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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fabulous things for (almost) free!

The Bargain Queen's original motto was 'high style on a low budget', because she loves to prove that you don't have to spend stacks of money to have fabulous things. Whenever she reads fashion or decorating mags, she sees the price tags and starts to feel discouraged - but the reality of the taste that money can buy is more Posh and Becks than Cate Blanchett.

So today The Bargain Queen's going to prove that highbrow doesn't have to be high cost. To get you started, here's some ideas of fabulous things you can have for (or almost free):

  • Coffee table (library) books. Most libraries have a selection of big, glossy books on interior design, fine art, haute couture and travel for loan - and they're often unpopular because they're so heavy to lug home. Borrow one and you can have a taste of the finer things in life right in your home for free. Ditto for glossy magazines - borrow them from the library and at least you're not paying to drool over $40,000 dining tables!
  • Art galleries. In Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of NSW are both free to look around. Gallery openings at the commercial galleries are also free, and they'll give you a glass of wine while you look at the work. (Plus on opening night you're inconspicuous so it doesn't matter as much if you can't afford even the smallest work on offer.)
  • Fabulous vintage (op/thrift shop) clothing. If you have the patience to hunt through all the fascinating kitsch on offer, there are still wonderful vintage finds in op (thrift) shops occasionally. And nothing makes you feel as glamourous as a fantastic 50s find with intricate beading, that's better quality than most designer fashion in stores now but cost only a few dollars.
  • Super-fresh produce. Any chef will tell you that the best produce is always what's in season. Luckily for us, that's also usually what's cheapest. Buying at a farmer's market will get you much fresher produce than many supermarkets and they're a lot of fun too. In Sydney, Paddy's Markets or the farmer's market at Fox Studios are both worth a look; in Melbourne we love the Queen Vic markets and Prahran Markets; and in Adelaide Central Market is brilliant. Add a famous chef's cookbook from the library and you can have your own version of a fancy restaurant meal for a lot less cash.
  • A tidy home. OK, buying fancy furnishings on a tiny budget is a challenge - but making the most of what you've got is a lot easier. Any home will look better if it's tidy, and you can clean, organise, cull and style for free. You can even create some of those nifty still-lifes they always have in magazines (a vase of flowers with a glass ball and some shells of the same colour, a carefully chosen arrangement of ancient cutlery, that kind of thing) using your own nick-nacks. Just keep re-arranging them; they don't look nearly as arty when they've been there for months and are covered in dust!
  • Great lighting. Have you ever noticed how often interiors magazines use the words 'sun drenched', 'natural light' or 'custom lighting'? Sunshine doesn't cost a cent and good artifical lighting needn't be expensive either. In our house, lamps accumulate but are rarely used as well as they could be. If we went to the trouble of plugging them in we could have task lighting, feature lights, soft puddles of ambience and a glowing magazine-style home whenever we bothered to switch them on. Maybe The Bargain Queen should go do that...

So that's some of the 'highbrow' stuff we do for free. If you've got some more ideas, leave a comment and share!

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  • At 11:11 am, Blogger SlaveToShopping said…

    I just came across your site yesterday...for Sydney shopping, do you name names? (Stores, sales etc?) I'm from Vancouver and moving to Sydney in June and will need all the help I can get when it comes to getting my bearings in the shops. I can't wait!

  • At 5:24 pm, Blogger La Rêveuse said…

    In the US (I don't know about Australia or France, where I am at now) often there is a plug in the room that is controlled by a light switch. If you were to attach a power strip to it, and hook most of your lamps to those, you'd have the lighting you're looking for with the flip of a switch! (My dad is an electrician.) If you don't, it can be done pretty easily.

    PS another tip--found art. Find something cool and frame it. Everything looks better framed. I currently have up some papers I bought at the Chinese market for less than a euro for 100 (they are beige with orange and silver squares). I arranged them, framed them, and they look great on our wall!

  • At 12:33 pm, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    SlaveToShopping: Welcome to Oz!

    I do name names, but I keep it low-key since most people who read my blog aren't in Sydney. If you take a look through my previous fashion posts at, I mention where I got a few things.

    As for general Sydney shopping tips, my favourite bargain shopping destination is Birkenhead Point (an outlet mall where I always kind something fantastic, especially at David Jones or Witchery). As for hearing about sales, try or the Vogue Forums ( - I only mention the ones I've attended and personally recommend, and I'm pretty picky!

    Mrs. B: Thanks for the tip! I'll have to take a look for that light strip once we move into the new place.

  • At 12:49 pm, Blogger SlaveToShopping said…

    Thanks for the links, BQ, I'm defenitely going to bookmark them. I love sales and a good bargain adventure!


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