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How to Decorate Your Home Without Overspending


When I got divorced in 2009, I had a lot of ideas for decorating my new home. So many, in fact, that I kept a huge stack of catalogs covered in Post-It flags, just waiting for the moment when I could purchase all the items of my dreams. The problem? I was losing my ex’s income, severely limiting the amount of free money I had to spend on things like home decor.

Since I didn’t use credit cards to pay for my purchases, it feels like it has taken FOREVER to make the house look decent. After all, I didn’t want a repeat of the $12,000 sofa fiasco. Now that I’ve lived here for about 2 1/2 years, though, I’m finally almost done. And thanks to the shows on channels like HGTV (that normally would have tempted me to overspend), I managed to figure out the rules for decorating on a budget.

Rule One: Envision Your Space

Before the big-time designers start shopping, they create a plan for how they want a room to look. I don’t have the ability to sit down and sketch out an amazing design blueprint, but I DO have access to countless magazines, websites, and TV shows. I spent a lot of time analyzing the decor photos I liked most, trying to figure out what elements drew me to certain designs.

I had a color scheme picked out before I even found a house. I knew that I wanted to use similar colors in every room, allowing my home to flow without being too boring. I chose five main colors – brown, tan, green, teal, and orange – and worked out how I could use them without creating identical rooms. (The more astute among you may have noticed that I used the same colors in my site design!)

Rule Two: Allow Yourself Time to Window Shop

In the past, I would walk into a store, grab a bunch of coordinating decor items, and walk out with the supplies for a completely decorated room. Most of the time, though, I ended up with a room that looked overly “matchy” and nothing like the picture I’d developed in my head. AND I spent way too much money trying to make everything go together!

With this house, I took my time picking and choosing the items I wanted. I made many trips to many different stores, often finding similar items at drastically reduced prices. Let’s look at one wall in my living room as an example:

The branch sculpture on the wall came from JC Penney ($30). The lamp came from Walmart ($15), the fake grass ($8) and reed diffuser ($14) from Pier 1, and the vase from Crate and Barrel ($20). All the items on the lower shelves were things I already owned.

I spent less than $90 on all those items by waiting for sales, traveling to several stores multiple times, and reusing things I already had. If I had purchased them at full price (or, in some cases, from other stores) I would have spent over $300.

A few more discounted finds:

I found this clock at Kirkland’s for $10. I almost bought a clock just like it from TJ Maxx for $40, but I decided to check a few more stores first.

This picture was over $100 on an art website. By finding it at Target (as a print instead of an actual painting), I was able to get it for $20.

Rule 3: Make it Yourself

I’m far from crafty, but all the HGTV shows feature homeowners making their own art. I figured, If those people can make their own stuff, surely I can come up with something I like! And since it’s my blog and I’m able to leave out some of the more disastrous early attempts, I can say that I truly enjoyed making my own art for the walls.

For the kitchen, I wanted to keep up the branch theme I had going in the living room. I found this picture through a Google image search:

And used two canvases and leftover paint to recreate it. Well, kind of.

The canvases now hang on my kitchen wall, along with a branch sculpture I got for $20 at Pier 1 (originally $45). Believe it or not, most people don’t realize I made them myself unless I tell them.

I also made a silly picture to go in my spare room (with help from my son), which never fails to crack me up:

Rule Four: Be Patient if You Don’t Find What You Want

I looked for a large picture to hang above my desk for the longest time. I wanted something to tie in all the colors in the house, but I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars. The wall remained empty for about 18 months.

One night I was shopping at Gordman’s with my cousin – we were looking for wall art for his place, not mine – and found the perfect picture. Better yet, it was $75, which was far less than other artwork I’d seen in that size. Even though I kicked myself at the time for giving in to the impulse to buy, I’m very pleased with the purchase now.

I also only bought a comforter set for my bedroom this past December – that’s how long it took me to find what I wanted without (1) paying too much or (2) settling for something that didn’t quite fit into my color scheme. I’d show you a picture, but I haven’t even opened the package yet; I’m patiently waiting until I find the perfect sheet set to go with it!

