Set Up A Home Office Without Blowing Your Non-Existent Budget

If you work from home for a while, eventually you’re going to want to upgrade from your recliner or kitchen table to something a bit more professional, if only to convince others that you don’t sit around all day in last night’s clothes watching Simpsons reruns. Even if that’s actually what you do. No, especially if that’s what you do.

Setting up a home office, though, can easily make your measly paychecks disappear. Blogging at Building A Home Office On A Budget, Ana offers some advice on how to set up a home office on the cheap.

Here are some tips she offers:

*Work the garage sale circuit. See if you can’t score a desk or office chair from someone down the street who gave up on trying to work from home.

*Buy in bulk, and buy in advance. Hit up wholesalers for cheap loads of staples such as paper and … staples to avoid having to run to the grocery store to refill your supplies.

*Replace goods with technology whenever possible. Avoid sticky notes by sending emails to yourself.

*Avoid fax machines. Not only are they expensive, but they force you to maintain a land line. Instead, scan signed documents and email them as PDFs.

Check out the link below for the rest of Ana’s tips.

If you work from home, what do you do to cut costs?

Building A Home Office On A Budget [MintLife]


Edit Your Comment

  1. OnePumpChump says:

    Your blob of post-its is not as easily searchable as emails sent to yourself.

    • Ragman says:

      There was the notes program that acted like post it notes on screen. Don’t know if it’s still around.

      There is also “Tasks” in Outlook.

      BUT, none of these make your work area “look” busy…

  2. nakkypoo says:

    “*Avoid fax machines. Not only are they expensive, but they force you to maintain a land line. Instead, scan signed documents and email them as PDFs.”

    Fax machines are pretty cheap, but the ink or ribbon can be expensive. It may be impossible to avoid faxing though, because some businesses insist on sending them to you. There are e-fax services for about $10 a month that can take the place of a fax machine and land line with aplomb.

    • kc2idf says:

      I have a land line anyway, and the VoIP provider I use offers two numbers and distinctive ring. I have two rings for voice calls and three for fax.

      Then for a fax machine, I have an all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier that I would still have had if it didn’t have the fax function, but since it does, I hooked it up. Guess what? It’s a lot handier than you would expect.

      When I can email a PDF with the same level of effort as sending a fax, I’ll give up the fax. Until then, no.

      • Extractor says:

        Gotta have the AIO just to deposit checks and send faxes. My AIO is almost 2 years old and I’m still using the original cartridges. Print all with ancient HP Laserjet.

      • Doncosmic says:

        Most all in ones, can send email, so I can email a PDF with EXACTLY the same amount of effort as sending a a fax.

    • tsumeone says:

      the biggest problem with fax machines is that some places have not joined us in the 21st century and do not accept emailed documents… IRS for example would not let me email them something they wanted faxed. Most government agencies in the US are like that

      • Macgyver says:

        That’s cause they can contain a virus. And you can’t get a virus through a fax machine.

        Don’t you people know, that you should never open an attachment from an untrusted source.

        • tsumeone says:

          I work in the computer field and have witnessed some pretty nasty infections, 90% of which come from people clicking yes on things they should not be clicking yes on. If the recipient keeps their computer and Acrobat Reader up to date, there really is no credible security concern from opening an attached PDF. That said, surprisingly few people do that.

          • katstermonster says:

            I suspect the IRS is like many large companies in that they’re still using IE6 and some ancient version of Reader. It’s abysmal. So yeah, the chances of them getting infected are fairly high.

            • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

              OH THE HUMANITY!!

              *sobs* I can’t help it if my company is stupid : (

            • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

              my company still uses IE6 but when people fax us something it goes to a digital line and gets attached to the their file in our IE6 based database. unfortunately, they have to send it from an actual fax machine.
              someday, we’ll join the 21st century.

      • Willnet says:

        Send faxes online for free. It has an ad on the cover page.

      • quail says:

        It’s not just the IRS. Other companies I’ve stumbled across do the same thing too. The odd thing is that a few of them won’t even accept faxes from my all-in-one printer. I’ve had to plug in an old fax machine from time to time to send to these companies. Not sure what is going on with those guys, but nothing PC based is accepted.

