Decorating Tips for Anyone on a Shoestring Budget
Call us optimists, but we think everyone under the sun can and should have a beautiful home. If you’re pinching pennies, there’s plenty you can do to create a stylish and inviting home for yourself and your friends. The first step (and this is true no matter where or how you live) is to clean your home and get it organised. Doing those two things alone will drastically improve the quality of your space. Then, on to decorating. With years of budget decorating behind (and in front of!) us, we’ve amassed a few helpful tips for making house with a slim wallet.
Read on below and share your own advice in the comments.
Painting your walls is one of the most cost-effective decorative updates you can make to your home. But if you’re on a shoestring budget, the two cans of $30 paint it may require to paint your bedroom could very well put you out. Instead, consider painting an accent wall. A quart (which covers up to 100 sq. ft.) or a 2.5 litre can (which covers up to 260 sq. ft.) is likely all you’ll need to cover a single wall, which can make just as much of an impact.
Better yet, use BEHR Marquee paint, which offers one-coat coverage so you won’t need to buy primer as well. So long as you’re painting on walls that have been painted before (i.e. not on plain drywall), and you’re using one of the 420 colours in their collection (i.e. not colour matching), Marquee paints will literally paint over any existing interior wall colour under the sun with full coverage—trust us, we’ve tried it!
Before you start worrying about what you can and cannot afford to buy, consider what you should get rid of. Dated, worn, or damaged items could be doing the look of your home a disservice, and if they’re non-essential, removing them can give your home a clean slate. One of the worst offenders common in rental apartments is vertical blinds. Or how about those not-so-stylish college posters you’ve been holding on to? Let go, or at least put them in storage.
Making your own furniture and décor can earn you a great savings. But that said, the DIY revolution of the early 2000s unleashed a whole lot of not-so-chic craftiness on this world, and it’s easy to feel you can’t pull off a stylish DIY project unless you’re majorly skilled in the workshop. There actually are a remarkable number of sophisticated projects out there to take on, though; you just have to hunt for them—or read a curate site like, ahem, ours.
If you’re dead-set on something that’s out of your price range, first look for it on Craigslist (see above), and if that fails, try to buy it on sale. You can use ShopStyle to set a sale alert for products from literally hundreds of major brands; just enter your search filters or terms and press the pink “Add Sale Alert” button and you’ll be emailed when the item goes on sale. A number of retailers like Overstock, Amazon, and Macy’s will also alert you when something goes on sale or returns after being out of stock.
I am the poster child for shopping for and selling furniture and décor on Craigslist. If you are not doing it already, that’s your biggest mistake. You can find great deals for pieces for a number of reasons: sellers don’t know the value, sellers are eager to sell, stores are liquidating, or something is brand new and strategically listed for less than retail.
But browsing Craigslist is very time-consuming, so my best tip for you is to subscribe to your Craigslist search terms. For example, if you’re on the hunt for a midcentury modern sideboard, search for those keywords in Craigslist as you normally would. Then, on the results screen, scroll to the bottom right corner of the page and click on the RSS button. A new window will open, copy the URL of the new window and add it to your RSS reader (I use Feedly). Every time a new product that matches your search term is listed for sale on your local Craigslist, it will pop up in your reader as a new article. Don’t use an RSS reader regularly? You can use an RSS-to-email service like Feed My Inbox and you’ll receive an email update anytime a new item is listed.
As lovely as custom curtains or a reupholstered sofa may be, they are not for the decorator on a shoestring budget. Instead, consider customising what you already own. Add some iron-on trim to basic white curtain panels. Paint the edge of a simple black end table in gold. Wallpaper the interior of a bookcase. Or try an IKEA hack like adding a leather handle to a basic cutting board.
On the spectrum of home décor styles, eclectic designs are often the easiest to replicate. Why? The look is all about mixing—and not matching. There’s no need to find that side table, or an exact shade of blue, let alone a lofty antique, as there often is with traditional interior design. Succumb to your bohemian self, and shopping for furniture and décor will be much more affordable.
Garage and estate sales are great places to score cheap home décor and furniture, but stumbling upon one is a rarity. You have to know where they are and get there early to have any chance at scoring the good stuff. When I was young and broke, and needed to furnish an entire studio apartment, on Friday nights, I would make a map of all the Saturday garage sales happening in my area (that were listed on Craigslist). I would wake up early Saturday and add newly listed sales to the map, and then tackle them all in order of proximity—with sneakers on and cash in hand! In those days, I literally was drawing on a printed paper map, but now you can drop a pin and your iPhone will direct you. Ahh, technology.
The cheapest way to decorate is to “shop” what you already own. Take a walk around your house and think about how you might be able to repurpose objects and accessories in different rooms. Read our ultimate guide to coffee table styling and get inspired to arrange trays, bowls, and other accents in your home in new ways.