Fantasy Rooms for Kids Under $50

by Kathleen Wilson

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Decorating kids' rooms on a budget can be challenging, to say the least. However, there are plenty of ways to create that dream domain for your little (or big) one, without sacrificing the college fund.

My first suggestion when decorating for children is don't do it without them. So many parents decorate for the way they envision the perfect room, only to have it backfire on them during the unveiling. Let the child become part of the process, and they will not only love the room they helped to create, but also they will have learned some valuable life tools as a bonus.

The next step is to organize. Kids are much more likely to keep their rooms picked up if there is a little bit of order. Cardboard boxes covered with contact paper, fabric drawstring bags made from scrap fabric, and zipper style bags (not with babies or toddlers) can all go a long way toward keeping things in their place. It's also not a bad idea to label drawers and storage areas for the little ones. It helps them to remember what goes where. If they are too young for reading, draw pictures.

To start the decorating process, the first thing to do is to come up with a theme. Even if it is just a color scheme (although with kids, it seldom is), it gives you a blueprint. Remember to ask for your children's ideas here. Give them your guidelines, and then let their imaginations flow. You can then narrow it down to two selections, and help them decide which is best. Some great themes for kids' rooms include garden, jungle, space, cowboy, trucks and trains, fairies, teddies, favorite animal, letters and numbers, cityscape, farmyard. Okay, I could be here all day. You get the idea, try to use your child's natural personality to direct you.

How to do this all on a budget? Apply your chosen theme, then try these ideas:

  1. Paint. If you can't afford to or don't want to paint the whole room, add a colorful painted border, use foam stamps to stamp a theme design, or stencil around windows and doorways. Painted murals are the way to a fantasy room on a budget. Huge impact, and they are much easier than you think! You can buy stencils or patterns online, or use a coloring book to copy designs onto the wall with pencil, then paint with craft paint. Think kid here. It doesn't have to be Divinci!

  2. Add depth to your wall design. This gives a fantasy feel to the room. Use contact paper or craft foam cutouts, paint a simple mural over the wall, tack felt flowers in your "garden," decoupage computer cutouts onto the wall. Cut out a fairy castle out of plywood (or cardboard or foam core), paint, and create a headboard. Use ribbon and glue or tacks to create a chair rail. Glue hot wheels to the wall end to end all the way around the room. Just use your imagination! Use chalkboard paint and a box of colored chalk to inspire their artistic side. Use magnetic paint and create "game boards" around the room, pick up magnetic alphabets to play hangman, or glue magnetic strips to checkers to make game pieces. You get the idea.

  3. If you can't afford to buy new bedding for the whole room, consider using sheets to make some pretty easy changes. Flat sheets can be purchased at discount stores for just a few dollars in several great colors, and can be used to easily create duvets for existing comforters, simple curtains, and custom pillowcases. If you don't sew, you can use iron on fusible tape. Purchase the heavy-duty variety. Leave one end open to insert the old comforter, then secure with Velcro, or sew ribbon to each side and tie closed. Forget paying $20 a piece for pillow shams, they are easy to make for just $1 or $2.

  4. Finally, add some personal touches. Make a simple throw pillow with their name in fabric marker, create a sign for them to hang on their door, or simply pick up some dollar shop frames and let them hold family memories close to their heart.

  5. A word about teen rooms. This is one of the most common questions I hear from parents, "How do I decorate a teen's room?" The answer is simple. However they want within reason. I still feel parents should place conditions on how a room is decorated. It is your house, after all. For instance, my rule was no black walls. (And no permanent anything without approval!) But the fact of the matter is that teens either want a very adult room or a room that is totally not what any adult would want. And they won't be happy with anything less. So, within reason, let them call the shots. Just make sure you can close the door when company arrives.

  6. Organize. You don't have to buy expensive storage cubes for your kids' rooms. Covered boxes, sewn drawstring bags from extra material, even an old suitcase under the bed make good storage. A wall of simple metal-strip utility shelving (they sell it in white, as well) can accommodate a large amount of stuff, especially for the older kids, and is relatively cheap at home improvement stores. I save old baby-wipe containers to store crayons, hot wheels, and that endless supply of useless toys from the fast food joints! You can cover them with contact paper. Try labeling what goes where, even for the older kids, so there is no arguing about what "putting it away" really means! Sturdy cardboard boxes covered with contact paper, fabric, or giftwrap from the dollar shop can be set on their sides, stacked and even attached together to make cubbies.

Finally, remember that you are making memories for your kids, not the neighbors. Bedrooms should be very personal affairs, so let your child feel his/her hearts desire in their special place, and not have to worry about what people will say if it's not the Barbie or Hot Wheels room like the kid down the street. Enjoy yourself, and give them the fantasy room of their dreams with your heart, not your wallet.

Kathleen Wilson is an author, national columnist, and editor of The Budget Decorator. For more free decorating ideas on a budget, visit her at Don't forget to sign up for her free email newsletter while you're there!

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