Home Office On A Budget -- The Essentials

Andy Rooney had a funny bit about his home office on 60 Minutes awhile back, in which he revealed he uses an old piece of shaped burlwood for a desk -- it's beautiful and unusual, but he seldom actually sees it underneath the prodigious amount of clutter. It's also a well-known fact that upon his death, Albert Einstein left his workspace piled high with books, paperwork and a mass of jotted equations.

Curmudgeons and geniuses can get away with that kind of thing, but most of us who work out of our homes need to be more streamlined. So, how can you make your home office comfortable for yourself, but also presentable to the occasional visitor -- all without breaking the bank?

Personality vs. Functionality

Depending on the nature of your business, it's best to err on the side of sparseness. Terrance Zdunich, a screenwriter and graphic novelist, uses a drafting table for both his drawing and his writing, eliminating the expense of purchasing two desks. He uses a portable computer that can easily be stowed until it's needed. The décor of Zdunich's workspace shows off his love of fantasy and science fiction, which is appropriate for his business. [Find out what your desk says about you.]

Little Things Mean a Lot

"One of the best investments I ever made was a set of $3.99 coasters I bought at Ross," says Joanne Torrance, a freelance journalist who sometimes interviews subjects in her home. It may seem silly, but Larry David even devoted an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm to the topic last fall: Not everyone "respects the wood," and your nice desk could be ruined by one careless client with a cup of coffee.

And speaking of visitors, even if you usually work solo you never know when somebody will want a meeting in your office. Dorthe Larsen, a transcriber who works out of her spare room, revealed, "I got a really nice antique chair at the local St. Vincent de Paul, worth a lot more than I paid for it. But since there was only one chair, the price was reduced."

Keep It New

Things as simple as placing your computer screen away from direct sunlight, buying a floor runner to protect your carpet, anf getting an adjustable office chair will save you money in the long run.

Take care of your computer: Don't let it fry in the sun, turn it off at night (the folks at WiseGeek.com explain why), and if you're using a laptop close it when not in use. Whether you've got carpets or hardwood flooring, keeping wheel grooves at bay is a money and time-saver. You could spend upwards of $50 for a floor mat at an office supply retailer, but carpet remnants run about $10 apiece through carpet manufacturers and installers. Don't just grab an ottoman or a dining room chair for your time in front of the monitor: An adjustable, comfortable seat will increase your productivity because you are less likely to get sore or tense.

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when setting up or revamping your home office on a budget:

1. Divide the space

Psychologists say you shouldn't work out of your bedroom (insert your own Heidi Fleiss joke here). But if you have no choice, a pre-owned dressing screen/room divider could be the answer. They range from $70 to $250 new, but eBay bargain hunters are sure to find something fun and unique. Most of them fold up (like a hand-fan) and can be easily stowed when you're not working.

2. Use virtual tools

One way to avoid having to entertain potential clients, employers or contractors in your home office is to make it so you don't have to: Use online file sharing. SugarSync.com allows you to share your files across PC, Mac and mobile phone platforms, and YouSendIt.com lets you upload large files for access by anyone with an email account.

3. Shop for bargains

Before you go shopping make a list of items you need for your office and stick to it. Oftentimes discount retailers such as Big Lots, Walmart, and the 99 Cents Store will have odds and ends like post-it notes, envelopes and paper clips much cheaper than Office Depot or Staples (however, those two higher-end stores may be a better bet if you are ordering everything from a catalog or online).

4. Use time-saving devices

Terrance Zdunich fills orders for his graphic novel (The Molting) from his home office. If you also need to undertake huge mailings, you should invest in a postage scale and meter and print your own stamps and labels. This will save you a great deal of time -- and time is money.

More good ideas

officeSamantha Welch, a crafter who runs her business Sam's Charms out of her home, has several good -- and yes, charming -- tips for pinching those pennies till they say "ouch."

This is indeed an office since this is where I not only take jewelry orders, but I fill them in here as well. Since I'm on a budget, I try to find inexpensive solutions for my space. One thing I've done is to use Christmas mini lights above my computer to give me some light as I do research and fill orders on-line. I got the lights for 75 percent off during the after-Christmas sales. I then used some 3M Command Light Clips to attach them to the top of my desk so that they hang down, and voila! Instant soft light

Another way I have saved money in my home office is to consolidate my equipment. For example, I have a 4-in-1 printer/scanner/copier/fax machine. These all in one machines are not very expensive any more, and mine only takes up a small footprint on my desk. I also save all of my "failed" print jobs in a recycle basket so that I can use the back-sides to print out miscellaneous jobs.

I'm a big believer in second-hand shopping. You can find a lot of great things at thrift shops, garage sales and antique stores. Organizing my office supplies in baskets and having everything at my fingertips helps me work efficiently. Many of my baskets were inexpensive antique store finds. The rest of my baskets are either from Pier 1 or JoAnn Fabrics, where I always buy them on sale for under $5.

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