How To Decorate Your Home On A Budget (Without It Looking Like A Pinterest Board)

How To Decorate Your Home On A Budget (Without It Looking Like A Pinterest Board)

When my boyfriend and I moved in together a few months ago, there were a lot of compromises to be made. After going through our furniture and realizing that nothing really went together, we decided to sell our stuff and start fresh. And after two months, a lot of hard work, and a few petty arguments over paint colors and fabric swatches, I can now say that our house is 90 percent done. Here’s how:

Decide On A Budget 

Go through each room and write down everything that you need to buy. Your list should include everything from furniture to linens to decorations to artwork. Everything. Once your list is compiled, add a copy to your phone and computer, as this will prevent you from purchasing unnecessary things when shopping. Then comes the research stage. Look at catalogs, websites, and stores in person and come up with a rough price for each item (not room) on your list. (Coming up with a price per item as opposed to room prevents you from blowing all $600 allotted toward the guest room on a West Elm headboard.) Add a little bit more to each item than you think you’ll need — especially for the big items — as this will help account for taxes and delivery charges. In addition to your budget for each room, you might also want to come up with a “slush” fund for your house. This money will go toward any item(s) you didn’t necessarily plan for but still really want, nonetheless. If you plan for it, then you can splurge without the guilt — but only if you’ve planned ahead.

Have Patience

Your house is not going to come together overnight, especially if you don’t have a ton of furniture and do not want to go into debt. Admittedly, the waiting was the hardest part for me, but I can honestly say that I’m happy we didn’t walk into a giant furniture retailer and pick out room sets. Unless you’re some sort of mythical postgrad unicorn, odds are, you don’t have the means to walk into Pottery Barn and say, “I’ll take the whole store.” This means that your only options for room sets come from places like Rooms To Go or Ikea, which are tacky at best and laughable at worst. You want your home to match, but you don’t want it to look like a page from a cheap catalog. Add nice pieces slowly, not shitty pieces quickly.

Learn How To Shop 

Discount stores do not necessarily mean they’re the least expensive option. Read that again. Now read it a third time. Got it? Okay. Just because it’s being sold in Home Goods or at T.J.Maxx, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get it cheaper elsewhere — or that it’s the best thing to buy. Last night, I went to Home Goods looking for a chair for my guest room and the average price of accent chairs was $207, which is actually not such a great deal. If I didn’t know better, I might have thought, “oh well, I guess this is as good as it gets,” and purchased one of them — but I do know better. Instead, I left the store, did a Google search, and found a few options I liked on Overstock and Wayfair for a fair amount cheaper.

Know When To Buy Used

There are a lot of varying opinions on this, but my general rule of thumb for buying secondhand is that I avoid any and all cloth (unless I plan to reupholster it myself). For example: sofas and rugs are off limits, but tables, cabinets, desks, and so on are all fair game. If you’re new to the whole reupholstering game, start with something relatively easy, like a Queen Anne accent chair. Do not watch one YouTube tutorial, declare yourself a DIY master, and then attempt to reupholster a sofa. It will not work.

Be Thrifty, Not Cheap

Look, you’re going to have to spend money and you’re going to have to spend a good amount of it. There’s just no way around it. But just because you don’t want to overpay, it doesn’t mean that you get to get it for free. No one owes you a deal or a discount. In fact, oftentimes, managers of big box stores are not even allowed to negotiate prices. By all means, (politely) haggle prices at thrift stores and flea markets, but know when to stop — and also when an offer is insulting. Telling the owner of a store that you’ll give him $30 for a $200 table is not good bargaining, it’s just called being a dick.

Keep Pictures Of Your House On Your Phone 

As you begin to decorate, take pictures of everything you do. From the pillows on your sofa to the centerpiece on your dining room table to the color of the curtains in your bedroom, take pictures. While your memory might be great, it’s sometimes hard to remember exactly which shade of blue is in your kitchen. Many discount stores (especially thrift stores) have a no-return policy, so you need to be absolutely sure when purchasing things. That $50 antique vase might seem like a good deal in the store, but if you get home and it doesn’t match…well, you just wasted $50.

