Decorating on a Budget
I received so many nice comments and emails in response to my living room that was featured in the Etsy Storque yesterday! I thought that I'd write one post in reply to your questions instead of answering each email as time is an issue for me this week since I have a design fair to attend and a few projects to complete. To say I've been busy is a huge understatement! I'm not alone though because all who operate a small business have to run a bit crazy (especially during the last quarter of the year). Part of me is really looking forward to the 'slow' period that hits just after New Year's. Do you feel the same? I cannot believe it's already October 23rd and we are looking at '09. Craziness. I digress. It's time to answer your questions!
Okay so the first batch of emails came from readers wondering how I am able to financially afford living in two countries in this economy. Well that is a bit tricky and kind of personal to answer in such a public place but I've decided to tell you what I can without compromising the privacy of my husband and I. Full disclosure: I'm no trust fund baby as my humble 60 square meters apartment clearly shows. I wish sometimes that I had the support of family but we do not. When I'm not shopping handmade, I'm hitting flea markets, second hand shops, sales racks, and stores like IKEA. Next, I'm very much in tune with my spending habits. I do not own a credit card (paid off and shredded them back in 2005 and I've never looked back). We only have one car in America that yes, it's a nice car, but it's only one car payment each month. Sharing a car with my husband living in the countryside where we have to drive to the post office (we cannot receive mail at our home) each day, to the grocery store, etc. is a real pain at times but we make it work. In Germany, we both purchase a bus/train pass each month and take public transportation (or walk) everywhere. As a result I've lost at least 10 pounds in the past month because of all the exercise! I walk 3-5 miles each day. I love living in the city! I also shop at farmers' markets here and back in New Hampshire we live near a fruit and veggie stand so lots of our food comes via the farmers and that is always less expensive than purchasing at the grocery store. For clothing, my husband and I repair our clothes whenever something rips or a button pops off, a hem needs to be sewn in, etc. so we save money because we wear some of our garments forever and when they need fixed we do it by hand. I also do not have a dishwasher in New Hampshire to save energy and cut down on costs, it's a small cost but money is money. We have a very inexpensive cable, phone, and internet package (it's better to subscribe to all 3 via one company as you get a pretty hefty discount this way). I am obsessed with shutting off lights, I shut them off constantly and I use energy efficient bulbs. Gosh I could ramble on forever about how much I've changed in my life, how many ways I've cut down to be able to live in two countries. When we travel we go on inconvenient days and times to get the best flight or train price. I recycle everything I'm given, whether it's the ribbon from a gift or the wrapping paper itself - I either turn it into something crafty or I give it to my friends OR I recycle it via the trash collector. I only shop 3 stores now for CDs, DVDs, and books... Amazon, Newbury Comics, and Target. I refuse to give in to impulse to own a new book or CD that I find in a retail shop (like Virgin or HMV) simply because I want it NOW. I wait and go home and order it on Amazon. I've cut down on magazine purchasing by at least half. Back in the states, I also shop at Newbury Comics which I've already mentioned, but they sell used in addition to new items so I buy used copies in mint condition - a great way to recycle. I also shop Target for new release DVDs because they are always the cheapest around (even beating out Amazon) when it comes to newbies. I use coupons at craft stores in the states, I shop for groceries at farmstands and at Stop & Shop since they have a program where if you spend $100 you get a $10 gift certificate to use next time so it's like saving 10% on groceries with every visit. We go to movie matinees vs. those shown after 6pm (more expensive), we barely order take out, we only eat out once a week (vs. 6x a week as we once did - yes really!), I went from going out for coffee daily to going out to a coffee shop once weekly.
And for a more personal bit of information I chose to wait to have children later in life (I still do not have them but plan to within the next 4 years) and we decided not to have pets (less expense) at this time in our life despite how much we'd love to have them. That is sacrifice, trust me. There is nothing I love more than animals and kids in the home. If you have them consider yourself so, so lucky. I miss having a pup on my lap or a kitty to play with. I grew up with practically a farm in our home so my heart longs for the day when I can have at least a small dog.
There are so many things that I could bore you for hours talking about that I personally do to save money so that I can live the life that I'd always imagined, well always being since 1996 when I first got the idea to relocate to Europe. Back then, it was England. Did I tell you how my big plans crashed and burned? I was supposed to relocate to Oxford to live with my friend who taught French at the University there, Joelle, but a few months into our plans her mom got very ill with cancer so she needed to move back to Paris to care for her. The next big move was around 1997 when I nearly moved to London with my long time girl pal. But that didn't work out because she went and got married. When I met my husband and realized that perhaps we'd be living in Germany someday, I felt excited about the idea but by then I was doing quite well with my career and didn't have a real desire to live in Germany as much as I did England or of course, the idea of living in Paris also interested me. I'd not been to Germany before 1999 so being American and sitting in endless world history classes focusing on the WW2, Germany is considered the land of fancy cars, intellectual types, lederhosen, Octoberfest, and Nazis. I had no clue that Germany was wayyyy more than that. As I began to travel here more each year while we dated and then after our wedding, I came to love this country and the culture here and so back several years ago when we had this discussion about living in America and Germany simultaneously we both thought of ways we could make it work.
