Whether it’s your first kitchen or if your goal is to be more frugal next year, here’s how to get the kitchen essentials on a budget.
Whether you’re a college student living off campus for the first time or a young professional outfitting your first kitchen, collecting kitchenware can cost money you don’t have if you’re not mindful. But compiling your kitchen essentials doesn’t need to break the bank, and you might even be able to get going for next to nothing—if you’re not picky about matching sets.
For starters, consider how mobile you are. If you’re sharing a house with college friends or residing temporarily for a short-term job, stick to the low-cost basics and remember you don’t need whole sets of anything for a first kitchen. On the other hand, if you’ve got a new apartment and job, you might be ready for some higher quality gadgets. Here’s how to get started, either way.
Tap the rellies. Most long-established households have cupboards bursting with extra cookware, and family members would probably love to unload extra pots and pans. Some people might be planning to downsize anyway—you’ll be doing them a favor. Ask your parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles whether they’re looking to clear out some cabinets. The best part? It won’t cost a cent.
Check the free/for sale board at your college. If you’re still a student, most institutions have a robust free-and-for-sale online board that students use heavily in May and June to unload their stuff—especially those graduating. If you have a June lease starting that allows you to store things over the summer, check the board at that time of year. Most students are selling for a song or giving things away.
Hit the thrift stores. Goodwill and other thrift stores carry kitchen items for significantly lower prices than new stores. You might be able to snag some quality cook and bakeware otherwise financially out of reach, such as cast iron skillets, enameled cast iron (think Le Creuset), and high-quality vintage crockery or glassware. Just give it a good wash. But do skip things like that nonstick fry pan flaking Teflon.
Look for estate and yard sales. Pick up the local newspaper or check the online ads for Saturday yard sales. As with thrift stores, you might hit the jackpot for better quality cookware for a fraction of the cost. Just be prepared for yard sales to take a bit more time. Turn it into a morning treasure hunt with a friend or roommate.
Going free or second-hand will make you feel good about giving an old dog new life. Reducing and reusing are the two best environmental choices you can make. Reusing items keeps them out of the waste stream and reduces the energy required for producing new products or recycling.
Head to the discount stores. But sometimes you have to shop new. Like, you might want a new vegetable peeler with a sharp blade. Try the discount stores first to fill out your list. The Dollar Tree sells an array of kitchen stuff, as does Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Ross Dress for Less. Ikea is also a great place to outfit a kitchen on a budget, but try Amazon too.
Skip the specialized gadgets. Consider how many different ways you can use an item to avoid collecting unnecessary tools, like, say, a cheese slicer. Also, consider what kind of cook you are. If you’ve never baked and don’t plan to, don’t buy a pie plate or a cake pan.
Create a wish list. If you’re finished with roommates and the bargain basement approach, put coveted kitchen wishes on your birthday or holiday list. Maybe you’re ready for a set of good knives or a mixer. You can slowly start acquiring or replacing items with upgrades.
If you live with roomies, it’s best not to split costs of your kitchen essentials. Decide who will own what so each person can take it with them when they move. To keep track of your things, take photos of your items to remember which are yours. Consider buying your things in a similar color scheme so they’re easily identified, or, alternatively, create a Google Doc for the house with a list of who owns each item so when everyone is packing, they remember what belongs to them. It’s frustrating to discover after finals that your kitchen gadgets moved with a roommate.
Here’s starter list of what you’ll probably need most:
- Dishes and glasses
- Three pans (large and small pot plus a skillet)
- One or two baking pans (I like a 9×13 glass Pyrex pan)
- A cookie sheet (useful for vegetables, pizza, etc.)
- Box grater (or use a flat one if you prefer)
- Cutting board
- Vegetable peeler (cheap and so much better than knife)
- Two mixing bowls, large and medium
- Metal and rubber spatula
- Wooden spoons
- Two decent knives, a paring knife and chef’s knife
- Can opener (not electric)
- Large serving spoon
- Dish towels and dish cloth
- Pot holders and a couple trivets
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Metal cooling rack (skip it if you never bake)
- Kettle (but a pot works too)
What you may be able to skip:
- Microwave. You can get by without it. I did for years.
- Rolling pin (wine bottle works)
- Hand mixer—unless you’re into gourmet frosting or something
- Food processor
- Toaster—I admit, the oven is a pain but it works. You decide.
Joanna Nesbit writes about college, education,
personal finance, and the nuts and bolts of
transitioning to adulthood. Follow her on Twitter
at @joannanesbit or learn more at Joannanesbit.com.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, consult the advice of a financial planner.