7 Spending Mistakes To Avoid When Updating Your Living Room

Open space living room interior with a navy blue sofa and an armchair.
KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images/iStockphoto

If your living room looks drab and dated, it’s probably time for a refresh. And it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.

In fact, some living room upgraders find themselves spending way more money than the job requires. A big change to your space doesn’t translate into spending big money. Here are seven things you might do that would waste money on your project.

Related: 4 Expensive Home-Remodeling Mistakes To Avoid
More Rooms: 10 Spending Mistakes To Avoid When Updating Your Kitchen

Buying Custom Curtains

HomeAdvisor reports that premade curtains average $370 per set, installed. That’s the all-in price, including the rod. On the contrary, custom draperies cost as much as $1,500 per panel, depending on the dimensions and fabrics used, per HomeAdvisor. And that doesn’t include installation or the hardware.

“Don’t order custom-made curtains; instead, purchase ones from the store,” said Marco Bizzley, a certified interior designer and consultant at HouseGrail. “If you need to, you can always have them shortened.”

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Shopping in the Wrong Season — or Wrong Place

“Wait until fall for any large purchases,” Bizzley said. “Fall is when many retailers are getting rid of their older stock to make room for new stuff. You can find great items between 30% (and) 50% off a lot of time. It’s well worth the wait.”

Bizzley also said you’re wasting cash if you shop only for brand-new furniture or décor pieces.

“You can never go wrong by heading to local antique or resell shops for the perfect piece,” he said. “It’s a great place to find art, throw pillows, even an excellent couch. Shop secondhand stores when you’re looking for books and accessories. That can save you a ton of money, and you can often find some cool items.”

Which Should You Update First: Kitchen or Bathroom?

Dan Wiener, the founder and lead interior designer for Homedude, agreed new isn’t always best.

“If you want to change up the furniture in your living room, it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive,” he said. “One way to save is to shop at thrift stores or yard sales, or find items on Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp or Craigslist. You can find some truly unique furniture that’s in great shape while paying a fraction of the price and helping to reduce waste.”

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Making Big Changes

If your sofa and armchair are in good condition, why replace them?

“My No. 1 tip to save money while restyling your living room is to buy new accent pieces. That’s an excellent way to stick to the budget and save some bucks,” said Ben Wagner, a real estate investor and house flipper at Leave The Key in New York. “Instead of spending thousands of dollars on brand-new furniture, you can simply switch up a few accent items in the room. Replace your old throw pillows with new fluffy ones, hang a colorful piece of art or roll out a new rug. Although these changes might seem very small, they have a massive impact on your room’s design and looks.”

Refacing Your Fireplace

That hunter green tile surrounding your fireplace box just screams 1990, and you want to fast-forward the look by 30 years with natural stone or something more modern. Depending on the materials you choose, you could pay a professional as much as $6,000 to reface your fireplace, according to the website Upgraded Home.

Instead, you could repaint the tiles yourself in a modern charcoal gray or even the classic black or white to give it a fresh look for just the cost of paint and a brush.

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Or, once you have a base coat, you could stencil the tiles to add color and a contemporary design.

Painting Without Changing Lightbulbs

Jamie Novak, a design and decluttering expert, said your choice of light bulbs impacts how your freshly painted room will look. “Different style bulbs can make paint colors look dramatically different,” she said.

Find Out: How To Know If It’s Worth It To Do a Major Remodel

Before tackling your painting project, buy a $3 sample jar, paint a wide swath of your wall and check the color. Don’t like it? Wasn’t what you expected? Change the lightbulbs to get another look at the paint in a new light. Today’s soft white and bright white lightbulbs have vastly alternate looks.

In her area, Novak said, it costs about $400 for a professional to paint the living room — and it’s about $10 for a package of bulbs. If your finished paint job doesn’t look good under soft white or bright white — or whatever — bulbs, you’ll pay again to repaint if you don’t sample it first.

Discounting What You Have

“One great way to save money when it comes to redecorating your living room is by using what you already have,” said Rebecca Fernandez, the founder of Restyled Homes. “For example, if you have a nice armchair or sofa that you love but it’s starting to look a little dated, try reupholstering it yourself rather than buying a new one. You can also give your furniture a new look by painting it or adding new fabric or trim. 

Novak agreed.

People rush out to buy new things when they might already have just what they need,” Novak said. “You might move a piece of wall art. … New wall art $150 versus $0.”

Not Comparing Labor Costs

If your living room project requires knocking out walls or any construction, meet with more than one professional, Wiener said.

“You can always shop around for deals on materials and labor to save on renovation costs. You can also try negotiating with contractors and ask them to give you a breakdown of the costs so that you can see where you can save money,” he said. “Always get multiple quotes before hiring a contractor so you have options to choose from. Be willing to compromise on your vision for the renovation to stay within your budget.”

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About the Author

Jami Farkas holds a communications degree from California State University, Fullerton, and has worked as a reporter or editor at daily newspapers in all four corners of the United States. She brings to GOBankingRates experience as a sports editor, business editor, religion editor, digital editor — and more. With a passion for real estate, she passed the real estate licensing exam in her state and is still weighing whether to take the plunge into selling homes — or just writing about selling homes.
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