How To: Decorate on a Budget


As you've probably gathered from my previous interiors-related posts here on The Style Stories, when it comes to decorating, I prefer to keep within my limits. Not only is this the sensible, moderated approach - but also, there's a thrill that comes with finding an item you absolutely love, at a price which gives you a little flutter of pure joy. And when it gets to January, we're all in that zone of thinking we want to refresh our homes for the year ahead, but our bank balances may be saying otherwise.

Of course, the main rule that comes with decorating your home on a budget is that you need to have time to spare - and plenty of it. Time to research the options for furniture or decorative accessories, time to trawl the shops for those bargain buys, time to actually do the decorating yourself. The quicker options - namely buying the first thing you find or hiring someone else to do all the work - are by far the more expensive options. 

So below are my top tips on decorating on a budget, and still making your home look exceptionally Instagrammable...

Set a budget, and stick to it

When you first start mapping out your plans for decorating, decide what it is that you actually want to achieve. Is this a whole house kind of situation, or are you just giving one room the treatment? Is it a full overhaul, or a refresh of the current look? Whatever it is that you're doing, work out a realistic budget for the tasks ahead, incorporating everything from basics to the final touches. If you want to be really strict with yourself, you could plot this out in a spreadsheet and add in the costs for each element as you go along, tallying up to ensure you don't step over the boundary line.

Have a separate budget for any nasty surprises

When you set out your budget, set out a second one too - a contingency budget, for anything that happens to go awry. What if you rip up those ugly bathroom floorboards, only to discover there's something wrong with the pipes or the plumbing? What if you accidentally break a window while you're swinging a ladder about? The options for disaster are endless (although quite unlikely), but it's always helpful to know that there's a pot of cash that's marked 'for emergencies only'. It will stop you eating into your decorating budget and make sure that things stay on track with your funds, even if things go distinctly off-plan in the works themselves.

Shop around

This is probably the most time-consuming factor in all of these steps. It would be the easiest thing in the world if we all had unlimited budgets; we could head over to any given Instagrammer's feed and decide that we absolutely must have that West Elm coffee table, click through to the website and drop a few grand, just like that.

However, this is real life. You're on a budget, and you don't want to be frivolous unnecessarily. If you find something that you love, but it's priced out of reach: get clever, and get researching. Nine times out of ten, you'll be able to find a doppelganger elsewhere.

For example, we totally loved the DFS x French Connection Zinc sofa (you know, the one literally everyone owns?) in navy leather, but at £1500, it was too pricey for us. Luckily, DFS had their own version at only £630, which was a dead ringer - in fact, most people assume our sofa is the ubiquitous French Connection one. In a similar vein, we really loved the idea of having a brass and marble floor lamp in the living room. The one we loved was over £150, but then we found the exact same one on a different website for less than £80.

Only spend on the big stuff

Certain things are worth spending money on - such as sofas or coffee tables. But things like accessories really shouldn't be the items that you max out on. Accessories are far more trend-led than anything else in your home, and can be sourced cheaply to make sure you can keep up with the zeitgeist. We've found gold cutlery in Sainsbury's for £15, marble and gold chopping boards in TK Maxx for £10, and even fun little gold accessories in Tiger for £1 each. These are all things that might not be in fashion in a couple of years, so for us, it wasn't worth spending into the hundreds on the alternatives from places like Anthropologie, Oliver Bonas or Habitat.

Buy well or buy twice

It might go against the idea of shopping 'on a budget', but hear me out. It's not worth spending pennies on dining chairs or a coffee table from IKEA that might break in a year's time - when it comes to important pieces of furniture, or things that are going to see a lot of traffic or use (think sofas, chairs, rugs), it's best to buy well the first time around, rather than having to get spenny again when you need to replace it a short while down the line.

This is also true with decorative materials. Cheap paint will require so many coats that you'll rue the day you bought it. Cheap rollers or brushes will leave lint or bristles in your careful handiwork, and cheap carpets just won't give you that same sense of joy when you plunge your toes into the pile and feel the cold, hard floor beneath. Invest in the quality items and they will stand the test of time.

Wait for the sales

You might be desperately impatient, but some things are worth the wait. Sales usually happen around six times a year, but places like Made or Urban Outfitters have regular flash sales too. Hone in on what you want, set up a Google Alert and keep a hawk-like eye on it if you want to snap it up for half the price.

Sample sales

If they're being held in your area, sample sales are a fantastic way to snap up a bargain. Yes, items might be ex-display, or something might not be 100% box fresh, but when you stand a chance of purchasing with huge discounts in place, do those things really matter?

Check out Gumtree, eBay and PreLoved

Our wonderful sideboard is an original 1968 G Plan, in beautiful condition. I've seen them for sale, the exact same ones, with specialist vintage stores for well in excess of £350. We paid £170, when we found it on Gumtree one Sunday morning. Our dining table is another vintage 1960s buy - we paid £35, including delivery to the house. Second hand is not second class - it's a means of buying beautiful, well-made items at a fraction of the original cost.

Do it yourself

When it comes to DIY, it doesn't count if you're paying someone else to do it.

Of course, when it comes to specialist jobs, absolutely call in the experts. No good can come of an amateur attempting to plumb a bathroom, rewire the electrics or fit a kitchen - just get someone in who knows how to do these things, and get someone reputable who knows your budget and will stick to it. 

But if we're talking painting, tiling, putting up wallpaper etc. - just do it yourself. You'll save so much money, and there's nothing quite like the reward of knowing it was you who transformed the room and made your house a home. 


Ah, that little golden nugget of wisdom that we all love to hate. But yes - I hate to break it to you, but sometimes, decorating on a budget does come down to compromise. 


Do you have any top tips for decorating on a budget?