Rule Five: Keep it in Perspective

Since my house has been furnished over such a long time period, I didn’t really have a specific “home decor” budget. However, I did keep a running total of how much I spent in each room, as well as setting limits for individual items. For example, I really wanted a Papasan chair from Pier 1 for my home office, but it would have cost $140 plus tax for something that would only seat one person. Instead, I spent $200 on these chairs from Target – little did I know my dogs would take them over!

By thinking out each purchase and how that money might be better spent in other parts of the house, I kept myself from spending a ton of money (for the most part), and managed to spread out my limited budget. The last thing I wanted was one perfectly decorated room and a bunch of empty ones.

Share Your Secrets!

I’ve given you a semi-tour of my house today, along with five rules you can use to decorate your home without going into debt or breaking your budget. Now I want to hear from you!

What are your best tips for decorating on the cheap? What amazing deals have you found? Any stories about reusing or repurposing old furniture? I’d love to know how you guys find great deals to make your living space comfortable, calming, and a great place to relax!

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. I love how your dogs made their way into the picture. I haven't decorated my place at all; we move a lot, because we rent, so I never see the point. We lived in a nice apartment once (a far cry from the places we have lived since) and I picked up a few pictures from Winners (the Canadian version of Ross), which I still have, but our couch and TV are so ugly that there's no point in decorating more (lol).

  2. I LOVE this! So true.

    I like to use Polyvore (and now Pinterest as well) to play with decorating ideas, "shop" for items and get a visual for how a room will look. You can make a really great room without spending very much at all if you're willing to take the time to learn about what you really like, and the shapes and textures your eyes repeatedly favor.

    Sharing this.

    • I agree! This is the first time I allowed myself to figure out what I really liked and wanted, and it made a big difference. I'm always at ease when I come home because my house reflects who I am and the things I like. Plus I get the joy of knowing I didn't spend very much!

  3. I like how your house matches your blog – err, your blog matches your house. I don't have any decorating tips or ideas – put this on the list of things that I will never have the "eye" for – but I do think the paintings you made yourself are really cool. I think we all forget how inexpensive blank canvas is relative to the cost of a more expensive piece of artwork. And, if you have a steady hand, it looks like there's some serious money to be saved, and fun to be had.

    My grandpa always had a knack for painting the most amazing things, from people to model cars and landscape scenery. That's a talent I'd love to develop, but for the time being I'd have to pass my disproportionate drawings off as Picasso's – a tough sell.

    • I wish I had more artistic talent, but I'm pretty pleased with the ones I did. I have all kinds of ideas for other stuff I could do around the house – there's an old 12-pane window in my garage that I'm supposed to be refinishing as a big photo frame/mural – but I have to really be inspired to attempt art of any kind.

  4. I'd set a budget on the TOTAL decor budget (and don't forget to budget for moving / hiring truck expenses if you can't lug a sofa by yourself). It's so easy to go over if you are just tracking things individually. Craigslist is a big one. Plus, some sand paper, lacquer, or spray paint can really transform old pieces into something new.

    • Generally I think it IS a good idea to have an overall budget. In my case, it was impossible to separate remodeling from decor from furniture since I was starting from scratch – I just decided to go room by room and decide what I needed and how much I was willing to spend to get it. In each case, I came in drastically under budget by (1) saving on decor as mentioned in the post and (2) doing the remodel myself.

      Totally agree re: spray paint. When I was still married, I inherited a very ugly Home Interiors set that I was able to revive with a can of Krylon. Though I do recommend spray painting in the yard – I used a big piece of cardboard on my front porch, and the wind made a lovely outline of the cardboard on the concrete. Oops!

      • Alice @ Dont Debt says:

        That really did make me laugh out loud. My ex had made a big deal about having a real Christmas tree one year. He went out and cut one himself and brought it in and had it set up before I got home from work. We didn't really have the tools needed to put it up, though, as in a tree stand. He had used a five gallon bucket full of rocks to hold it up and still. When he saw that it wasn't very attractive, he spray painted the bucket. While it was sitting in the living room. On the carpet. We had a lovely (not) green ring in the carpet for years. Thankfully we put a chair over that spot for the rest of the year.

