Clever Ways to Stretch Your Decorating Dollars

Fall decoration
Fall decoration

As the seasons change, the urge to refresh one's surroundings intensifies.

Spring is all about brightening up and cleaning out -- painting dated kitchen cabinets and adding pops of brighter colors throughout the house. In contrast, this time of year calls for making things cozy and warm for the fall. I can't wait to swap out my yellow and gray coverlet and crisp white sheets for a thick plum velvet quilt and gray flannel.

But all that redecorating adds up fast. It pays (literally) to know a few secrets and shortcuts to getting great decor on a budget.

Three Easy DIY Decor Projects

Despite what you see on HGTV, you don't have to be particularly handy or crafty to do some pretty impressive projects. How do I know? I've done all these myself!

Cost-effective curtains: Make curtains out of sheets or remnant fabric, using iron-on hemming tape to adjust the size to fit. You'll get a custom look for a small fraction of the cost.

Penny-pinching pillows: Use fabric napkins and placemats (I got mine from Target) to make throw pillows. Ones with two layers work best -- just make a small cut, add stuffing from the fabric store, then close with a few stitches or that handy hem tape).

Inexpensive artwork: Skip the art gallery and create inexpensive art by blowing up favorite photos or stretching pretty fabric over a pre-stretched canvas (find them at any art or hobby store) with a staple gun.

Spiffy Up the Small Stuff

There are plenty of quick-fix, low-cost ways to update the look of everything from light switches to dresser drawers.

  • Change out builder-grade light switches and outlet covers for ones that better complement your style. I used $7 silver Liberty Hardware covers from to add some subtle shine to my living room.

  • Replacing knobs on furniture and cabinets is another easy upgrade that makes a major impact. Find inexpensive options at a superstore or hardware store. Swapping old brass knobs for faux-crystal ones gave my daughter's built-in dresser some girly glam.

  • Finally, make friends with spray paint. With formulas meant to cover plastic, metal, or wood, it's much easier than it looks and gives a fresh look to old furniture and fixtures. I've spray-painted everything from mismatched wooden frames to mailboxes to patio furniture. Pay a little more for the brand names -- they go on smoother and cover better.

Artfully Arrange What You Already Own

For a no-cost way to add new life to tired rooms, shop at home -- check out the garage, basement, and attic and look at your items with a fresh eye.

Repurpose: Got a wall to fill? Hang up a bedspread, a graphic rug, a bunch of baskets, empty frames -- just about anything can be made into art.

Furnish with found objects: An old side chair can become an end table, a buffet can be a media center, an antique dresser can be modified into a bathroom vanity. The possibilities are endless.

Switch it up: Simply rearranging furniture can make a room feel fresh. Changing out my summer bedding for a winter set I already have costs nothing, but gives me the same satisfaction as buying something new. Move accessories and art to different rooms or different spots in the same room to get a new perspective.

Employ the power of paint: Although new paint is not free, it's one of the least expensive ways make a world of difference. Stumped on color? Try pure white (White 01 by Benjamin Moore is perfect) or a pale gray (a good pick here is Benjamin Moore Moonshine) for a clean, modern look that works with any decor.

How to Cut Costs on Bigger Renovation Jobs

Taking on a major project like installing a new kitchen can take a huge bite out of your savings. However, it's possible to save some serious cash and stretch that budget a little farther, just by being savvy about where to cut costs.

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Start slashing costs before you knock down drywall: With big renovations, carefully think through the floor plan before you get started. You'll save big if you can avoid moving plumbing and gas lines. Tearing down a load-bearing wall is also pricey.

Save money on cabinetry: Kitchen cabinets are another huge expense -- hit Ikea for the best value. Its quality and design styles have improved substantially over the years, and you can now get pretty much any look you want. Still not convinced? I was wary, too, until I found out that my sister's boss, a custom cabinetmaker with a host of millionaire clients, put Ikea cabinets in his own home and recommended she do the same.

Comparison-shop for appliance deals: New appliances can also be costly, but they don't have to be. You already know you can save a little by choosing white or black appliances, though stainless-steel options are plentiful at every price range -- you may just have to give up a feature or two. Comparison-shopping is crucial here. Take the time to check similar models at all the big-box stores, factoring in any promotional offers, to get the best deal, then see whether another store will beat it. Not super picky? Scout the "scratch-and-dent" deals in the back of the store -- often a minor scratch that won't even be visible once installed can result in a significant discount.

Play your cards right: Finally, check out credit card deals at places like Lowe's (LOW), Home Depot (HD) and Sears (SHLD) if you're planning a big purchase. Offers vary, but 5% off and/or no-interest financing are common, plus you can often negotiate free delivery and removal of your old appliances.

What to do with all that savings? Invest in countertops -- skimping here can make even the nicest cabinets look cheap -- and backsplashes, which can make a big, er, splash.

Robyn Gearey owns stock in Benjamin Moore parent company Berkshire Hathaway, but she'd buy its paint even if she didn't. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares The Home Depot, Berkshire Hathaway, Lowe's, and, as well as writing covered calls on Lowe's.

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