Decorating with a budget

The other day I heard someone say that they were an expert with having “champagne style on a beer budget.” I like that idea of making the most of what you have. Of not being limited by your budget so much as forced to get creative with how you use it.

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but I do have quite a bit of experience with budget decorating. My biggest tips for creating a beautiful space on a smaller budget are simple:

Paint it

In college I inherited a ton of furniture from relatives. The only similarity in all of it was that it was used. So I painted it. Everything in my bedroom was teal or white. Everything in my living room was green or brown. (It also helps that I have an uncle who was a professional painter for years and was willing to help me out a bit.) The painting took an afternoon and was well worth the investment. I’ve already lugged those pieces through three moves and have no plan on stopping.

Clean it

The easiest thing you can do to make your space look more livable is to clean it. Put things away, wipe down the counters, vacuum, open the windows and let some fresh air come inside. It doesn’t matter how expensive your furniture is if your place is a mess.

Toss it

I try to live by the William Morris motto: “Have nothing in your houses you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It’s not always feasible to exclusively have items that you adore, but it is important to be aware of the things that you love and the things that you actually use so that you can separate them from the things that you’d like to replace. Don’t be afraid to get rid of something. Donate it, give it to a friend, see if you actually needed it, and if you do then wait until you can buy a version that you would like to live with daily.

Put a painting on it

This is probably my favorite way to decorate. As long as there is space on your wall (or floor, or dresser, or table top) there is room for more art. I invested in a piece of art by myself the first time when I was 20 years old. Since then, I’ve made a few other art purchases-some for myself but mostly helping others get started with their own collections.

Nothing livens up a space like a piece that you love. It’ll make you happy with every glance. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to match. It just has to be something that you like. And if you can’t find anything or can’t afford anything you want, you can always make it yourself or ask a friend to try.

I have a few pieces of art in my room right now: a drawing by my Aunt Sue (Luke Weiss’s mom) in the 70’s, a photograph from India found at the Gainesville Art Festival, a beautiful silk painting from the Maitland Art Festival, and a hand painted (and self-designed) movie poster for Paperman I made for an Illustration class. Nothing cost more than $40 (except the framing…see the upcoming how to frame your own paintings) and none of it was bought or chosen with the intent of being put together but it all works when you are buying pieces that you truly love.

How do you pick what goes in your space? Are you a less is more kind of person or a more is more?



Part 2: Vacation Budgeting: The Nitty Gritty

I mentioned yesterday that we only planned out our travel before we left. That’s not entirely true. We weren’t able to plan the our train travel in Italy from the States because we don’t speak Italian and the website is not meant for English speakers (although we were able to price it) and we did book our first place to stay using AirBNB.

When we left for Europe we had $3200, £200, and € 350. Side note: it is cheaper (and safer) to leave your money in  your bank account rather than carrying cash with you. If you withdraw your money from ATM’s at proper banks and post offices you will get a much better rate than trying to exchange cash. Just make sure to call your bank before you leave and let them know you will be traveling so they don’t put a hold on your card.

We weren’t sure what we wanted to do with rest of our budget. It seemed limiting to commit ourselves into fixed amounts before we knew what we were up against so instead we ball-parked how much we needed for housing and then we divided the remaining sum into 7 to account for the max we could spend each week.

Within the weekly budget, we guessed how much we would need for: food, transport, events, souvenirs, postage, and miscellaneous/emergency costs. We wound up with about $250 each week. Of that amount, we spent about $100 on food, $30 on transportation, $60 on events, $60 on souvenirs, postage, and miscellaneous items.

From there we just lived, we went out and we did the things we wanted to do. We spent an hour or so on google when we got into each city figuring out all the sites we wanted to see and if there were any free days or discounts we can use. A lot of exhibits offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month and most students or people under 25 get in free or at a discounted rate year round. We also looked up fun free things to do in each city (shows, concerts, food truck rallies) and tried to make the most of those.

We recorded our daily spending so we could keep an eye on how quickly we were blowing through our savings. Most weeks we didn’t use all of the money that we had set aside so we ended up with a little pocket of money at the end of the trip that we blew on the Beyoncé and Jay Z On The Run Tour in Paris. Live big, right?

