Money Month

5 Easy (and Fun) Ways to Stick to Your Home Decorating Budget — No Matter How Little It Is

published Oct 5, 2021
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Credit: Liz Calka

October is Money Month at Apartment Therapy! That means we’re sharing stories about saving money to buy a home, hacks to help you stick to your budget, and more all month. Head over here to see them all!

Whether you’ve just moved to a new place and your old furniture doesn’t fit, or you’re looking to revamp the apartment you’ve been living in for years, there are plenty of reasons to give your home a bit of a revamp. But pizazz can seem a little pricey, and sticking to a home decorating budget can be daunting. Especially if you want to bring relatively ethically-sourced pieces into your home, one piece alone might threaten to blow your budget out of the water. 

So how to keep your bank account and your values happy? With a little foresight and planning, you can make decorating fun, collaborative, and less painful on your bank account balance. These five ways to decorate and furnish your apartment on a budget can help you get your big-ticket home goods for cheap, save on the little stuff so you can devote more of your budget to that one gorgeous piece you’ve had your eye on for months, and help you feel part of a community. 

Credit: Justine Darragh

Join No-Buy Communities

There’s no shame in not having the cash in your budget to create the living room of your dreams from brand-new pieces — but that doesn’t mean you need to do without a coffee table. For the decor and home pieces you have your eye on but can’t put money aside for, just hop online. 

Digital networks like the Buy Nothing Project, Freecycle, and Queer Exchange are all about channeling that neighborly vibe of helping you access what you need and what you want — without demanding anything in return. The ethos of these groups? Community comes first. Keep that in mind especially when you’re checking out Queer Exchange, which is maintained by and for LGBTQ+ people.

An additional upside to these arrangements? Partaking in these groups can foster a stronger community feel that you’re probably looking to foster in your home anyway. The logic of no-buy communities encourages you to also consider what you do have and maybe no longer want or need. Your love affair with your ergonomic desk chair was fun while it lasted, but it might have a better home with someone who’s still working from home if you’ve since begun going back to your job IRL.


When you have a strict redecorating budget but need a new couch (or bed frame, you name it), sites like OfferUp can help you find cheap and local everything — from furniture to the fancy bakeware you didn’t think you could ever afford. Many of these sites also allow you to list the home goods you’re ready to part with. For the cost of taking a photo and uploading it, you can add some money to your budget and get that old bookshelf to a better home in one fell swoop.

Credit: Natalie Jeffcott

Refresh What You’ve Already Got 

Even well-loved pieces can show wear and tear over time, and while there might not be anything wrong with a bookcase in your living room, there may not be anything special about it anymore, either. If you don’t want to replace it, don’t despair — you can redesign it instead. 

When you vaguely like the furniture and art you already have in the house but you need something new, don’t feel the need to take on a full makeover. Head to your local hardware store and grab some paint to make that old bookcase pop. While you’re there, you might want to also check out new handles or knobs for those boring cabinets in the kitchen. Replacing lamp shades or light fixtures are pretty low-cost and low-maintenance: often, you’ll just have to unscrew the old and screw in the new. No need to be intimidated, and no need to spend a lot of money either.

Home Decor Swap 

Clothing swaps are an age-old staple in trans communities. When trans folks want to get rid of clothing that no longer sparks gender euphoria for us, we often offer those pieces to other members in our community, whether through networks like Queer Exchange or other groups. In exchange, we might be treated to the clothes that affirm our gender accordingly. No money needs to change hands — just my gender euphoria in exchange for yours.

It’s pretty fun to adapt this swap method with home decor. How many times have you helped your friend move and thought, “Ooh, this dresser would be so gorgeous if I weren’t currently lugging it up five flights of stairs?” Your friend might just be thinking the same thing about that old armchair in your living room every time they come over. 

When it’s time for a refresh in your living room, have some fun with it. Set your spot up like an art gallery and slap some Post-its on the items you’re ready to part with — and let your friends bring photos of items they can offer in exchange. The swaps don’t necessarily have to be permanent, either: You can keep a swap circle going every time you and your pals need a living room refresh. Just make sure that you’re intentional from the outset about stating which, if any, pieces are not available for swapping.

You can also throw a rent party for home decor, while simultaneously helping your friends with their decluttering. Let them know what kinds of decor you’re looking to add to your collection, and that you’re open to receiving gently loved pieces that they’re ready to part with. Your pal might just bring you those gorgeous throw pillows that they barely use but that you hug every time you hang out at their place.

Good Old-Fashioned Thrift Shops and Flea Markets

Perusing people’s treasures online is great for when your social energy meter is low. But when you’ve got the energy to don hard pants and venture out of the house, head to local thrift shops or flea markets to stick to your design budget. Thrifting can help you find brilliant pieces cheaper than you would get them from a retailer (all while supporting local business owners).

Since you can’t predict what you’ll find at a thrift shop, go prepared with your list of home goods you need and with a bit of padding in whatever budget you have. You may not have expected to find the armchair of your dreams at the corner thrift store that mostly sells clothes and knick-knacks, but there it is — and you might have to snag it. Just make sure you’re hitting up some Buy Nothing groups afterward to get the other items on your must-have to compensate for the change in your budget.

Feel free to make a solo or group date of it, too — there’s nothing that quite bonds you with yourself, your roommates, or your partners than sifting through old treasures that you’d love to make new together.