How to furnish a student apartment on the cheap

August 13, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

Your child is heading off to college or university out-of-town. While many students live in residence for a year or two, after that they may prefer to rent an apartment or share a house with others. So in addition to budgeting for rent and utilities, your child may have to buy everything from furniture and dishes to pots and window coverings.

As the parent of two children (now adults) who moved out during their university years I can tell you from experience that less is always more. We bought far too many pieces that were either too breakable or too heavy when my daughter got her first apartment and in subsequent years she abandoned items that were too impractical to move to the next place.

Based on our experience, here are some suggestions on how to furnish a functional student apartment on the cheap.

  1. Bed: The bed is the one item you should probably buy new and spend the most on. Because of bed bugs and other hygiene issues Goodwill and other charitable groups won’t even take used mattresses. Futons, hide-a-bead sofas and fold out foam couches are possible options for studio apartments.
  2. Garage sales: Generally it is preferable to buy most of what you need in the city where your offspring will be studying, but garage sales can be goldmines for small appliances, dishes and cutlery. Stay away from less essential, once trendy items like fondue pots and electric yoghurt makers.
  3. Desk: Anything from a kitchen table to an old door on four legs can be used as a desk. Some students are most productive on their laptops lying in bed or on the floor surrounded by piles of research. However, a student who is going to be spending long hours on a computer may avoid repetitive strain injury with an inexpensive ergonomic work station and chair which are usually available at a reasonable cost from stationery and department stores.
  4. Former tenants: Former students who are moving on may be happy to sell dressers, tables and chairs and other essentials for a small amount just to get rid of them. This may not work out in cases where former tenants graduate in May and new students only take over the apartment later in the summer.
  5. Online purchases: There always pages and pages of listings for used furniture on Craig’s List and Kijiji. Make sure you measure the space you have before you buy items like sectional sofa or upholstered arm chair that won’t fit in the elevator or through the door of the apartment.
  6. Storage: When my son moved into a room at a co-op house at University of Toronto, the first thing we notice is the lack of storage space. So we headed out to Canadian Tire for a self-assembled wardrobe for his clothes shoes and other paraphernalia.
  7. Window coverings: Window coverings are important for privacy, particularly if the window is close to the street or on a lower floor. They also keep in the warmth in winter and block early morning light. Inexpensive roll blinds can be cut to size and purchased at most hardware and home décor stores.
  8. IKEA: You can buy anything from kitchen supplies to furniture to lighting solutions at IKEA. Unfortunately IKEA does not have a store in Saskatchewan but items can be ordered online from their catalogue and delivered. Keep in mind that this self-assembled furniture is often not durable and typically will not survive multiple moves, Also, if pieces are missing or broken (which can happen), it is a lot more difficult if you can’t just run over to the store to get what you need.
  9. Locks: One of the apartments my daughter rented in Montreal was broken into. The most valuable thing she had stolen was her CD collection and fortunately our home insurance covered the cost of replacing it. These days students have computers, tablets and other assorted expensive electronics. If the landlord will allow it, you may want to replace the existing lock with a Medeco Deadbolt or other similar high security lock.

And circling back to the theme of “less is more,” remember that after graduation, the whole apartment of furniture and other stuff could end up in your garage or basement for an indefinite period. But the upside is you can always “pay it forward.”  The summer before my son headed out to grad school in Vancouver, I sold a whole garage full of his stuff to my personal trainer for her college age daughter who was furnishing her first apartment!

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