      • Rachacha says:

        I work for the government, and I needed a service added to my IT Account. I filled out the requisite form. The form instructed me to fax it to a particular number. As the offce was 5 doors down the hall from my office, I decided to save a few cents and a tree by walking it down the hall. They told me I HAD to fax it, even though I was standing next to the fax machine that it was being sent to. No amount of logical reasoning would prevail, so I had to walk back to my office and fax it down the hall. AUUGH!

      • Sparkstalker says:

        I’m sure part of it is a legal aspect. For example, I work in a nursing home, with our own pharmacy in house. Despite it being in house, all orders to it must be faxed for compliance purposes…

        • RandomHookup says:

          Seems a little silly since a fax is nothing more than a photo of a document. As long as it’s scanned (I assume for signature purposes), an email document should be more than adequate.

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      I have a fax machine, and use it solely for faxing out. Once I’m done using it, I unplug it. Don’t have the luxury of going without a phone line up here since cell phone reception is non-existant.

    • GameHen says:

      Those instances where I must use a fax machine are so rare that I just run up to the local UPS store and use their machine. It ends up being more cost effective than paying $10 a month for an ongoing online fax service I don’t use.

  3. KrispyKrink says:

    If one is looking to create a home office, they already have everything you need. Computer and phone. You’re done.

    Of course, one should upgrade as soon as possible to a box of some sort to sit on and maybe 2 boxes for a desk.

    People need advice and direction for this? Geez…

  4. Macgyver says:

    A good way to cut down printing cost, is, Lexmark makes printers that cost a couple hundred dollars, but ink is only $5, and you can print up to 500 sheets on a cartridge.
    Or else get a laser printer, they cheap, and ink can last a long time.

    Some businesses require a hand signed signature, so you would still need a fax machine. And they ain’t that expensive.

    I would never trust a third party with my password, I keep all my financial information in a spreadsheet.

    I can’t replace technology with written notes, calendars, appointments, todo list, etc. I’d rather have them written down on paper. It’s just easier for me. And with a programs to do that stuff, sometime there is a learning curve, and it may be too time consuming.
    If you do write stuff down, and it works for you, why change it?

    • Macgyver says:

      And sometimes it’s just easier and faster to write it down, then to put it in some program.

    • colorisnteverything says:

      Umm… just be a normal office person and buy a laser printer. For $200.00, you can buy enough printer and toner to print about 10,000 sheets ;)

      I would know because I am a grad student who prints about 200 pages a week and my toner cartridges last FOREVER – even for me. These machines save you so much and are BUILT to take the abuse of high yield printing. Ink jets aren’t.

      • Gulliver says:

        As a student I am guessing you do not do a lot of color printing. In the field I am in, I NEED a color printer. The cost of a color laser is not inexpensive.

        • ben says:

          Define “inexpensive.” You can get a color laser printer for a couple hundred dollars.

        • colorisnteverything says:

          No, you are right, I don’t. But for a similar cost to the Lexmark (possibly even cheaper if you get a refurb off of a place like Tiger Direct), you can get a printer that will last you FOREVER and will be cheap. My Dad keeps insisting up on those MFC’s but he works from home A LOT. Rarely ever faxes (he can do that at the office), but his printers rarely last a year. And we have had everything from HP’s to brothers. The MFC’s are just not built to hold up that well. They are meant for a family printing photos once in a blue moon. They aren’t meant to print 30 page documents all day.

      • Saltpork says:

        I work in IT and have for almost a decade. I’ve supported many copiers, printers and multifunctions.

        Your best bet would be an older & higher end monochrome(b&w) HP laserjet.
        The 4000 series are older workhorses. 4250’s are a good option as well.
        Both have a large footprint on a desk, but are built solid and will only require maintenance once every quarter million pages. When one of the 200 dollar units kills its fuser, it’s not worth the price to repair it. It becomes scrap.

