I may be employed, but I’m still just a young professional, which means my apartment decorating dreams far exceed the scope of my budget— it’s a major bummer, especially when I walk into boutique stores and gape at all the ottomans and dinnerware sets I can’t have (swoon).

In my pauper esque situation, I’ve learned a valuable skill: being savvy! By looking for deals in unexpected places, I’ve begun transforming my apartment into a creative and comfy haven (or Batcave or Fortress of Solitude– whichever nerd fantasy you prefer).

With that in mind, I thought I’d share my tips and tricks for decorating on a budget. For starters, you don’t have to rely on IKEA pieces (though I have many) to find inexpensive furniture. Retail hubs are full of alternatives that may need some touch ups, but make the perfect candidates for making your apartment your own.

Here are a few places where you can find furniture and decor items without spending a royal’s purse:

Thrift Stores

The palaces of used items carry used furniture and decor a plenty. In most cases, the store is tied to an organization (like a hospital), and the proceeds from selling stuff goes back to the group. It’s a good system that lets you pay it forward, whether you’re donating goods or purchasing them. Of course, not all thrift stores operate this way.

Because thrift stores run on charitable donation, the stuff there isn’t always top-notch, though they could be. Every time you visit it’s a different experience, which is why I stop by often.

When you arrive, check for quality, wear and repairability. A good piece of furniture is built using bevels or miter joints instead of screws and nails. Basically, the wood is cut to fit together like puzzle pieces and doesn’t require fasteners.

You might not find pieces that use this construction technique, but if you do, consider buying– it will last you a long time!

If furniture is worn out, it may still be usable. You can sand and re-stain wood, or reupholster a chair. Make sure the wear is only cosmetic and you’ll be good– destroyed cushions or broken legs aren’t worth it.

Consignment Shops

These stores also sell used furniture and decor, but operate differently than thrift stores. People sell their belongings at consignment shops. A portion of the sale goes to the store and another portion to the original owner. Furthermore, sellers keep ownership of their items until they sell.

Because people want to make money off of their goods, the furniture, decor, etc., they sell is generally in good or gently used condition. Of course, this also means prices are often higher at consignment shops than thrift stores.

What’s more, consignment shops don’t display items they don’t think will sell– that translates into a store filled with unique and cool finds. I purchased a desk and a few shelves from one and so far, they’ve served me well.

You can use the same criteria for selecting furniture you’d use at a thrift store when perusing the aisle of a consignment shop.

Furniture Outlets

I love places like Crate & Barrel because their wares are contemporary and quality, but that means they come with a high (and often panic-inducing) price tag. Fortunately, the gods of budget shoppers everywhere have smiled down on us and provided furniture outlets.

Outlet stores come in a variety of formats. Some sell overstocked or out-of-season pieces that once filled the shelves of full-priced stores. Others offer the company’s outlet brand of furniture, which may have limited fabric options or fewer features (no foot rest then, I guess).

Inspect the furniture before you buy it, looking for miter or bevel finishes rather than nails and screws. Also, sit on it to make sure it’s comfy. If it doesn’t come in your color because the furniture is from an outlet, oh well! The reduced price is worth color sacrifice– besides, you can always reupholster down the line.

Flea Markets/Swap Meets

These popup markets bring together community members who want to sell their decor or furniture outside of a store setting. You’ll find everything from door knob collections to heirloom chests, so look closely when you shop.

Many of the pieces are old and have been maintained– something that’s hard to do with IKEA items. You can also discover cool vintage decor, like glass vases and lamps.

When looking at a swap meet, remember that you can upcycle things you purchase. So if a chair needs new fabric, it’s still worth a look– just remember to factor upgrades into your shopping budget.


FreeCycle.org operates on the principles of recycling and sharing. People post items online they no longer want and are willing to give away for free (free!). Others create posts asking for certain items. You can browse by your city to see what’s available.

All these furniture options allow you to find inexpensive furniture, perfect for a person decorating on a budget. You’ll have your affordable price tag and the items will come in one piece (it’s a good thing too, because I don’t follow instructions well).