Millennials and Gen Z are moving out: How to stick to a budget

Whether you're furnishing a dorm or an apartment, costs add up quickly


Moving can get expensive. Here’s how to budget for furnishing your new place.

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One of the many trends that have become prevalent in the pandemic is relocation among young adults, particularly Gen Z and younger millennials. According to a March 2021 Bankrate report, 32% of Gen Z (ages 18-24) and 28% of younger millennials (ages 25-31) moved during the pandemic.

Further, last year’s economic downturn saw many Gen Zers and millennials move back in with their families. According to Pew Research Center data from July 2020, 52% of young adults (18-29 years old) resided with one or both of their parents.

Now that the situation is looking to turn around, I expect relocations to continue. However, this time, young adults who are getting back on their feet may be moving to live on their own, while Gen Zers will get to furnish their dorm rooms or even their first apartments.

If my expectations are correct, I’m excited for all of you moving – and for all parents who’ll finally get their homes back all to themselves. One important thing to consider, however, is how much it will cost. Whether it’s a dorm or an apartment you need to furnish, costs add up quickly. Budgeting for these costs is critical to setting yourself up for financial success.

Read on to learn how to afford everything a dorm or apartment needs and stick to your budget.

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How to furnish an apartment or dorm on a budget

In 2019, the National Retail Federation projected the average back-to-college spending to be $977. That number grew to $1,059 in 2020, despite parents being unsure whether classes would be held in-person or online.

Furnishing an apartment from scratch requires an even bigger investment. Apartmentguide estimates that furnishing an apartment with only essentials costs between $3,000 and $5,500. That doesn’t include items like décor pieces, side tables and other things your apartment can still be functional without.

As you can see, to furnish a dorm or apartment, you need to be ready to pay quite a lot upfront. Here’s how you can keep the spending under control.

Set up a budget

Now that you know the average costs set up a budget for your dorm or apartment furniture shopping. It can be easy to get carried away buying wall art and stylish console tables on sale, but those can wait. Costs add up quickly, so it’s best to watch your total closely when adding items to your cart.

Remember that you don’t need to buy all the furniture at once. Start with necessities like a bed, a table with chairs, cooking utilities and some storage. You can gradually make other purchases over the following months and years.

If you’re furnishing a dorm for your teenager, it may be a good opportunity to teach them budgeting too. Let them know the maximum spend and choose the items they want up to the total limit you’ve set up. This way, they’ll start to feel some sort of financial freedom – and the limitations such freedom comes with.

Get a 0% APR credit card

Since upfront costs are unavoidable, you may need the help of a credit card to cover them. However, if you carry a balance after you’ve done all your furniture shopping, you’ll have to pay interest – which can add up significantly the longer you carry the debt.

Luckily, you can avoid this unnecessary expense. Zero APR credit cards don’t charge any interest during the intro period, which can last between 12 and 18 months, or even 20 on some cards.

You’ll still be required to make at least your minimum payments, but you won’t see any APR charges during the intro period. After that period ends, you’ll start accruing interest on the leftover balance, so make sure to pay it off on time.

I furnished my apartment from scratch with the Discover it® Cash Back that comes with a 15-month introductory no-interest offer (11.99% to 22.99% variable APR thereafter). Thanks to the cash back rewards, Discover deals and no-interest period, I saved $270 on these expenses.

Look for opportunities to save

Furniture and home essentials can be very expensive, but high prices are easily avoidable. For instance, I spent around $3,500 furnishing my apartment when I moved states, and I don’t mean just essentials. This includes everything from a bed to an Instant Pot to an Etsy wall art piece featuring a scene from “Outlander.”

I was able to do that by getting as many things as I could for free and looking for deals and low-cost items. I also recommend looking into used items whenever possible.

Start by asking friends and family if there’s anything they wouldn’t mind giving away. When I was moving, my friends and my old landlady “donated” things like pots and pans, dishes and silverware to me so I wouldn’t need to buy those. One of my friends also sent me housewarming gifts like a paper roll holder and shower curtain hooks.

I also saved $120 on Amazon Prime Day thanks to coupons and sales and bought a couple of returns from Amazon Warehouse. Further, I made sure to buy the most budget-friendly options. For example, the bookcase I bought was $30 at Target, and my reading chair cost around $180.

See related: Amazon Prime Day: How cards can save you even more

Remember that you can always update your furniture in the future. You can save up the money and purchase a $4,000 Restoration Hardware couch at some point, but when the priority is to make a place livable, a $200 loveseat might work just fine.

Bottom line

Furnishing a dorm or apartment from scratch can get pricey. But when you set a budget, focus on low-cost items and have the right credit card to finance them, it’s much less stressful and easier on your wallet.

Check CardMatch to see which 0% APR cards you’re most likely to be approved for. The tool provides credit card offers tailored to your credit card profile with no impact on your credit and at no cost.

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