Furnishing Your Apartment: When to Save & When to Splurge

Let’s face it: furnishing your home can be incredibly pricey. With rent, utilities, and other expenses, you barely have enough money left over to make your place look great. So how do you get your apartment to look like Carrie Bradshaw’s without going totally broke? The answer lies in mixing pricier items with other pieces you can snag for almost nothing. If you're unsure about which items to splurge or save on, that's no problem. Read these tips below for creating your dream apartment without emptying your bank account.

1. Splurge: Mattress


Selecting a comfy and long-lasting mattress is the first step to putting together your newly furnished home. Instead of using your budget on items that will fall apart, invest in quality items that you can use for many years to come. Major brands such as Sealy, Stearns & Foster, and Simmons are proven to last and you can often find them marked down during seasonal sales at department stores like Macy’s or Sears.

Talia James, an entry-level PR assistant says, “I already spent so much money on my apartment that I thought I could save some money by getting a fairly cheap mattress. It was a horrible mistake. It was so uncomfortable, I couldn’t sleep at all. Eventually I had to buy a better (and more expensive) mattress, but it was worth it in the end.”

Shannon James, a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, echoes similar sentiments. “I splurged on my bed and pillows because it it’s the worst waking up for work with a neck ache!” she says.

We spend at least a third of their lives (or more... just us?) in bed, so why not make it the most relaxing experience possible? Be sure to buy a comfortable mattress to avoid sleepless nights.

2. Save: Accent pillows


Your personal tastes and style are constantly evolving, so it’s important to be realistic about which items you’re most likely to keep in the next few years or so. Hint: You’ll probably be more likely to still want the neutral toned throw pillow versus the one with zebra stripes…

Stick with inexpensive throw pillows for your couch or bed that can be swapped out seasonally or as your taste changes. You can find stylish (and budget-friendly) throw pillows at places like Target and Wal-Mart. If you save on these items now, you won't feel bad about redecorating later!

3. Splurge: Sofa


A comfy and durable couch is a must-have for frequent movie nights and overnight guests and as we mentioned earlier, it’s never a good idea to sacrifice comfort over price. Your sofa, loveseat, or armchair will probably be one of the most expensive items you purchase for your place, but it’ll be worth it in the end since you’ll spend so much time on it.

While it may be tempting to buy a used or secondhand sofa, beware of bedbugs or other horrifying internal issues that you won't know about until it's too late. Cara Williams, another recent graduate, says, “I bought a used couch from Craigslist once, and my apartment was filled with bedbugs later that week… It was the worst.”

Another tip for buying a sofa is to avoid super trendy designs that you know you'll probably hate in years to come. A plain, neutral fabric may seem boring now, but you’ll be happy with the choice down the road as your tastes and color preferences change.

4. Save: Nightstands, end tables, coffee tables


Alexandra Patterson, a Research Librarian at Mercersburg Academy, says, “I tend to spend more on anything that I will be using a lot. This means I spent more on my mattress and sheets than I did on my throw pillows. I spent more on my couch than on my decorative chairs because the couch is where I sit most often.”

In other words, great items to save on are the ones that get occasional use. These include more decorative pieces such as side/coffee tables or nightstands. Items like these often don't see much wear and tear, so try to save your cash for the main events, like your sofa.

Inexpensive tables can often be found at places like IKEA or Wayfair.com. Or, if you consider yourself a DIY-er, you can make an existing table look expensive and brand new with a fresh coat of paint and decorative knobs. Scour Pinterest to find fun, cute weekend projects that'll turn your plain end table in the ultimate dream piece.

5. Splurge: Rugs


It’s important to choose a long-lasting rug, especially if it’s placed in a high-traffic area (i.e. entryway or living room). Wool rugs typically last for awhile, while less expensive rugs made from synthetic materials will fall apart after a few years of use. Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel are great resources to find a rug that’ll add stylish flair to any space!

6. Save: Dining table


Unless you have a ton of roommates or throw frequent dinner parties, your dining table is another item that won't see a ton of damage over time, even if you're using it every day (because how often are you really there, anyway?). Find an inexpensive dining table at IKEA or Target, and top it off with a stylish tablecloth or runner that you love to up its style factor.

7. Save: Lighting


It’s also important to save on items that can be easily replaced, like lighting. Inexpensive lamps are easy to find so there's no need to spend a fortune at that vintage boutique store. Instead, try finding some cheaper versions at places like Urban Outfitters or Overstock.com. However much your little you spend on your lamp, it'll all serve the same purpose, so there's really no need to drop a ton of cash on it.

If you’ve yet to find the lamp of your dreams, no need to worry. “I also saved on lamps/lighting because you can use the natural daylight which is cheaper than plugging in a lamp anyway,” says Shannon. Problem solved—during daylight at least.


Furnishing your new place on a budget is a difficult but not impossible task—it just takes a little knowledge of which pieces to should spend more on, and when it’s OK to choose a lower price over quality. Once you get that down, you’ll be living in style in no time!