How to decorate your home on a tight budget
I have been asked so many times by readers and friends how I decorate our home on a budget and where to even start in their own homes. And while Pinterest is flooded with budget decorating tips, I still get the question all the time. I wrote about today’s blogpost years ago already and felt the need now to re-write the post because so much has changed since then again and I have learned a few new things.
So because I’m being asked so often, I felt like I should just give my two cents to the subject. You guys all know that I like to decorate on a budget because I simply have to. It is so easy for someone with a lot of money to walk into designer stores and shop their heart out. It would be so fun for sure if I could afford it.
Now decorating on a budget has become a habit and even if I had the cash, I’d like to spend it somewhere else and would still decorate as affordable as possible. (I also wrote a blog post about how I decorate with and for a teenager on a budget, see below).
You might also like my 10 favorite Ikea decorating tips and tricks because we all know Ikea is rather affordable.
How to decorate your home on a tight budget
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While everyone that frequents the internet knows by now that Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, thrift shops, and auctions are the places to go to start decorating your home on a budget, most people still get discouraged by their lack of finds or ability to put what they see in those smelly and scary places into their home design. Some people just don’t want the “vintage look” and prefer a more modern approach which you can still achieve when you thrift and buy second hand.
I’ve heard so many times “I never find anything good like you” which I’m sure isn’t true. You just don’t know it. Just check out some of the examples I found by simply opening up my Local Marketplace at the end of this post.
And what if you don’t have the money to splurge on those key pieces I mentioned above? There are so many people who can’t do that either and it is also sometimes so difficult to find a budget to buy all the supplies needed for that lovely DIY project you spotted on Pinterest which was supposed to be so cheap.
Where do you start when you struggle financially but still want a pretty home? This is where I start…
Clear out your space
First of all I would start out by reevaluating everything I had in my space and I would clear it all out. This can seriously do wonders and show you that you are probably better off throwing out some of the things or that you can rework some of them.
You might wonder what this has to do with decorating but to me a good cleaning does wonders and you get to start with a clean slate. So when the space is cleared out, I’d give it a top to bottom cleaning. A really, really good cleaning. I mean toothbrush to the baseboard and magic eraser cleaning. That’s what I do, I’m not even kidding. I use a toothbrush, windex or in a really bad case Clorox spray bathroom cleaner, no joke it’s my favorite. I scrub my walls, molding and baseboards and wipe them down with old towels. You wouldn’t believe what a difference that makes.
If you are planning on painting the walls this is necessary in my opinion anyways. Make sure to check out the “Oops paint” section at your home improvement store for discounted paints and if you happen to have a Restore location you might get lucky with some donated cheap paint as well.
My favorite is a coat of fresh white paint if you don’t know what direction you are going yet. I use Valspar’s eggshell Ultra White 7006-24.
Break up matching sets and take photos
Take photos of all your items. List the items with photos of what you want to sell. That can give you a little cash for decorating.
Print the photos of the items you want to keep or add them to your phones favorites for easy access so you can reference them when you are looking for more decor.
Do not keep or buy matching bedroom, living or dining room sets. The collected decorated look doesn’t ever happen with a matching set.
If you happen to have a matching set, consider breaking it up by either selling part of it or moving some pieces into other rooms.
Make a List of Things You Need
Lists are always great and help me tremendously. Make a list of things you need and are looking for so you don’t end up with a bunch of things that you don’t have room for and will just clutter up your space. (I still struggle with this)
Sell some of your furniture pieces and decor
Like I mentioned above already, sell whatever you don’t want anymore. It is pretty impressive sometimes what extra cash I can make from selling unwanted items from our home.
Have patients with this part because some items don’t sell fast. If they don’t sell after a couple weeks, donate them.
Experiment with different furniture placements
This also does wonders! If you just clean and play around with your furniture you can feel much happier with what you have or get an idea of what you want. Especially if you need to figure out what furniture pieces and sizes you still need.
I wrote a blog post about 4 different living room layouts I have tried in our house.
Rework and rotate what you have
This tip is definitely on the top of my list. Over the years my favorite key pieces haven’t gotten replaced. I either rotated them throughout the house or gave them a makeover. This is also addressed in my blog post about how to transition into a different decor style over the years.
