Decorating Your Home? Where to Save, Where to Splurge

Mar 01, 2019

Home Decor

There's a lot to love about homeownership. But what happens when you're ready for a change of scenery? Moving on a whim isn't an option for most people, but redecorating can help ensure you continue loving your space, even as your taste changes.

The conventional wisdom in home decoration is to spend on the big stuff and save on the small stuff. This isn’t something we’re here to refute – it’s great advice. Because spending money can be stressful, we’ll start by outlining areas where you can save on home decor.

Once you’re on a roll, we’ll hit you with five more recommendations and convince you to purchase original artwork. (Think about it.) 

Whether you’re a new homeowner or you’ve been settled for years, decorating is a good opportunity to reassess your assets and exposures. As you decorate, we recommend updating your home inventory and documenting any changes as you go.

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Where to Save: The Small Stuff

When it comes to furniture like a couch or a mattress, it’s easy to justify the spend. You’ll rest on these pieces more than anywhere else, even if you’re a triathlete. For coffee tables and smaller, trendy accents, we’ve pulled together a few tried-and-true strategies for saving.

1. Upcycle

Also called “creative reuse.” You can upcycle at many different levels – it can be as simple as repurposing plain vases from the florist as part of a seasonal display.

Or you can get fancy: you can finally make use of the old shutter sitting in the garage to display your niece’s art and holiday cards. You can turn over an old wicker wastebasket and make it a side table! Upcycle That is a helpful resource for digging in at whatever level.

2. Paint

A fresh coat of paint is an affordable way to spruce things up, especially in high-traffic areas of the house. For example:

  • If you're sick of the old color, go lighter and brighter. Yellow is a popular indoor color for a reason.
  • Paint your wooden chairs! Paint them different colors! This may not sound like your usual aesthetic, but it can add dimension to your color palette (and it’s much cheaper than buying new chairs).
  • Paint your ceiling and pretend you're in Europe.

Two cautions:

  • Don’t forget to clean the walls and prep before you paint the kitchen or the front hall.
  • Don’t be too thrifty when you select your paint. While changing the color of a room is a budget-friendly way to change the look of an entire space, we don’t recommend skimping on the quality of the paint you buy. This applies to brushes and tools as well. Do not pick up the cheapest roller on the shelf – the lousy felt will make lousy trails across your wall.

3. Try the Mirror Trick

Want more natural light in a room? Add a mirror instead of investing in a new hole in your wall. Place your mirrors across from windows for maximum impact. We’ve all heard this advice before, and that’s because it’s an effective way to create the illusion of open space and abundant light.

If you’re looking to save money, mirrors are one of the best items to pick up second-hand. Head to garage or estate sales with measurements, and you should be able to find a few interesting vintage options.

Mirrors don’t have to be heavy, framed pieces to be effective. An affordable panel set in the back of a bookshelf can do wonders for a room without calling attention to itself. (It may, however, inspire you to dust more proactively.)

4. Replace light fixtures & add accent lighting

Even swapping out a lampshade will impact a room by changing the color and the tone of the light. Lamps are also great to buy used, but be sure to test any secondhand fixtures with a working bulb and outlet before purchase.

In addition to adding table lamps, consider a few small spotlights, strategically placed to highlight art or beloved plants. These can add dimension to a room.

5. Save on functional or multifunctional items

If you’re looking to fill white space on a bedroom wall and you need a place to hang your party dresses, a row of hooks may be the solution.

Multifunctional items are another great way to save. If you're looking for seating and storage in a bedroom or living area, you may need an ottoman more than a used trunk and a chair. If the upholstery happens to match your new duvet cover, all the better!

6. Rearrange the furniture

This may not require spending any money at all, but it will take some physical effort, a little imagination, and a measuring tape.

  • If you’re not sure where to begin, consider choosing a new focal point for the room. Instead of the window, is there a mirror or wall hanging that could serve a center for your new arrangement?
  • Look for ways to open the space for new uses. Have you been looking for a clear stretch of floor where you can lay down your yoga mat? Keep this functional goal in mind and see how this impacts where you put your furniture.
  • If one poorly placed outlet has been stopping you from moving your bed to the wall across from your bedroom window, consider purchasing an extension cord. It’s worth an extra ten dollars to get a longer or higher-quality cord to hide against the baseboard. Find a way to work around whatever obstacle has been keeping you from making this small change. It will have a big impact on how you live in your space.

7. Get into plants

Houseplants are a great way to add dynamic decoration. Hanging plants in the windows draws attention to the outdoors, even on a cloudy day.

If your window treatments will allow, consider plants that will climb across a trellis, including one that might crawl across a curtain rod.

Whether you’re a beginner plant owner or an expert, the most affordable way to get more plants is to cultivate self-propagating clippings (succulents and spider plants are great at this).

