How to Design Your Home Office on a Budget

Woman Using Computer and Mobile Phone at Desk
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Small or home office design can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Office design on a budget is possible. An office furnished with cheap office furniture can be just as functional and attractive as a workspace filled with top-of-the-line gear.

There are two rules to office design on a budget:

  1. Buy what you need.
  2. Spend the bulk of your budget where it will do you the best.

You have to follow these two rules scrupulously if you want to achieve an affordable, workable office design. To help you accomplish the goal, however, here's a list of the office furniture and equipment you need to set up a small or home office with tips on how you can get what you need without spending much.

Where to Find Cheap Office Furniture and Equipment 

1) Office Desk

Wrap around corner office desk units are excellent regarding office design but can be pricey. Look first at auctions, surplus stores or your local newspaper or online listings for office desks at a discount. The advantage is not just price, but often a larger usable work surface.

How to Save Money - Can’t find an office desk at a reasonable price? Buy a plain rectangular pine kitchen table instead. These can be found at lower-end furniture stores or even used quite cheaply. You’ll end up with a relatively sizeable good-looking work surface and can compensate for the lack of drawers by placing a single or two drawer filing cabinet under one side. Stay away from those computer desks or workstations proliferating at many lower-end furniture stores and retail chains; they’re often inexpensive, but they’re also pint-sized and flimsy.

Want an even cheaper option? Go to a resale/thrift outlet such as Habitat for Humanity (a registered charity) and pick up a used interior door. Refinish it if you like and prop it over two filing cabinets of the right height for you to sit and work comfortably. 

2) Filing Cabinets

While we would all love to have a paperless office, the reality is that most businesses still have to deal with printed documents. A proper office design demands places to store files, but even small filing cabinets, such as two drawer units, are hundreds of dollars new. Stretch your office furniture dollar by buying used filing cabinets at places such as surplus stores, auctions, through the classifieds in your local paper or online.

How to Save Money - Go cardboard. Office supply stores such as Staples offer storage boxes designed to store hanging files for less than ten dollars each. Or choose a “Bankers Box,” made of corrugated fibreboard and steel. They’re strong and stackable, and a two-pack costs less than $100.

3) Office Chair

Remember rule two of budget office design? This is one of the places to spend the money. If you spend a lot of time in your office chair, you want to get the one you can afford, best being defined as an office chair with excellent back support and the ergonomic features that will allow you to sit in it for hours on end comfortably. This will cost you hundreds of dollars - or more.

How to Save Money - It is possible to find excellent used office chairs. Sometimes businesses go out of business and auction off all their office furniture, for instance, and surplus stores often have used chairs for sale. You may be able to find one through your local online classifieds. And websites such as Amazon and eBay sell used as well as new items. Check out any used office chair carefully for wear and damage.

4) Computer

Not the lowest priced item on your needs list, but it doesn’t have to be the most expensive, either. Keep rule one of office design in mind, and buy the computer you need rather than the expensive model the salesperson wants you to buy. You can get a good laptop or desktop PC with all the power and features necessary to run business applications for under $500 online or at any chain store that sells electronic equipment.

A decent Android tablet can be had at a reasonable price. The better equipped (and much more expensive) units such as the iPad or the Microsoft Surface can run the Microsoft Office Suite. 

If you spend all day in front of a computer, don't skimp on the monitor - your eyes will thank you. Get a quality 24" or larger unit. If you have a laptop or Microsoft Surface for mobile use, you can plug it into the larger monitor when in your office. If you save documents locally make sure you have a backup system in place. Cloud storage, an external disk, or USB flash drive are good options.

How to Save Money - Know the features and configuration you want and shop around. Stores often have sales. You may also find the computer or mobile device you’re looking for at a lower price online.

5) Computer Software

With the growth of cloud applications it is no longer necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on an office suite that needs to be upgraded every few years; instead, you can pay a yearly subscription fee.

Google Apps for Work, Microsoft Office 365, and Zoho Office are examples of such. Online storage (with various levels of pricing depending on the space required) is included with each suite.

How to Save Money - There are some free or nearly free office suites available, but these tend to have fewer features and integrate poorly with mainstream ones.

6) Multifunction Printer

Multifunction printers (combining printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine in one) are a great way to save money and space in your small or home office design. A "cheap" printer may cost you more in ink/toner costs in the long run.

How to Save Money - Decide what features you want, and look for the multifunction printer that does exactly what you want it to do. Why pay for a multifunction printer with built-in fax when you rarely fax anything, for example? Watch for sales; new models come out regularly, and older models are sometimes heavily discounted.

7) Printer/Multifunction Device Stand

Incorporating a printer stand in your office design gets your printer/multifunction device off your desk, creating more usable desk space, and gives you some extra storage space. Inexpensive printer stands of the standard design with non-enclosed shelves are available from office supply chain stores for less than $50. (Fancier versions with enclosed shelves or drawers cost more.)

How to Save Money - It doesn’t have to be called a printer stand to be a printer stand. You could use a microwave cart, an end table or just about any drawer unit that’s the right height. Measure to get the dimensions you need for your printer and your office design and then take your creative eye to garage sales and surplus stores.

8) Desk Storage

Assuming you’ve taken my advice and not bought one of those puny computer workstation desks, you’ll need some desktop storage unit. I like open shelves because they make it easy to find things visually. Retail chain stores such as Staples and Ikea offer all kinds of small shelving units at reasonable prices.

How to Save Money - Go for the cube. Look for storage cubes in the department store chain retailers. They’re often in the kitchen storage section. You can get a set of four plastic storage cubes that stack and interlock for less than $20.

9) Desk Accessories

Little things matter when you’re trying to stay organized and get a job done. Two desk accessories that you’ll have to have are desk trays to keep your paperwork sorted and some container for your pens or pencils. Office supply stores and department stores offer all kinds of desk trays. I prefer plastic, interlocking stackable ones, which are inexpensive. 

How to Save Money - An (empty) coffee can or old mug works excellently as a pen/pencil cup.

10) Phone

If you intend to use a desktop phone, plan for space for it on your desk in your office design. I recommend getting a speakerphone, as the hands-free option is a real boon to productivity. You can get a good speakerphone for less than $100.

How to Save Money - Look for open box, floor models or repaired speakerphones at phone retailers, which are often discounted, although there’s nothing wrong with them. Or, of course, go with the traditional non-speaker phone, choosing one without extra bells and whistles.

Conclusion

Everything else you may be tempted to buy for your office design is not necessary to create a functional, comfortable small or home office. That doesn’t mean that you should never buy it; just that you need to pause and think of your office design and your budget before you do.

You won’t end up with the kind of office that impresses visitors with its opulence if you stick to the rules and the list of necessary office furniture and equipment above. But, you will end up with the kind of office that you can work in comfortably, and that’s what good office design, budget or otherwise, is all about.