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By Marie Anderson
MoneyMix Contributor

You've just finished school, you're moving out of your parent's house, or you're bored with your apartment furniture and want something new. But, you can't afford designer digs. No can give your place some serious style with a little creativity and time.

Make old things look new again with some sandpaper and a touch of paint. 

Here are some suggestions for creating a comfortable atmosphere within your budget. By following three simple rules, you can give your place a new look in no time, at almost no cost.


Most of us think redecorating means buying brand new. You might be surprised to find that many of the items you're using now—or have packed away—can create new uses for household items.

  • Recycle your linens and transform them into pillow covers, tablecloths, or curtain panels. If you're really ambitious, you even could change the fabric on your chairs or sofas, which allows you to decorate seasonally. Check out these instructions at
  • Save everything, even something as small as a ribbon on a gift. These items might come in handy when you need an accent on an otherwise dull object. (If you don't have a lot of room, or tend to be a pack rat, you might think twice about this suggestion.)
  • Use wineglasses as candleholders. Fill the wineglasses with sand or small pebbles and place a votive candle on top. Another idea: Fill a large bowl with wine corks and place candles in votive holders on top of the corks. Use these decorations as end pieces or centerpieces in your living room or bedroom.
  • Keep wine bottles that have unique labels or colors and use them as vases or decorations in your kitchen or dining room.
  • Make your old things look new again with some sandpaper and a touch of paint.

do it yourself

You can save a lot of money by doing home fix-ups yourself—instead of paying someone else to do the dirty work. To finish jobs faster and have more fun, corral friends to help, with the agreement that you'll help them when they're fixing up their places.

If it's not possible to do all the work yourself, consider doing as much as you can and then hiring out bits and pieces. For example, maybe you can paint all the walls and hire someone to paint your ceilings.

Check out decorating Web sites and blogs for more ideas:

 HGTV's Design on a Dime

 Decorating for a Shabby Chic Look's Simply Stated

 Addicted 2 Decorating

 Decorating Blog Catalog

Need more inspiration?

 Flip through decorating magazines at your local library.

 Find a flea market to score great deals.

Try these easy fix-ups:

  • Paint changes the look of any room, and can create drastic results depending on the color. Try different decorative painting techniques, such as painting stripes, stenciling, sponging, or creating different textures. Measure and mark off stripes with painter's tape, use a large sponge to create a two-toned wall, or drag a rubber comb through white glaze to give walls an intriguing theme.
  • If you're just not a painter, try using decals to brighten a wall. Wall decals are removable peel-and-stick, and they're no hassle if you change your mind about the look later. Check out Blik Surface Graphics to get some ideas.
  • Think outside the box when it comes to furniture. Place an old mirror or piece of glass on top of a coffee table, or take the drawers out of an old dresser, drape cloth over it, and use the empty interior space for storage in your bathroom or kitchen. With some decoration, a basic bench can turn into a great coffee table.
  • If you have mismatched lamps, paint the lampshades so they are uniform. You can do the same thing with dining room chairs. Collect different chairs at vintage or secondhand shops; stain them all the same color.
  • Declutter. Clearing extra stuff out of a room will create a Zen effect. Clean rooms, windows, and furniture immediately make your home look more attractive.
  • If you have an unusable fireplace, spark it up with a display of different size candles on the floor. Place candles in a tray or on a long board to control wax cleanup and for safety.

acquire cheap stuff

You don't have to purchase cheaply made items to acquire less costly items. By shopping around and waiting for things to go on sale you can save a lot of money decorating your home.

  • Settle for less: Look for deals on slightly damaged items. Some stores offer discounts on furniture that has scratches, and some retailers provide great deals on clearance items. Take time to shop around and look for the best deals on clearance throw pillows, curtain panels, or bath accessories.
  • Find souvenirs on vacation rather than paying for them. Shells from a beach and rocks from a riverbed can make great accessories.
  • Shop at flea markets to find inexpensive furniture and other home accents. Flea markets also offer an arena for bargaining, and they're a great place to find antique treasures. Collect old editions of novels for a unique decoration in your living room or office.
  • Create an artsy feel in your kitchen by using unique ceramic dishes. If you aren't particular about having everything match, you can find different ceramic dishes at flea markets, pottery stores, or art shows. Or you can make your own by taking local art classes. You also can look for dishes that have the same color or feel. This way, if one dish breaks, there's no issue with having to replace a plate with one that doesn't match the others.

Ultimately, you're in charge of your own style, and you have the freedom to be your own designer. Just make sure the price is right before splurging, and remember that, with a little creativity, it's easy to turn the old stuff you have into something new and exciting. You can accomplish a lot on a limited budget, and can be sure that your guests will appreciate your unique style.

Published June 2, 2010

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