A Smart Way to Play Interior Designer When Moving

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The following is a contribution from Kira at the Planwise Blog. 

It can be great fun to page through Sunset Magazine and imagine yourself sitting in front of a Tuscan coffee table reading a book with vineyards stretching over the hillside just outside your window. Wait a minute; I live in San Francisco and that coffee table probably costs more than I make in a month. Couches, shelving, coffee tables, arm chairs; the list goes on of things one needs to furnish an apartment or house. Making a house into a home can be quite the pricey task, especially when moving into a new place.

Making a Few Walls and a Roof into a Home


My boyfriend and I recently moved into a new apartment. As anyone who has moved lately remembers, the costs add up. Deposit, credit check, moving van, and more expenses can blow the lid off a moving budget fast. In the months leading up to our move I began to set aside money and cut back my day-to-day spending to save up for moving expenses.

Since neither of us had much in the way of furniture, we were basically starting from scratch. Our weeks are mostly full with work, so we conquered the task of furnishing our apartment one weekend at a time.

Step by Step


The first weekend after moving, we made our way to Ikea – the mecca of affordable quality furniture. Ikea is a really good place to start due to the seemingly unlimited variation in color, size, and styles of furnishings that they carry.

Since the first step in making a new place feel like home when moving is to unpack all of the boxes, we focused on shelving sets, dressers, and wardrobe organizers during this first trip. We came out with some amazing shelving in exactly the color and size that we had envisioned.

We dedicated the following weekend to the kitchen. Let me tell you, when budgeting is a priority it is hard to eat healthy while eating out every meal of the day for a whole week, especially when you are tired from moving! We found some great pantry shelving at The Container Store, which surprisingly felt rather similar to Ikea’s DIY design.

The chef’s chopping block countertop is an ideal addition to our particularly small kitchen, and serves as an extension of the kitchen. The silver industrial style accentuates the modern decor we have decided on for the apartment. My neighborhood hardware store ended up to be the perfect place to find additional lights, contact paper for lining the cupboard, and miscellaneous essentials.

After we set up our kitchen, the next step was selecting a dining set. Larger furniture items can range in price towards easily over $1,000, and dining sets are no exception.  This is where I get to the inevitable Craigslist review. Craigslist can be a great resource, however keep in mind you might have to filter through some, for lack of a better word, junk. Sometimes, finding what you’re looking for can be a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack.

When using Craigslist, you don’t have the luxury searching by color, style, or size but you can search by specifics. I always filter my search results by ‘low price,’ in order to see the cheapest listings first. Many of the dining tables didn’t come with chairs, or were only selling chairs for $40 a piece.

After only two or three days of checking up on the new posts on Craigslist, I found a very nice, dark mahogany, gently-used dining set with four chairs only for $60 total. I sent out an email, and within 24 hours I was pulling up in front of the gorgeous home of the friendly couple who were selling me their dining set.

Big Purchases on a Budget


The endeavor of furnishing my entire apartment in one or two weeks would have massively thrown my budget off track.  By spacing the task out over the course of a month (who am I kidding, it’s going to be two months before we are completely set up with art on the walls), I was able to allocate my money into weekly spending.

Splitting the costs with my boyfriend, of course also helps. At times I wished that we could simply have the bedroom, kitchen, dining room, and living room all set up at once, but for such a time and money-hungry task as moving I’m glad that we took it step by step.

Editor’s note: Kira offers some great advice on how to keep your costs under control when making a move. Having moved more times than I can count in my life, I reiterate Kira’s advice to have a moving budget and do as much as you can yourself to save you money.

Have you moved recently? Looking back how did you save money while moving? What will you do differently on your next move?


Kira writes for the Planwise Blog about her experiences as a young adult in San Francisco finding new ways to be thrifty.


Photography for this post provided by Neil Favila

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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • James @ Free in Ten Years says:

    Good tips. Having a budget when we bought our place recently saved us more times than I can count. I’m also a big fan of budgeting long term so that my costs can be spread over the year.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Thanks @James. Yes keeping up with my budget initially during the move has been great for purchases like a dining set and a couch. I definitely agree about those yearly long term budgets for the big picture!

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Nice to see you guest post on here! Spacing out purchases can really help verses spending a bunch all at once. I haven’t used Craigslist and have heard mixed reviews. I know some people have gotten really good deals using it.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      🙂 Thanks David, it’s an honor for me! Yes Craigslist can be a gamble. The thing that is nice about using it in a large city is that there are so many options. However, just two days ago I went to check out a couch that was posted as free (to good to be true right?) and the upholstery was shredded, so we had to pass… You win some, you lose some.

  • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom says:

    Moving is torture on a budget. Our last move was to our current home that was a new build. There are a ton of hidden expenses on a new build. We used sheets for window coverings, and a few study moving boxes for end tables to delay some of the expenditures.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      All those expenses we never think of @Mandy! I’m sure moving into a new build must have been quite a project. I like your resourceful use of sheets and moving boxes. Thankfully our place came with blinds, but window curtains are still on the list of slightly lower priority items we need to get to.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    If we ever move again, we will be downsizing. And instead of having a 4th bedroom, I want more living space and storage. And I want something that is updated so I dont have to spend a bunch of money!

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Good choice @Holly. Between my previous place and my new one, I now have a lot more living space. It’s nice not to have to cram my pictures in frames and decorative pieces onto a high shelf where it’s never seen. I did a great deal of downsizing in my wardrobe for this move. I probably cut at least a third of my clothes and accessories out and donated or sold them to used clothing stores. I feel packing up to move is a great way to find items you haven’t worn since moving into your place to start.

  • Pauline says:

    Great post Kira. I just moved and was happy to find many things in my new house. They aren’t beautiful and shiny, but they saved me a LOT of money for now. Kitchen ware, bed, chairs, table, even a fridge and an oven! I gave it all a deep clean and will replace in future months. I also did the move myself, which saves a lot, but with a family and a full time job I think I would have splurged and hired movers.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Thanks @Pauline. Wow, that’s great that your place came with so many of the essentials. Like you said, even if you replace them in the coming months, it’s still saving you a lot of money during the initial move to start off with those key items. Yes, cutting out the movers cost is a great way to do it. My boyfriend and I rented a U-haul and did most of the moving ourselves with a little help from my sister and her boyfriend.

  • Catherine says:

    Craisglist or Kijiji here, are great resources for buying and selling if you have the time and patience to sift through the posts. Good tips!

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      I have never heard of Kijiji, but I looked it up and it seems pretty resourceful. Yes time and patience are definitely one of the requirements for scoring those great finds on Craigslist. Thanks @Catherine

  • Jennifer Lynn @ Broke-Ass Mommy says:

    Moving is the absolute pits and when it comes to dwelling shifting, I am a minimalist for a reason 😛 But it sounds like you are nesting quite well in your new apartment, congratulations! Great snag, by the way, on the mahogany dining set from Craigslist. That is a phenomenal price.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Thanks @Jenna, I am really enjoying the new dining set (I’ve already hosted three small dinner parties). Keeping all of my nesting purchases to a minimum has been a goal that I think I have stuck pretty close to. Simply reminding myself that next week we are buying a new leather couch, keeps me from buying any new dish ware.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I hope I don’t have to move for a long time, but I think just taking your time is important. You do want everything to be done at once, but it really does make good financial sense to take it slow and shop for deals.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Yes @Kim it’s a tast that most people don’t look forward to if they are already settled. Wanting it to be done all at once is greatly attributed to the fact that all my friends and family want to come see my place now that have moved, and I want to be able to show somewhat of a home. Of course they are all very understanding that my boyfriend and I have just moved and are busy individuals.

  • Gillian @ Money After Graduation says:

    Great post ! I moved about 6 months ago and still don’t have all the furniture I want ! But it’ll take some time, and some lucky finds for sure !

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Thanks @Gillian! Yes I am learning more and more that these things take time. Good luck with the rest of your furnishing fun!

  • John says:

    Big fan of Ikea myself….I go there at least twice a year. Once for furniture and once for breakfast. haha! Like you guys I also found myself buying furniture over time while wishing I could do the whole house setup at once. But at least they got pictures and catalogs to help picture the completed project before getting there.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Haha yes Ikea is the ultimate furnishing/ Swedish breakfast spot @John. The pictures and catalogs are great, but so are the sample homes that they set up in 500-700 sq feet or so. Wandering through those is how we came up with many of the ideas that we had for furnishing our own city apartment. Have you seen those at your local Ikea before? I’m not sure if they have them at all of their locations.

  • AverageJoe says:

    Ikea! Like John, I love that store, but you can get lost in it. There’s no such thing as “running in to Ikea to get something.” When we need something durable and high quality we shop elsewhere. When it doesn’t matter but we want it to look great, Ikea is brilliant.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Agreed! I can’t see ever getting out of Ikea in less than an hour or two, especially that maze of a floor plan. But of course, I think it’s all great fun. True that the durability of their products isn’t the best depending on its utility.

  • Terry says:

    I like your approach of spreading out your costs over several weeks instead of buying all the furnishings at once.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Thanks @Terry. It was an approach we sort of began to fall into because of our lack of time during the week, and shortly found that financially it was the only way to go.

  • Tackling Our Debt says:

    Moving can be very expensive. On our last move the moving company alone was $3K.

