The obvious: Wait for deals/ask for gift cards at holidays. Know that when you visit retail store websites, there is only one place to click on, and that is the sale page. Sign up for all the newsletters that send info on special deals. Know the corner of the local store they put all the sale goods in and ask the employees which day they usually update the sale area (so you can get first dibs on good things). Know which days your local thrift stores get in new shipments.
Go shopping at your family's homes: Sure to stir up some controversy, one of my favorite places to go "shopping" is at my parents' house. With their permission, of course. They have tons of stuff that to them is "old" but to me is gold; and if I happen across something like an old colorful throw blanket (pictured above!), silly owl statuette or something that's tucked away out of use in a closet or box, I ask them if I can borrow or have it. They are often grateful to have it taken off their hands!
Learn to find the secret sources: Travis County Surplus in Austin is just one example of a great secret resource - I find super cheap, retro-looking stuff there all the time (just found a chair there this week with just a tiny bit of cane damage for less than $10!). Have a friend who's always finding cool things? Ask them for their source (no promise they'll give it up, but it's worth a try). Also: people moving are always eager to get rid of stuff quickly! Offer to help folks move in case they decide to leave stuff behind.
Always look for the freebie makeover ideas Taking off doors to a cabinet. Rearranging furniture. Taking down gross blinds...there's probably a lot you can do without adding anything new and you can do it probably for nothing or super cheap. We're currently working on adding some architectural interest in our kitchen by removing the paint off of metal handles on our kitchen cabinets.
Give it to us! Share your top FAVORITE super/budget/sometimes a cheapskate tips for getting things for your apartment when money is definitely an object. Let us know!
(Images: 1. Abby Cook, 2 & 3 Adrienne Breaux)