For the past couple years, I have been retraining my home spending habits.  I found myself mindlessly spending on things to fill shelves, things I didn’t really love, and just to spend money.  I used to justify little amounts to spend here and there on my “mommy breaks”, where my hubby would watch the kids, so I could have some peace and quiet (aka retail therapy).  Invariably, I would end up at one of three places; HomeGoods, Target, or Michaels.

Twenty bucks here and there didn’t seem like that big of a deal.  Until I actually tallied it up.  I was groaning that we couldn’t afford carpet for the basement remodel, meanwhile I had spent hundreds of dollars over a few months on meaningless stuff.  All I had to show for my spending were things all around my house that had far less value than additional livable square footage.


I took a month-long home spending hiatus, where I didn’t buy a single thing for the house.  Not a vase, not hand soap, not even a screw.  Nothing.

Since then, I have refocused my spending energy in my home more purposefully.

I do believe you have to spend money on your home.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, but neither do sofas and chairs.  The trick is to spend money wisely.  Tweet that!

As a decorator, I always get asked where to splurge and where to save.  I make those decisions for my clients all the time.  But, as a general question the only answer I can give is, “it depends.”  It depends on the room, the goal, the budget.  But regardless of all that, what I think matters more is you overall home spending habits.  The 9 tips in this post will have you well on your way to a home you love with out the guilt of over-spending.

9 Decorator Secrets to More Style With Less Money |

Ever notice how most articles on saving money only talk about how to save money at the point you are about to spend money?  This is not one of those articles.  I want to give you some real tips to save money on decorating and home goods before the point of sale.

Coupons, discounts, free shipping, and buy one get one free are all great ways to save money at the point of sale…when you are already committed to spending money, and you just want to spend a little bit less.  Real money-savings comes when you have strategies that minimize or eliminate the desire to spend money.

The real secret to having more style with less money is knowing what to do with what you’ve already got and getting stuff you’ll know what to do with.  Plus, knowing what is even smarter than buying something new.

Buy Right the First Time

If you are going to spend money, start with the good stuff.  I don’t mean good stuff as in expensive, I mean good stuff as in works it’s buns off for you.  Good stuff has staying power in your home and will be useful and/or beautiful for years to come.

1.  Splurge on Water Glasses, not Champagne Flutes 

I got this tip from my favorite fashion stylist, Hilary Rushford, who explains our wardrobes tend to be made up of outfits for Saturday nights, when we really need clothes for Tuesday afternoons.

The same principle is true in our homes.  Just think of all the things you registered for and received for your wedding for entertaining.  Yup, I am talking those champagne flutes that are collecting dust in your cupboard.  Because you really spend more time hanging out on the back patio with beer (straight out of the bottle, you savage you).

It always baffled me why we spend so much time and effort looking for a great deal on the everyday stuff, but don’t bat an eyelash spending big bucks on the things we pull out once a year.  I don’t know about you, but I put a water glass to my lips every single day.  I can’t remember the last time I held a champagne flute.

The point is if you want to spend money on decorating and home goods, splurge on yourself by investing in good quality beautiful everyday pieces, not the special occasion pieces you will rarely use.  Stop spending on the things you think you need to occasionally impress some guests (believe me they can tell you don’t normally use linen napkins, and probably wouldn’t mind if you gave them a disposable one).

Decorate for your everyday, not for someday.  Tweet that!

This is all about being realistic.  If you really do have mimosas every Sunday for brunch, then by all means get some pretty champagne flutes.  But if that is not really the life you lead, then put your money to work for your real life.  It’s okay to be aspirational and lean out a few years into the future.  You can invest in things that support the life you hope to lead.  But, be realistic.

Our master bathroom came with a big giant garden tub.  They always look so impressive in the model homes and you can imagine yourself having a luxurious spa-like experience at home, until you go to draw your first bath.  I can’t get that darn tub filled with water before the kids need mommy for something.  I’d much rather jump in the shower for some quick relaxation, then to have my bath time squandered waiting for the tub to fill.  So, for me, if I ever remodel this bathroom or build a new house, I will skip the expensive tub and put the money into a great shower experience.  After 10 years in 3 homes all with beautiful tubs, I can still count on two hands the amount of times I have actually used them.

2.  Never Look at the Price Tag

I know that seems contradictory in a post about spending less money, but hear me out.  You must fall in love with the piece before you fall in love with the price tag.

Here’s why: We are notoriously stupid decision-makers when we see a good deal.  And that stupidity leads to spending more money over the long run on all the good deals we just couldn’t pass up.  Ever notice the stuff you got a good deal on is rarely the stuff you really, really love?  Even when someone compliments it, you say, “oh, that thing, I got it on clearance for like $5.”  You discount it.  That’s because you bought the price tag, not the piece.

Don’t judge a piece on price.  Don’t look at the price until you know you already want the piece.  Then, decide whether or not the price is what you want to pay.