I have been blogging since 2012 and since then the major items in our home have stayed the same. Don’t you think I can be proud of that? It shows that you don’t have to buy new things all the time. Instagram and Pinterest usually makes you feel like you have to buy new things all the time to keep up with the trends.
Would I have loved to have a new desk instead of the Queen Anne style one I have? Yeah and I was looking for a while but either couldn’t afford what I found or it wasn’t the right size. I love the alternative that I came up with for the existing desk.
Below you can find some of my recently reworked pieces of furniture and spaces:
Compromise with yourself
Are you wondering what I mean by that? Sometimes I have it in my head that I really want something and I compromise with myself. This might sound like, “ok you can get that one piece but that means that you have to work with the other things in the room…” conversation in my head. Sounds childish maybe but for me it works. It’s literally talking myself out of something.
Facebook Marketplace, auctions and maybe still Craigslist
If you are redecorating you should look every day! Save your searches, tell your friends what you are looking for in case they see something. I can’t even tell you how many times I have gotten a text from a friend to show me something they saw for either free or cheap that they thought I would like.
Search for local Facebook Marketplace thrift and yard sale groups and join them.
(As I mentioned earlier I’m showing some examples at the end of this post.)
That falls in line with all of the points mentioned in this blog post. Good design can happen fast when you got all the cash to spend but the collected look on a budget only happens when you aren’t in a rush.
Splurge on key pieces only
I know the word splurge shouldn’t even be in a post written about affordable decorating and they are not necessary. My splurges are also not the most expensive. A splurge to me is something that I loved so much and really wanted and just couldn’t find cheap somewhere else. I had to save for those purchases and maybe sell something that I didn’t like as much.
In our home, my key splurge pieces are our sofas, my bed, a chandelier, our countertops, the giant baskets, and an area rug here and there but for you, they might be something else if you get lucky finding these things for cheap somewhere else. I have many other key pieces that I barely spent any money on.
I have had the above sofas since 2012 and they have transitioned well with all kinds of different decor accessories and styles. They were affordable but are unfortunately not available anymore.
The chairs cost me only $120 each at Target on sale – The coffee table was thrifted for $25 – I made the plant hangers and macrame myself – All the end tables are from outlet stores and I painted the two outside ones white – The table lamps are thrifted for $4 each – the large brass pot is thrifted for $20 and so are the basket and giant rosary beads on the curtains – The large mirror is from HomeGoods – The affordable pillow covers are from H&M.
Other key pieces are area rugs, so let’s start talking decor accessories…
Affordable Area Rugs
In the above living room photo: I’ve had the bottom flat weave rug since 2015 which means it served us well for all those years and was a little under $200 which isn’t bad at all and one laying on top was purchased on sale around Thanksgiving. I actually have the same flat weave by the fireplace, that’s how much I love the look and price of it.
Here are some of the affordable rugs currently in our home:
My real Beni Ourain rug… Did you guys originally think “how on earth can she afford one of those”? Come on admit it, you probably did. And guess what I can’t afford one but I inherited two different orientals that I didn’t like at all and you know what I did? I traded them.
I found a shop that would do that. Of course, it was at somewhat of a loss to me and I had to still pay around $300 additionally but they generally cost anywhere between $1500 to $10000! So it was a good deal for me.
Below is an older photo with the BeniO in it but I moved it since because our younger cats were driving me a tad bit crazy with it and I didn’t want it to get ruined.
My favorite auction house tends to have pretty vintage rugs frequently too but buying a used rug can be tricky, especially when you have cats like me and they might not like the smell of it and decide to use it as a litterbox instead.
If you don’t want to go the used route but don’t have the money to drop at the standard places to shop for rugs then you should consider getting a carpet remnant bound at an outlet store.
Sign up for email lists
It is seriously my favorite tip! I sign up for all the email lists to local auction houses (or any other thrift and consignment store). If I really like something then I go to the auction and try to win the item/items. Well, I mostly send my husband because I don’t have the nerve for it. Or I go to the previews and leave a bid if I can’t be present for the auction. It’s not what I prefer to do though.
Lately, all of the auction houses do online bidding because of COVID.
Frequent Outlet Stores
I always have a bunch of outlet stores and furniture store clearance sections that I check on a regular basis when I’m searching for something.
DIY art, thrift art or print Downloadable art
Having the right kind of art can really elevate a room but it can also be super expensive.