  5. I haven't decorated my apartment. I've been there almost 3 years and haven't even unpacked all the boxes. This leads me to believe that the items in the box are irrelevant and need to be gotten rid of. I just don't have any desire to do any sort of spring cleaning. I keep meaning to put some of my calligraphy on the walls, but I can't decide what quotes I want to use.

    • I'm the same way. There are tons of boxes in my attic with junk in them. If I've lived without that stuff for two years, I'm pretty sure I don't need it. It's hard to actually part with it though!

  6. Pretty house! One thing we did was make our own upholstered headboard for our bed. We found instructions on the internet & had my mom help us (who is much more crafty than my husband or I), and it turned out really nicely, all for about $60.

    • I'm jealous – I've been dying to make an upholstered headboard! I tried to redo some seat cushions once and they turned out really crappy. But maybe it could work if I had instructions instead of blindly attacking with a staple gun….

  7. Alice @ Dont Debt says:

    After my divorce I rented an apartment for almost a year and a half. Then I moved to a rental house with much more space – but with no appliances. I used Craigslist to find my refrigerator for $40. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. I went to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and purchased a washer and dryer for $110. I watched and watched a local classifieds listserv and found a table and chairs for the kitchen for $50. I also found an extra bed for $40. I used a tall tile-topped kitchen table as my microwave cart. The table was purchased at Goodwill for $10. It's amazing what you can do when you have to.

    • I got a washer and dryer set for $150 once. Actually I think my ex-husband is still using them. I try to never underestimate the power of classified ads!

  8. We've decorated our home very slowly over the past 6 years and still have more to do. I am lucky in that we've renovated top to bottom so at least all the paint colours are my choice etc. We've picked furniture very slowly and have been lucky to inherit a few pieces. Much of what we have came from Ikea. Several pieces are second hand/ found/ given to us that we've painted or fixed up to match our style.

  9. I've lived in my house from December and have slowly decorated–it's not all done. I did a lot of what you did: had a general idea with colors or design type and I browsed. I went to Big Lots for a lot of my stuff as it was very cheap. I also waited for clearences and sales–after all, if I had already waited this long, what will a few more weeks matter? Besides that I've hit up the second hand shop and browse craigslist. And I buy items for my living room based on the furniture I will eventually get. (ours right now is horridly uncomfy and a ugly red) I figure if the weird color scheme gets to me, I have a ton of sheets from when we had a smaller bed that can cover it!

  10. We've lived in our house for over 2 years, and it's still super empty! I need to change this, it's just stressful to me. I can never decide on exactly what I want.

    • My mom is the same way. My parents built a house when I was in 5th grade, and she took forever deciding on furniture. Our living room was empty for two years, until my dad finally got mad and bought covers for the old sofas that were in the basement. She finally finished the living room, but the upstairs is STILL not done.

  11. Your ideas are so cute, Andrea! I'm all about decorating on the cheap. Here's a pic (hopefully it will work..) of something I did very similar to your branches artwork. I couldn't find any artwork for that room above the couch that was big enough in scale AND cheap enough for our budget…so I made it 🙂

  12. Love the photos of your house! And thanks for posting this post, I really needed to read since Rambo and I are moving soon into our casa.

  13. Thanks for these tips – will put them to good use once I have a place to decorate and call my own. Our dogs look similar, mine is a pekingese/toy poodle and he is grey/black. What type of breed are your dogs?

    • I have two Shih Tzus, a Pekingese/Shih Tzu mix, and a Yorkie. One in the picture is the mix and the other is a Shih Tzu – they look like twins!

  14. I cant wait to start decorating my house ….. i just need a house. Currently, my husband and i rent and I've only decorated the master bedroom and bathroom. I feel until i own a home, it is not nessary to decorate every room. I used a lot of our wedding gift cards to buy nice items for those two rooms. Every other room is not decorated as nicely – but someday i will get there 🙂

    • I was the same way – when I got married, we rented for the first few years. I still wanted everything to look decent, but it wasn't as important when it wasn't my house. I think it's good that you're saving that money now, especially so you don't end up making someone else's home look awesome!

