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Decorating on a Budget

Updated on July 20, 2007

Furnishings That Don't Cost a Fortune

Whether you're moving into a new apartment or redecorating an existing room, home design can be a little tricky and very costly if all you do is shop at places like Pier One and Huffman Koos. However, if you're willing to put a little backbone into the project, there are affordable ways to acquire aesthetically pleasing furniture and attractive home accents without dipping into your child's college fund.

IKEA. IKEA is a modern-day godsend. If you've never been to one, make it a point to go ASAP. You can also check out their website at to view the catalog, but it doesn‘t allow you to purchase everything you see. Most items must be bought by visiting an IKEA store. Manufactured in Sweden, IKEA's clean, contemporary furniture and household goods are so affordable because it's founders cut costs wherever they could without sacrificing the quality of the product. To keep costs low and make their items affordable to the majority of shoppers, IKEA doesn't spend money on fancy packaging, they buy in bulk, and they do not pre-assemble the furniture (though they do provide you with the instructions and all necessary tools to assemble it yourself.) They also have a variety of artwork, office supplies, candles, fake plants, pillows, blinds, comforters and more.

IKEA's collections are affordable, functional, contemporary designs with clean lines
IKEA's collections are affordable, functional, contemporary designs with clean lines

Good Will/flea markets/consignment shops. Thrift stores sell used furniture at extremely low prices because #1.) It's all been donated, #2.) It's probably out of style, and #3.) It isn't in great condition. This doesn't mean, however, that you can't find some good deals at places like these. I once bought a full size mattress and box spring at a consignment shop for $50 (and it lasted me for seven years, and would have lasted even longer had I not upgraded to a queen size.) Sometimes you'll be fortunate enough to find an item that is in pretty good condition; if so, congratulations. If not, don't be discouraged. The Queen Anne table and six matching chairs that sit in my parents' formal dining room was acquired by my mother at a flea market for $200 because the top had scratches on it. But don't automatically disregard a piece because it has some damage -- this is where refurbishing comes in. My mother waxed the top down herself and then covered it up with a lacy tablecloth. It looks gorgeous. Threadbare couches can be made new again by using a slipcover, armchairs can be reupholstered (don't pay hundreds for a professional to do this, you can easily do it yourself with material purchased from a craft store), uneven legs can be filed down to size, nicks can be painted and wood can be refinished. This site is basically a virtual garage sale, and there's a Craigslist site for almost every city across the United States and Canada. The "For Sale" section works just like the classifieds in your local newspaper, only it's free. Click on "furniture" to browse the listings by owner or by dealer, and check out the "household" and "arts + crafts" sections as well for accessories. An added bonus is that most ads include an actual photo of the item. You can find some amazing deals, just be sure to exercise caution when purchasing. There is fraud on Craigslist just like everywhere else, so if you contact the seller and he asks you to Paypal him the money ahead of time, DON'T do it. You have every right to pick up the furniture yourself or request to see it in person before forking over your cash. Aside from that, you can find some really affordable and quirky, interesting items on this site.

Weird microwave found on NYC for $25
Weird microwave found on NYC for $25
IKEA bed frame also on NYC Craigslist for $100
IKEA bed frame also on NYC Craigslist for $100
IKEA track lighting, NYC Craigslist -- $70
IKEA track lighting, NYC Craigslist -- $70

DirectBuy. DirectBuy is a must-have for the new homeowner or for someone who is buying a second home or needs to decorate a rental property. Depending on what state you live in, a lifetime membership to DirectBuy can cost up $4500, but if you plan on buying a good deal of furniture, it is absolutely worth it. I worked at DirectBuy in the member services department for several years, and I can personally vouch for the value this membership provides. This company is NOT for someone who is looking for savings on a toaster oven; you won't recoup your membership fee unless you plan on buying at least one room of furniture. Their system allows you to shop over 700 major furniture brands AT COST, with savings of up to 70% off retail prices. They carry Ashley, Kohler, Stanley, Berkline, Aico, Palliser and more. And it doesn't stop at furniture. Their real claim to fame is cabinetry: they work with local wholesalers to get their members amazing savings on their kitchen or bathroom cabinets. I once helped a couple place an order for a $15,000 set of cabinets that they had priced at over $50,000 retail.

Cabinets purchased at cost through DirectBuy for up to 70% off retail price
Cabinets purchased at cost through DirectBuy for up to 70% off retail price

DirectBuy also offers flatware from Mikasa, blinds from Hunter Douglas, grills from Weber and Vermont Castings, hardwood flooring from Shaw, lighting from Minka Aire, mattresses from Sealy and Simmons, Sony digital cameras, appliances from LG, patio furniture -- and that's only about .005% of their selection. As a disclaimer, however, let me remind you of the "consumer triangle", which holds that you can buy a product that is good, cheap or delivered quickly, but you can never have all three criteria. If you have enough money, you can get something good and quick. You can get something that is cheap and quick, but the quality will most likely be sub par. You can get something good and cheap, but it may take a while for you to receive it. DirectBuy falls into the latter category. Because they keep prices low by not keeping a stock of items on hand, your orders are placed directly with the manufacturer and can take up to 4-6 weeks to arrive.

Patio furniture purchased through DirectBuy can save you up to 60%
Patio furniture purchased through DirectBuy can save you up to 60%

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