If you think you can’t DIY your art as I did in some cases then try to thrift it or download printable art. I love Etsy where you can purchase downloadable art and get them printed at other locations.
Here are some of my wall art tutorials:
DIY your curtains
Window treatments can get expensive as well but they don’t have to be.
I have previously always just painted or embellished plain Ikea Merete curtains but if you don’t feel like that then other Ikea, Amazon or Overstock curtains can be a budget find as well.
Currently I have velvet curtains in our living room that match our wall color (Quail Egg 7002-12 by Valspar) perfectly and they are also very affordable.
Here are my DIY window treatment posts for you to check out:
Buy pillow covers only
This is not only more affordable but also helps when you try to rotate and store what you have. I buy affordable inserts at Ikea (these inserts would work too) and just recover them. This way I also always have the same amount of pillows around the house and just switch out the covers. They are easier to wash and clean that way as well.
Here is how I store them while not in use:
Below you can see a variety of affordable pillow covers I found at H&M and Amazon for our bedroom.
Last but certainly not least is the lighting which can be super expensive…
I mentioned above that I have one splurge piece in our home which is the urchin chandelier over our dining room table. When I bought it there wasn’t anything affordable available at the time. Since then big box stores have replicated the look for a lot cheaper. I am however happy that I supported a small business.
Over the years I have DIYed numerous light fixtures though to make it all more affordable.
Below are some of my light fixture tutorials:
Decorate with plants
Plants can be affordable, especially if you have friends with who you can trade clippings and propagation. They add a nice cozy touch to any home decor and aren’t style-specific.
You can also find Facebook groups whose specific purpose it is to trade plants. Check out your local area for groups.
Here are some of my DIY planters
Facebook Marketplace shopping examples
I thought it would be great to show you some examples of what I found on our local Facebook Marketplace and what I would possibly do with the pieces. It just happened to be a great day for that when I opened Facebook.
Do I even need to say something about that blue velvet sofa below? With a little cleaning that can look so good with the right accessories.
Non of the wooden pieces, except the antique table for $35 would remain in their original state. I don’t like the orange wood tones but I can so image either of those dining and end tables restrained, bleached, lime-washed, or painted in either black, white, or a darker green. My favorite is the Wabash solid oak kitchen table for $100. The shape is just great.
Those checkerboard dining chairs would look awesome with those reworked dining tables.
But so would the four kitchen chairs for $125, I just would paint them completely black.
I could picture the sideboard for $45 or the sofa table for $35 with the same faux grasscloth paper I used on my TV console makeover or on my mirror revamp.
As far as the beds, I love them all and they are all priced well. My favorite is that whicker day bed for $150. It’s so pretty.
Either of the dressers would look great after some stripping and refinishing. Of course, you can’t beat the free one to the right and that black hardware is perfect already. I’d love to paint it the same color as my kitchen or again give it a wood bleaching treatment.
If you have a dresser that you need hardware for and can’t afford the standard prices, then check out my DIY boho drawer pulls using macrame yarn. My DIY drawer pulls cost next to nothing since I made them from scraps.
Pretty much every listing above can be used to decorate a room and they are priced well.
So this is it for today! I hope my little tips helped someone with learning how to decorate your home on a tight budget. If I missed anything or you have any questions then please add them in the comments.
Julia, have you tried the Ruggable rugs? I know they are expensive, but for anyone with pets they are a life saver. The top cover fits in the washing machine and comes out good as new. I have dogs who have “accidents” and it feels so good to be able to put down a clean rug. They also vacuum easily so it helps with fur and dander. It’s an investment piece but saves money in the long term.
Hi Ann, no I haven’t tried Ruggables but I heard great things about them. Thanks for sharing your experience.
these are some awesome tips, julia! you know i am here for it!
Thanks Cassie! You and I are definitely budget shoppers 😉
Thank you for sharing your advice … I have one to offer: I love Benjamin Moore paints and now save lots of money by choosing their contractor version (Ultra Spec 500). It is as environmentally friendly as their Aura line but much less expensive.
While I only use Benjamin Moore, I am sure that other lines of paint have the same less expensive contractor lines.
Oh that’s so good to know Sonya. Thanks so much, I’m pretty sure they do too.
Thanks for all the tips, Julia!!!
Thanks for reading Jen, it was a long one.