Making a Home on a Grad School Budget

Having a place that is all your own can provide release from the hectic life of a grad student.  But finding furniture for that space can be even more stressful than the work you will be escaping.  Here are some tips for where to find budget items to make your apartment feel like home.

Go Old School

Antique Stores and Flea Markets are a cheap way to get unique pieces at low prices.  Most places will haggle with you for a lower price than marked, depending on the seller.

Downtown Burlington has several antique stores within walking distance of each other.  The Gingham Daisy (102 E. Front Street) primarily stocks furniture, specializing in pieces that have been updated by vendors to look like brand new.  Their Facebook page has their hours, photos from vendors and feedback from customers. The Attic on Main (321 S. Main St.) is another  option with classic pieces and a great Facebook page with lots of photos.  Bella’s House is a consignment antiques dealer with great deals.  Most pieces get cheaper the longer they sit in the store, so after a month you could be paying $20-$30 less on an item.  You just have to take the gamble no one else will snatch up your item!

Away from downtown, the Alamance Antique Mall (2602 Eric Ln.) has three wings of antiques and a wide range of china in case you are short on dishware.  Check out their Facebook page for hours, information and updates from vendors.  For antiques on a larger scale, Granddaddy’s Antiques (2316 Maple Ave.) is the largest antiques mall in the Carolinas with over two acres to explore, so clear your weekend.  Their website has their hours and photos of what to expect.

Get Thrifty

Thrift stores are a great place to find cheap, used appliances, home goods and furniture, and funky decorating pieces.  Plus, their stock is constantly changing, so you never know what you can find.  The Salvation Army (260 W Davis St) and Goodwill (2129 N. Church St.) are both great options since all the proceeds go to a good cause.  Another good cause that will furnish your apartment is the Alamance Habitat for Humanity ReStore (1176 N. Church St.).  These stores specialize in salvaged building materials such as molding, cabinetry, and plumbing, but often they will have a small inventory or cheap, donated furniture for sale as well.

If you’re looking to unload some old items for cash, D&B Thrift Shop (2212 Wilkins St.) or Trollinger Treasures (403 Trollinger St.) will help you finance your apartment upgrade projects.

Find a Deal
Great deals and sales on other home goods can be found at Wal Mart,Target (1475 University Dr.), or bargain discount stores.  In Burlington there is a Family Dollar (2206 W. Webb Ave.), Five Below (1477 Boone Station Dr) with items under $5, and a Big Lots (1811 South Church St.).

For the best prices on fabrics, Loomcraft has a factory fabric outlet located off of I-80/45 on 2516 Industry Drive.  Occasionally the outlet will even have free fabric days to get rid of inventory, so keep an eye on this place.

Check with furniture dealers to see if they have any gently used or returned merchandise in their inventory, since they can often make a good deal with you.  I found my gently used, albeit plaid, couch this way for around $200.

Be Creative

Sometimes there just isn’t room in the budget for big items like a dining table,desk or entertainment center, so get creative!

Wooden saw horses are a great look for tables, and can be bought pre-made at Home Depot (2771 Kirkwood Dr.) or Lowe’s (125 Huffman Mill Rd.).  Either of these home improvement retailers will also cut down a wood table top for no charge.  For a finished look, add a coat of paint.  Spray paint is a good option for fast drying and easy application, try Wal Mart (3141 Garden Rd.) at just $4-6 a can.  Lowe’s and Home Depot will also sell discounted quarts and gallons of paint that haven’t been mixed to a customer’s specifications.

Upcycling wooden pallets is another design idea that is also perfect for grad students on a budget. These can be acquired for free, just keep your eyes open behind big retail stores or farmers’ markets for pallets stacked up by the trash.  They make a great bedframes, coffee tables, shelving, or room dividers.

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

Getting things for free is always the most preferred option for furnishing an apartment.  Check with the people moving out of your new place to see if there is anything they would like to get rid of.  Chances are you might pick up a lamp or two; I even scored a coat rack!  Ask relatives if they have anything taking up space in their garages, basements, or attics that you can take off their hands.  This can be a great way to find more expensive items like couches and chairs.  Recycling centers are common places to find furniture people don’t want anymore. I found a chest of drawers at my local recycling drop-off that just needed some new hardware and a little love.  If you’re coming straight from undergrad, troll the dumpsters around freshman dorms at move-out time for perfectly good furniture that naive undergrads don’t want to take home.


No matter what your budget is, there are plenty of ways to furnish your grad school apartment.  All you have to do is think outside the box and look hard for some great deals.


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