Tablescaping on a Budget

More than once I have been saddened to hear someone say something like, “I’d love to entertain, but I can’t afford the _________.”  (Go ahead and fill in the blank with “dishes,” “pretty things,” “table linens” etc.) Have YOU ever said anything like that? If so, (or if you just need a reminder that beautiful doesn’t necessarily mean expensive), read on!

Today I’ve decided to show you a budget-minded breakfast table — and give you some tips on how to put together your own eye-catching tablescapes without breaking the bank.  Are you ready?

For starters, I’ll just go ahead and confess that when it comes to my tablescaping “habit,” I’m a BIG fan of auctions, thrift stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.), Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Big Lots, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Ross, and Marshalls. Now I’ll tell you that I also love Pier One, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Horchow, etc., but, quite frankly, I’m not usually willing to pay their prices. They have to have a REALLY good sale.  My thrifty tendencies will become more evident as we set our breakfast table.  Let’s start doing the math…

We begin with cheerful red and white floral placemats from Dollar General. These are a nice heavy quilted cotton with a classy scalloped edge AND they are reversible (solid red on the reverse). That makes them very versatile … think Christmas, Valentines Day, and Fall leaves in addition to today’s Spring/Summer dress. Oh, I almost forgot to mention — they were $1 each!

Next we’ll set out our dishes. When you’re just starting your collection of dishes, it’s a good idea to invest in an all-white (or cream) set because it’s so versatile. They can be “dressed up” with formal linens, or “dressed down” with casual ones. I have a nice set of all-cream dishes, but I recently purchased this white set from Big Lots; regularly $35, I found it on sale for $20. It’s a BIG set that includes:

6 dinner plates
6 salad/dessert plates
6 soup/cereal bowls
6 berry/dessert bowls
6 cups and saucers
1 small platter
1 serving bowl
1 salt/pepper shaker set
6 napkin rings

Why don’t we challenge ourselves to set the table using all of the various pieces — so we can see what they look like when used together?

Although you might not think to turn a serving bowl upside down, it’s something you may wish to do occasionally to give your centerpiece a little extra height. (We could have easily done without it here, but it was one way to show you the bowl that came with the set — and hopefully it will help you remember the tip!  Believe me, if you do much tablescaping, the idea will come in handy some day.)

Next the glassware … These were purchased several years ago at Dollar General for $2 each. I’ve absolutely loved them!  Bought 8, broke 2 … sure wish I could find them again!

The flatware is my “every day” stainless that I got when I first married 30 years ago. Scratches and all, it still sets a pretty table. (I’m not adding this into our cost because I’m going to assume you have some sort of flatware you can use. Virtually anything works with this tablescape!)

The napkins were purchased on clearance at Wal-Mart a few years ago. I think I paid $1.50 each for them.  Again, think about how many times you can use RED!

The pretty etched glass pitcher was an auction find for $5. It’s the perfect size for our orange juice.

Now, for the finishing touches … I just loved this red pitcher when I saw it a few months ago at Dollar General. (It was in the same collection as the placemats and came in several colors.) $4 later, I took it home.  I’ve lost count how many times it has already been filled with flowers from the garden.

If you don’t have the luxury of home-grown cut flowers, never fear!  Simple “happy” flowers similar to these daisies and zinnias are readily available at many grocery stores for a very reasonable price.

And finally… what is a casual summer breakfast without a rooster to help us welcome the morning?  This fella was FREE from a family member who was tossing it!

Why don’t we put him on the platter that came with our dishes — and add the salt and pepper shakers …

Hmmm… Something’s missing. Let’s try this flower … Oh, that’s much better!


So what’s our grand total for this tablescape?  Taxes (and dishes!) included: right at $75

Of course, we could always have spent more money … If you want to invest just a little more to build your collection, consider another couple of options:

Upgrade to linen napkins. At some point you’ll probably want to purchase a nice versatile set of white linen napkins. They are ” workhorses” like the white dishes … “dressed up” for formal occasions and “dressed down” for casual occasions like ours today.  Here’s one paired with a red beaded 50 cent napkin ring.

The next “upgrade” suggestion was peeking at you in the picture above. Did you see it? Purchase colored glassware. These vintage ruby red glasses add a nice touch to this tablescape. Although pricier than a “dollar store” find, the red color is great for year-round entertaining. And did you know?  Colored glass is really coming back in style — although some of us never knew it went out!  These glasses are NO LONGER available in my Etsy shop. (Will someone please buy them quickly before I change my mind and keep them! I’m struggling here…)

Well … (big sigh) … Have I encouraged you?  Are you convinced that you can set a great table without spending a fortune?  I hope so!

So open your eyes … 
There are fabulous treasures just waiting to be found!


From my personal collection:
* Reversible placemats – Dollar General this year
* Gibson “Claremont” dishes – Big Lots last Fall
* Clear ribbed glassware – Dollar General several years ago
* Oneida “Mozart” stainless flatware – 30 years ago
* Red pitcher – Dollar General this year
* Clear etched glass pitcher – auction a couple of months ago
* Red napkins – Wal-Mart clearance several years ago
* White linen napkins – auction years ago
* Red beaded napkin rings – one of the dollar stores years ago
* White napkin rings – part of the Gibson set of dishes
* Rooster figurine – family member recently
* Flowers – outside my kitchen window


I’m linking this post to the 101st Tablescape Thursday at Between Naps on the Porch. Go there for more great tablescaping ideas.  (And if you look closely, I’ll bet you see my same white dishes in someone else’s tablescape. They became so popular among BNOTP readers that they’ve even been re-named “Gollum China” in honor of the blogger who first mentioned that they were available for $35!  Isn’t Blogland fun?)