        The toner cartridges that come on the newer smaller printers is pathetic. 2000 pages for 50 bucks.
        These older HP machines can do 10000 to 15000 per cartridge and refurb shops have them aplenty for business for about 65-75 dollars.
        Due to their common nature the 4000 & 4250 series are also relatively easy to find repair parts or repair service.

        I would avoid home office MFC’s. They don’t do much particularly well outside of scanning(sometimes). Their ink is also insanely marked up.

        In the realm of color laser printing, go canon or xerox. Xerox is a good option for those serious about color lasers, but your media will not be cheap. Canon (and oki for that matter) have a tendency to use xerox’s designs to build their own systems and are comparable. Oki has some of the most expensive media around and that’s why I did not include them in my recommendation.

        In context of this article…if you HAVE to have a fax machine…buy a Brother 75-100 dollar unit. They will last for a decade or more as long as you just fax with it. We have one here from 1993.

    • Megalomania says:

      I would say that getting the right multifunction printer is half the battle for a home office. If you purchase a good printer, you can set it up, save the drivers on a flash drive, and just not worry about it for years.

      A networked multifunction laser printer can be had for about $300 (from Canon) and you can go for the color model if you so desire for another couple hundred.

      • ParingKnife ("That's a kniwfe.") says:

        After years of never having it handy, I tape the driver CD (in a paper sleeve of course) to the back of my printer. Out of sight, out of mind, but always available.

    • XTC46 says:

      “And with a programs to do that stuff, sometime there is a learning curve, and it may be too time consuming.
      If you do write stuff down, and it works for you, why change it?”

      With that kind of attitude, why does anyone advace on to anything new?

      Reasons why digital calendars/notes are better: (for me…it does vary though)
      1. I never write things down any more. If im on the go and take a note down, I enter it into my phone, it then syncs with my PC, so I have it there as well.
      2. If I set a meeting, I enter it into my calendar (Outlook in my case, but there are others). It then also syncs with my phone, and lets everyone in my office know where I am at a given time if I want them to know.
      3. I can back up all of this data in an offsite location so if my phone is lost or my computer stops working, I dont have to add “missed an important meeting and now need to deal with an angry client” to my list of reasons it is now a bad day.
      4. If I try to double book my self for a meeting, a warning pops up and says “you probabaly shouldnt do that”.
      5. My handwriting is horrible andi type significantly faster than I write. I work on a computer 12 hours a day so typing notes is always faster than writing them down, and about 100000000x faster to locate and look back up.
      6. I can link related data together. Have a meeting at 1? No problem, the address of the meeting, my contact their,what its about, a link to a google map to help me find it, etc is all right there in the entry on my phone. And if it changes, I can send out that change to the other 10 people in the meeting all at once, and then get a confirmation that they received the chage.

      the list really goes on.

      Heck I even got my dad to start using a blackberry (I hate the things, but his company likes them) and he now loves it. He has all of his contacts, email, maps to locations, meeting times, etc while on the go. His secretary can enter a new meeting into his calendar remotely and call him to tell him check his phone for the new info. no need for him to pull over, write it all down, then try to figure out where it is.

    • mac-phisto says:

      the best reason for going digital imo? search. you can’t search paper documents, nor is searching FOR them incredibly easy – even if you’re well organized. digital docs? it takes seconds. not only can i find you a report based on a few key words as fast as i can type them, but i can search across thousands of pages of data just as fast.

  5. James says:

    Get job at real office, smuggle supplies to home office?

    • Ragman says:

      The first rule of obtaining office supplies: “Don’t talk about where you get office supplies!”

  6. XTC46 says:

    “*Avoid fax machines. Not only are they expensive, but they force you to maintain a land line. Instead, scan signed documents and email them as PDFs.”

    This is good advice for every company everywhere.

    – Bitter computer tech who hates working on obsolete fax machines and screwing with fax server software =(

    • kc2idf says:

      Good. You’re the person to fix what I need fixed. Find a way to make emailing a PDF as easy as sending a fax.

      • Alvis says:

        Yeah – computers sure are hard to use, aren’t they?

        Seriously – what are you, like 40? You must have SOME experience with the emails.

