Checklist to Furnish Your Dream Home on a Budget

A couple in a living room putting together a desk with one partner reading the instructions and the other doing the assembly

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Finding the best home for your family to buy can be a stressful process on its own, but add in having to deal with the mortgage company and all the maintenance that needs to be done, and it can quickly become downright overwhelming. By the time the whole process of looking for a house and buying it is done, you are exhausted. It’s not time to rest yet, though. Now it’s time to decide how you want to furnish your new home.

When it comes to furnishing a home, the Internet tells us the same old stuff: Don’t spend too much. Look at used furniture. Always be patient. All of that is great advice, but what are some actionable steps we can take when we want to start making our new house feel like a home? Here is the checklist we all wish we had when we first furnished our homes:

Start With Your Vision

When you move in or when you visit the house before closing, take some time to visualize how you want the home to look once you're ready to live in it. Visit every room of your house or condo for about 10 minutes and start listing out everything you think the room needs including large items (beds, chairs, couches) and smaller items (garbage cans, picture frames, lamps, etc.) Even sitting in the foyers and hallways to determine what you need to fill the space.

Prioritize Needs First, Wants Second

The next step in furnishing your dream home on a budget is prioritizing. After all, you may not have unlimited money to spend. A good way to approach your priority list is to focus on the essentials first. For example, that might include a kitchen table and chairs so you have somewhere to eat, a bed for sleeping and a sofa or loveseat so you have a place to sit. These are the anchor pieces that you can furnish your home around as time goes on and you have the financial means to make additions.

Plan Your Home Decorating Budget

This is where your vision and priorities meet the financial side of decorating a new home. It’s time to determine what your actual budget is for furniture. The average person spends just over $8,000 to furnish an apartment, and you can use that number as a baseline. For example, if you're buying a 2,000 square-foot home, you may choose to budget 10% to 50% of the purchase price for furniture. That means a $250,000 home would give you a furniture budget of $25,000 to $125,000.

That’s a wide margin, and the final number you arrive at should reflect how much money you have to pony up at closing for your down payment and closing costs, along with the money you' may need to pay deposits for utilities and make your first regular mortgage payment, versus the amount of money you'll have left over in savings. One rule of thumb you can use to set a furniture budget is figuring your baseline monthly spending needs and multiplying that figure by three.

For example, if your regular budget after buying the home will total $4,000 a month, you'd multiply by three to get $12,000. This is the amount you should aim to have in savings to cover any unexpected expenses when you move in. Whatever you have above this amount is what you should spend on furniture during the first round. And then whenever your savings gets above that three-month mark again, allow yourself to buy that next round of furniture for the next room.

Fill the Rooms Strategically

Remember that priority list from earlier? Now that you have your budget and you know which rooms need to be furnished first you can start buying the items you wrote down in step 1, for those high priority rooms. When your budget runs out, save up and then go back to the list and continue to fill out your rooms based on your priority list.

Here are a few tips for getting the best deals on furniture for your new home:

  • Pay attention to seasonal sales cycles. For example, mid-winter may be a good time to find deals as stores mark down last year's models while summer offers sales opportunities from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
  • Shop secondhand. Facebook Marketplace, online bargain groups, Craigslist, thrift stores, flea markets, antique shops and consignment stores are all great places to look for furniture and other home goods at discounted prices.
  • Be wary of opening store credit cards. Furniture stores often entice customers to shop by offering a 0% deferred interest credit card but these offers can be tricky. If you buy furniture using a deferred interest deal and don't pay in full on time, then you'll end up paying interest on the entire purchase amount.

Focus on Quality Over Quantity

Finally, don’t let your desire just to fill the room take over the aspiration to have quality furniture that will last you long after you need it to. Remember that the point of prioritizing the rooms was first to fill the rooms you will be spending the most time in.

For those rooms, especially, you want to have some good quality stuff that can follow you from house to house. Try to pinch pennies on the end tables and spend more on your mattress or bed frame, which will likely follow you to the next house, whether it is for a guest room or your next master.

There’s not an exact science to this method of filling your new house with furniture. But having a clear process may help bring you some peace of mind during this chaotic time of your life. Keep in mind that it’s not worth sacrificing the home you’ve been dreaming of just to get the whole house filled right away, this will leave you constantly feeling unsettled.

Take a targeted approach, and the home will feel finished before you know it. The house doesn’t have to be perfect in one week or even one month. It likely won’t ever be perfect, but it will be yours.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much does it cost to furnish a house?

The cost of furnishing a house will depend on your taste and the size of the house. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a sample packet you can use to roughly estimate costs for basic items. That can give you a rough guideline, and as you shop for specific items, you can add detail to that budget.

When should you buy furniture for a new house?

There are advantages and disadvantages to buying furniture before moving into a new home. Moving into a home without furniture might make you feel rushed, while shopping beforehand gives you time to consider all of your options. However, waiting until you move in allows you to get exact measurements for how the furniture will fit into the room.

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  1. "How Much Does the Average Person Spend on Furniture?"

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