Alice-Azania Jarvis: In the red

Tell you what; I'll swap my teapot for your microwave

So i've got the flat. Now, it's time for the hard part: furnishing the place. Funny, really, because I never thought I'd dread this bit; along with so many former fans of home-renovation TV, I've always rather fancied myself as a potential design whiz (who wouldn't, really, after watching Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen at work?).

Of course, what I hadn't realised was that it would be quite so difficult. Or rather – what I hadn't realised was that it would be quite so expensive.

No one else seems particularly concerned about this. "It's easy," breezes my boyfriend. "Just go to Ikea." My parents say the same thing – as do my friends and colleagues. On this front, there seems to be near-consensus: if in doubt, go to Ikea.

But here's a problem: I don't want to. And not just in some kind of wishy-washy-I-can't-be-bloody-arsed kind of way. No, I really don't want to. The mere thought of it fills me with dread. Because I know full well – from repeated experience – that it will all end in tears.

Wherever my nearest Ikea happens to be, it's bound to be miles out of town in some suburb-cum-wasteland, somewhere that involves getting three buses, a train and a donkey – all of which will be fine on the way there, but really not so fine on the way back when I'm laden with momentarily irresistible but almost entirely unnecessary purchases, huffing and puffing like some returning backpacker without a tan.

Besides, I don't really like what they've got. Actually, that's not entirely true; I don't mind what they've got – some of it's rather nice, actually. The plain white crockery, for instance. It's timeless, sort of French-looking and pleasingly restaurant-y. What I don't like – and here I begin to feel a little ashamed of myself; in fact, I probably wouldn't admit to it were it not for a guts-on-the-sleeve column – is the little label that's stencilled on to the bottom. You know, the one that says "Ikea". The one that lets everyone know precisely how much you've spent on your dinner plates – which in my case would be, ahem, £1.79.

Thus far, I've managed my Ikeaphobia rather successfully. Having spent most of my adult life in furnished accommodation, what household purchases I've made have been small and the difference between supermarket and Ikea prices negligible. This time, it's different. For instance, I need a sofa. And for that sort of thing Ikea is unbeatable. I've spotted a likely candidate – an appealing fabric three-seater – for £165. Even in those spectacular 70 per cent off mega-sales that furniture shops are forever holding, you wouldn't find anything comparable for less than £300. Monthly payments would lessen the pain, but the last thing I can possibly afford to get myself into is yet more debt.

So really the question is: given my cash-strapped situation, do I have any creative options when furnishing my flat? Can beggars ever afford to be choosers?

So far, the answer seems to be a resounding "sort of". In fact – at the risk of sounding like an unfortunate cross between Carrie Bradshaw and Carole Caplin – furnishing my flat is beginning to look a bit like one of those how-to-get-the-look articles they have in Cosmopolitan: cheap but cheerful dress, vintage shoes and a designer handbag (without the designer handbag).

I've yet to discover a feasibly affordable alternative to the Ikea sofa (it's £165!), I have managed to find a few alternatives for the rest of the flat. The trick seems to be in taking time to forage; not ideal, given that I spend most of the week glued to my desk. Still, after a couple of trips to Camden Stables, I'm not doing too badly. I've got a pack of 12 beautiful gilt coasters for £4, a full tea-set (two pots) for £30 and – a last-minute find at a pottery wholesaler – a set of 12 dinner plates for £23.

Which means, really, that I'm almost there. Though if anyone has a spare microwave kicking about, let me know. I'll swap you a teapot.

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