and I was thinking more in the $1000 range. I will definitely be scoping out a floor model!

  2. Don’t buy furniture until you move into the apartment! When you’ve only seen the apartment a few times and go shopping based on memory, it’s easy to buy something too large or to buy a lot of things you find yourself not even needing in the new apartment.

  3. I made the mistake of walking into a furniture store with the intention of buying an apartment-sized couch, and walked out $2500 later with a couch, chair, tv stand, and new kitchen table. I don’t really regret these purchases per se, but I definitely didn’t need them, nor did I need to spend my first year in the working world making payments towards furniture I likely could have got second hand for a fraction of the price. I was still money ignorant back then, and was too excited about my first “real” job and solo apartment to think about it.

    • Yeah, we put furniture on credit at our last apartment — still paying it off. Thankfully, it’s at 0%, but I don’t like paying for it since I don’t have it anymore. Second debt to go!

  4. Great advice! I love that you only have the dishes you need. That way you’ll HAVE to do the dishes if you want to eat! Minimalism ftw!

  5. Such a good point on what is truly a need! You definitely need a mattress but not a bed. At first I was like, “how will they store stuff under their bed?’ but then I remembered, you don’t have a lot of stuff so that’s no big concern!

    I also recommend, if you plan on buying a few kitchen appliances (if you’re the type that use them) to check Ebay and/or Craigslist first. I am a baker and had been wanting a Kitchenaid stand mixer since forever but after researching them, I found out that I’m better off with an older Kitchenaid/Hobart manufactured stand mixer as the quality is better than a new one. $90 plus shipping on Ebay for a great-condition used one and my baking life is so much easier! My friend did the same thing with Craigslist to score a super awesome Cuisinart food processor for $40. If you don’t need things like these, it’s just stuff, but if you are missing your favorite appliance, I do recommend stalking the used sources til you can get a good deal, after a couple of paychecks of course.

    • We brought our blender and Keurig with us from Cleveland. Other than that, we aren’t crazy about appliances. I would LOVE a Kitchenaid Mixer, but if I’m being honest I wouldn’t use it that much. I always want all the kitchen gadgets for no apparent reason! What’s up with that?

  6. We have been married for two years and most of our stuff is passed down. I won’t lie, I’m getting pretty antsy on getting a new couch and bed. Our couch sinks,….need a new one. We said we would get a new couch and bed when we bought our house.

    • I hear ya! I think a sinking couch should probably be replaced. But I lack the frugal gene, so I wouldn’t listen to me if I were you :).

  7. I really like your point about the utensils – only having two so the sink doesn’t get cluttered. We are so guilty of that and it’s annoying to see the sink be anything but empty. My aunt gave us a bunch of plates and dishes so at least we didn’t purchase them, but maybe we should act like we only have two! I would have no issue buying the floor model of anything – that’s a great price for a mattress!

  8. I love that you got a “locally-made” mattress. That’s SO Portland 😀

    I definitely agree with everything you said! When we bought our house, we only purchased the furniture we absolutely needed. Three years later, we still don’t have a bed (we have a mattress and box spring on the floor). We’ve basically finished off one room at a time over the past three years, and that way we’ve been able to budget for it and not go into debt over it. Also, since we’ve lived in the house for a while now, we know exactly what we want when we do go out and get stuff.

    And just as an aside, some of the best furniture we’ve gotten has come from an antique/second-hand store that we’ve been able to barter with extensively.

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