  15. Wow – looks great Andrea! And great job watching HGTV and not spending $400,000 on a new house, haha!

    • I've worked pretty hard to develop that skill – it used to be IMPOSSIBLE for me to watch without ordering something online or going shopping. Getting better, though!

  16. Furniture consignment stores have recently blown up in my town. I visited six new ones on my way home from work the other day, and the quality of pieces is really great. I guess all those people who splurged on luxury living rooms a few years ago are trying to make up for it. It made me wish I needed more furniture. 😉

    I agree that patience is a great tip. Plus, shopping for the best piece at the best deal is part of the fun.

    I'm also a fan of drop cloth curtains. They look high end, but only cost $10 per panel.

    • I would LOVE it if there were used furniture stores around here! Hopefully the trend will trickle down to the south. I've always been amazed at the furniture people sell in yard sales – it usually looks brand new.

  17. I was known 20 years ago when wallpaper was popular as the most frugal of decorators. I would buy discontinued wallpaper for $1-5 a roll and re-cut it so I had different borders a patterns. I would recover the chairs and sofa with $1.00 a yard upholstery fabric. Buy paint for $1.00 a gallon in the misfit aisle. Now I can hardly do a room for under $1000.00 because everything is so expensive. But I am still very good a snatching a bargain. I just redid a bedroom, chair recover, lamps (3) curtains, pillows 2 comforters, sheets, blankets, bed-skirt, shams, knick knacks, clock, art work and dresser scarfs for under $200.00. I scoured every 2nd hand store and Ross and TJ MAxx. It works and it is beautiful. In fact people who come to stay say it looks like a luxury hotel. It is a lot of work but very satisfying.

    • I wish I had your skills! That's one thing I hate about my lack of craftiness – I end up paying much more because I'm not able to make my own things.

      • i wish i could sew! But i cheat… i have a friend's mom who is a great seamstress and she sometimes makes me pillow covers and i put them over my cheap pillows i buy on sale. Throw old deflated pillows in the wash and dry on low heat and they get fluffy again, and cover them with your new pillow covers and no one will ever know the difference!

  18. Frick! if only I read this before furnishing my new place LOL. Scary thing is I just bought a new couch, however good thing is… I didn't finance it with a loan company 🙂 I like to think putting it on my credit is better. It is right?

    We all must admit decorating is so much fun though.

    • Oh, I LOVE decorating. It's one of my favorite things. I have to be really careful in places like Target because I could easily spend hundreds of dollars on nothing but stuff to decorate my house!

  19. i luuuuuv refurbishing stuff that i find at yard sales, free stuff on craigslist, or stuff that people throw out on the street. You will be amazed what people throw out and all it needs is a bit of love and a good coat of paint and it looks brand new! I have two HUGE bookcases in perfect condition, a coffee table with a mirrored top (found seperately and i had the glass cut to size for $30) , a tall wine rack that i sanded and re-painted to match my ikea dining table, two identical papasan chairs that i'm currently working on (i found them at different locations too!) i just need new cushions for them, and a huge wood table that i will sand and paint a nice teal color and distress it to get that white-washed antique-y look. I've found that the trick is to find stuff that is made out of REAL wood and not that cheap compressed stuff. If you try to paint that the cheap stuff it just peels right off and you can't sand it down to get the original grain of the wood out either. Then i splurge on nice linens, pillows and blankets and i swap that out every once in awhile. It gives it a nice ecletic look 😉

  20. Interior decoration isn’t one of my natural talents.But for the longest time, my apartment was in a mess until I’ve become interested in designing, I don’t hire interior designer because its expensive, I’ve just watch video tutorials, read articles and try their ways on how to decorate. Its not really that beautiful like what others did but for me its quite enough as beginner. I might try some of these in my condo.

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