Tips for Furnishing Your First Place

This is the fourth article in a series on Life Skills for the New Graduate by The Life Skills Network. All week we’ll be featuring tips for new grads. See the bottom of this post for details and the rest of the lineup!

The tassels have been turned, the diplomas distributed, and the caps tossed in celebration. It’s the morning after graduation, the pomp and circumstance is over, and reality is setting in. Thoughts of job offers and relocation may be dancing through your head. You are probably looking for a place of your own close to a new job, but not too far from your mom’s cooking. It is an exciting time for new graduates. However, it is also a dangerous time, financially.

New Digs

Next to getting a car as a teenager, few things are as liberating to young adults as moving out and finding a place of their own. Unfortunately, the temptation to prove your independence usually leads to overspending on things like new furniture, decorations, and electronic gear. I remember when I moved into my first place. I had a perfectly good television with a little entertainment center capable of holding my small collection of DVDs, my TV, and my beloved Xbox. However, my new living room was larger, so I would need a larger television. And if bought a larger television I would need a larger entertainment center to hold it. Since the new entertainment center had a place for a stereo I’d need one of those, too, and a few more DVDs to fill in the space around the stereo. You get the idea.

I’ll Just Charge It

While I had all my expenditures mapped out pretty well, going so far as highlighting them in catalogs and printing out their order page from retailer’s websites, I had done a particularly bad job of saving up for the occasion. That’s fine – I have a credit card! Big mistake. I charged a few things here and there, and made minimum payments on the balance. When a new movie came out, or I needed a recliner, or a new mattress, I charged those, too. Pretty soon I had accumulated a fair amount of debt in the name of “upgrading” my new living space.

Save and Spend Plan

Ten years later, and a lot of heartache and hard work to pay off those post-college debts, I can honestly say it’s a struggle to even remember what that credit card balance represented. At the time it was very important to buy a new futon, or a new welcome mat with my alma mater’s logo, or a new surround sound system, but now I realize all that was just stuff. Stuff comes and goes, leaving behind only a trail of guilt and credit card debt to be remembered by.

This concept of saving for specific items forces two habits that are worth taking with you into adulthood. First, it gets you into the habit of saving a portion of your early salary, something you should also be doing for long-term goals, like retirement or a downpayment on your future home. Second, the delayed gratification forces you to scrutinize your list and decide if the new refrigerator with ice through the door is really worth $100 for the next twelve paychecks. Chances are, there are things you would rather do with your money than tie it up for six months waiting to buy a refrigerator. Suddenly, opening the freezer and grabbing a few cubes doesn’t seem like such a chore.

Resist Temptation

As a new graduate you will be subjected to every marketing ploy in the retail furniture book – 0% financing, 90-days same as cash, no payment until 2012. Don’t believe the hype. None of these creative financing options will leave you feeling as good as spending hard-earned cash and owning your new furniture, appliance, or electronic gadget the minute you leave the store’s double doors. There’s no feeling like owning something outright. If you really want to be successful in financial life this is a must-learn lesson, and unfortunately, one you probably didn’t get from your college experience.

Here is the rest of the lineup for the Life Skills for the New Graduate series:


  1. Furnishing the first apartment is a great time for young people to practice negotiating skills. If you negotiate poorly for a couch or mattress, you’re only out a couple hundred (could be worse), and it’s great practice for the larger items you’ll want in later years, like a new car or a new house.

    I had so much fun furnishing my first place! I think it’s really helpful to have a frugal partner help you–my mom was mine. Shopping with a spendthrift would’ve been a *very bad* idea.

    For me, the trick was to space everything out. It took over a year to get a couch, a TV, and a grown-up bed, but it was worth it to pay cash every time.

  2. Though it is easy to say that one should never “fall for a marketing ploy”, to pass up credit that doesn’t cost you anything extra and could definitely help your credit score isn’t always the best idea. Several times I’ve purchased either furniture or electronics on a 6-month or 12-month 0% interest financing plan. I did not get into them paying the minimum and knew that I would either pay it off when or before the 0% term was over. And I’ve done exactly that.
    0% financing usually defers the interest until the special period is over and that is when they stick it to you with all the deferred interest. Getting simple credit like that can help out your credit score, but ONLY do it if you can pay off the balance within the promotional period. If not, stick to the save and spend plan.
    Remember, it’s not just money you need to have when you go to buy your first house. You’ll also need to have a great credit history as well. Getting credit and paying off balances will help you get closer to that magic 850 number!

  3. What really furnished our place was the kindness of others. We opened ourselves up to anyone who had extra furniture and ended up with 2 couches, dining room set, a tv and entertainment center, desk, and dresser all from people who were moving or redecorating. The year before, I knew another set of people who offered to give us this stuff.

    One key is letting people know ahead of time and giving them a timeframe on when you can take it. You don’t want to get it 1 year earlier and spend a lot on storage. They may be willing to save it a month or have a third party hold onto it for a little until you have the apartment.