Thrifty Tips and Tricks for Home Decorating on a Budget

Published at Redfin.com on July 16, 2020 by Emily Huddleston Updated on July 20th, 2020

Buying decor for a house or even just a room can easily become an expensive endeavor. However, we’re here to tell you that decorating on a budget is totally possible. Regardless of whether you live in a spacious loft in Dallas, TX, or a two-story home in Atlanta, GA, you can create a one-of-a-kind space without breaking the bank.

The secret is to take a detour from the regular big-box stores and head to your local thrift or second-hand shop. With a little creativity and some patience, you can furnish and decorate a home that looks uniquely yours. 

To help get you started, we reached out to some of the top bargain shopping and decorating experts. Keep reading for their best tips and tricks for home decorating on a budget. 

White comfortable sofa in living room

Start with a mood board. Fill it with decorating inspiration and ideas, then keep it in mind when you go thrifting. Once you’re in the midst of the mountains of used goods at a thrift store, it can be challenging to envision how that funky vase could possibly work in your home or where on earth you might put that giant vintage basket. But if you’ve done your research ahead of time, you’re more likely to have an open mind and a creative vision for the unique treasures you’ll find. – Vagabondary

Look for items that can be easily transformed. When I go thrifting I love looking for items like pottery/vases, baskets, and lamps that I can easily flip using spray paint, or plaster of Paris to give it that new but vintage vibe I often use when styling my spaces. These items are great to use as fillers, to add height, and to create dimension in the areas you want to quickly and easily style. – Kindred Homestead

Don’t be afraid of germs, stains, and used items. A lot of people worry about buying things second hand because they are unsure of where an item came from. This is a valid concern, and there are definitely some items you shouldn’t buy at thrift stores. However, for the most part, buying second hand isn’t any more “germy” than buying retail. That being said, especially in the time of Covid-19, I always wash or sanitize whatever comes into my home before using it. There are lots of eco-friendly ways to make sure your thrifting treasures don’t bring any unwanted critters or germs into your home — baking soda and vinegar are your best friend. – Reluctant Mother

Balance the old with the new. Mixing modern elements in with old, vintage finds keeps a room feeling fresh, interesting, and ultimately balanced. Tossing an old thrift store find on a more modern piece of furniture creates depth and adds an element of the unexpected. – Lemon Street Home

Put your own spin on it. Looking for trendy side tables or dressers? Buy a cheap but solid wood piece and don’t be afraid to spruce it up by painting it yourself! Bright colors are always fun. Try a hipster turquoise or red, or you could always go with a timeless black. Old pieces often have sturdy bones. – Destined For Grace Thrift Store

decorating on a budget by transforming white dresser

Transform an old dresser. Find an old wood dresser, a bit vintage and a bit damaged. Give that dresser a few coats of chalk paint to transform the piece into something beautiful. You can learn how to do this here. –  Create With Cynthia

Be open-minded and don’t look for anything specific. One of the best pieces of advice we got about shopping at our stores was from a shopper who said, ‘I try not to look for anything specific because if you are looking for anything specific, you miss a lot of the unique items.’ Being open-minded and a little bit creative are really the first steps towards curating a beautifully decorated home without spending lots of money. It also helps to shop at multiple stores every week since the new inventory is donated daily. – Triad Goodwill

Look for decor items outside of your own style. Don’t be afraid to be bold and thrift outside of your own style. Designing a space to be subtly – or full-on – eclectic adds character and warmth. Not only does it make your space playfully unique, but it also makes shopping for your next vintage addition a lot easier if you’re not limiting yourself to one style. – Ruinous Revived

Envision an item in a different color. If you stumble across an item at a thrift store, say a basket, vase, or cutting board, and you love its shape or design, but you don’t like the color or decoration, try to envision it in a different color. Chances are it will make a vast improvement! Drive yourself to the hardware store, pick up some chalk paint, give the item one or two coats, and voila–you have a brand new home decor accessory to love. – Adirondack Girl @ Heart

Keep your eyes peeled for one-of-a-kind items. Check out the art on the walls–and their frames–for a thrifty way to restyle your home. Know that with a fresh coat of paint or new hardware, you can totally transform found furniture into a centerpiece. – Habitat for Humanity Tuscon

Decorate with items that make your home look like you’ve traveled the world. There’s nothing better than the look of a well finished, eclectic home. Even if your design style is soft contemporary or transitional modern, a mid-century bar cart or a French antique console can ground your space and give it a sense of warmth. While shopping for resale items, focus on vintage, architectural salvage, or rich wood antique pieces to give some interest to your home. Your home should look as though you’ve traveled the world even if you haven’t. – Lost and Found Resale