    The cost of buying furniture and fixtures can add up quickly. I love IKEA and I have furniture from there that is quite old and still in beautiful condition. I also find that you can get very nice furniture, cheap, if you can find an Estate Sale in your city.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Wow! I think that the fact that we already had very few things to move and were able to cut out a moving company saved us a lot. I had never thought to find an estate sale, however I can imagine we would find some very nice furniture there. I should probably try the news paper listings to find one since in the metropolitan area that I live in it would be very difficult to find an estate sale in a high rise!

  • femmefrugality says:

    Love craigslist for this! And Ikea. Though, I do have to say that while I’ve found their furniture to be affordable, I wouldn’t describe it as quality. They’re super great for short-term decorating, but not necessarily something that’s going to be in your house for twenty years. I’ve found Big Lots to be the same way. We’ve gotten a few furniture items from both of those places because they fit our budgets, and we were okay with the short-term.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      I have heard similar things about Ikea, however have never purchased anything from Big Lots. I have done quite a lot of moving around San Francisco and to and from Europe over the past five years, so I have not fully put my Ikea purchases to the test. I think as you are assembling the dressers and shelving it is easy to see that the thin boards are not going to last 20 years. But hey, only time will tell!

  • Savvy Scot says:

    You can never ever go wrong with Ikea… 🙂

  • justin@thefrugalpath says:

    When I moved into my first apartment I received a lot of hand-me-downs. I got my table from my now brother in law. A bedframe and lamp from his now wife. And my mother in law gave me some old pots and pans to use. I still use the bed frame. You can rarely go wrong with hand-me-downs from friends and family.
    Sometimes they’re more than happy because it’s just junk piling up in their basement.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      @Justin, what I did leave out in this post is all of the kitchen hand-me-downs that I got from my folks. They passed on a lot of really great essentials that I didn’t have of my own since I used my flatmates’ in my previous places. I don’t know what I would do without my nice large solid wood chopping block!

      That’s great to hear that you are still getting a lot of use out of those hand-me-downs. 🙂

  • Daisy @ Money Smart Guides says:

    I hate moving. It costs a lot, even if you have all of the furnishings you need, because different furnishings fit into different spaces. It can definitely break the budget, so I try to stay in one place for longer. Even more so when you own and aren’t renting!

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Yes @Daisy moving can be quite a hassle! I used to live in a place where my bedroom was massive and I had multiple bookshelves and dressers as well as a large bed and desk. When I moved to Europe I put them all in storage, and then when I returned a year later had to sell most of them since I moved into a tiny room (but better location) than before. Now that I moved AGAIN, if would be nice to have some of the pieces I sold off.

      Just like you said, different furnishings fin into different spaces.

  • Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter says:

    I often donate any goods I no longer need which always feels really good. We also elicit friends and family to help us with the actual move.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Donating is really a great way to go! In stead of throwing away unwanted items and creating more waste in this world, you are passing it on to someone who can continue to get use out of it.

  • Jason Clayton | frugal habits says:

    As you mention in the article, spacing out your spending is always a good idea for saving money and keeping to a budget. Usually when I want something that is a bit pricey, I wait a month before purchasing. Just waiting 30 days does 2 things for me. One, I can put away the money or sell something and use the money to purchase. And Two, many times I never buy it because the desire has faded.

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      @Jason I really like your 30 day rule. Especially because it does help you realize if it’s a priority and you still want to go through with the purchase. So far all of the things I have been spacing out are essentials, but when it comes to some of the decorations I have found that I want, your 30 day rule might do me some good 🙂

  • Brian says:

    We’re moving into a new place in a few weeks and will be getting a lot of new furniture. We will definitely be going to IKEA but utilizing Craigslist to sell some of our old stuff to partially finance the new stuff!

    • Kira @Planwise says:

      Good luck with the move @Brian! That’s great that you will be getting some money for your used furniture rather than throwing them all away.

  • Chris says:

    I recently moved as well, near Boston. BEST thing ever is Freecycle! I got a REALLY nice sleeper sofa, and two matching dressers that look nice on the outside (they are in tough shape on the inside…but will be functional until I can find something better). MANY communities have a Freecycle network, so check out to see where the one is nearest to you. Have gotten lots of other useful stuff: a nice LL Bean jacket, a box of food, a set of matching wooden salad bowls, 3 ring binders. You can post stuff to offer. It’s a great way to get rid of stuff you don’t need, too.

    And, finally, one way a number of my friends have partially furnished their places: wait a bit, until move-out day at the local college or university. Kids who are moving out will often place a TON of great stuff out on the curb. I got my computer desk by talking to the custodian at the school I work at – it was out by the dumpster because a teacher had upgraded and no one else in the building wanted it…it’s sturdy – designed for classroom use!

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