Nothing thrills me more than getting a great deal—close friends know I hate paying full price for anything, and I have no problem spending hours sorting through sale racks. I’m a lifetime lover of secondhand and bargain shopping, and my mom and I have a shared passion for yard sales and thrift stores. When I moved into a new apartment last summer, I took this budget-minded approach to decorating.
Though I love thrifting (good for the environment AND my wallet), it’s not always an option...so if you’re browsing at bigger retailers, the key to decorating without breaking the bank is patience. I’ve gotten so much great stuff on clearance or on sale because I had a few months to kill before I moved. I regularly frequent stores like T.J.Maxx and Target anyway, so whenever I went, whether I was shopping for clothes or shampoo, I’d swing by the home sections, too. Lucky timing landed me a beautiful gold and white table lamp for just ten bucks at HomeGoods.
These stores always have items that are marked down—the clearance at Target can sometimes be kind of hidden and not organized (usually at the very back of aisles, away from the main drag), so take your time and wander around the whole store. I’ve found throw pillows on clearance racks near the greeting card section, and home decor (like storage trays) mixed in with cookware clearance. Here are some more of my favorite finds.
After living in way too many apartments over the last six years, I’ve learned that a great mirror is key to any space. In addition to functionality (like making sure my eyeliner isn’t smudged), a mirror adds dimension and spaciousness to small rooms. The one in my bedroom is from an antique store, and I picked it up for just $10. There were actually had two others in the same style, and in hindsight, I wish I’d bought another one...there’s no worse buyer’s remorse than thrift remorse. I painted the frame white to give it a more modern feel (it was a worn, brassy color before), and to match the rest of my decor.
Thrifty tip: Focus on construction over aesthetic. Mirrors can get pricey, so instead of setting your heart on a certain size or shape, find one with glass that reflects your best self.
Excitingly, this apartment is the first I’ve lived in with a bedroom large enough for a queen bed (all of my New York apartments fit only a twin). So I knew I wanted a bed that would make a statement. I toyed with the idea of a velvet or tufted platform bed, but after comparing the costs, decided to purchase just a headboard. I turned to Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, but didn’t see anything great. Instead, I purchased a rattan headboard from Target for just under $200—since I didn’t hire movers, I figured something lightweight would be easier to carry upstairs.
Thrifty tip: It’s all about prioritization! I found a headboard I loved that was a little more than I was planning to spend, so I bought a standard metal platform bed online for around $70. This balanced out the heftier cost of the headboard—and the custom bedding I just couldn’t resist from Hill House Home.
Lately, I’ve been noticing that more and more big-box stores offer “art.” Like that Audrey Hepburn canvas from IKEA, or the cliche skyline-at-night poster. After outgrowing the tapestries and posters from my college years, I’ve tried to be more conscious about accumulating artwork that I really love—like a painting in my bedroom, which I scored for $10 at an antique store. I genuinely love this painting, and I love even more that I own an original, unique piece of art. The still life print on my mantel was $1 at a yard sale, and the pink Matisse posters came from Etsy for around $50 (I framed them in $3 frames from Walmart).
Thrifty tip: Stay true to you. The items I get compliments on are these unique pieces that I’ve accumulated over time. Don’t spend money on manufactured art—put it towards stuff you want to look at for years.
I love mixing drinks for friends and trying new wines, so I knew I wanted a bar cart when I moved. I spent the summer months scoping out Craigslist and dropping by various yard sales, but didn’t have much luck. Everything was either overpriced or not to my taste. In my first apartment, I’d used an IKEA utility cart as a makeshift bar cart, so this time around, I wanted a nicer version. I dreamt of a lucite model, but couldn’t stomach spending upwards of $400 for an accent piece.
I ended up finding one at Target from Project 62, the retailer’s midcentury modern-inspired line. It fit my aesthetic, and looks wonderful in my classic Cambridge apartment. Best of all, I originally purchased this bar cart for around $80 (already a great price), but noticed a few weeks later that it had been reduced to less than $70. Happily, a quick email to Target put the price difference back in my wallet.
Thrifty tip: Repeat after me: It never hurts to ask! It takes hardly any effort to ask for a price adjustment, which often just involves an email or chat with customer service. If you’re shopping at a flea market or antique store, make them an offer...especially if you’ve been eyeing an item for weeks and it still hasn’t sold.
The table and chair set in my dining room were purchased at an antique store. When I bought them, they were painted a really bold shade of green and the chairs were upholstered with a very flashy green and yellow floral print. I wanted something a little more neutral, so I took several cans of white spray paint to the set and re-covered the chairs with a more modern navy blue fabric. The table and chairs was around $70 for the set, and I spent less than $10 for the paint and new fabric.
Thrifty tip: DIY when you can. I’m not an expert in furniture restoration and I don’t particularly like getting my hands dirty...but anyone can operate a can of spray paint and use a staple gun.
Antique stores and flea markets are great but if you want to get the best of the best prices, visit yard sales and Salvation Army, the latter being my personal favorite. You can’t go to Salvation Army (or yard sales, actually) looking for something specific. I had some time to kill before dropping my sister off at the train station a few weeks ago, and we happened to drive by a Salvation Army. Inside, I found a mirror for $4—an unplanned yet perfect match for my new headboard.
Thrifty tip: Keep an open mind. You’ll never know what you’ll find.
What are your favorite tips for scoring a deal? Let us know below!