You have three choices when it comes to patio furniture: Spend all of your economic stimulus check -- and then some -- on a glamorous new set from some upscale brand, spend a couple hundred dollars on something more affordable from Target, Home Depot or IKEA, or go the most economical route and spruce up something funky. The latter, rescue-and-refresh approach is a specialty of Elk Grove's Island Girl Salvage (160 Kelly St., Elk Grove Village, 847-593-2433, island girlsalvage.com).

Owners Tabitha Long and Elizabeth Ross love reinventing cast-off architectural elements and furniture. Their approach -- check out their five tips below -- shows that all it takes is a little elbow grease to save yourself a lot of money -- and keep one more thing out of the landfills.

1. Clean it. Sometimes, all an old or junky piece of furniture needs is a nice bath. Long and Ross consider steel wool their best friend for removing rust marks and paint drippings.

2. Paint it. "Always use spray paint instead of painting with a brush, so that you don't end up with strokes and paintbrush hairs when you're finished," Long says. "These days, you can get it in gloss or flat finishes, and there are so many new color choices."

3. Go topless. Don't discount a cheap table just because its top is warped or cracked. Table tops are easy to clean up, repaint or replace. Long and Ross found a painted metal patio table at a garage sale for $10. The only catch: It was missing its original glass top. "We went to our local glass shop and had a piece of tempered glass cut for $130," Long says.

4. Consider wicker. Long says wicker patio furniture is currently experiencing a wane in popularity, which translates to rich selection and a dip in prices. "Wicker is really inexpensive right now and easy to find in full sets," Long says.

5. Try inside out. Certain types of indoor furniture make great, albeit temporary, patio stand-ins. Long is a big fan of wood benches. "Painted or left natural, they're so versatile and inexpensive," she says. "They can be plant stands by day, extra seating by night."

----------

See also " The DNA of patio price tags / What jacks up the cost of outdoor furnishings? Design, Name and 'Airloom' quality," Home & Garden section, Page 1