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10 ways to decorate without debt

Homeowners spend an average of about $9,000 to furnish and decorate their new homes in the first year after they move in, according to the National Association of Home Builders. After coughing up cash for a down payment and closing costs, many owners don't have those extra thousands in savings, so they're tempted to decorate with the help of credit cards.

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But financing furniture is like adding a penalty to your new mortgage. With planning and patience, you can decorate your home without adding debt.

"The first thing people need to do is come up with a budget, then decide what areas to concentrate on," says Elizabeth Lewin, a certified financial planner and co-author of "Making Bread: The Ultimate Financial Guide for Women Who Need Dough." "Ask yourself: What is most important on your list? Is it a stainless-steel refrigerator or a high-definition TV?"

Once you've prioritized your list and figured out how much you can spend without borrowing, follow these expert tips to stretch your decorating dollars.

Expert tips to stretch your decorating dollars:
Don't move home without it.
Look for low-cost color.
Shop your house.
Make a model.
Shop the information superhighway.
Time large furniture purchases.
Reface, don't replace.
Network with neighbors.
Look for bargains at big-box retailers.
Invest in an interior decorator.

1. Don't move home without it. "One of the biggest mistakes I see is when people don't take their existing furniture with them when they move," says Mindy Miles Greenberg, owner of Encore Decor in New York City and a designer on HGTV's "Decorating Cents" show. People aren't going to necessarily keep the old furniture, she says, but if they don't move the pieces into their new home, the dwelling may be depressingly bare. "You don't want to come home to a folding table while you're trying to decide what new furniture to buy." Doing so would make it tempting to act on an impulse purchase at an expensive retail store. Stick with current furnishings and make improvements in a planned manner.

2. Look for low-cost color. One of the quickest and cheapest ways to transform the interior of a home is to paint it. Home-improvement centers often have unused mixed paint on hand that did not quite match a previous customer's color choice. Ask your local dealer if they have any recent mix-up mistakes. If it's a hue you can live with, you could buy a gallon or two at a deep discount.

3. Shop your house. Interior "redesigners" have made careers out of showing others how to decorate their homes without buying anything.

Pam Faulkner, a redesigner and owner of Faulkner House Interiors in Arlington, Va., says that homeowners can save big bucks if they approach decorating in the same way she does for her clients.

"I shop their house," says Faulkner. "I use what already exists in their new home to create a new look." For example, she recalls helping one client find a printer stool for his home office. She spotted an unused silverware chest in the dining room that did not match the room's colors. She moved it to the office. "The stool fit perfectly, and the silverware chest was the same color as the client's desk," she says. Initially, her client did not even realize that the "new" stool was his unused furniture.

Next: "Everyone is probably right about the best time to buy. ... "
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