So that is how we did it. That’s how we spent 7 weeks in Europe for $3000 each and still managed to see everything we wanted to see and do everything we wanted to do. We had a wonderful time and recommend the experience to everyone who wants to try it. If $3000 seems steep to you, not to worry. We weren’t nearly as cautious with our money as we could have been. If you are not as worried about staying in the center of the city as we were, are willing to let the cheapest transport dictate your schedule, and are fine with missing some of the smaller sites I can see $2000-$2500 covering the entire trip for 1 person.

I’m not claiming to be an expert but I do think we had a pretty great trip. If you need help or advice planning your own adventure, let me know. I’m happy to try to help.




Part 1: Vacation Budgeting: A Po’ (Wo)Man’s Guide

During my 7 week long trip long trip to Europe with Nick, we visited 7 cities, took 7 flights, 4 trains, stayed in 10 places, took 3546 photos, downloaded 8 language apps, and made 14 (hopefully) life long friends. We didn’t have a lot of money and I don’t think we suffered for it too much (besides Rome. And maybe a little bit of Paris. More on that later). Here’s how we did it.


Budgeting and planning need to happen simultaneously. Google flights is a fantastic tool for this. We knew that we wanted to spend between 6-8 weeks overseas so we started by looking for flights that flew out of Orlando (where my parents live). In Google flights you can set one location (I think we started with London) and then you can use the “Map view” feature to see prices from your set starting point to other major cities. We played around with that and wound up finding a direct flight from Orlando to Manchester, England that left July 29th and got back September 16th.

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Once you commit to a window of travel time, it’s a lot easier to figure out the rest of your budget. Most people probably only have a few weeks available or some other constraint but we were pretty unlimited in the options we had available. We knew we wanted to leave when our leases ended (end of July) but the return date was variable.

July 29th to September 16th is 7 exactly seven weeks. It cost about $900 each after all of the taxes and luggage fees (be on the lookout for my luggage lecture coming soon). This left us a little over $4000 for the rest of our trip.


The next step is personal and is likely to change depending on the nature of your trip and the travelers. After pricing out various options, we decided to see fewer cities for a longer amount of time each even though our 7 city journey cost about as much up front as the 14 city one we had priced. This stemmed from a two-fold desire: to spend more time in each city and to account for the added costs and stress stemming from travel.

If your goal is to hit as many targets on your bucket list as you can, it’s a perfectly viable option and these plans will work for that too.


Once we had laid out our window of travel and our entry and exit flights, I made a 2 sheet file in Excel to (1) record all of our expenses and (2) lay our trip out in calendar form. I tried a few different layouts and this is what we found to work best for keeping track of our travel plans.

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The next step was about an hour playing around with Google flights. We each listed 3 cities that we really wanted to see (mine were Florence, Paris, and Prague, Nick’s were anywhere in Spain, Rome, and Paris). With this list in mind we started looking at flights out of Manchester. Flying to Paris was cheapest but we knew that we wanted Paris to be our last stop, so that wasn’t an option. Barcelona and Madrid were both possible and made sense geographically since we wanted to work our way north (in case there was an emergency before our return trip and we needed to get back to Manchester quickly and easily-which ALMOST happened!).

As we worked on this step, I kept record of all of the flight prices, numbers, dates, and times so we could find the flights later. We didn’t purchase any of the intra-European flights until we had the itinerary set. Working off of this model, we laid out all of the configurations of travel we were interested in trying. Flights into and out of Florence were exorbitant so we decided to try train travel within Italy. We didn’t want to worry about Visas so the super-cheat flight to Croatia was cut from the list. Eventually we wound up with an itinerary taking us from Manchester > Barcelona > Rome (train)> Florence (train)> Milan > Prague > Paris > Manchester for $300 each.

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And there you have it, the first part of our budgeting plan and (terrifyingly) the only part that we completed before we left. Please take it from me, we survived without planning the rest of our trip but things would have been much easier if we had gotten it together before we left. Live and learn.


Come back tomorrow to see how we budgeted the rest of the trip.