First goal: Pay off all of our debt and become debt-free while sacrificing, cutting back on unnecessary luxuries, etc. Once that goal was complete, we could start to save money. We wanted children and a dog but decided to wait. This is where I get to the really personal part but hey, who cares. I saved $25,000 in the past few years so that I could assist my husband in taking this step. Not a lot of cash for a relocation, but it was my contribution. I told him I'd pay for the furniture, appliances, and decor. To date, this apartment is nearly 100% furnished after the past 10 weeks and I've spend around $12,500 total so I'm well under budget. I think I need to spend less than 1,000 more and I'm finished. Hurrah!
When we came over, the Euro was so strong (1.61) so my $25,000 USD was only worth around 11,000 Euros here. Depressing, right? So I left a lot of my cash in the bank back in the states and obsessively watched the market each day. I was very careful with my money and what I spent in the beginning stages. Once the Euro fell to 1.28 against the dollar I withdrew money and transferred it into my German bank account. That's a BIG savings. Now my $25,000 was worth around $20,000 vs. 11,000 so that's the value in watching the market, not being impulsive, and playing it smart. Now I can purchase a good bicycle, buy an XBox (he he) and finish decorating my bedroom and buy some area rugs for my apartment in addition to clothing as I came over here without clothes and so I've been wearing the same two pairs of jeans and one pair of trousers since I arrived. Now I can buy Fall clothes. My husband kept telling me the Euro would lose it's strength (he has a degree in Economics so I listen to his advice) and to wait. It was hard but I waited and it paid off immensely.
I know I've rambled well beyond my normal post length. I imagine each of you reading this in a bit of a glazed over, zoned out lull by now. But if you write to me asking about my finances, how I was able to reach my goals of living in two countries, how I can afford this or that, I will most likely respond at length via my blog because who knows, others may have the same questions and were just too shy to approach me. I have no problem talking about money and such, why not address it plain and open. I can tell you this, I am far from wealthy and every dollar we spend is money we've earned. Thorsten and I do not have the financial backing of our families at all. Just the opposite actually. The last gift of money given to us was 7 years ago at our wedding when my parents and grandparents chipped in for the reception and honeymoon. After that, we've been flying solo.
So! With all that said, others wrote in asking me about the things in my living room and wondering how much I spent on the space to decorate it. Don't laugh but I estimate that my living room was around 1,400 Euros, so like $1,650.00 ($3,000 if you include the TV, phone, and DVD player). The most expensive piece after the television is a 1950 vintage floor lamp from eBay that was around $350. Since the Etsy Storque article that ran yesterday, my new sofa table arrived (just this morning) and so it's in place now. I've also shuffled a few things around in the space and took some photos this morning as well. Would you like to see?
In this photo you can see a mirror (IKEA), my sofa (IKEA), a rug (IKEA), two picture ledges over the sofa (IKEA). The design books are from Amazon, some of the little decorative accents are from flea markets, the sofa table is from a German store called Depot. It's solid wood and built to last a lifetime. It was 300- Euro delivered and I LOVE it. The little gray velvet pouf was on clearance fro 20-Euro at a little shop in my neighborhood. The lamp is from eBay, that's the one that I told you cost around $350. The best part was that the owner drove an hour to deliver it to my house at no charge and told me the full history behind this lamp. It was worth the money for the memories I'll always attach to it. Not to mention it's a Martha Stewart mint green. :) The candles and globes on my windowsill are from a local craft store, both were around 25 Euros. The shades are from Gundrun Sjoeden (2 are shown) and they cost 91- Euro. The pillows came from local shops, one is from a local designer who gave me a customer discount. All pillows came to around $150. The throw on the back of the sofa is from IKEA. You cannot see it but near the lamp is a basket tipped upside down where I have my phone, some coasters, and a Hable Construction tote filled with magazines. The tote was purchased using a coupon so I paid around $70 for it.
In this photo, more items to see in the corner. First is a moorish style table from Tchibo (a coffee shop here!), some cushions from a local shop, a larger wicker basket with a lid (you should see the snake who lives inside!) that I use for storage, a print from Etsy framed in an IKEA frame, a lamp from Denmark, an IKEA vase, and pine branches collected on Sunday from the forest nearby.
And now if you look at this photo, you can see the opposite wall in the room. This is where my entertainment center (IKEA) is (filled with CDs and DVDs from Amazon!), my region free DVD player, cable box, and soon to be Xbox will be housed. The large white flat screen Samsung was around $1,000 USD but I saved for it and like how it looks. I am not big on television but I love films so it was a must (I could not live without watching DVDs!). Nearly all of the art is from Etsy, the swallows are from a flea market, and the light is from a local designer and I got a discount on it from the shop around the corner since they had a grand opening special so it was around $60.
More views of the room.... Vintage lamp from eBay.
I would like to put a chair in this space, but I'm looking for a very specific one so it may take me awhile... I'm hopefully going to find it though -- a butterfly chair in aged medium brown leather would be ideal or something similar with an open frame on the bottom, low, vintage...
I also would like to add some paint to the walls, make (or buy) and handmade lap quilt, pick up a tea tray for the coffee table, etc. but for now this is it. And I'm happy, under my allotted budget, and though it may not be magazine-worthy when I sit in this space to have tea and watch Science of Sleep tonight with my friend, I have peace inside because it's a real space that means something to me personally and I did not have to go into debt to get it.
With all that said, I hope I've answered your questions, emails, etc. If you have any additional questions please just ask and I'll answer them here in the comments section below. Thank you!
How do you decorate on a budget anyway? Do you have any tips for how you make your home cozy without spending a lot of money?
(images from holly becker for decor8)