How I Spent Under $1,000 to Furnish My Entire Apartment

A candle and a book on a sidetable in an apartment with a mantle and a fireplace.
Jamie Cattanach for The Penny Hoarder

Being a “remote nomad” was so much fun — until it wasn’t anymore.

I’d spent a month in Spain, three weeks in Athens and countless hours behind the wheel of my beater, meandering around the States.

I was taking full advantage of my freelance writing career by working wherever I wanted. But soon, “wherever I wanted” changed.

I found myself wishing I knew the name of even one barista by heart and reminiscing about having a working library card. I waxed lyrical in my journal about the bulk-sized shampoo bottles they had in a sublet where I was staying — the kind you pump instead of squeeze.

I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but it was true: My wandering feet were growing weary. I wanted to stay in one place for a while.

Which is how I ended up “just looking” at apartments in Santa Fe, which led to one fateful afternoon tour of a quirky adobe three walking minutes from the town’s hip railyard district. I ran my hands along the countertops, stared at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. It was pricier than I’d hoped, but all the utilities were included, and it even had an apple tree in its spacious backyard.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in front of the lease, pen in hand. But first, last and security is already a hefty investment. And since I’d been traveling so often (and crashing in my parents’ defunct RV in the interim), I didn’t have a scrap of furniture to my name.

How was I going to afford it?

How I Furnished My Apartment for Less Than the Cost of a Fancy Mattress

I could have made my life a whole lot easier by looking for a furnished apartment. And I did consider a couple.

But what I was really craving was a space that was truly mine — a place I could fill with objects that made me feel an undeniable sense of home.

I wanted to nest… even though nesting can be expensive.

But with patience, flexibility and a little bit of negotiation, I was able to furnish my whole apartment for less than $1,000.

Here’s how.

Bedroom: $370.99

A bed with a colorful quilt in a bedroom with a hardwood floor.
Jamie Cattanach for The Penny Hoarder

When I signed the lease, the bed was my biggest worry. I knew I could easily drop a grand on the mattress alone — which is why I asked some brave Penny Hoarders whether or not it’s worth it to go with an uber-cheap online mattress purchase. (Spoiler: It is.)

I bought a queen-sized Zinus mattress for just $229, and I purchased one of the brand’s minimalist frames for $116.99 on Amazon. I finished out the room with a simple nightstand, which I found for $25 on Craigslist. (Arguably, it’s not really a necessity, though it is nice to not have to get up to turn off the lights after I’m done with pre-sleep reading.)

Dining Room: $80

A wooden dining room table in an apartment with a fireplace.
Jamie Cattanach for The Penny Hoarder

This was one of my most rushed furniture purchases — and, full disclosure: it’s my crappiest piece. Although it looks decent from a distance, the table is made of finished particle board, and most of the chairs’ legs have been used as puppy chew toys.

But the whole set was only $80 (another Craigslist find), and having a place to sit down and work was my biggest priority. The previous owners even agreed to deliver it to me at no extra cost!

Reading Nook: $286.57

A bookcase and a reading nook in an apartment.
Jamie Cattanach for The Penny Hoarder

In my house, a couch is negotiable — and I actively avoid a television set.

But a place to cuddle up with a good book or three? Absolutely necessary. (As was a place to store all those books, which were quickly piling up on every available flat surface.)

My cutesy little side table is super fancy, and its previous owner treated it with some sort of bulletproof wax stuff, which makes cleaning it a breeze. I’d had my eye on it for several weeks at its original $120 Craigslist asking price and was eventually able to talk the seller down to $80.

The papasan chair is a bit of a convoluted story. I got the cushion for $47.71 on sale at Pier 1 after finding a rocking papasan frame on Craigslist for $10. But as it turns out, while both papasan chairs and rocking chairs are comfortable, the combination… is not. So I kept the cushion, sold the frame for $10 (again, on Craigslist) and waited until a regular frame went on sale for $58.86 at World Market.

Finally, my bookcase cost $100. It took me ages to find one I really liked — one that fit below my window and featured solid wood construction. The owner wouldn’t let me talk her down from the original asking price, but it was gorgeous and basically brand new, so I took it anyway.

Media Console: $80

A media console in an apartment
Jamie Cattanach/The Penny Hoarder

When I offered $80 for this piece, which the owner had listed on Craigslist for $100, she was super blasé about it and instantly accepted — which means I probably should have gone lower. (Also, this is a SUPER unnecessary piece of furniture which I really just purchased to hide my router and modem.)

Total: $817.56

I have definitely spent that much on *just* a mattress before.

Want to Find Cheap Home Decor You Actually Like?

Of course, I spent more than $817.56 on the total project of home-ifying my apartment. Although my mother sent me a comforter and a set of sheets (thanks, mom!), I did have to buy pillows — and a case for the fancy memory foam body pillow I splurged on. I also bought a mattress protector, a full-length mirror (on steep sale at Walmart) and assorted candle holders, houseplants and knick-knacks.

I got all of my kitchen stuff for about $40 from an amazing thrift store out here called Savers, including a roasting pan, forks and plates. I already had a cast iron skillet and one sharp knife, and honestly, I’m pretty simple when it comes to cooking.

All told, I’d estimate I spent maybe another $300 on these little touches… which means I still spent less, altogether, than I could have on this one Anthropologie bed frame. On sale.

And now, I have a space that feels uniquely my own, filled with pieces I lovingly (and honestly, somewhat painstakingly) curated from a slew of failed Craigslist interactions.

If you, too, are in the market for new-to-you home furnishings and want to get them as cheaply as humanly possible, here’s my best advice.

Be patient.

Aside from the bed, which I ordered as soon as I signed the lease, my apartment was pretty much empty for a few weeks. Sure, I had books piled on the floor, and I had to sit on my bed cross-legged for a few meals… but who cares? It’s better to wait for the right deal than to buy stuff you don’t really like, even if you’re getting it cheaply. Plus, the time it took to make those finds gave me a chance to earn back the funds I’d spent on signing the lease in the first place.

Craigslist is your friend.

While I definitely trolled the consignment shops around town, Craigslist consistently offered the best pricing — and the easiest negotiations. Your mileage may vary depending on where you live, of course, but private sellers are usually a whole lot more motivated to get rid of stuff than a business, even if that business is a thrift store.

Stay vigilant.

One of the reasons I had so much success on Craigslist was that I made a ritual of checking it: once in the morning and once at night, every single day. Stuff comes and goes on the private market quickly, so you want to jump on potential finds as soon as you see them!

That said, you’re definitely going to encounter some duds along the way. But when you do, no worries – just let the seller know it’s not quite right, and drive off knowing the right nightstand (or bookcase, or whatever) is out there. You just haven’t found it yet.

Happy hunting, and happy homemaking! Although it takes time, effort and some money, it really is a wonderful feeling to know there’s no place like home… precisely because you took the time to make it that way.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a writer whose work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Motley Fool, Roads & Kingdoms and other outlets.

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