If the price catches your eye or the giant 50% off sign was unavoidable, stop the stupid price-saving side of your brain from going into hyper-drive and ask yourself this, “if this item were full price, would I still want it?”  If yes, proceed to checkout.  If no, then put it back.  A 50% off sale is designed to get you to spend the other 50% of the price, which you weren’t planning to spend in the first place.

Repeat after me: If this item were full price, would I still want it? A good deal is only a good deal if it is for something you already wanted to buy.  Tweet that!

3.  It Should Be So Good, You Don’t Know Where to Put It

Stretch every dollar you spend on your home by buying versatile pieces.

Only buy the piece that is soooooooo good, you can’t decide what room to use it in, because it would look great in all of them.  Whenever I am considering a piece, I run through all the places I could use it in my head.  If I can’t name 3 rooms it would work in, then I pass.  It’s a sign that it’s not a versatile piece or that it really isn’t a good fit for my style.

Untitled design-3

Versatile does not mean neutral!  Color can be versatile, too, if you do it right.  One of my favorite tricks is to repeat accent colors in accessories throughout my house.  Having a pre-defined whole house color palette and accent color palette helps.

Then, when you get antsy with your decor, you can swap things around between rooms for a fresh look.  If you don’t have a cohesive palette, you are locking yourself into specific decor for each room without flexibility.  When you want a change, then you have to replace everything.

How to Leverage What You Already Have

When you crave change, you may overlook everything you already have in favor of something new.  A new look doesn’t have mean new things.  In fact, I think you can get more joy out of reworking what you already have.  A new look for no money is a win-win.

4.  Make a Power Play

Everything is more powerful in multiples.  When it comes to using color and collections, you can hardly ever have too much of a good thing.  Get greater impact out of the things you already have by using them together.

Let’s start with color.  The greatest color impact happens in a room when the color is repeated at least 3 times around the room.  If you sprinkle your fave color all over your home in small doses, you never give it a chance to saturate.  Try bringing all the things in the same color family into one room for a powerful wow factor and quick color makeover.

Now, collections.  Notice I said collections, not collectibles.  We all collect something.  Whether you collect fine silver, bobble heads, or beach sand, you only get the POW when the full collection is displayed together.  Bring the entire collection into on defined area for greater impact.  Show off the silver above the kitchen cupboards.  Intermingle the bobble heads with books on the built-ins.  Put all the vials of beach sand on a shelf together.

5.  Stock Up and Rotate

When you spot things you love, buy them.  It sounds wrong to say in a post about spending less, but I promise it will save you money later.  Because if you don’t, then the next time you are entertaining, throwing a party, or expecting your Mother-In-Law, you will feel under pressure to buy something new to freshen up the place.  And, Murphy’s Law, you won’t find anything you love, but you will buy anyway (your under pressure, remember).

If you buy what you love when you find it, it will be available to you when you need it.  This is an extension to buying versatile decor.

If you constantly like to change it up and redecorate, then start a decor closet.  Stock up with staple pieces you love (here’s a list to get started).  Rotate out your decor whenever the mood strikes.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so after a few weeks or months, when you open the decor closet again you’ll be seeing pieces like it’s the first time all over again.

Party Decor Storage Armoire

I use the armoire in my dining room as a decor closet.  It used to be a TV cabinet, so I outfitted the big gaping TV hole with some inexpensive closet shelving to maximize the storage space.  I stash all the decor and reusable party supplies I am not currently using in there.  When I want a fresh look, I shop the decor closet.  When I am planning a party, I start with the decorations I already have.

6.  Shop Your House for Holiday Decorating

This is quickly becoming one of my favorite hobbies.  You would be amazed what holiday decorating you can pull off without spending anything.

Forget the Pinterest pressure.  Ignore the retail pressure to buy a few new things each season. This one tip will save you oodles of cash.

Don’t buy new things for every holiday.  Instead, shop your entire house for items in that holiday’s dominant colors.  See this in action on my “use what you’ve got” Valentine’s mantel.  It’s become a tradition. Every year, I gather up every bit of pink and red around my house to creative a festive and FREE mantel for V-day.

Anatomy of a Decorated Mantel |

I also like to make “evergreen” holiday decor that I can use year after year.  For Christmas, one year the boys and I gilded some plastic animals for a mantel menagerie we can display year after year.  I framed a pair of the boys mittens for winter art I will look forward to putting out again and again.   See also: It’s okay to use last years ornaments.

What’s Smarter Than Buying New

When you just absolutely must-have something new, take a quick minute to think about what you could do instead.  Going straight to the store shelves isn’t always the best answer.

7.  Get Over Yourself and Learn to Sew

One of the things I am most thankful my mom taught me is how to sew.  I learned at a very young age.  I think I could hardly reach the foot pedal.  But, I loved it.  There is such an instant gratification in transforming a piece of fabric into something useful. I also learned at a young age to get friendly with a seam ripper.  Mistakes will happen, but it’s just thread.  The seam ripper will erase the mistake and you can try again.