        • dwasifar says:

          As a 48-year-old who maintains his own hand-built Linux web and mail servers, I cordially invite you to fall off your skateboard and suffer a debilitating injury. Then you can have cruel young snots making fun of you too.

      • Ragman says:

        You need a scanner that will scan directly into PDF. I have one, it’s very convenient. Faxing is more of a pain than emailing a PDF. Especially when you have receipts or other flimsy, non- 8.5×11 size paper.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          Faxing is the simplest method at my office. Just give the secretary the paperwork and tell her the fax number — she’ll take care of the rest.

          I do agree that operating a fax machine can be annoying but there are many banks, government agencies, insurance companies, etc. that either want an original signed document or a fax. They flat out wont accept scanned or photocopied documents for whatever reason.

          • ben says:

            They’ll accept a fax, but not a photocopied document? What’s the difference?

            • wrjohnston91283 says:

              Its often hard to read a fax.

            • Ragman says:

              Ignorance on their part. They don’t understand that you can ‘shop a signature onto your document image, print it out in a lower resolution, hiding any telltale markings, then fax that printout at low resolution as well.

              That or they have issues with not receiving some emails – hotmail/yahoo may be blocked, AV freaking over attachment types, etc.

  7. Economists Do It With Models says:

    I worked at home when doing research for my book about the economics in The Simpsons, so I very literally did sit around all day watching Simpsons reruns. Does this exempt me from needing a home office? :)

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      No, you just need to get a Lazy-Person Reclining Toilet Chair instead of a desk chair. :D

  8. Sonicjosh says:

    Instead of a fax machine you could get a fax modem and have your computer do the work, I know Win7 has a tool built in to do this. Of course whatever you send needs to be digital, or you need a scanner.

    • Ragman says:

      Scanner because of the need to send a copy of a signed document. I had to fax in a signed copy of an estimate for some home repair work. Next time I have them do some work, I’m going to push for emailing a PDF to them.

    • Extractor says:

      I have a fax modem in my Win 7 that I use to send faxes directly from MS Word and the cable company has a neat app that will flash the caller ID and whatever sound I want for incoming calls. Can also set up the PC as answering machine that will accept faxes thus saving even more paper. Bright House/Road Runner/ Time Warner

  9. kalaratri says:

    If you’re truly going to work from home for more than a few hours at a time, you should get good quality furniture that fits your body well. If you can get it from a garage sale, great, but don’t go for savings over comfort or you may regret it a few weeks later when your wrists, back or neck starts aching. Mr. works from his home office full time, so we didn’t mind investing about $1,000 since he will theoretically use it for at least a decade.

    There are actually stores out there that sell nothing but used office furniture, especially here in Northern Virginia. You can also look for notices of offices going out of businesses as they will often sell off their stuff super cheap.

    • sirwired says:

      Amen on the quality furniture! Pretty much no office chair you can buy in an office supply store is very good. The standard commercial chair my company buys (from Steelcase) is $600, comfortable, and can easily last for a decade. The ones at office supply stores have padding that breaks down after just a year or two, and that makes the chair very uncomfy.

      • kalaratri says:

        Hubby actually searched out the exact furniture he had while in the old office. Not cheap, but everything was where he expected it to me and it was ergonomically designed and all that jazz. Expensive now, but cheaper than treating the effects of crap furniture down the line.

        • Willnet says:

          I bought a similar used cheaper chair and took it to work and exchanged it with the good chair.

          • kalaratri says:

            You, sir, are a genius.

          • Foodie92 says:

            And a thief if you didn’t ask before you did that. Stealing a chair from work, even if you swap it with another chair, is still stealing. When your cheapness takes from someone or something else, you’ve taken it too far.

      • Ragman says:

        That’s my gripe with the lower cost chairs. I’m annoyed that they’re stapled/glued on the bottom, and I can’t easily get to the padding to replace it. If I could do that,put a gel pad and some new stuffing in, I could easily get a decade out of my cheap Office Despot chair that I like.

