It definitely differs by person, but here’s my quick list from a decorating perspective:
1) Seating: I do believe with couches you get what you pay for. Since you use it daily, I advise investing in a good couch. Get it in a neutral fabric and pay the extra for the down-wrapped cushions.
2) Lighting: It’s not that you need to spend a lot on a lamp, just don’t forget to invest some of your budget in lighting. It makes a huge difference in a room. Same when redoing a kitchen or bath – do the undercabinet lights in the kitchen or extra can light in the shower.
3) Hardware: In kitchens and baths, I think a few extra dollars on knobs and faucets go a long way. I love polished nickel – it feels heavy and has just the right amount of shine.
4) Rugs: I don’t think you have to spend a fortune, but I do think it’s worth a little more to get the natural fibers.
5) Fabrics: Again, I always pay a little more for the linen or cotton option (exception: if you have young children and need to be able to clean it easily).
6) Window Treatments: I don’t think the pre-made low-priced panels ever hang quite right. Some of the more expensive ones in good fabrics can look nice. But there’s really no substitute for custom if you can afford it.
In a future post I’ll put on my real estate hat on and tell you where to put your money in terms of home improvements. Stay tuned!