Besides making my own home decor, I made my own wedding dress.  No, I am not a master seamstress.  I just worked slowly and confidently :)  Patience and practice is all you need to master sewing.  It is far easier than it looks.

Learning to sew is the biggest home decorating money saver-ever and that is after factoring in a $100 to buy a decent sewing machine.  It pays for itself after a couple pillows or a pair of curtain panels.  (No-sew is okay, but fusible tape costs way more than thread.)

Why is sewing so awesome?  Well, you can make two designer decorative throw pillow covers for under $15!  Make a curtain panel from designer fabric for under $45, plus you can precisely customize the length.  (And, if you learn basic sewing skills you can easily whip up some pretty rad halloween costumes for the kiddos).

What are you afraid of?  I know it’s a machine and it makes loud noises and has a piercing sharp needle going up and down, but it really won’t hurt you.  Go to a fabric store and see a demo…once you see one in action it is less scary.  My pillow making video tutorial is the perfect beginner project.

8.  Find Vintage From People That Don’t Know Vintage

The hubby and I love mid-century modern furniture, but we don’t like to pay mid-century modern furniture prices.

With a little patience and research, it can pay to look around before buying at the vintage store.  The great folks at the vintage store know the value of what they are selling.  If they refurbish the furniture, the price will be even higher.  Check to see if they have any furniture as-is.  That’s how we got out great classmate chairs.  All we had to do was give them a good cleaning.

Vintage classmate chairs

If you really want a deal, you need to find that same piece at the source…the garage sale, the thrift store, or Craigslister that doesn’t know what the value of what they are selling. You need to find the guy that is just trying to get rid of all grandma’s old stuff.  And, whatever you do, don’t tell them what they are sitting on.  Just run off into the sunset with your steal of a deal and let the dude be happy with the $20 he pocketed.

On that note, check with your family.  Are your grandparents, aunts, uncles downsizing and looking to get rid of some furniture?  Go check it out.  You might be surprised by the great pieces they have and the amazing condition they are in.

9.  Host a Decor Swap

I haven’t done this yet, but it is on my bucket list.  First of all, it just sounds really fun.  And second of all, you get to get rid of stuff you do’t want while picking out a fe new things.  No money involved.

It’s the free way to freshen up you decor and that of a few friends (minus the cost of a few bottles of wine).  It’s like a cookie swap, but you bring home a new table lamp and pillow instead of chocolate macaroons and a recipe you’ll never use (oh and you don’t have to bake any cookies to participate).  Get the girlfriends together for a night of gabbing and go home with some new decor.  Here’s how it works: Invite guests who have similar styles to you.  Each guest brings over home decor that is in good condition, but they don’t want anymore.  For each item they bring, they get a ticket to exchange for a new-to-them item to take home.

To recap, spend wisely on the right things up front, leverage what you already have, and do what’s smarter than buying new.

For more tips on smart home decor, check out 6 Ways to Make Sure You Love It Before You Buy It.

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9 Responses to 9 Decorator Secrets to More Style With Less Money

  1. Meg says:

    Love these tips! We’re getting ready to purchase our first home, and I’m feeling absolutely overwhelmed at the idea of furnishing an entire house . . . and on a budget. I’m coming to realize I need to just slow down and focus on immediate needs, of course, and that I want to make informed decisions about furniture, art, etc. once we’ve lived in the space and I can envision what we need. Looking forward to it. Thanks!

    • Jackie says:

      Meg, Yes, yes, yes. Take your time. Take the time and save up for the right pieces the first time, otherwise you will spend a lot of time later daydreaming you had something else :) Congratulations in advance on your new home.

  2. Brie says:

    Great tips! Enjoyed them! :)

  3. jessvii says:

    A few words of caution about Tip 8 (buy vintage from people who don’t know vintage). First, because of the Internet, an awful lot of people now know the value of their items, and deals are a lot harder to find.

    Second, as soon as something gets popular (like how Martha Stewart made jadeite super “in”), it gets incredibly hard to find a good deal on it.

    Third, and this is the reason I decided to comment, be weary of a great price.
    – The item could be stolen – the thief may know the value of the item, but just wants to unload it quickly, in which case you could inadvertently be rewarding the criminal by eagerly buying the item. I once showed up to buy a table on CraigsList and while I was there, the “seller” offered me a great deal on anything else in the house – it just seemed odd.
    – Alternatively, the seller could be some bereaved relative who just wants to let items go quickly in a time of a grief, and I would feel bad if I felt like their asking price was too low to be fair to them.

    • Jackie says:

      Jess, Those are good general words of caution specifically for the risk of shopping on Craigslist. I am not an expert there, but agree to be careful.

  4. Julianne says:

    The decor swap party is an awesome idea. Might have to try that in the near future.

  5. Jenna says:

    Jackie fantastic post and congrats on being featured in Redbook! You’re rockin’ it.

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