How to decorate an apartment on a budget

It seems pretty basic that as an adult, you have an apartment or house of your own that you live in. For me, I’ve always lived in student housing or random places that I’ve found on AirBnB (honest to God). I’ve never actually had my own place to decorate until now. The one thing I’ve always wanted to do is decorate an apartment. More specifically, I’ve always been obsessed with lofts. So when I moved back to Birmingham, I was determined to find a loft downtown, that was close to work and just meshed with my personal style. Not only that, but I was also determined to decorate an apartment on a budget.

How many of you have a vision for what you want your place to look like, thanks to Pinterest, but are overwhelmed by all that you might need to get? 🙋‍♀️🙋‍♂️

I feel you, it’s a lot, and it’s really all about figuring out where to start.

I wanted to bring my Pinterest boards / vision for my space to life, give them my own personal touch, but I absolutely did not want to break the bank to do it. So, I want to share with you a few of my own personal tips on:

How to decorate an apartment on a budget.

1. See what you already have

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Wrong. The best way to decorate an apartment on a budget is by looking at what you already have.

You’d be surprised how many people don’t pay attention to the stuff that they already have before they go out and buy all new items. To me, that seems like a waste.

One of the first things I did was look at what I already have and what my parents had that I could use. We have two buildings outside, full of stuff, so it was easy to go through and see if there was anything I could take.

I found:

  • A bed frame
  • Bedside table
  • My sisters chair (for the living room) that she never uses
  • A storage unit my sister never used
  • and more small items!

See? I’ve already eliminated a few things that would have been on my shopping list, and I didn’t even have to leave my house.

If you do this first, it will help you figure out where to start and what your biggest need is when it comes to shopping. Decor and house plants aren’t actually necessary, what are you main needs? Start there.

2. Make a list

I’m a huge fan of list making, but when it comes to making one for your decor, I have two tips for you:

  1. Make a wants column
  2. Make a needs column

Once you’ve separated your columns like this, you’ll want to prioritize your needs column.

What might fall into the needs column, you ask? Well, it’ll be things like:

  • Silverware/Plates/Cups
  • Pots/Pans
  • Bath Towels/Linens
  • Sheets/Bedding/Pillowcases
  • Couch/Table/Chairs
  • etc.

You see? These are the non-negotiables. The things that you really can’t move into a new place without.

The wants column looks a little different. These are items that you would love to have but don’t actually need right off the bat. Things like:

  • Wall decor
  • Plants
  • Candles
  • Photos
  • Throw pillows
  • etc.

Now that you’ve got your list, it’s time to start some pre-planning.

3. Browse online first

You might be thinking, “girl, I got my list, we’re good to go!” But the truth is, if you go to the store (depending what store) it can often be an overwhelming experience. If you haven’t looked online or don’t have the faintest idea what you’re actually looking for, it’ll be a disaster. Trust me, I know from experience.

That’s why before I even made my first trip to IKEA, I made a list of the things I would be looking for there.

I typically like to write down the SKU numbers and the areas that each item would be in; this way, when I go to the store I’m not super lost or starting from zero.

IKEA Shopping List

4. Go thrifting!

Want to know one of the absolute best ways to decorate an apartment on a budget?

Don’t buy brand new.

Yep, that’s it. Find secondhand items at a thrift store or flea mall, if that’s your style. I personally love the vintage / boho chic look, so I love a good flea mall. I could get lost in them for days and if you’re trying to do things on a budget, this is the best place to start – especially with decor.

Now, I will buy a mattress new and a couch (unless I found a real gem), but decor & random bits around the house – I thrift!

5. DIY

I used to hate the word DIY. Absolutely hate. I’m not a builder or a visionary when it comes to putting things together; however, some of my favorite pieces in my place are DIY’d.

I bought the table from IKEA that really had no personality at all, but after a stain & paint job, it looks like a completely different table.

Dining Table

IKEA Dining Table

Record Player Stand

The dining table isn’t where we stopped when it came to the wood + stain. We decided to also add some character to this record player stand, which was pretty plain beforehand.

*Note that the pieces of wood weren’t there to begin with. We measured, had them cut at Home Depot, and then stained them the same color as the dining table. It gave this piece so much more life than it had originally!

Record Player Stand

IKEA Shoe Cabinet

One of my favorite projects was the shoe cabinet I bought from IKEA.

This piece also didn’t have the piece of wood at the top. See how much more character it has now? It was the simplest process, not putting the cabinet together, but adding the wood piece to the top. I’m so happy with how it turned out! It’s what you see right as you walk into my door.


My bedroom is fully of things I had + DIY projects. Once my desk area is complete, I’ll take a photo of it so you can see as well.

The lights that you see are DIY. We bought the light cords at IKEA and the baskets were a hand-me-down from my grandmother. We also had wall hooks, so it just all worked out perfectly. This room is naturally darker, since there’s no window in here, so we had to add as much light as we could.

The side table is from my sisters room – something she never used! The floating shelf is from IKEA and is the same one that I have in the dining room. I need to add a plant or two in here just to give it a bit more personality, but so far, I love it!

It’s warm & cozy, so what more do you need?

Loft Bedroom Inspo

6. Add plants

A personal favorite of mine to decorate an apartment on a budget is through plants! Think how boring my place might look without all of these plants. I truly believe that the plants have brought my place to life. Not just that, but they are also really good for purifying the air in your house and much more.

Loft Decor

Don’t believe me? Read this article for more benefits on having indoor plants.

7. Add shelving units

When I first looked at this place, it came with a shelving unit already installed. Not only that, but it had a map in the middle of them so the traveler in me was sold immediately!

Loft Decor Inspiration

I’ve noticed what a difference the shelving units make in the living room. If they hadn’t been there from the start, I still would have done something just like them.

I’m able to style them in their own way and they have so much character to them now. Instead of decorating my walls with paintings / prints, I am able to display things (and my books!) on the shelves. Bonus: I can rearrange things as often as I want!

As you can also see in the image below, I’ve added in a floating shelf behind my dining table that will act as a “gallery wall.”

IKEA Dining Table

That’s it! These are my top tips to decorate an apartment on a budget.

To recap, your best friends are going to be:

  • Things you already have
  • DIY projects
  • Thrifting
  • IKEA
  • and plants!

Do you have any tips on decorating an apartment on a budget? I’d love to hear any additional ideas!

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