Woman at laptop with paint color swatches and a notebook next to her.

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My husband appears incapable of turning down an adventure. Often, that means a move to a new state or country. Over the past 20 years alone, we have lived in 15 different homes. Five we purchased, and 10 were rentals. As the half of the couple who wants nothing more than to nest, the way a home looks and feels is valuable to me, but it hasn't always made sense to pour money into aesthetics. What I've discovered is that it's possible to make a house look and feel homey on a budget and without going into debt. Here are five ways to do that.

1. Save

If avoiding debt is the goal (and it is a great goal), decide what you'd like to do to your home, how much you plan to spend, and then put a little into savings each week until you have enough to pay for the work. Sounds irritatingly simple, right? I agree. I remember when my parents wanted to have their basement finished, this is precisely the method they used to finance the job. My parents did not "do" unnecessary debt and consequently retired with more than enough money to live comfortably. 

If, like me, you have trouble waiting to get started, pay as you go using one of these other methods.

2. Cash back offers

Why not make everyday purchases with a credit card offering cash back and pay the card off in full each month? It's surprisingly simple to keep track of your purchases and payments. If you want to avoid interest while earning cash back, all you have to do is go online, check your balance, and pay it in full before its due date. Use that cash back to make small, meaningful changes to your living space. Depending on how often you use the card, you may be surprised by how quickly you can pay for upgrades.

3. "Bucket" savings

It's not particularly sophisticated, but my husband and I have dumped the change we have at the end of each day into a small bucket for years. Back when we first started saving coins, we cashed them in when an unexpected bill arose. For example, if the electric bill was higher than anticipated, we had the coins to fall back on. A few years ago, we transitioned to using the bucket savings to finance small upgrades around the house. Last spring, there was enough in the bucket to pay for a nice fire pit for our patio. 

4. 0% APR credit card promotions

We have made our fair share of home upgrades using 0% credit card promotions. These deals -- designed to bring in new customers -- typically offer the promotional rate for 12 to 18 months, meaning you pay no interest on purchases as long as you pay the card off in full before the promotional period expires. Our latest card allowed us to install wood floors on the lower level of our house. The deal before that paid for new landscaping. 

5. Bartering

Bartering is as old as humanity, and we each have a skill to trade. Consider exchanging one of your skills -- whether that's painting, cooking, auto repair, or writing -- for something of value. Let's say you love to paint and have a buddy who can turn flea market finds into light fixtures. Offer to paint a room in his house for a new fixture for your home. 

Easy, inexpensive upgrades: a little inspiration to get you started

If you watch home makeovers on television, it's easy to believe that only grand changes matter. I contend that the opposite is true. It's the small things that establish a space's look and feel, which is good news for budget-conscious decorators.


Nothing changes the look or feel of a room quite like a fresh coat of paint -- and it won't break your budget. One trick for making your home look more cohesive is to make sure paint colors blend from room to room. They don't have to be the same color, but a quick peek at a color wheel will give you an idea of which colors complement each other. 


Keep your eye out for bedding sales. Even if your bed is 40 years old and your room is the same size as your college dorm room, new bedding feels and looks luxurious.


Changing the lighting in any room is a quick way to update the mood. For example, the fixture over your dining room table sets the tone for how formal the room is, and a small chandelier in a walk-in closet adds a touch of glamour. These relatively affordable changes add a priceless sense of ambiance. 

You know your home best and are sure to have a dozen ideas of your own. The point is, putting your personal stamp on your place doesn't have to be expensive or send you into debt. Even if it takes years to complete all the changes you imagine, half the fun is in the planning.