A few months ago Mrs Planner and I decided to decorate the bookshelves in our basement. We went to the store and bought some stuff and came back and arranged that stuff on the shelves. Arranging stuff, that’s decorating to me. Why do we decorate? Because an un-decorated and un-furnished house would be a sad place. Whether you rent or own or live in your cousin’s basement, most everyone feels the need to make their space comfortable and reflective of their personality. But decorating can cost a lot of money. So what’s the solution? Honestly, I can’t help you in this area because it isn’t my thing, but I know someone who can. My friend Jasmin is really into decorating her small house and she has an awesome blog, littlehousedesign.com, which follows her progress. My favorite thing about her blog is how frugal she is. She doesn’t buy expensive decorations, instead she’s found creative ways to buy stuff to make her house unique and still fit within a small budget. So I’ll let her give you advice on how to frugally decorate.
I’ve loved decorating since I was a little girl, so when I bought a house a few years ago I was extremely excited to make it my own. The only problem? I was broke. I had been so focused on saving for a down payment I forgot I basically had no furniture. A person kinda needs dishes and a place to sit, so I got creative.
Here’s how I furnished an entire house with very little money:
1) Free stuff. When I moved into my house I only had bedroom furniture and one armchair, I’m not kidding. I had to stock an entire house on my own, which is why my first step was getting whatever I could for free. I got a lot of kitchen stuff, a dining set, and some framed posters from generous friends and family. You may feel you are “above” free stuff (I struggled with it too), but my opinion changed pretty quickly when I realized a free table is infinitely better than no table at all. And while I’m using my free table, I can save for a table I want.
2) Craigslist. We are best friends, craigslist and I. Off the top of my head I can count 15 items in my house I bought on craigslist. From lighting fixtures to desks to beds, I furnished almost my entire house from craigslist finds. It takes a little work because you have to search for the right item, negotiate the price, and then pick it up and bring it back to your place. But in my opinion, a $150 couch in great condition is better than putting a $800 one on a credit card. A lot of people I talk to are nervous to buy stuff on craigslist, but I’ve always had great experiences both selling and buying.
3) Yard sales and thrift shops. While these two aren’t all that similar, they are founded on the same principle: buying used stuff. I once bought, and still use, a comforter at a frat house yard sale. It may seem gross, but I saved $40! You don’t have to go quite that far, but buying used stuff is awesome. My favorite thing to do is to recreate an expensive look I can’t afford from a thrift shop or yard sale find. Take for example the tufted ottoman pictured above. I wanted one, but they cost anywhere from $400 – $1,000 so I resigned myself to never owning one. Then I happened across a very ugly tufted ottoman for $20 at a thrift shop. I got creative and painted the fabric on the ottoman. Not only was it exactly like what I originally wanted, but it only cost me $45 total.
4) IKEA. People love to hate on IKEA but when you have no money and you don’t own a pan, you can’t beat a set of 5 pots and pans for $9.99. Also, IKEA has really unique storage solutions for small spaces, which is perfect if you live in a 994 square foot house like me! If you don’t live by an IKEA, search craigslist for used IKEA items. Half my IKEA stuff came from craigslist.
5) DIY. I’m not recommending you build your own furniture or anything (although you could totally do it!), but you can do a lot more than you think you can. Sometimes the choice comes down to spending $50 on wall art from Target or getting creative. I wanted to avoid the trap of having a house all furnished from one store, so I bought $15 worth of cool postcards and stuck them on a wall for an interesting and unique wall covering. If you are inspired by a certain look, think of a way you could accomplish the look on your own. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to recreate expensive looks with $20 worth of craft supplies.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.