Plants grow year round, but they tend to go on sale in September in the Northern Hemisphere.

8. Remove the cabinet doors

While you may consider refinishing or painting your cabinets, one of the biggest changes to a kitchen that comes at the lowest cost is removing the cabinet doors and reorganizing their contents.

You may want to lay down some contact paper to freshen them up, but otherwise this spruce is nearly free.

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Where to Splurge: The Big Stuff

Before you embark on a splurge, we recommend making sure the fundamentals of your house are in order. If you’re weighing home maintenance against the big stuff you want to buy, check out our home maintenance guide.

If you’re embarking on a remodel, consider a few tweaks to your insurance to make sure you have appropriate coverage throughout construction and after.

Investigating how to furnish your home on a budget will yield many blogs posts with links to coupons and tips, but the most important factor may be when you shop. There is a retail season for everything, and most industries have sales twice a year – we’ll includes notes on these throughout.

1. Floors

If your floors are in good shape, invest in a beautiful area rug. Take care of it and keep it clean.

Even if you have wall-to-wall carpeting, you can add an area rug. The best time to buy area rugs is in January.

If your floors have seen better days, you have two main options:

  • Redo the hardwood floors that are hiding under the old carpet. This is a major undertaking, but it will have a significant impact on the look and feel of your home. There’s no substitute. For a task of this scope, you may want to hire a good contractor.
  • Consider installing new carpet or hardwood flooring. There are, of course, other flooring options, but we’re writing this from a cold state in winter where tile floors sound unappealing.

2. Walls

You have a few options to spruce up your walls when you're ready to spend a little money:

  • Original art. If you really want something beautiful that you’ll have forever, consider investing in original art. Check out local galleries and show schedules, as this is an industry that doesn’t adhere to an international calendar. Also, local art schools that have master's shows can be a great place to shop without breaking the bank. If you do acquire an early masterpiece, you may want to scheduled it on your home insurance. 
  • Window treatments. Beautiful drapes are not passé. Investing in some beautiful fabric and a custom valance can accentuate the height of a room.
  • Shades. They can help to winterize your home. The amount of light you let in impacts everything from the color of the walls in the afternoon to where you’ll choose to position your favorite reading chair.

3. Living room

If you’re sick of the print on your furniture, we have two splurge solutions:

  • Invest in a custom slipcover. Why custom? Pre-made slipcovers are often disappointing. If your furniture is still in good shape, but you’re looking for a change, a slipcover or outright reupholstery may be worth the spend.
  • Get a new couch. It’s important. It’s inevitable. As with your mattress, there comes a point at which you must invest in a new place to rest while you watch Netflix. They typically go on sale in August and February.

4. Dining room

Dining room table. Perhaps you’ve successfully hidden the worst gouges in your IKEA tabletop with a seasonally appropriate runner for years. Perhaps you inherited an over-polished cherry piece from your great aunt that takes up the whole room. Dining room tables rarely break, so replacing yours might never feel urgent, but it may be time.

When you’re ready, here are a few questions to guide your purchase:

  • Size: Are you looking to go bigger or smaller?
  • Shape: Are you ready to swap out your round table for a rectangle?
  • Position: If your table is centered in your dining area, consider how this impacts how you’re using the space.

Like much of the furniture industry, the deals cycle around in August and February.

5. Kitchen

Here are two ways to give your kitchen an entirely new look without breaking the bank: 

  • Install a backsplash. This may be the least necessary place to redecorate, but if you’re looking to splurge and you have the money around, updating your backsplash can be an awesome, impactful way to change up your kitchen.
  • Redo the cabinets and countertop. Cabinets add valuable storage to a room full of gadgets. The design of your countertop and kitchen can add functional space for cooking with your family and friends.

This is the last item on our splurge list because these changes can be wildly expensive, even at a basic level. If you’re just starting to think about replacing this piece of your kitchen, we recommend the comprehensive guide to buying a new countertop from Consumer Reports.

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Parting Advice for the Home Decorator

Ready to get started? We have a few more tips to set you on the right path:

  • Plan as much as possible. Have a vision, or develop one along the way. If at the end of this list, you find yourself wondering where to start, make a list of things you want to remove, replace, or acquire. Any level of planning is better than none, especially if you’re on a budget.
  • Be decisive. Decisions you waffle over show at the seams: there’s usually a concrete reason that slipcover gave you pause. Maybe the green paisley really does look like a bunch of aggressive turtles. Go with your gut and trust yourself to know what you want your space to look like.
  • Update your insurance when you’re finished. The property portion of your homeowners insurance covers the contents of your home for their specific value. If you made any major adjustments (or acquired any valuables like original art), you’ll want to check to see if your policy still covers you – and if not, to update it so it does.

Happy decorating!