Choose quality over quantity: Buying the best you can afford in small quantities is the golden rule of great style on a budget. Just one wall of dramatic designer wallpaper will make far more of a statement than four walls of a ho-hum pattern. I love Timorous Beasties – you only need a little of these gorgeous butterflies, below, to make a real impact.
eBay: When decorating my bathroom recently I was desperate for a wallfull of the little super-shiny Bisazza tiles that I spotted in the sauna of a Berlin hotel. They catch the light in a hundred different ways, turning even the smallest space into a jewel box. They are also very expensive and rather hard to find, but thanks to a combination of Google and eBay I was able to track down an online seller who sold at wholesale prices. Sure, I could still only afford to do one wall but you do get a lot of Bisazza for your buck: I did the whole wall for a third of the price the same tiles would have cost in the shop.
Haggle: I remember the day I learned that you could haggle on new furniture. I’d just sold my first flat and when the buyer came round to measure up for curtains she mentioned that she’d bought a suite of bedroom furniture from John Lewis. ‘Wasn’t that expensive?’ I couldn’t help asking. (My bedroom was furnished from the Salvation Army). ‘Well,’ she smiled, ‘I was buying a few things so they gave me a great discount.’ When pressed further it turned out she’d managed to get thirty percent off the ticket price. It was a revelation, and one that I immediately squirreled away for the future. Always ask for a discount on big purchases, and if you’re buying more than one item you’re in a great position to bargain. At the very least you should be able to get the delivery charge waived or some free cushions for your sofa.
Get it interest-free: Many furniture shops do interest free loans, meaning you don’t pay penny more than the original cost of the items, yet can spread it out over three or four years. Even when shops don’t advertise this option it’s worth asking if they’ll do it, especially if you’re making a major purchase. The same applies to kitchens and bathrooms – B&Q for example offers interest-free new kitchens, repayable in monthly instalments over four years.
Department store cards: Sign up for department store cards and you’ll get loyalty points on all purchases. You can then put these towards the really big buys. As a loyalty card holder stores will keep you informed of their sale dates and sometimes offer sneak previews of their best bargains. You might even qualify for extra savings at sale time, such as an extra ten percent off on already reduced goods. Don’t automatically assume that department store furniture is too expensive: the discounts can be massive, especially towards the end of the sales when they’re desperate to reclaim the shop floor for new goods.
Outlet stores: Furniture gets scratched. Sometimes it gets sticky. But most customers want it pristine – great news for those who don’t mind having to do minor repair jobs. Most major furniture chains have outlet stores, where they send slightly imperfect or ex-display furniture. Prices are generally half of the full retail price, often with very little wrong with the goods. Just type ‘outlet furniture stores’ into Google to get started saving cash.
Designer kitchens for a song: If you own your flat and want to change your kitchen, research the online sites specialising in ex-display and used designer kitchens, plus appliances. Your dreams of a Smeg just might be achievable after all.Buy art: You don’t have to be a Russian billionaire to take pleasure in your own private art collection. Check out art school degree shows. The prices are low, the ideas are amazing and you might be lucky and snap up the future Tracey Emin for a song. Some Arts Councils also offer schemes which enable people to buy new art on an interest-free loan basis. Or check out local auctions – I snapped up this Warhol cow print at one for £30.