  10. azzie says:

    My tip: do not order additional phone line for your business. Instead, get a phone number from Google Voice or RingCentral and forward it to your existing home or cell phone. This will give you greater flexibility for a fraction of cost.

    Set up different time-of-day behavior, business greetings, voice mail, follow-me, and multiple extensions. You can also dispose of your business phone without having to deal with long-term contracts.

    Or, alternatively, get a VoIP line from CallCentric.

    PS. Not promoting any of these services, but using them myself for quite a long time.

  11. sirwired says:

    “Fax machines are expensive”? You gotta be kidding me. They aren’t, and most computers still have a modem in them that can act as a fax machine. And many (if not all) IP Phone services work with fax machines.

    And how much paper and staples does a home office actually go through? Unless you are old-school mailing fantastic quantities of documents to somebody, how much paper do you go through that it makes any sense to buy paper from a wholesaler? There are some paper-intensive business (especially anything attached to finance, real estate, or law) but other than that, what is it that you need paper for?

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I work from my home office about 2x a week and I through a lot of paper. I’m still old fashioned and like to proof read paper documents before I submit them (I work for an environmental firm and we put together gigantic reports). I still like to proof and edit with a red pen and just can’t do such mind numbing work on a computer screen.

      My employer provides all of my office supplies. I can’t imagine a situation of paying for office supplies out of pocket, whether it’s a home office or at work.

  12. sir_eccles says:

    Don’t forget to keep all the receipts to claim for your home office tax deductions.

  13. tws says:

    “*Avoid fax machines. Not only are they expensive, but they force you to maintain a land line. Instead, scan signed documents and email them as PDFs.”

    For generic information, I agree. However, NEVER email any credit card information, social security information, or anything even remotely private. Email is NOT secure, and if you email sensitive information, you’re opening yourself up to identity theft.

  14. madanthony says:

    If you need office furniture, keep an eye open for auctions, especially bankruptcy auctions. is a good resource for this. Furniture often goes cheap, because people only need so much and because it’s hard to move/store, and because you can’t easily resell it on eBay.

  15. perkonkrusts says:

    I actually built my wife a desk for her home office. All the wood ended up being not very much cheaper than a desk I could have bought at a store. Still, it was fun to do and it came out OK.

    The greatest thing I did was find that individual wooden stairs, sold at Home Depot, make a perfect desktop if placed back-to-back. The rounded ends are great.

  16. openbox says:

    Look up any office furniture installation company in your area and call them. There is always a glut of nice used furniture that they will sell for pennies on the dollar. I am an account manager for an installation company and my main client is one of the top national banks. I throw away a truckload of decent furniture almost every week because they turn over their office furniture at the bank branches every 5-10 years.

    If you want some nice stuff at bargain prices, call any office furniture install company and you can take a $1500 desk home for probably $100 and love it.

  17. quail says:

    I’ve seen more small businesses blow good money on stationary that rarely gets used. It can even go to waste when an address needs changing or a phone number, etc. Get something professionally designed to build your brand, but print it yourself on an as needed basis on your B&W laser printer for awhile. When you do get some real stationary consider just having the logo and tag line printed at the print shop. Then print the rest out with each letter.

  18. Beppo says:

    I don’t know if every state has one of these, but the Vermont State Surplus Warehouse on Route 2 west of Waterbury is a treasure trove of cheap, used office furniture. The chair I’m sitting on, the desk I’m working at and the table next to it were all bought there for less than $100.

  19. Rachacha says:

    Habitat for Humanity has store around the country where they sell used and new building supplies as well as furniture. I went to the store for the first time this week, and a lot of the furniture they had appeared to come from a hotel that was remodeled or model homes. Worth checking out:

  20. SacraBos says:

    For the FAX option, I have a business Vonage account, you get a free number for faxes. I run fax software on one of my machines. I have software to send PDF files/etc as a fax, and I get my inbound faxes as emails.

    And the nice thing about Vonage (or any VoIP provider), is that you can move your office without any problems with dealing with the phone company. Just plug it in at the new location once you get internet service at YOUR convenience.

