Tips and Guides

How To Run A Stylish Household On A Budget

A working mom shares her five frugal tips on keeping a tasteful and efficient house on shoestring resources


“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” I often steal this line from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote because it perfectly encapsulates how I feel, especially about the first place my husband and I lived in right after we got married.

Our first home was a studio unit in a neighborhood on the edge of gentrification. The only things in the apartment when we moved in were a folding bed, a trashcan and a 50-piece Tupperware set. Starting out, living on a single income, we happily filled our studio with inexpensive furniture from IKEA and the neighborhood department store.

A friend of mine who moved to the city at around the same time decorated her first apartment with castoffs she found on the street, plus items donated by various friends and family members. The only hitch with this decorating method is finding the muscle to help you haul a chest of drawers from the curb up to your walkup apartment.  But the stuff she cobbled together was pretty cool, so there seemed to be a certain charm to being a spirited young furniture scavenger.

Years passed; my husband and I worked, we earned, we saved more than we spent. Most of all, we harnessed the cheapskate mentality of our lean years. It continues to serve us well, especially now we have to pay for a two-bedroom apartment, two cars, and a nanny. We realized that the only way to really keep your household financially fit is to have a budget. “Budget” may seem like a restrictive word, but it actually lets you control your money instead of your money controlling you. We have these basic budget rules that we live by:

Enforce “forced” savings.

Back in the day, I would withdraw 10% of our income and stash it in an envelope in the household safe. A good start, but this is not the optimum way to save money. Now we’ve set up an auto-deduct that takes a designated percentage of money from our direct deposit account and transfers it to an untouchable savings account. The reason is simple—if you don’t see it, you can’t spend it.

Salary raises should not be seen as reasons to supersize your lifestyle.

I read the book Confessions of a Shopaholic and considered it a cautionary tale rather than feel-good fiction. Receive a raise at work? Try not to think of it as an opportunity to buy expensive status items, but an opportunity to pump more money into your savings. Decide on a set amount of “treat” money to spend every month, so you don’t feel deprived, even if it’s just enough money for your favorite triple-whatever espresso drink and some nice hand soaps for the guest bathroom.

But don’t sacrifice quality.

Acquiring one well-made item is better than buying twenty cute but throwaway things. Also, don’t be above waiting for sales, comparison shop before shelling out money, and don’t buy furniture when you are sad or you have PMS, as these are times when you are most likely to convince yourself a P100,000 chair will solve everything that is wrong with your life.

Try high-low style.

That said; you know exactly what kind of folks we are when you walk into our home or observe our household. The furniture and accessories are a high-low mix; a Jonathan Adler vase sits on an IKEA console (my husband has become a whiz at following the wordless assembly diagrams of Leksviks and Aspelunds and all the other barely pronounceable items in the lovely IKEA catalog). Our son never had a color-coordinated nursery with precious trimmings or a matching bassinet and rocker; instead we bought simple, convertible furniture that could grow with him. Grocery and warehouse club runs are scheduled and lists are made prior to heading out, so that trips and purchases aren’t just based on impulse.

Know when to splurge.

Try as I might, I’m not as great at keeping to my baseline degree of frugality as I could be. A pair of expensive shoes or a gorgeous, impractical objet d’art still makes my heart race and tempts me to throw budgetary caution to the wind and hand over my credit card. I just remind myself that the momentary thrill of an expensive splurge ultimately doesn’t measure up to the peace of mind you get from knowing—and staying—within your spending limits. (But long live the latte!)

PHOTOS ("Savings," "Thrifty," and "Splurge"), Dairy Darilag (Lady Scott Jones store in “Quality”), Tala Singson (Urban Abode in “High-low”)

Read the original article ("Cents And Sensibility") in the July 2008 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

More on

Mini Makeovers on a Budget

Easy and Budget-Friendly Home Decorating Ideas You Can Work On

10 Budget-Friendly Condo Updates You Can Work On


Latest Stories

21 Awesome Budget Home Finds In Quiapo

We swear, the P50 dinnerware and P10 cleaning products are worth the trip!

Christmas Gift Ideas For Plant Lovers and Green Thumbs

A list of lovely plants and accessories from below P100, P500, and up!

5 Creative and Affordable Wrapping Ideas For Christmas

Are you excited for the holiday season, too?

6 Fantastic Small Space Makeovers

How can you deal with cramped cooking corners and tiny bedrooms? Let these transformations teach you a trick or two.

A Filipino Designed This Space-Savvy Modern House in Singapore

It even has its own lap pool!

Would You Try "Death Cleaning?"

We've got everything you need to know about this new Swedish decluttering trend

5 Secrets Of A Functional Kitchen

Are you dreaming of having the most efficient scullery? These tips might just do the trick.

11 Peg-Worthy Celebrity Christmas Trees

From showcasing dainty blooms to using quirky ornaments, these personalities have taken the decorating game to the next level

This Quiapo Day Tour Will Make You Love Old Manila Again

Go on a DIY Quiapo adventure and look beyond the vendors. Say a prayer, have your fortune told, take a peek at a mysterious pagoda, and visit beautiful ancestral houses from a more genteel past.

10 Ways To Make Your Shoes Last Forever

Show your favorite pairs some tender loving care with these tips

A One-Bedroom Unit Transformed into a Two-Bedroom Home

The designers of this 45sqm condo in Manila created a functional space with an urban contemporary appeal that’s perfect for its young occupants

Here's Why You Should Skip Bringing Your Phone To The Bathroom

Trust us, liking that photo on Instagram can wait for a few minutes
Load More Stories

Get inspiring design ideas and handy hints.
Subscribe to our newsletter now!