Setting Up a Home Office on the Cheap

By Thursday Bram on 22 December 2010 (Updated 2 February 2011) 1 comment
Photo: Alan Levine

If you go into an office furniture store and start browsing around, you can quickly wind up with sticker shock. But you don't have to let that stop you from creating a home office — it can be done surprisingly inexpensively. (See also: 10 Unusual Ways to Cut Costs in the Office.)

The Reason for Your Office

Before you dive into designing your home office, think about why you're setting it up. If you're running a business of your own out of your home, your requirements — and what the IRS expects of your home — are different than what you may need if you want a place to attend to household matters.

With a home office that you plan to write off on your taxes, you need to be able to separate your workspace from the rest of the space. That can mean emptying out a room or adding a screen to an open area. For tax purposes, though, you do have to clearly separate your office — I've heard of some people just marking off where their home offices end with masking tape on the floor successfully.

Thinking Through the Furniture

Before you get stuck on the desk/chair combo, check out options like standing or walking desks — they can take some getting used to, but they're better ergonomically (and they save the cost of a chair). Get imaginative with your space. 

There are also a lot of options for picking up office furniture inexpensively. Many businesses will sell off old furniture when they upgrade their offices or go out of business. They may also send it to a liquidator. Both options can help you pick up furniture in pretty good shape for a fraction of what it cost new.

Paperless from the Start

The cost of office supplies can be a significant portion of what you spend on a home office. But by going paperless from the very beginning, you can cut costs dramatically. In theory, you may even be able to avoid the cost of a printer and filing cabinets (although, in even the most paperless offices, there's typically some hard copy still floating around), or at least buy a significantly smaller filing cabinet and less robust printer.

In a paperless office, it does make sense to invest in a scanner (so that you can turn incoming paper documents into electronic files), but with the availability of inexpensive combination printer/scanners, that's not going to add a lot to your total cost.

Think Green 

While your home office may not include huge appliances like a refrigerator, it can be a significant power draw. Simple tricks, like unplugging equipment when it's not in use, can keep your utilities bill down.

Planning Your Home Office

At the end of the day, your home office needs to be a place where you can get work done. If that means getting your initial set-up in place and then tweaking it — maybe adding that fancy ergonomic chair or a mini-fridge for snacks — then go for it. Even a basic office will be enough to work in for the short-term, letting you really figure out where it's worthwhile to spend money and what you don't need for your business.

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With the high cost of printable checks (for quickbooks), I've found that it's easier to pay home business expenses online using bill pay. You'll use less checks and save on shipping. You'll save a lot of money by going paperless with paying bills.