  21. Extractor says:

    All you really need is a Windows 7 Pro machine with a Windows Home Server. My Win 7 machine is X64 with 8 GB Ram Quad Core 9500 with a 1.5 TB primary, 2 TB secondary, and a 1 TB tertiary. ATI 4850 512 graphics, Happauge 1850 for both terestial DTV and Cable TV (thats what the 2 TB HD is for) Fax/Modem, Add on LPT port for the HP Laserjet and a free AIO Epson CX9400Fax (USB), APCC 1300 Battery backup, 2 DVD burners, Floppy(just because I had it), 2 external USB SATA docking stations, 5.1 surround ($35) Altec Lansing, Brother QL-570 ($35), Antec Veris wireless remote in addition to the MCE remote, ABS-FX7 7.2 surround headset. Samsung 24″ monitor. Logitech G9 mouse & Cyborg RAT3 mouse with Logitech G15 keyboard. This machine was close to $1500 and all bourht with a Vias Signature doubling the warranty by a year. Next to it is an E8400 with 4 GB and all the tuners hooked up to an Acer 21″ with internal speakers via HDMI cable. Keyboard and mice are set on a USB switcher since it would have cost more than the monitor to find a KVM switch with the proper connectors. Everything is networked and after I finish my Taxes will be changing the Server R2 to Home server thereby backing up everything automatically. My second job is consulting Health care facilities with the optimal type of servers and clients that they need. You do get carried away when you build your own stuff as I have over 10 machines in my house. Eventually all parts will be used in some office’s machines.

  22. BarbiCat says:

    Whatever you do, for the love of whatever deity you worship or don’t worship, DON’T SKIMP ON YOUR INTERNET.

    Many places offer a small office/home office plan that comes with certain perks and guarantees, BECAUSE business has different needs than residential does. I can not tell you the amount of times I’ve had someone threaten to sue me personally because there was planned Internet maintenance in their area that brought their connection down for an afternoon.

    First, most residential internet connections have contracts that explicitly point out that you CAN’T use them for business, or claim any sort of ‘lost business’ expense if you do. Second, if your business is so important that you are ‘losing thousands of dollars a minute’ during an outage, GET A SECONDARY CONNECTION. If you can’t splurge on $15 a month for a back-up dial-up connection, then I have trouble believing you just lost a $6,000 “stock trade”* the very second your Internet died. Business accounts generally have access to better service call times or compensation for time lost, so there’s a better chance you’ll get hooked up quicker if you’re paying the extra $10 a month.

    * Oh, and you can’t sue us because that was actually online poker, either.

    • kalaratri says:

      I see a similar thing among website clients who can’t grasp that a $5.95 a month hosting plan on a shared server won’t have the same reliability as a private server. Not everyone needs a private server, but if it’s absolutely, positively necessary that you have 99.9999999% uptime, you have to pay for it.

  23. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Flea markets / garage sales are awesome for things like letter trays, folders, etc. Somehow that stuff seems to show up in bulk; one weekend there won’t be any and the next a plethora. Anytime I’m at the flea market and see office supplies I’m like a kid in a candy store.

  24. Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

    Disclaimer, I sell used office furniture.

    NEVER, EVER, under any circumstance, scrimp on a desk chair. You may be the 1 in 100,000 that finds a used Aeron, Steelcase Leap or similar quality quality chair at a yard sale, but otherwise, BUY A WELL BUILT CHAIR THAT FITS YOU.

    You may even find that Aeron, but if it is a C size (for someone 6′ tall and 200 lbs plus) and you are 5’3″ and 125lbs and need the A size, you will have back problems in the first hour of using it.

    Good quality chairs have a new list price starting around $4-500 for entry level and it is not uncommon for them to list at $1,200 to 1,400. Buy one of those used for $125-400 and your back will thank you. Also, an off color or other cosmetic problem like a small tear in the fabric on the back can bring a $400 used chair down to $150 or even less.

    As far as faxing they say to scan and email. Well, since you are buying a printer and a scanner, why not just get a multifunction machine? And do not be penny wise and pound foolish. Do not get an inkjet, get a laser. You will burn through any savings after buying just a couple of ink cartridges.