Don’t let a small budget spoil the thrill of moving into your new home. With so much good cheap homeware on the market you can get the chic look for less than ever before.
If money is tight don’t go for big improvements such as putting in a new floor but work with the one you have using cheaper, new cover-up carpet, paint and accessories. Establish spending priorities at the outset.
The bedroom is a good place to begin as the object is not primarily to impress your friends but to get a good night’s sleep. Start with a good bed, and don’t skimp on size. Shop from a specialist where you can give the beds a dry run, and invest in linen — with quality sheets in cotton, perhaps.
A well-made sofa is a good buy: choose a plain classic design that will last. Add inexpensive side chairs for elegance and occasional use by visitors — Tesco (www.tesco.com) has good ones.
And style up with fabulous inexpensive cushions. Woolworths (www.woolworths.co.uk) has glamorous little numbers for as little as £6.
Use the web to compare prices and trawl through the tried-and-trusted sites from John Lewis to Argos.
Low-price homeware specialist Ikea (www.ikea.com) has “a complete living room” for £165, including a sofa bed, storage, rug and lampshade; and a complete bedroom for less than £155.
Thoroughly reliable Muji, with numerous London shops, has a simple, good-looking budget solution. Visit www.mujionline.co.uk.
Watch out for special deals and note their end-by date. Homebase (www.homebase.co.uk) has a great sofa offer: buy a three-seater and get a two-seater free.
Look out for the “outstanding value” tags in the M&S catalogue (www.marksandspencer.com) — for example, four very modern chairs plus a table for £149, three-for-two crockery offers, an elegant modern table lamp for £5, and a six-piece towel bale for £7.50. Crockery comes in starter sets. You can begin with a few good pieces of more expensive bone china (thinner yet more harder-wearing than chunky stoneware) but Argos (www.argos.co.uk) and Woolworths have brought prices down dramatically.
Earthenware can chip. John Lewis (www.johnlewis.co.uk) has a stoneware set in a choice of three colours with 16 pieces for £20 (£1.25 an item). Argos has a staggering 60-piece set for six people for £30 — that’s just 50p an item. At Ikea, 19p buys a ceramic tumbler/mug. Its best bargain is six glasses for £1.69, by British designer Susan Pryke.
Starter sets of saucepans and kitchen knives are useful but quality can be poor. Maybe buy fewer separate quality items, which will help your cooking. Watch out for good brand names.
A small knife and a large one should suffice but Matalan (www.matalan.co.uk) has a Sabatier knife-block with four knives for £35 (recommended retail price is £120).
Pay more for toasters and kettles, which are in constant use.
Guarantees are reassuring
John Lewis gives a two-year guarantee on electrical items and three years on its own-brand large electrical appliances (fridge/freezers and washing machines). It gives a five-year guarantee on all televisions, regardless of brand (020 7629 7711; www.johnlewis.co.uk).
Ikea (www.ikea.com) has a 25-year guarantee on some beds, a 10-year guarantee on Ektorp and Karlstad sofas and a 25-year guarantee on four kitchen designs. Kitchen mixer taps have a 10-year guarantee, and “Ikea from Whirlpool” appliances carry a guarantee for five years.
Decorating on a budget
B&Q and Homebase have lots of new inexpensive decorating ideas. Curtain panels save the cost of having them made up, or use cheap muslins, hessians and even linens from theatre suppliers Russell & Chapple (020 7836 7521; www.randc.net).
Paint is the quickest and cheapest way of decorating. Prices vary hugely, so shop around. A 2.5-litre tin of emulsion could cost less than £9 — or as much as £25 or even more for a “designer” brand. About £12 to £15 should buy a decent 2.5-litre can of paint.
However, a higher price often means that the paint covers better, is easier to use and will last longer. It also buys more sophisticated colours and choices of finish and more concentrated pigments, although not necessarily more durability.
Environmentally friendly paint may have poorer covering quality. Always check the “coverage” information on the tin.
Floor paint can do a cheap but chic revamp. Look out for Floor Makeover Paint by International Paints — it can go on wooden, vinyl or concrete floors (0844 770 9444; www.international-paints.co.uk). Fired Earth’s Elements of Colour has floor paints in all its 120 shades (01295 812088; www.firedearth.com).
Make the money go further
Interest-free credit spreads the financial load and frees up cash.
You can even try haggling — especially if you are paying cash. Speak to the manager or shop owner to achieve the best results.
Always check carefully what is included in a price — delivery, assembly and installation, taking away old furniture or appliances, measuring and fitting for flooring. The cheapest goods of all are second-hand. Comb charity shops and rootle around at boot fairs. Use eBay auctions and swap goods through www.freecycle.co.uk.
Emmaus (www.emmaus.org.uk) is a charity that refurbishes donated furniture and appliances, which are then fully tested to approved standards. Branches are in Greenwich, SE18 (020 8854 3426), Lambeth, SE27 (020 8761 4276) and Brighton (01273 426470).
Savings at Emmaus are staggering. You could get a dining chair from £10 to £15; a coffee table from £25; a dressing table from £30 to £80; and a washing machine from £50 to £100.