1. Eclecticism. My favorite images are never all one style--they mix modern, vintage, traditional, and elegant styles into one cohesive look. Ideally, we want to mix our modern sofa, futon (I know, I know....we're still obviously grad students!) and entertainment center with more unique pieces that bring out a little boho flair but still look adult.
2. Unique accents with lots of texture. You can find all sorts of cool, one-of-a-kind pieces in thrift stores and on Craigslist. I just found the most amazing 60" hot pink upholstered bench that would have been AWESOME....but the $150 price tag was a little steep for these broke girlies :( However, pieces like the ones below would suit nicely. You can get some types of furniture for pretty cheap and paint them, like those amazing yellow chippendales and the yellow table (I see a color theme here...) and I like to look for pieces that have a unique shape, like the triangle table. And I want a sunburst mirror SO BAD!
3. Two little tables instead of one big coffee table. Not only can you usually find two small tables for a lot cheaper than a big one, in a small space like our living room it is nice to have the option to pull the tables apart when you have guests over or if we're all studying in the room at the same time. Flexibility = key on a small budget :)
Btw, the above living room was designed by a recent college grad and her mom--if she can do it on a limited budget, why can't we?