3 Ways to Furnish an Apartment on a Student Budget

[Or you can’t make chicken salad out of you know what]

My son just finished his first year of college this past May and, having experienced dorm life, he had decided it was time to move off campus with a friend. They found an apartment within close proximity, making classes accessible by bus.

Bob was pretty excited about this development until, after discussing things with his roommate, they realized that they’d have to furnish it. Have you ever seen 20 something American males try to decorate an apartment? It isn’t pretty.  Mention Feng Shui and they think you’re ordering Thai food.

With only a few weeks before he’d be moving in, my son and I set out on a search for appropriate furnishings…on the cheap.

I’d always heard about folks getting great deals at garages sales so we scoured the local newspaper looking for one within a reasonable distance of the apartment. One ad in particular caught our attention. "Garage sale this Saturday 8am-5pm. Toys, books, clothing & more. Enter to win a free couch". It's got to be a beat up, old couch, we figured. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Saturday morning we jumped in the truck and made our way out to parts unknown.

We were only a half hour from Randolph Macon College, a small liberal arts college in Virginia, but we might as well have been a world away. There were chickens in the yard wandering amongst  the “treasures”. And there it stood, cordoned off like the grand prize on a game show stage.

The couch looked almost new. Upon further inspection we noticed it was made of solid oak. "This thing is a beauty", I said to myself. There were a couple of handwritten signs taped to the sofa. The first read "Enter the chicken drop, win a couch". The bigger of the two? "Keep off till you own it". Too bad. It had been a long ride. I could use a place to sit down and put my feet up. That's when it hit me.

Chicken drop? What's a chicken drop?

Here’s how it was explained to us;  At the end of the day when the garage sale is nearly finished, they raffle off the couch. But they don't use raffle tickets. Or ping pong balls. Instead they place their trust in a penned in chicken running aimlessly on a checker board floor.

Spend $25 or more on merchandise at the garage sale and you’re awarded with a square. When all the squares have either been assigned or purchased, the fun begins.  That’s when they give the chicken some ex-lax. If the chicken does you know what on your assigned square, you win!

As luck would have it, we were not winners.

Eventually, we put together a pretty respectable living room space for the guys though, and we did so without paying retail. Here’s where we got our best deals:

The Salvation Army Thrift Store – There are some incredible bargains to be found here. Not only were we able to get dishes and glasses for the kitchen, but we picked up an upright piano for $50! My son’s roommate is a music major so this was a real coup! The trick is to visit the store early in the day before the best items get picked over. My experience is that stores in the suburbs have higher quality merchandise so bear that in mind.

Big Lots – You may not have Big Lots in your area, but you surely have the equivalent. They carry overstocked or closed out items at deep discounts. My son purchased his furniture there and, although it wasn’t the latest and greatest, it was new.  And when shopping on a budget, who doesn’t love brand new?

Note: Buying new means not having to worry about bed bugs or fleas.

CraigsList – I’ve found some great deals through CraigsList over the years but I’ve also been ripped off a few times. The most important thing I learned is to stay local so you can inspect the merchandise. Whenever  I’ve taken the seller’s word for it and had the merchandise shipped, it’s been a disaster.

The bottom line: We both learned a great deal from this experience. Garage sales are great if you’re fortunate enough to leave with what you came for. Even then, the quality or condition may be questionable. We discovered that you can get great deals if you know where to look. But most of all, we learned that the old adage is true.

You can't make chicken salad out of you know what.

This guest post was written by Richard Rossi, a  blogger, illustrator, and the father of a college student with a nicely furnished apartment.

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