Law School
Personal Finance

Furnishing Your Law School Apartment Without Breaking Your Budget

This is a guest post by Chris Longman, a 1L at Gonzaga.  If you’re interested in writing a guest post at The Frugal Law Student, contact me. Thanks, for the great post Chris!

Over the last two weeks my wife and I have been trying to find the best ways to arrive at a “presentable” rental home. What we learned about furnishing on a tight 1L budget has really surprised us: Craigslist isn’t always the best deal, the cheaper something is the more likely it is to break during moving, and the most fun way of acquiring an item is often the cheapest.

We’ve been using the following pricing guide to decide what we’re able to spend on each room:

Presentable and family-friendly: $100-$350

Need something that the parents can sleep or eat on when they come visit? Some stores offer relatively quality furniture for not much more than you would spend on a few new casebooks. If you live in a decent-sized city and have room in your budget for a nicer couch or table, try out BigLots!, Target, or Fred Meyer. Our big splurge was an overstuffed leather couch that we’ll probably have for ten years, but payed less than $300 for. Some smaller department stores may also have closeout deals on older beds and lights. Generally in this price category you will still have to assemble things yourself, so keep that in mind when you purchase something that you’ll want to use that weekend. Given the typical 1L budget you probably won’t be able to buy more than one or two items at stores like this, but you’ll appreciate the items you do buy that much more.

Furniture stores, surprisingly enough, are usually a poor value for law students. Keep away from any showrooms (furniture, auto, or otherwise) until after you’ve passed the bar and made a dent in your loan payments.

Functional and comfortable: $25-$100

This category is a great one to fill out with items from a mixture of sources. Craigslist, eBay, and your law school’s internal classifieds are good candidates in this price range. If you like your furnishings new, be sure to check out local stores for sales or hidden gems. For example, my wife and I were disappointed in the selection of sub-$75 desks on Craigslist, but luckily found workable “student desks” in the back corner of Office Depot for $50. If you don’t mind second hand, you can furnish many of your rooms by stopping at three or four yard sales with a total budget of $75. Check Craigslist or the local newspaper for notices of yard sales and get there early; the competition can be vicious!

Law school specials: $0-$25

Sometimes, you just have to be a responsible spender and know your limits despite that huge loan check you just deposited. Right now, I have old camping chairs to watch TV and study in. Tough luck. I’ll suck it up. Someday I’ll be able to afford a real chair or two but until then the $3 camping chairs from the local reused sporting goods store will have to do.

Sometimes you can find the occasional furniture deal on Craigslist for under $25 but prepare to be fast and move it yourself. I would instead suggest you spend your time looking at your schools’ internal classified ads. If you don’t see any ads posted, ask a friendly 2L or 3L if they have any furniture they’d like to give or sell you. Everybody moves this time of year, and everybody ends up with more crap then they want come moving day. You’d be surprised to find how much some students are willing to leave behind when moving out.

If you’re really hurting, free or near-free items can be found towards the end of the weekend at yard sales or at Goodwill. Many of these items won’t be in the best condition, but at least they’ll be functional. You can also try the occasional dumpster dive (the dumpster by Goodwill is often a gold mine) but beware that many cities have ordinances prohibiting dumpster diving. No matter what you see inside, never dive in a dumpster that is locked or is clearly on private property.

The best part of furnishing your home with items in this price range is that it’s not shocking to you or your guests- everybody knows the financial situation you’re in and nobody will think less of a law student that has a card table for a desk. Be proud about how far you can make a dollar stretch today and it will make for better stories in 20 years when you’re furnishing your third summer home.

Rekindled love: Priceless

Just because you’re going to law school doesn’t mean that any of those items you bought during your undergrad are any less desirable. Crappy coffee tables double as TV stands, broken chairs work as bedside tables, and if the stereo stops working you can always use the computer instead. Sometimes you can’t really appreciate the value in something until you find a new use for it– be creative with what you already have and you’ll have and you’ll end up with more money now for books, food, or saving.

Photo taken from Flickr by Shannon and Matthew.