Decorating on a Budget | Bargain Hunting Tips: Clearance, Dollar Stores, and Thrift Shops – Oh My!

I'm a shameless bargain shopper. It's all about the thrill of the hunt. You can find me in my natural habitats, which include: scavenging the household items at Goodwill, buzzing around clearance aisles at Target and TJ Maxx, and scrolling through Craigslist multiple times a day. Sometimes I find nothing. I don't score a good deal every time. But the triumphant rush of money-saving moxie that comes over me when I find a fabulous pair of perfect-condition vintage curtains at Goodwill –or an adorable teacup and saucer at TJ Maxx, or a half price rug at Target, or a handsome piece of antique furniture off of Craigslist – is soooo worth it.

Friends (and blog readers) are often asking how I do it. So I decided to round up a few of my tried and true tips for your next bargain hunting excursion.

Clearance Conquests

I'm a sucker for Target and TJ Maxx. They have the very best clearance aisles. (I actually have a specific route I take every time I visit Target – scavenging all the clearance end aisles before finally browsing the regular stuff and doing my actual shopping.) With the changing of holidays, seasons, and markdown schedules, there's always a deal to be had at your favorite big stores.

Discount Destinations: The clearance aisles and markdown sections of Target, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, JCPenney, K-Mart, and Wal-Mart.

Low-Priced Loot: Patterned rugs, printed pillows, pretty bedding, lovely lamp bases, unique decor items – all on sale, on clearance, or marked down with a coupon.

Bargain Pro Tips: At these stores, skip the basics and reach for trendier things that will make a statement in your decor. Skip the basics – this is where you should reach for the patterns, colors, typography, and little details that you're really loving. However, don't pay more than what something's really worth. And curb your impulse shopping. If you're not sure whether you're totally in love with an item or will actually use it, put it in your cart and spend some time with it. By the end of your shopping trip, you should have a clearer head. Also, patience can pay off. If you really adore something but loathe its full price, give it some time and Google the store's clearance schedule. Keep checking back and just maybe your baby will have hit the markdown list.

Dollar Store Deals

I honestly don't know why so many people shy away from dollar stores. There's no stigma attached – just a treasure trove of super savings on standard items. These stores are small and quick to shop and if you can look past the typical mess... it's like an ISpy game. Plus, you never know what fantastic finds you'll stumble upon. I just recently scored 3 pillows for $5 a piece – turquoise and in super pretty patterns! I couldn't pass that up. So next time you're driving along and spot the Family Dollar, don't drive past. Stop! Go in.

Discount Destinations: Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree.

Low-Priced Loot: Simple curtains, bathroom and kitchen rugs, basic shower curtains, baskets and bins, throw pillows, spare bed sheets, simple picture frames, extra candles, plates and glasses, towels, furniture.

Bargain Pro Tips: Stock up on your basics and spares. It's always handy to have extra bed sheet sets on hand for visiting guests or while your nice, soft sheets are in the laundry. I often ruin bathroom rugs when dying my hair – you won't find bathroom rug sets cheaper anywhere. Keep an open mind about potential revamps, too. An ugly pillow can be stuffed into a cute pillow case. A standard side table can be spray painted. A simple rug or pair of curtains can be transformed with some craft supplies and imagination.

Nifty Thrifting

The bargain hunt of all bargain hunts requires the utmost use of your imagination and motivation, but can be fun and totally rewarding. One man's junk is a do-it-herselfer's treasure. And these places are just full of diamonds in the rough – second hand treasures just waiting to be polished up and turned into something wonderful and useful for your decor.

Discount Destinations: Goodwill, Salvation Army, thrift stores, junk shops, garage / yard sales.

Low-Priced Loot: Baskets and bins of all shapes and sizes, old books, furniture that's seen better days, mirrors, picture frames, jars, trays, vintage suitcases, old crates, knick knacks, and figurines.

Bargain Pro Tips: When browsing the aisles and bins, think about each item's potential rather than its current state of disrepair. Spray paint is my weapon of choice – it can transform nearly anything. A kitschy little bird figurine will look chic and adorable with a coat of crisp white. An old stool can be made new again with some metallic copper. Baskets, bins, and crates can all be painted to match and store stuff to your heart's content. Keep your eyes – and mind – open wide.

Where's your favorite place to hunt for bargains?

What's the best deal you've scored?

And do you have any special discount-seeking tips?

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