Decorating your first adult apartment is an adventure in aesthetics — and budgeting. It’s fun to figure out how to upgrade your kitchen and declutter your workspace, but it can be stressful determining where to put your hard-earned dollars. Sure, there are many spots to buy stylish furniture on a budget, but there are some apartment essentials that you just have to spend more money on (oof). Read on for our choices of where to splurge and where to save when it comes to making your apartment look like a grown up lives there.

splurge vs save

Where to Save

1. Bed Frame: One of those custom-made, rustic, farmhouse headboards may be calling your name — but they’re bound to put an (unnecessary) dent in your bank account. We’re talking thousands of dollars. With a cool print hanging above your bed, soft sheets on the mattress, and a green plant on your bedside table, you’ll have a stylish sleep situation while saving major money. A simple platform bed frame will give your mattress a proper lift and runs less than $100. Try this Alwyn Home Universal Bed Frame from Wayfair ($92) or the classic IKEA White NESTUNN Bedframe ($189) with headboard.

2. Dinner and Servingware: Fancy brands and Instagrammers know how to style a serious tablescape, but you can basically outfit your entire kitchen for the price of a single one of their place settings. When you try collecting pretty mismatched pieces at a thrift store, hit up the Urban Outfitters home sale, or do an IKEA haul, it’s so easy to build a beautiful set of plates, bowls, glasses, and serving trays on a budget. Believe it or not, Amazon has a really popular Basic Dinnerware Set for just $32 and Libby Stemless Wine Glasses for $23. Dress up those basics with some golden candlesticks and patterned placemats. Plus, when a wine glass inevitably breaks at your next dinner party, the music (and your heart) won’t have to stop.

3. Linens: Stores like Target, Home Goods, and World Market are all affordable places to find bedsheets, blankets, tablecloths, and bath towels for way less than their more expensive counterparts. Don’t feel like you need to spend $400+ on a matching duvet and sheet set when you can get crisp white towels and soft linen pillowcases for a fraction of the cost elsewhere (like Target’s Threshold Performance Sheet Set [$28+]). This way you won’t feel guilty when you get bored and change out your comforters.

4. Seating: There are plenty of cool armchairs, dining room table chairs, stools, desk chairs, and poufs on websites like Wayfair and Amazon. Or, yes, even IKEA. Don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune for seating. Our only tip? Don’t buy everything from the same place. Mix it up so your place doesn’t end up looking like a showroom.

5. Candles: It’s easy to be swayed by posts from your favorite influencer — you know, where she’s in the bathtub simultaneously burning three $50+ candles at once. That is insane. And you are smart. We love a nice-smelling apartment as much as the next blogger, but please don’t blow your whole paycheck on candles. Check out the DW Candles collection — they’re affordable, come in a huge range of scents, and are super-potent (try the sandalwood myrrh for fall, trust). You can also find literally every scent imaginable on Etsy; we love this handmade Red Dog Candle Co Lavender Chamomile Candle ($17) that burns for 50 hours.

6. Storage: Here’s where it pays (literally) to get creative. For an eclectic-cool vibe that looks like you’ve been collecting furniture for ages, we suggest hitting up flea markets, vintage stores, and thrift shops to find bedside tables, coffee tables, bar carts, and dressers. Not only are they inexpensive, but they’re often made of real wood (not a particle board to be seen) and are easily refinished to match your design sense.

Where to Splurge

1. Mattress: Not only are mattresses hella expensive, but they’re kind of boring to buy — we get it. But while this particular purchase may hurt your bank account, it will definitely help your back, your neck, your insomnia… basically, a good mattress can change your life, so spend some time choosing the right one for you. We recommend checking out Casper mattresses online to avoid smarmy salespeople at the stores. Casper, typically priced between $800 and $1,150, accepts monthly payments, free shipping, and returns!

2. Knives: All chefs agree: The key to success in the kitchen is the right knife. A sturdy, heavy, sharp knife will go a long way toward transforming your weekday dishes into Top Chef masterpieces (or something). Forgo those old-school knife blocks that are full of blades you’ll never use, and invest in the four classics: a serrated blade for food like bread and tomatoes (Orblue Serrated Knife [$20] on Amazon), a paring knife for peeling (Victorinox Paring Knife [$10] on Amazon), a carving knife for meat (Mercer Culinary Carving Knife [$41] on Amazon), and a chef’s knife for, well, everything else (Victorinox Chef’s Knife [$45] on Amazon). The most cost-effective way to grab all four of these knives is with the colorful Cuisinart Knife Set ($20).

3. Rugs: Honestly, we’re not sure if there’s a way to not fork over serious cash for a rug — they’re just inherently expensive! The thing is, the right rug can transform a space from “it’s fine” to Instagram-worthy, so even if everything else in your room is from IKEA, we suggest putting a few extra dollars toward your rug. Again, both Home Goods and World Market have durable, gorgeous rugs, but be prepared to shell out at least a couple hundred dollars for a room-sized rug no matter where you go. For a statement rug, try something colorful or textured, such as this CB2 x Fred Segal Blue Shag Rug ($699+).

4. Couch: We do think it’s a good idea to spend some dough on a nice couch. Other than your bed, it’s probably where you’ll spend most of your time, and it’s where your guests will always end up. This means it will get a lot of wear, and you’ll end up replacing a cheap couch way faster than you would a more expensive version (and thus spend more money in the long run). A nice couch, like this West Elm Monroe Mid-Century Sofa ($1,199) can elevate your whole living room. And anyway, expensive couches are just more comfortable. It’s a fact.

5. Tech: Speakers, record players, computers, sound systems, and TVs are another one of those apartment expenses that just don’t come cheap no matter what. Which is why we suggest paying a little extra for tech that’s going to work for you for years to come. Rather than ordering blindly from the internet, why not head over to your local home audio shop and ask for their advice? They often have used top-of-the-line equipment on sale and can tell you exactly what you need (and don’t).

6. Art: A truly adult apartment requires artwork that didn’t come from a tube. This means paintings, prints, or sculptures from artists whose names you know and whose talent you’re paying for. Start popping into your city’s galleries, attend student art shows, or hit up the next art fair to find pieces that speak to you. Building an art collection is a gradual (and personal) process that takes time and money to do right. But you’ll have these pieces forever, and they’ll immediately elevate any space.

What were your latest home saves and splurges? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know!

(Design via Torii Burnett)