Find items that just need a fresh coat of paint. Many things only need a coat of paint or a few embellishments to look great in your home! Have a plan of what you are looking for when thrifting by keeping up with the latest trends on Pinterest. You would be surprised by the furniture and other home decor people get rid of that just needs a little time and love. – Flipz and Findz

Shop for eclectic glassware. Finding essential glassware for a home bar or rec room area has never been easier. Thrift stores are known for their assortment of drinkware. So stock up on mix-and-match pilsner, tumbler, cocktail, highball, and shot glasses as well as wine goblets and pitchers. You can find everything you need to host the next neighborhood gathering. Bonus points for scoring beer glasses from breweries around the world. – Goodwill NCW

Cacti in pots near window

Think outside the (planter) box. Houseplants are an essential decor element and they can even purify the air in your home. Look beyond the usual pots and make a statement by creating unique DIY planters out of upcycled objects from the thrift store. Try antique teacups for small succulents, vintage ceramics for hearty spider plants, or create a mini-garden in hollowed-out retro electronics. – Community Thrift Store

Use your imagination to create something unique. If you love DIY home projects, old windows can become picture frames or old fireplace covers/screens can be wall art. Use your imagination and you will have endless possibilities. For more traditional decor, you can find vases, lamps, wall art, lighting, pillows and so much more – just be patient – it may take a few trips, but it will be worth it, and your wallet will love you. – ToniOn Thrifting

Take advantage of spray paint. Don’t let the wear and tear of a well-loved piece scare you away. Spray paint can elevate table legs, picture frames, planters, even hardware, and give new life to a vintage favorite. It’s an affordable and effective way to create your cohesive space on a budget. – Stories by Mackenzie

Incorporate vintage books. A great, simple way to add some personality, color, and a touch of real nostalgia to your home is to use a few carefully chosen vintage books. There is a warmth and dimension to classic hard-cover and leather-bound books. If you’re looking for a little fun and a conversation starter, nothing beats vintage versions of the childhood classics (even comic books!) that we all read growing up. – Allora Vintage

Take your time and search for items you may have overlooked. The secret is to walk slowly, look carefully, and take three laps around the store as you may not see everything on the first or the second lap. Shopping at Hilton House is a treasure hunt. Visit frequently, as new items could arrive at any moment. The secret is to mix the old with the new and find high quality for a fraction of the price. – Hilton House

When shopping, go all-in for some r&r (repurpose and reinventing). I’m constantly on the hunt for quality, well-priced furniture and decor that I can repurpose and reinvent into some fabulous ‘new’, one-of-a-kind statement piece. A dresser becomes a bathroom vanity, a buffet transforms into a media console. An old armoire becomes a bar cabinet. The possibilities for creating truly unique, stylish, and really affordable home furnishings are endless. – Alchemy Eclectic

Repurpose thrifted goods into functional and artistic lighting. I shop for just about anything that a cord can run through, like vintage colanders, cute teapots, or even simple glassware, to turn into lights. Repurposing thrifted items is rewarding not just for the affordability, but the sustainability of making use of goods that already exist in the universe. – UnicornitureCo

Take the time to go through the “fabrics” section of a thrift store. I love searching through curtains especially to reupholster chairs, wrap my image boards for clients and even wrap birthday/holiday prizes in. The fabrics are usually high quality and the handmade craftsmanship is one of a kind. – Thrifty Mama

Don’t underestimate the importance of the finishing touches. The old globe, the mid-century photo frame, or the hip 80’s ceramic vase are easily found at your local thrift store. These items can help put your own vibe and signature on your space. – Casa Victoria

decorating on a budget with blue wall and layered accessories

Layer things to create a high-end, lived-in look. I like to stack a couple of coffee table books and top them with a nice chinoiserie lamp or potted green plant, and a collection of little brass photo frames, all corralled onto and anchored by a woven basket tray. That just feels like home to me. – The Tiny White House

Look for the potential in an item. When looking at thrift store furniture, consider what it could be, not just what it is. – Furniture Works

Know that not all “thrift stores” are equal. There are good, better, and best choices when it comes to shopping second hand. Look for a consignment shop with recognizable brand names like Ethan Allen, Stickley, or Arhaus to be sure you’re buying well-made furniture and accessories that add style and longevity. Find a store with design associates who can help you make choices based on photos of your space and an understanding of your individual preferences. – Sequels Consignment

Collect items in a specific category or group. When thrift store shopping to decorate your home, collect items in a category for visual impact and appraised value. Whether your category of choice is based on an artist or maker, character or subject, color, time period, or material, thrifting will present many options while sticking to a budget. Remember, a few unrelated objects are fun to assemble but to avoid clutter it’s the category that makes a collection. – Dr. Lori Verderame