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When I moved from home at the tender age of 17 – wide-eyed, broke and supremely naive – there were several things I never thought about. Among them was: how difficult it is to actually find an apartment when you’re 17 and work part-time, how hard it is to cook for one and how many random household items you never thought you needed – cue cheese graters, tin openers and mops.
One thing I really didn’t think about was how I would furnish an entire house, considering I moved here with precisely $747 in my bank account and was studying full-time. When my flatmate and I finally found an apartment after months of searching we were wiped out after paying bonds, moving fees and a month’s worth of rent upfront.
Over the next six months we utilised our minimal pool of furniture funds and became masters of “furnishing on a budget”, realising which items we could live without for the longest, developing creative ways to “make” our own furniture and finding the possible cheapest options when it came to purchasing the essentials.
Here, seven lived and learned tips to abide by when furnishing on a uni student budget:
1. Learn to prioritise
Around the same time we moved into our apartment a friend of mine was moving back to the Gold Coast and needed to sell her 40-inch plasma TV quickly. For some reason we splurged a sizeable amount of our furniture budget on it, which resulted in us literally sitting on the ground to watch TV as we still hadn’t bought a couch/chairs/table. Not a good idea. Write out a list of what items you need and rank them based on importance. Beds, a fridge, tables, chairs and a couch go on top, then you can work your way down. (Tip: A TV should be low on your priorities list, we all just watch Netflix on our MacBooks now, anyway, right?)
2. Splurge on the right things
Buying couches, tables, chairs and the like second-hand is generally a safe bet, but don’t cut corners with certain items. Fridges and washing machines – basically anything electrical that will need replacing within a couple of years – should be bought new. You’ll appreciate the warranty when something goes unexpectedly wrong and you won’t have to live for four years with a second-hand washing machine that literally bounces off the ground and takes three hours no matter which setting you use.
3. Utilise verge collectionsOver the years we nabbed two microwaves, a garden table, a vanity, a couch and a chest of drawers from various verges. Most of the things people throw away are in perfect condition. Inspect them first and if you find something you want, take it straight away. People are masters in the art of verge-side collecting and if you leave something for too long you can guarantee it’ll be nabbed.
4. Get creative
Consult Pinterest, Tumblr and the like for chic interiors inspiration that doesn’t cost any money. For example, I used a stack of coffee table books and fashion magazines as a makeshift “bedside table”. If you pop a couple of tea light candles on top it looks intentional and makes you come across as more arty than you actually are. I’d also recommend buying $8 clothing racks from K-Mart instead of investing in a wardrobe or chest of drawers. If you colour co-ordinate your clothes and use matching hangers it gives your room a minimalist “storefront” vibe and saves a ton of money.
5. Gumtree is your friend
Anything that wasn’t found on the side of the road in our apartment was courtesy of Gumtree. It’s cheap, reliable, already assembled and most people will deliver for free.
6. Put effort into decorating
Buying the furniture you can afford instead of the furniture you want can mean your home turns into a hotchpotch of different and often clashing colours, materials and textures. We had an electric blue couch (Gumtree) next to a black leather couch (verge collection) next to wooden table and chairs (Ikea) next to our unnecessarily giant TV (a mistake). Not a match made in interior design heaven. Make things look purposefully thrown together by adding personal (cheap) touches: tea light candles, vases of flowers, posters from your favourite movies, cheap throws from op-shops. The extra effort will make your house look more “furnished” than it actually is and it will feel a lot more homely.