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Moving into a new space and on a budget?

Furnishing an apartment doesn’t have to cost hundreds of dollars, and working with a tight budget doesn’t mean you have to use cardboard boxes for furniture.

If you’re resourceful, here are a few things you’ll never need to buy new:

1. Book Shelves
People who are upgrading their furniture, or in this economy, downsizing their apartment, may be getting rid of their shelves, so check with friends and family.  Thrift stores also tend to have a lot of bookshelves. Online, consider Craigslist or search for a Habitat ReStore for shelves and other “gently used” wood furniture. (If you’re feeling ambitious and you’re considering building your own book shelves, Habitat ReStores also sells cheap leftover lumber. Add a few bricks or cinderblocks and you've got shelves.)

Hot tip: You may want to avoid used hanging shelves. Removing the brackets may damage the integrity of the shelving materials.

2. Couch
Finding a good, clean one could be tricky. Check flea markets, thrift shops and Craigslist. (In search of a good local flea market? The National Flea Market Association is a good place to start.)

To make sure you’re choosing from the best selection out there, go to thrift shops that emphasize their standards for accepting used furniture. Housing Works, for example, only takes used furniture that’s in great condition.

If you can, ask where it’s coming from and why the seller is getting rid of it.  If you’re still concerned with cleanliness, you can spot clean or vacuum it, or buy a snug sofa slipcover. 

And you’ll want to make sure it hasn’t been in an apartment with bed bugs. Check for brown or black marks along seams and forget it if there’s a strong musty-sweet odor, a sign of infestation.  If you’re opting for a futon, use a zippered mattress encasing.

3. Desks
Desks of all sizes, and some in excellent condition, may be left out on roadsides on garbage night. But if you’re not into dumpster diving, check with friends who might be moving. Offices that are closing or downsizing are another option. And consider bookmarking a couple of the government auction sites to see when desks, or other office furniture, becomes available at a site near you.

Hot tip: Don't make a purchase until you've put a tape measure to work and know exactly how much space you have. New apartments can mean more or less desk space, and sometimes none at all.

4. Tables
Flea markets always seem to have a variety of coffee tables and end tables. Larger, sturdy tables could take the place of a TV stand.  Browse thrifts stores or yard sales.  If all else fails, a sanded piece of plywood (about $4) on top of a couple of plastic storage bins (about $10 each) draped with a nice tablecloth might do.

5. Kitchenware and Appliances
Checking with your family is a great place to start when hunting for good used kitchenware.  Your parents might be tired of the flatware and dishes that they’ve used since you were a kid and be looking to update their kitchen.

And flea markets are heaven for lovers of knick knacks as well as kitschy kitchenware.  You can find drinking glasses, dishes and flatware, sold singly or in sets.  You may even be able to find kitchen appliances like toaster ovens, microwaves and coffee makers at flea markets.  Craigslist is also an excellent resource for cheap kitchen appliances that would otherwise be thrown out after an upgrade.  Just make sure what you’re buying is fairly new and in good working order with secure wiring.

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