How to budget for decorating your first apartment

Dollar dollar bills y'all

Colorful living room with dog laying on carpet
(Image credit: @picsfromcandice)

Moving into your first apartment is very exciting and a milestone in your life. Still, it’s important to understand two things before you even start the decorating process. One, from furniture to decor and essentials like tools — you will need a lot of things. Two, everything gets expensive quickly.

“I got my first apartment right after graduating," star of HGTV's Unfinished Business and interior designer Shay Holland tells me. "Since I didn’t have any furniture, I rented it through the apartment complex management office. I paid twice as much in fees as I would have paid had I simply done my research and purchased budget-friendly options.”

Still, it’s important to create a space that’s meaningful to you. “No matter how long you plan to stay, it’s worth creating a place that fosters meaning, creativity, and connection. It doesn’t need to be Pinterest-level worthy but it should be a soul-nourishing space on any budget,” she says. 

No matter how much or little you have to spend — here’s how to budget for decorating your first apartment.


Before you make a budget, it’s crucial to see what you can get for free. For example, are your parents re-decorating and getting a new dining table and chairs? Ask for their old stuff. 

Don’t forget to check out Facebook Marketplace or local buy-nothing groups for free items. You’d be surprised at what people are giving away.  


Before you make any purchases, map out a budget to keep costs down. “Even for those of us who hate making budgets, planning is undeniably the crucial foundation,” says Holland.

She recommends breaking down anticipated purchases by room and priority. For example, having a comfy mattress and bed frame are a priority. Having a fancy headboard is not.

“Everyone’s list will look different. I keep mine in my notes app, along with measurements, so they’re handy if I stumble on an unexpected sale or a vintage find.”

Items that are used infrequently or that hold very little personal meaning should be purchased inexpensively. “Mass-produced decor, occasional tables, single-function kitchen appliances like rice cookers, decorative pillows, and anything that will only come out for guests or holidays,” says Holland.


The more wear and tear a piece of furniture gets, the more you should spend on it. For example, putting your dollars towards an extra plush sofa is worth it, but you don’t necessarily need a high-quality side or coffee table. 

It’s a similar situation for a home office. While a comfortable desk chair will serve you well and is worth the extra money, it’s easy to get away with a cheap desk, as long as it's functional for you.

You should also make a list of things you will need, but probably won't use too often. For example, everyone needs cookware. But if you only cook on occasion, you can likely get away with spending the minimum on it — or just buying one high-quality pan and a medium-sized pot for dishes like pasta or quinoa. 


Art and decor don’t need to be expensive, but it’s worth budgeting for because it will make your home feel like more of a reflection of you. Purchasing these items shouldn't be too stressful. 

“Instead of looking at wall decor as a daunting task, have fun with it," says Alix Greenberg, founder of ArtSugar."Get creative by mixing and matching sizes, frame colors, and orientations (frames can be horizontal, vertical, or square — depending on the image of course).”  


If there’s something you really want to splurge on or you have a lot to buy, wait for a holiday because there is a good chance the item will go on sale. 

Retailers will use any holiday as a reason to market discounted items. So, whether it’s Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Black Friday — know there is always a deal to be had.


Take your time decorating your first apartment. It could take weeks or months and that's okay. “Don’t feel pressure to get your first apartment together overnight. And celebrate with little splurges — candles, plants, picture frames — that put your signature style on that first apartment,” says Holland. So take your time and enjoy the decorating process.  

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!