Home Improvement on a Budget: 15 Tips for Savings

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Home improvement projects can be, in a word, expensive. Even if you’re making home improvements that add value, there’s no reason you shouldn’t try to create as many opportunities for savings as possible, either. Additionally, making sure you spend what you can afford is a must. Fortunately, home improvement on a budget is possible. Here are 15 tips that can help you save.

1. Create a Budget

Overall, around 31% of homeowners who tackle remodels end up over budget, according to a study from design and architecture site Houzz. If you want to avoid that, budgeting is your ally. By outlining the project in detail, reviewing every cost and leaving yourself a cushion for dealing with the unexpected, your odds of spending more than you intended drop significantly.

Begin by determining what you’re comfortable spending. Next, allocate 15–20% of that amount to your cushion (or more if your home is older). The amount that needs to go into your buffer may depend on the type of work you’re having done, the age of your home, the extent of the project and other factors. Generally, the more complex or extensive the project is, the larger a percentage you’ll want to set aside.

Then, outline all of the costs associated with the project. This includes buying new materials, disposing of removed materials, paying for labor, handling delivery costs and paying for anything else you’ll need to cover. After that, start researching prices for those cost areas to get an idea of how much your project might run and if it’ll ultimately be affordable.

2. Get Multiple Quotes

One of the most critical budgeting tips when preparing for affordable home improvement is to get several quotes for any work you’re contracting out. Ideally, you want at least three, though five may be preferable if you’re in an area where there are a lot of contractors. That allows you to see what the going rate is so you choose a competitively priced contractor.

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Ask all the contractors to itemize their estimates. That lets you see every expense you’ll be handling and can make comparing quotes easier.

Additionally, be wary of the lowest bid if it’s far below the others. That could indicate the contractor isn’t as skilled or has overlooked a critical expense. Instead, focus on those that fall closer to the middle.

3. Pay in Cash

When you want to save on your home improvement project, paying in cash can help you save. Any form of financing leads to interest charges, and it can add up quickly.

Plus, there can be other risks with borrowing. For example, if you use your house as collateral to pay for the improvements, your home could end up in foreclosure if you fail to pay. Regardless of the financing approach you choose, you can also reduce your borrowing power and may see changes to your credit score.

Ultimately, paying in cash, if possible, is a way of avoiding some of those potential risks. It also ensures you don’t take on new debt, making the value of your home improvements a financial gain.

4. Know When to DIY

When it comes to keeping costs down, going the do-it-yourself route can make a difference. First and foremost, it eliminates your labor costs. Considering that labor costs can range from $20 to $150+ an hour and general contractor fees may run 10–20% of the total project cost, that’s potentially a sizable sum.

However, the DIY approach isn’t always less expensive. The cost of purchasing or renting tools can offset savings. Additionally, there’s the value of your time to consider, as well as the complexity of steps like getting the proper permits and completing intricate work.

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You don’t want to go the DIY route if you don’t have the proper skills. Incorrect work can reduce the value of your home or lead to safety issues. If the work doesn’t meet local building codes, you may fail an inspection, too. This can require you to redo some or all of the work.

Only do DIY home renovations if you have the right skills and the cost of equipment results in notable savings. Leave updates to your electrical and plumbing systems, roof, and structures like load-bearing walls to licensed, insured contractors.

5. Do Your Own Demo

If you want to reduce your labor costs and shrink the expense of having old materials removed, doing your own demo is worth considering — even if it’s the only DIY you do on your project. While you only want to go this route for projects in which material removal doesn’t lead to safety issues, it does reduce the amount of time workers need to be on the job. Plus, by disposing of anything you take out on your own, it may cost less to handle.

Be sure you don’t demo load-bearing walls on your own, though. Doing it incorrectly can lead to structural issues in your entire home. Additionally, if mold, lead paint or asbestos are involved, leave it to the pros.

6. Reuse What You Can

One way to reduce the cost of certain home improvements is to reuse materials. For example, kitchen or bathroom cabinets can enjoy a new life with some paint, fresh hardware or refacing of their fronts instead of getting entirely new cabinets. Even if you use them in another space in your home, it results in an overall savings. Your old kitchen cabinets, for example, can become helpful storage solutions in your garage.

7. Donate Items in Good Condition

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If you’re removing items like doors, cabinets, windows or other materials that are in good condition, don’t throw them out. Instead, donate them to an organization like Habitat for Humanity. When you do, you can get a donation receipt for the value of the donated items. Because Habitat for Humanity is a registered nonprofit, you can then deduct the contributions on your tax return.

8. Shop Used or Scratch-and-Dent

Donating items to stores like Habitat for Humanity isn’t the only smart way to take advantage of what these nonprofits have to offer. By shopping in those stores, you may find materials at budget-friendly prices.

Items like light fixtures often don’t show much wear and tear, so they’re great options for buying used. You might also find new products that a homeowner didn’t need for their project, such as spare boxes of tile.

Shopping major retailers for scratch-and-dent items can also result in savings. For example, aesthetic damage on the side of a stove means the retailer can’t sell it for full price, even though it works well and the damage won’t be visible once the range is installed. That way, you get a new appliance for less money.

9. Skip Custom Cabinets

Unless your kitchen has a particularly unique layout, going with stock cabinets is often the better choice — at least from a budget perspective. Custom cabinetry comes with a bigger price tag. By using standard sizes and designs, you can handle your storage needs and even create a kitchen island without busting your budget.

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10. Handle Your Own Painting

If you’re working with typical interior paints, doing the work yourself is a solid way to reduce costs. There are plenty of free instructional materials available online, too, so it’s easier to see how to do the job right.

If you’re working with a challenging paint or wall finish, do any priming yourself. That’s one more step the contractors won’t need to handle, so it may lower your cost a bit.

11. Don’t Go High-End Across the Board

When you’re handling a home improvement project, the materials you choose have a significant impact on the overall price. While it’s wise to go higher end with some of them, opting for more budget-friendly types with others is a smart move.

Focus on items that make a statement when you choose higher-end options. Kitchen countertops are a prime example because their visual impact is high. The same can be true of range hoods, depending on your design.

By spending strategically, you allow the high-end materials to become the focus. Your lower-end items won’t stand out, which achieves a balanced look while maintaining affordability.

12. Choose Energy-Saving Appliances

If you’re replacing major appliances, choose energy-saving options whenever possible. While these may not cost less upfront, they do help you lower your energy bills, resulting in long-term savings when compared to less-efficient models.

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13. Ask About Leftovers

When you’re working with a contractor, you may be able to take advantage of materials left over from other homeowners’ projects. If the contractor still has those items, they may be willing to use them in your home for less than what it would cost to get similar products new.

Generally, this one works in areas where you need small amounts of material. Contractors don’t typically have large quantities of leftovers. However, it’s always worth asking to see what’s available — you might get lucky.

14. Time Your Purchases and Project

If you need to buy appliances, flooring or other costlier supplies, try to wait for a sale. Appliances are often discounted around major holidays and when new models are getting ready to hit stores.

Similarly, you may spend less on installation by timing your project wisely. For example, you may get a better deal on your home improvement projects by scheduling the work to take place during the off season, which starts in the fall and runs through winter. By setting up interior projects then — when the work isn’t as likely to be impacted by weather — you may be able to spend less.

15. Don’t Move Your Plumbing

Relocating plumbing is far more complex than you might anticipate, and it can be quite expensive. By leaving your kitchen sink, shower drain, toilet and similar fixtures in the same spots, you don’t have to run new pipes. Your total cost will be lower and your project will take less time, which is an added bonus.