How to Set Up a Home Office on a Budget

You've gone into freelance work and are ready to set up your home office. Looking through the ads in the paper or online, you realize the cost of a computer and all of the components is going to take more than you planned in your budget. Luckily, there are several ways to save money on nearly all of the equipment for a home office. Here are some tips for finding the equipment to create a powerful home setup on a frugal budget.

Desktop and Laptop Computers

Like cars, computer models change every year and people will upgrade their home systems long before the old computer has lived out it's time. This creates deals that you can tap into for your own computer needs:

  • Recycling Centers—Check out computer recycling centers in your city for computer deals. They often have models separated into refurbished and "as-is" groups. Refurbished models are guaranteed to work. The as-is group may or may not work but could be a great bargain if you are computer savvy and can do some minor repairs.
  • Pawn Shops—Pawn shops carry desktops and laptops and often offer short-term money-back warranties.
  • Thrift Shops—Occasionally a thrift shop will have computers. This might be the cheapest deal you can find on a computer, but you will buy it as-is. Plug it in the store to make sure it works before paying for it.
  • Manufacturer Websites—Many computer manufacturers have a place on their website where they sell refurbished equipment. These computers may have been floor models, discontinued models, or products returned by consumers for some reason. The prices are often heavily discounted so they can get the stock out of their warehouse. This is the closest thing to a brand new computer you'll find without paying the high retail price of a new one.


People also purchase bigger monitors to replace their old ones. They may leave the old one in the garage or basement for awhile before deciding to get rid of it. If you can put up with the old cathode-ray tube style monitor, you can pick these up cheaply or for free if someone just wants to get it out of their garage. If you really want one of the flat-screen models, you can find discounted LCD monitors in several places.

  • Look at PC recycling centers and pawn shops again for deals. You'll find many of the smaller monitors there as people like to upgrade to the larger and wider sizes for watching streaming TV and videos.
  • The larger thrift stores will often have an assortment of flat screen monitors. Again, plug it in to make sure it powers up, but you'll have trouble testing it on a computer unless you bring a laptop and cables with which to test it. Otherwise, make sure you understand the return policy.

Network Components

In some of the same shops you can find pre-owned routers, repeaters, extenders and hubs. These items don't have moving parts so unless they have overheated at some point, they are typically in good shape. A computer recycling shop may have boxes full of these items that they haven't gone through so you could get a real deal on a wireless router. Make sure they have a return policy in case the router doesn't work when you get home.


This will be the most difficult item to find. Printer models change very frequently. The mechanical parts are typically plastic which are easy to break and fast to wear out. Stick with the recycling shop or pawn shop where they have thoroughly tested the printer. Manufacturers will also sell discounted models on their refurbished items sites. If you do a lot of printing, this may the one part of your home system where you buy new.


This is one area where you'll save a lot of money. New printer, monitor and network cables can be expensive. Check out the recycling center and thrift shops. They often throw the cables they get into a big area where you can pick through them for what you need. You can walk out of these places with a handful of cables you need for just a few dollars.

If you have a limited budget, you can still put together a home computer system that does all you need it to do. Nearly all of the components you need are at your local PC recycling center, pawn shop or thrift store. When driving around the neighborhood, don't forget garage sales and items left on the curb with "Free" signs on them. You can then boast to friends how you set up your home system for next to nothing.