Pinterest Is Tacky 95 Percent Of The Time

I love Pinterest as much as the next girl, but a lot of the decorating stuff I see on there is just plain hideous. A home made up entirely of gallery walls, lucite, and faux deer antlers will go out of style sooner than you can say, “OMG! Did you get that from Etsy?” Steer clear of the overly trendy stuff that you see on just about every DIY blog. A tassel banner might look cute on some internet celebrity’s Instagram, but it will most certainly look stupid in your home, which brings me to my next point…

Classic > Trendy

The most important part of furnishing your home is to buy pieces that last. While you can (and should) obviously purchase things that are in style, it doesn’t mean that they should ONLY be in style right now. If a table would’ve been hideous in a home three years ago, the chances of it being hideous in a home three years from now are pretty high. Your main pieces of furniture (beds, couches, etc.) should be classic and have good bones. That way, you don’t have to constantly replace them. It’s one thing to toss a $30 pillow — it’s quite another to have to get rid of a $1,500 couch.

Become Friends With The Thrift Store Employees 

Not every thrift store is created equally. Unfortunately, the only way to really learn which ones you like is to visit all of them in your area. While some Yelp! reviews can be really helpful, not every secondhand store will have enough reviews to be of any help. Once you find the ones you like, go all. the. time. Secondhand stores are constantly putting out new items and once they’re gone, they’re gone. If you’re nice and you visit enough for the owner to recognize you, sometimes he or she’ll let you leave your name and number with a list of things you’re looking for. If the store gets an item in that the owner thinks you would want, he or she’ll put it aside in order for you to get first dibs.

Don’t Be Afraid Of A Little Paint

While I certainly would never advocate for painting all wood pieces (seriously, do not paint your heirlooms or antiques; the furniture gods will smite you) it’s amazing what a coat of paint can do to an otherwise outdated side table or dresser. If you’re unfamiliar with painting furniture, there are a ton of YouTube tutorials out there that will help.

Use Ikea Sparingly 

There are approximately a million and one Ikea hacks out there. While many of them are flat out spectacular, it is obvious that they have been achieved by seasoned decorators/Do-It-Yourselfers, so don’t think that just because you know how to watch a tutorial, you know how to use power tools you didn’t even previously know existed. And while Ikea hacks are awesome, the store does have some pieces that can simply be transformed with a few coats of paint and a set of new hardware.

Be Able To Look Past The Flaws 

When I purchased my $30 1930s dining room table on Craigslist, it was in bad shape. Like, really bad shape. But I had a vision. While many people would’ve taken one look at it and thought that its only saving grace would be a gallon of paint, I knew that this antique was too nice to be painted. So instead, I stripped it, sanded it, used a shit-ton of wood glue to fix the scratches, sanded it again, and re-stained it. The table as it looks now would probably go for about $500 in a nice thrift store, and, again, I paid just $30.

Know That Your Style Will Constantly Evolve 

Maybe you’ve decided that the painting you purchased for your guest room now looks better in the hall. That’s okay. You’re allowed to mix and match and move things around — that’s what makes it fun. If you stick with nice neutrals for the big pieces like your couch and bed, it will allow you to change out things like pillows and curtains when the mood strikes.

Image via Shutterstock

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Catie Warren

Catie struggles with adulthood and has been celebrating her 21st birthday for the past three years. She attended college in the nation’s capital and to this day is angry that Pit Bull lied to her, as you cannot, in fact, party on The White House lawn. Prior to her success with PGP, Catie was most famous for being featured in her hometown newspaper regarding her 5th grade Science Fair Project for which she did not place. In her spare time, she enjoys attributing famous historical quotes to Marilyn Monroe and getting in fights with thirteen year olds on twitter. Email:

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