  1. I just happened upon your great blog. Love all the super photos. I’m your newest follower.

  2. I agree, a tablescape doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Using what we have around the house can produce very pretty settings.

    You just proved it with your tablescape this week. Great job.


  3. It is possible to set a beautiful table without breaking the bank. Some of my favorite finds have been from auctions, thrift stores, and flea markets. Your table is beautiful and I think the addition of the rooster on the tray is my favorite part.

  4. Hi Susan!
    Isn’t it amazing how far that Big Lots china goes…I used it allll the time. I first heard about it from Michael at Designs by Gollum. I actually bought two sets…but I didn’t get your amazing $20 price. I think I paid $29 per set. Still not bad!
    BTW, right this very moment I have a tablescape on my porch and the centerpiece is raised up on a bowl! LOL I actually had it set three weeks ago but took it down to do the 100th tablescape…then put it back up. Now your gonna think I copied you when I finally post it. LOL
    I love your tablescape…beautiful without breaking the bank! 🙂

  5. Your red and white table is really pretty. That is the cutest little rooster. Your flowers are gorgeous.

    I agree that you don’t have to break the bank in order to set a nice table. Most of my tables are set from the thrift stores in the area…I have seen your stemware at them several times…I have the blue ones. I very seldom pay more than 99¢ for a plate…it would have to be something very special to pay more than that.

  6. Wow!
    thank you so much for taking the time to write such an awesome post.
    I do not live in the states, but know everyone of those stores you mentioned. We have thrift stores, and flea markets here too and I will continue to try to shop there, before going to the expensive stores. One tip I can offer is “always look at home first” One tablescape of mine has the cats tunnel toy as a center piece!!! It matched perfectly-I could not resist! No worries-the cats never play with it, so it was clean!

  7. You’ve created a darling tablescape, provided a super tutorial, and given encouragement for those who didn”t know that they too could design a tablescape with great impact for minimal investment. Thank you for sharing your charming design. Cherry Kay

  8. Great bargains and great tablescape! I love those Big Lots dishes! I agree that red is so versatile.

  9. I love white dishes–especially combined with red. Those place mat were a real score. They look expensive–and pretty. Your tablescape is gorgeous.

  10. I like this red and white combination so much. Versatile items like these make it so easy to use them over and over again – same things, different look.

  11. You’ve just shown that setting a lovely table doesn’t have to cost much. It’s all in how you put it together, and you’ve done great.

  12. Such a beautiful table with great bargain finds!


  13. Susan,

    Happened upon your blog and fell in love with your pretty tablescape…… Now I’m gonna have to check out your old posts…… Happy Thursday!!!

  14. Great ideas for those just starting and those who’ve tablescaped for quite a while. Loved your pretty reds.

  15. Great tutorial and a beautiful breakfast table! So glad you posted today. Love the red and white scheme.

  16. I’m so glad you showed this. I totally agree that a tablescape can cost very little. Love how your table turned out. Dang sorry i missed those placemats!

  17. Hello Susan,
    Welcome to blogging! It’s nice to meet you! I’m happy you found my blog so I could find yours. It’s just lovely and charming and I plan to be back to visit you often. You’re always welcome to visit me anytime my friend.

    What a gorgeous red and white tablescape! Your rooster is darling! I agree with all of your ideas and enjoy the same stores for bargain shopping. They do have good prices and nice kitchen-y items all the time. Love it!

    Have a blessed weekend.
    Warmly, ~Melissa 🙂

  18. LOL, I got my Gibson at Linen NThings with a coupon yrs ago before I even knew what a blog was!
    Your table is lovely, and if you poked around my blog, I love a bargain! We don’t have too many good thorift shops here in Southampton, they are all too pricey. So I wait for the sales at the outlets!
    To answer your question, I think that tag was mistake. I bought several other colors and that was the only one that came up 1.99.
    I got it at Christmas Tree Shops, which are expanding. They are owned by Bed Bath and B, so maybe you will get one soon. Great place for bargains. In fact, that’s their slogan…
    Don’t you just love a bargain! 🙂
    Nice to meet you! Thank you for following and I am doing the same!

  19. I forgot to say how pretty your table looks. The possibilities are endless with white dishes! 🙂

  20. Nice post, great tablescape and all the better with a lesson that nice is more about having an eye for what works together rather than costs a lot.

  21. I love your tablescape great job! Your silverware is what brought me over I just love the pattern it’s pretty without being fussy. Do you know the name of the pattern?
    ~ ~Ahrisha~ ~

  22. Susan, I love beautiful posts and blogs that help me put things together because I do not have a clue how to decorate ! And to show us how to do it on a budget! How wonderful!
    Thank you!
    Have a pretty day!

  23. This is absolutely delightful – so pretty and inviting! Thanks for showing how good our “budget” items can look!

  24. I learned so much from this post. Tablescape is not my thing but you sold the idea thru this post. Thank you.