The secret to budget decorating: planning your space!

PB teen inspire
Tricia asked a few days ago how I determined a budget for my decorating projects and I promised ya’ll an answer. The truth is, I’ve made a game of spending the least to achieve my goals. I don’t really spend a lot of time figuring out a specific budget. I do spend a lot of time, however, planning my projects. I’ve learned the hard way that when I don’t develop a decent plan for whatever the project is, I end up wasting money. For example, before I figured out what I wanted to do with my downstairs I bought:

  • a $160 futon from Walmart
  • a $200 chaise lounge from
  • an antique desk for $50 from an antique dealer
  • $100 bar stools from craigslist
  • a $40 wicker side table with storage drawers

Those are just the things I can remember off the top of my head. None of those items are in my home at this point. That’s almost $600 gone down the drain in a little over a year’s time. Which, now that I think about it, could easily have bought me a brand new loveseat for my office.


I learned my lesson the hard way, so I hope by sharing my experience, it will keep you guys from going through the same thing. Whatever you do, take some time and plan your space. I listed a couple of programs you could use in my post “Tools of the Trade.” I use the free one from Jordan’s furniture.

So, I can hear you asking, how exactly do I plan my projects? Well, I’ll let you in on my funny little rituals, as long as you promise not to laugh at me (unlike the hubby, who thinks my rituals are little obsessive-compulsive!).

First, I sit down in the middle of the room that I’m working on and just look at it. I try to remember what the bones were like when it was still empty. Then I make a mental list of the activities that go on in the space (or, the activities I’d like to happen in the space). For example, I recently did this in Catie and Ian’s room. Their room is not quite a square, with two closets and a huge window. Right now it only has Catie’s twin bed, a tall chest of drawers, and a tv (plus their toys overflowing from the closets).

In addition to both of them sleeping in there, they need a space for doing homework (Catie is in second grade and I homeschool Ian until he starts preK next fall). They also need a place to hang their artwork, a place to play with cars and action figures, and a space for relaxing and reading. They definitely need storage for books and toys.

During this same little meditation session, I also try to get an idea of the feel that I want for the space. In their room, I want it to feel as spacious as possible, with fun colors, but not too baby-ish since Catie is a “big” second grader now. It also has to balance that line of masculine and feminine really well; a big problem since Ian is the most boyish boy you could meet and Catie is pretty girly.

At this point, I make a list of the specific furniture pieces that I think I’d need to meet the activity goals of the room. In their case, Ian needs a big boy twin bed, both of them need bed frames, they need a desk large enough to share and to hold their Mac, and a bookshelf or shelving for additional storage. I also need to rethink the toy storage because it’s not so good right now.

With that list made, I’ll play around for the first time in the room planning program. I want to make sure that there’s room for everything that I think needs to be included. Because I’m a visual person, I need to be able to move things around to find the PERFECT configuration. (And believe me, my husband is so happy that I’ve found this program because it saves him from doing the physical moving!)

This is the part that can really save you time and money in the long run because it shows if you have space constraints. After about thirty minutes of moving stuff around, I figured out that the only way to get everything I want in their room without making it feel squished is to place their beds by the window. And I have to be very careful when I buy a desk because I need it to be long enough that they can sit there together, but not longer than the 59″ of wall space they have available for a desk.

Here’s the plan as it stands right now:

c and i room plan
Now that I have that under wraps, I focus on the fun stuff: planning the touches that will make it look special. For me this requires putting lots of inspiration into the pot and letting it percolate. For kids rooms, I spend a lot of time visiting Pottery Barn Kids and PB Teen. I’ve also checked out Ikea’s children’s rooms (both the U.S. and the U.K. versions). And finally, I spend a bit of time viewing pages from flickr and from HGTV‘s Rate My Space.

I let all those images mix around in my head until I get that Aha! moment. For downstairs, this has worked pretty well. I find myself running into problems in Catie and Ian’s room because I thought I’d be a good mommy and ask for their input. Note to self: never ask for anyone in my home’s input! They’re very picky and particular and can never see the potential in anything. Right now Catie’s pouting because she wants this $200 bed:

walmart bed

It’s a great bed (from Walmart, if you’re interested), but we just can’t afford to buy two of them (and a new mattress for Ian!). I suggested this Ikea option instead:

Ikea cheap bed

Yes, I have eyes and I can see it’s not as attractive. But it’s $35.00!!! Add some cute bedding, a nice paint treatment, and a metal pipe to hang the curtains, their room would be rocking a fun, modern, loft look. Something I could accomplish with $250 or less. But she’s not feeling me. : (

Anyway, there you have it. My humble design process. I hope that helps some of you who are trying to find a place to get started. Thanks for hanging in with me this long!

Before you go, I have one more thing to tell you…. something I’m very excited about! Next week you’ll see the start of two new types of posts: the “In the Trenches” budget designer interviews, featuring tips from a new fabulous “real life” budget decorator, AND the “$20 decorating projects” tutorials, so you too can start making your home more beautiful $20 at a time!

Thanks for visiting, see you next time…


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