Milk Crates and Other Nontraditional Furnishings

Moving back home after college was interesting, to say the least. In my culture in Costa Rica, it is common for us “kids” to stay in our parents’ house until we are older. It’s a pretty neat arrangement because once we find a job we can pitch in the house and get to save money. But here’s the catch: I went away when I was 17 to a different country, and despite visiting for the summer and the occasional winter break, I was out of my house for four years. Try to picture someone telling you you have to move back to your parents’ house even after you get a degree and a job! Pretty difficult not to feel like you are moving backwards instead of forward. 


After a few months of making the most of it, I found an apartment. Making the decision to move out on my own was a no-brainer, but then I actually had to furnish my place. It was pretty tricky to shop for furniture and stay out of debt. But I did it and you can too. Here are the top five lessons I learned from moving in to a new apartment and starting from scratch:


5. Impulse buying can be your worst enemy. Purchase exactly what you need and exactly when you need it, no sooner and no later (well, duh!). 

4.  Before you shop, make a list (yes, I’m a list freak but IT WORKS!) and prioritize the things you find most important, and contrary to popular belief, a Nintendo Wii or a Louis Vuitton bag (even if you can get them on Ebay at an amazing deal) can’t come in before a fridge on your list, I’ve seen people make that mistake before…amazing!


3.  Home décor can be really expensive and should be one of the last items on your list. It’s a law of nature that you will accumulate an abundance of things you will later want to get rid of anyway – go garage saling (or is it sailing?) if you don’t believe me. If you can’t live in a place that looks like a storage unit (I can’t!), buy at discount stores, dollar stores, and ask your parents and friends if they have things that you can use. You can save a ton of money that way.


2. Comparison shop: Unless you are filthy rich, you are probably going to have a limited amount of money you can spend on creating a home for yourself, so you are going to have to visit a lot of stores, compare lots of prices (always bring a notepad to write down the name of the store, the brand and the price of the items) and resist the urge to give in to purchasing something just because the seller has been really nice/helpful, taken a lot of time to find things out for you, or is really cute, again I’ve seen it done before…


1. Focus on what you can currently afford and not what your dream home should look like. It’s not worth living in a beautifully furnished place if you end up deep in debt. It’s not likely that your first place will be everything you dreamed of, like something out of Southern Living. Again time for a reality check, you have to be patient. Delayed gratification (a pesky little term for all of us who are a bit shoppoholic at heart) is the key to living debt free.


Just say “no” to rented furniture and appliances. Hello Goodwill, Salvation Army and even dumpster diving for milk crates before I get myself into a losing financial proposition like that.

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