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We all have dreams: buying a home, driving off the lot in a new car, taking a trip around the world. For every major life milestone, there are real people out there who've made it happen. In “How I Paid For It,” these financial rock stars share how they accomplished their most challenging money goals — and what they learned from the experience.
Here, one couple shares how they saved up to finally upgrade their college-era décor.
As a young adult, one mark of “making it” is having an in-unit washer/dryer — maybe even a dishwasher if you’re lucky. For my boyfriend and me, the mark was simply being able to afford grown-up furniture.
Let me explain: Rob and I have lived together for more than three years. When we started dating, our jobs required us to lead a nomadic lifestyle. As a result, we didn’t have any belongings besides our clothes, bikes and some outdoor gear. No furniture, no sheets, no dishes — nothing.
We also didn’t have a lot of cash to spend. To save money on furnishing our first apartment in Utah, we went through my parents’ house in Georgia, collected a bunch of unwanted items, loaded up a U-Haul and drove west. We ended up with a mishmash of things from my childhood bedroom and the attic, including an old college futon and a 10-year-old TV. Our financial situation for nearly two years didn’t give us much room to improve our living space, so we made do with the used and cheap items we already had.
When it came time to move last fall, we wanted to upgrade from our hand-me-down apartment to a home for two adults in their late 20s. After years of living inexpensively, we knew it would be an investment and require some financial planning. Here’s how we made it happen.
We stopped making excuses for keeping things we didn’t want.
It was easy to get caught in the mindset of keeping what we already have since “it works” or is “fine for now.” For example, the ugly armchair that was covered with an old sheet had a mismatched ottoman with fraying edges ... but we could technically still sit in it. It was tempting to move it to our new apartment “temporarily” until we found an affordable replacement, but this strategy has kept us from ever buying anything new.
So out it went. Not only did it feel good to donate old, unwanted items, it also freed up literal space in our new apartment to get creative with the items we love and kept, plus those we plan to purchase.
We spread out our spending over time.
As hard as it is to live unsettled — where do you put your coffee cup when there’s no coffee table? — we knew we couldn’t afford a complete overhaul in one go. Even IKEA runs add up, so we focused on essential purchases first and addressed the details later. We needed more kitchen counter space, so our first big buy was a $400 island that serves as a prep area, dining table and sometimes-desk. Our bathroom had no storage, and our bedding desperately needed a refresh, so we bumped these items to the top of the list. We still need to replace that armchair, but that’s something we can wait for.
We got picky.
We’ve often spent less on big-ticket items that fill an immediate need but aren’t quite what we want. Sure, it’s cheaper to pick up a used couch on Craigslist, but then we don’t get to choose the exact color and shape, we’ll both be disappointed — and will wish we’d put that $300 toward the $1,400 sectional sofa we’ve been eyeing. Instead of settling for what works right now, we prioritized and budgeted for what we want to have and keep.
We hacked what we could.
Rob loves nerdy projects, especially when they involve tech gadgets. Our move took us out of a quiet neighborhood and closer to downtown, and we had building security concerns. We looked into installing cameras and even a whole security system, and figured this was one upgrade we could do for less.
Rob hacked his Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer used to learn coding, to create a low-cost, DIY security camera. We can see the inside of our apartment remotely and get motion-sensor notifications — it also doubles as a puppy cam when our dog is home alone. We spent $83 and some brain power instead of dropping hundreds on a single camera or full system.
We saved for 6 months.
We knew well in advance we’d be moving at the end of our lease — and we planned accordingly. We began looking at the specific items we wanted to upgrade (that sectional!) and put aside money in savings to reduce the out-of-pocket cost down the line. I allotted entire freelance paychecks to the cause.
As we got closer to our move date, the cash from selling some unwanted items as well as our returned security deposit were dedicated to apartment upgrades, and we had more than $5,000 to spend. Because the rent in our new place was slightly lower, we also put the monthly difference toward our upgrades. Finally, because we relocated just before Black Friday, we took advantage of deep discounts, particularly on our new TV.
Rob and I still have to haul our laundry to the basement or a laundromat, and we wash our dishes by hand, but we’re finally comfortable in the home we’ve built together.