Money saving tips for your first unfurnished home
We have recently moved into our first unfurnished house and have realised how few belongings we own. Having spent the last few years moving around between various London flats, we grew accustomed to packing our things into boxes and carrying them about across the city. With each exhausting move, we have thrown things out or given bags to charity to minimise the lifting and ensure everything fits into one medium van. We always thought we owned a lot, that was until we moved to a 3 bedroom house in rural Wales. This is our first whole house to ourselves (we've always shared with others) and our first unfurnished house.
Whether you are renting or buying, moving house can be very pricey. The initial deposit, fees and upfront rent and bills, will likely leave you struggling for money in the first month or so. Renting an unfurnished property is usually cheaper than a furnished one, but these savings are spread over the year and don't help much when you first move in because you'll need to spend money furnishing your kitchen, lounge and bedroom. We've put together some money saving tips and techniques to prioritise your spending when you first move in.
First of all, you need to establish which items come with your home. Does your kitchen already have an oven, fridge, washing machine and other white goods? Is there any furniture in your lounge? How about your bedroom? Do you have a bed, built-in wardrobes, curtains? Is your bathroom fully fitted and functioning? Make a list of things you already have. Even if these are horrible and not to your taste, you have them so they are not a high priority.
The next stage is to prioritise the items which you don't have. For this stage, you may find it helpful to write a list with three columns, 'essential items', 'important items' and 'non-priority items'. The essential items will be things you cannot live without, for example an oven, fridge/freezer, mattress, seating for the lounge, curtains in the bedroom. Important items will be things that you desperately want, but could wait a few weeks for if required. For example, a washing machine, bed frame, wardrobe/chest of drawers, microwave, kettle, toaster etc. Then the non-priority items will be things that make your home more personal and comfortable, but aren't necessary. These would be things like new bed sheets, cushions, cutlery divider, plants, a shoe rack, dining table and chairs, rugs etc. Your list will be unique to you, depending on your needs and what you value most highly within your home. Here's an example from our prioritisation list (we already had a sofa and built-in wardrobe in our home):
As you can see, our non-priority list is much longer than our others. Once we have bought all the essentials and important items, then we can re-prioritise the items in our non-priority list to help us decide which we want to buy first.
How to save money on the items you need.
We could buy lots of cheap items and furniture to fill our home, but in the long run we would end up replacing these with nicer things that are built to last. So instead, we decided to go without until we can afford to buy what we actually want. Neither of us are comfortable with buying cheap disposable items that are going to end up in landfill, so if we can't find something on Freecycle, we will wait until we can afford it.
Freecycle is an awesome recycling website, where people give away items they would otherwise bin. You can join local groups to see what's available in your area. People usually expect you to collect the items from their home, so you'll need to be able to transport it. Hence, we haven't taken a dining set yet. So far, we have collected some mirrors, jam jars (and a tub full of blackcurrants) and lots of pallets.
Our plan is to use pallet wood to build some of the furniture we want, including bedside tables, a shoe rack, coffee table, television stand and eventually a bed. Pallets are easy to get for free if you know where to look. Freecycle is a great way to tell people you're looking for pallets, as are local Facebook groups. Local farmers and shops may also have pallets they are getting rid of, so it's worth asking. Pallets come in all sorts of conditions. Some are lovely and solid, whilst others are rotting at the edges. They all seem to be different sizes too. Taking the wood apart can be a challenge, so for larger projects you may want to keep the pallet in one piece, or buy individual planks of wood. We priced up the wood to make a bed at £60; much cheaper than buying a ready-made frame!
Obviously making things yourself takes a lot more time than just buying it and requires some level of skill. If you're not into woodwork, but you like the idea of up-cycling and craft projects, then charity shops, Freecycle and local Facebook selling/swap groups can be a great place to find cheap furniture that you can sand down, paint or re-varnish. Once we have a dining table I'm going to look for old chairs with padded seats so I can re-varnish and re-upholster them. I'm also going to replace all our curtains to brighten up our rooms using my own material. Youtube is a great place to find 'how-to' videos online. You can find tutorials for pretty much anything these days!
So how do you manage day-to-day life whilst you still don't own all the essentials?
So that we can save money for an amazing mattress that will last us for years, we decided to spend our first couple of months on a blow-up air bed. It's not particularly comfortable, but it only cost us £30 including the pump and it meant we could spend our money on the fridge/freezer instead. We needed an air bed anyway for hosting friends/family, so it won't go to waste! We went one week without a fridge and it was tough as we needed to buy food every couple of days and couldn't buy anything that needs to be kept cold. Luckily we can now refrigerate and freeze food, meaning we can bulk-cook and save money on meals. If you have a Nectar card, you can earn a huge amount of points via Currys or Argos, which you can then use to pay for your food shopping. It's worth comparing prices online and seeing whether you could get a great deal that also gives you nectar points.
As for small kitchen items, we only have one pot and a wok to cook with currently. We own plates, bowls and cutlery, a kettle, cups and glasses, but don't have a toaster or microwave. We use the grill to toast bread and the hob to re-heat food. As a keen baker, I already owned mixing bowls, a sieve and a load of baking tins. These come in handy for other meals too, such as casseroles and roasted vegetables. If you need to buy kitchen equipment, try to buy things that could have multi-use initially while you save for more. For example, a sieve can also be used instead of a colander, a sharp knife could also be used to peel things (please be careful) or as a bread knife, and a deep oven dish could be used for any oven food, including balancing a pizza on it, baking bread, casseroles, chips etc.
Managing without a washing machine hasn't been too bad. We are lucky to have a bath, so use this to hand-wash our clothes. If you don't have a bath, a bucket or kitchen sink will do. Draining all the water from your clothes by hand is a little challenging, so we only do our laundry on dry, sunny days and hang our clothes outside to dry. This way, if they drip, it won't ruin our floor. Alternatively, you could use a local launderette, although this means sitting and waiting for the washer to finish and it costs more money.
Luckily, we have a built-in wardrobe in our bedroom, so a lot of our clothes fit in there. Anything that doesn't fit is sorted into boxes. Freestanding rails are a cheap way to hang clothes and look quite cool, and most supermarkets sell cheap storage boxes that are more aesthetic than brown packing boxes.
We were also lucky that the previous tenants had left their sofa behind, so we have seating in our lounge. If you don't have seating and can't find anything you like on Freecycle or in charity shops, then buying some cushions could be a good idea to sit on while you save for your dream couch; you'll want cushions eventually anyway. You could also buy a sofa bed if you have a spare room; this could be used as your main sofa initially, then can be moved to the spare room once it's no longer needed in the living room.
The key thing to remember is to think long-term and buy items that you are likely to keep. If you're creative in how you use things, you'll be able to save money in the long-run and won't need to dispose of anything. Although our house is still only part-furnished, we are getting by with what we have and have learnt how to be frugal. Going out to source and collect free stuff has been pretty fun and has taken us to some really cute villages we wouldn't otherwise have visited. We have met some lovely people and have had a great time learning to build and make things from Youtube tutorials. Eventually, we will have a home that we've created and is unique and personal to us. Enjoy the experience and let us know how you get on. We'd love to hear your money-saving tips; please comment below!