Apartment staging is genius – because it works.

Leasing agents know that when rental units are strategically furnished with trendy items and accented with textures and colors that mirror the set of the latest HGTV television show, it’s easy for first-time renters to envision the new space as their own. Taking a cue from residential home stagers, apartment communities are finding that the more attractive the unit, the more potential interest, and the quicker it can be taken off the market.

Model apartments, just like model homes, make it easy to picture your new place as the central hub of activity for friends and family members. But, as you now stand in the center of your new apartment staring at stacks of unpacked boxes, you wonder how you’ll transform those visions into reality. Moving costs and rental deposits left you low on funds. How much longer should you eat standing up or realistically expect to get a good night’s rest in a sleeping bag?

Don’t fret. Revisit that model apartment. Go ahead. We’ll wait. Now that you’re re-inspired, make your wish list and include your preferred color palette.

Use these tips to furnish your first apartment on a budget.

Finding Free Stuff is Good

Donations Accepted

Offer to lighten the load of family and friends. Help them clear out an attic, garage or packed closet filled with kitchen supplies (think pots and pans), floor lamps, and other accent pieces. Don’t limit yourself to physical donations.  Publicize your need by using online donation platforms such as Fundly or JustGiving. These companies cater to individuals raising money for special events and occasions. Your new place qualifies!

Curbside Pickups

Every day, people are cleaning out their homes and tossing furniture to the curb – literally. They will then post a picture on Craigslist with the message “Free pickup”. Free curbside pickups are real and plentiful but location dependent. When you locate a posting, be prepared to act fast. Items disappear quickly.

House Party

If you’d prefer to fill your home with new items, then host a housewarming party. Complete a gift registry at your favorite store to make it easy for guests to know what you need for your new home. At a loss for what to include? Use a first apartment checklist as your guide. Be sure your list contains a variety of low and mid-priced items. For example, don’t simply include big-ticket items like a 75-inch television. Items that are mid-range in price ($25 – $50) should garner the majority of the list.

Give Second-hand a Second Look

If you want more control over the furnishings you bring into your new apartment, then you might need to spend money. Make what’s old new again by shopping at thrift, consignment or second-hand stores. Plan on adding a little elbow grease to bring used furniture to life.

Less than perfect furniture might show water rings, scratches, or may be missing a knob or two. Non-gel toothpaste can make water rings vanish. Numerous DIY remedies appear online that tell you how to remove scratches from furniture. Don’t shy away from spending a few dollars to replace the hardware.

Focus less on cosmetics and more on the sturdiness of your potential find.  For example, dressers made of particle board or composite wood that’s beginning to warp is probably not worth your time, regardless of the price tag.

Dive into Online and Mobile Treasures

You’re probably already familiar with popular re-sale mobile apps like LetGo and OfferUp. You may have even used Facebook Marketplace to sell your old laptop. Instead of going where the crowds are, lean towards lesser-known mobile re-sale apps and online second-hand retailers. Sellers may be more willing to lower prices in a smaller marketplace.

Looking for a used coffee table, bed frame, or another piece of furniture? Then try:

If you need a bit of everything, then browse:

Pick up your item or have it delivered. Details vary by selling platform.

Shop the Sales

The tough part about accepting random donations or snagging multiple pieces from different sources is putting it all together. If you’re not careful, your living room can become less like the stylized HGTV home you’d imagined, and more like a decorating smorgasbord – all in the name of saving money. A low-interest rewards credit card can help ensure your first apartment reflects your unique style, even if you’re on a tight budget.

Purchasing your items using a rewards credit card can lead to big savings. Start by using the card to purchase new items when they’re on sale. Depending on the rewards program, cardholders earn a percentage back in cash for each transaction or earn points which can be redeemed for merchandise.

Some rewards credit cards also offer the following perks on eligible purchases in-store or online:

  • Price Protection – It’s possible to receive a refund for the price difference if the item goes on sale at the same or another retailer within 30 – 60 days of purchase. The actual time limit varies by the credit card issuer.
  • Return Protection – As a cardholder, you can be reimbursed for the charges if you’re not satisfied even if the retailer refuses to accept the return. This is one protection that can help you undo a bad purchase. Maximum return windows are usually 90 days.
  • Purchase SecurityIf the item is damaged or stolen, you may be eligible for reimbursement if the claim is submitted within 90 days of purchase or another pre-determined timeframe.
  • Special Cardholder Discounts Credit card issuers may offer additional discounts or cash back savings for shopping at an online retailer through a dedicated online shopping portal. Others require cardholders to register online to view local deals.

If you use a credit card to help pay for apartment furnishings, remember to have a plan to pay the balance off quickly. Stick to a monthly budget and set aside money for furnishings. For example, if your budget for furnishings is $500, and your budget can support paying it off in five months, add the extra $100 payment to your budget for the next five months.

It’s possible to furnish your first apartment so it matches your unique style without busting your budget. Use the tips presented here and take your time. Remember, your new home doesn’t need to be furnished in one weekend.