My home improvement project list never seems to get any shorter. Unfortunately, my budget doesn’t get any bigger. I’ve had to be pretty creative and really look for ways to save money while personalizing and renovating my house. Fortunately there are a lot of resources available to renovators with grand plans but tiny budgets.
I have bought everything from mirrors to vanities and chandeliers second hand. The best resource for second-hand wares is Habitat for Humanity. The housing nonprofit has dozens of Re-stores, which are basically thrift stores for building supplies. When folks renovate, they donate their used goods to the store for a tax deduction. Habitat then sells it to you. They have everything from paint and fixtures, to windows, cabinets and furniture. Sometimes, they get large shipments of new items from retailers or manufacturers looking for a spot to unload some extras.
Architectural salvage yards
Architectural salvage yards are another, albeit slightly more expensive, option for second-hand items. If you really want something unusual or if you have an older home and want something true to your home’s era, architectural salvage yards can go a long way to fill those needs for less.
Shopping Craigslist for supplies, furniture, and fixtures is also cost effective. I’ve bought well-made very stylish furniture on Craigslist for as little as $20. Yard sales can also be great.
Of course, getting things for free is even better. If you haven’t already, sign up for our local freecycle group. (Find your local group at freecycle.org). I have given and received things such as landscaping stones, silver maple saplings, seed starting kits, baby supplies, and even a full-size mattress set. Freecycle can save you a lot of money on the home and garden odds and ends that really can add dollars to a project, but you have to respond to offers very quickly.
Borrowing is another great way to save. Don’t be shy, just ask. For instance, I’m painting the outside of my house this fall. So far, I have borrowed a power washer from my uncle and a paint sprayer from my father-in-law. When I decided to dig new flower beds last year, I removed the sod with a flat-head shovel I borrowed from my neighbor. Individual tools may not be that expensive, but $20 here and $30 there really adds up over time if you have a lot of projects.
Use “oddball” items. Need paint? Look no further than the “oops” bin at the paint store, the place where mis-mixed or returned paints live. You can get what would normally be a $30 gallon of paint for as little as $5. I gave the kitchen walls and cabinets in my last house a fabulous face lift for only $10 thanks to the oops bin.
The flooring equivalent of the oops bins is the tile remainders and returned special orders area at your local retailer. One of the homes featured in my favorite decorating magazine had a floor pieced together from three colors of tile, all found in the remainders bins. I never would have guessed by looking at it. If you live near any sort of home product manufacturer, you can often buy boxes of overstock at a deep discount.
Doing it yourself is the ultimate way to save. As I mentioned, I’m getting ready to paint my house. It’s a single-story 1957 ranch house, and I like to paint, so I’m pretty comfortable with that decision. Supplies will cost me about $600, about $3400 less than the cheapest estimate I received from a pro. That’s money I could be using for a week on the beach, so for me it’s worth the hassle.
Of course, I wouldn’t touch anything involving plumbing or electrical. The No. 1 rule of DIY is you have to know your limits. If you really don’t know what you are doing or your aren’t comfortable with making a mistake, hire a pro.
That doesn’t mean you should shy away from all projects, especially when there are so many low-cost ways to hone your skills. Take advantage of free resources, such as free how-to classes at home-improvement stores or local community colleges. The best $60 I ever spent was for a 6-week enrichment course at the local community college. We learned how to install toilets, repair screen doors, glaze windows and tile a floor. In a more advanced class, we learned how to frame walls and install roofing shingles. Classes like these are usually offered as part of the university’s continuing education program.
Even if you never tackle one of these projects on your own, you’ll know enough to see through any contractor who is trying to sell you more than you need.
Fixing up your house on a budget isn’t always the easy way, but with an open mind and a bit of legwork, it can be much more rewarding. But you do have to be flexible and patient. It can take a lot more time to assemble low cost supplies than it does to just waltz into the store, plop down your credit card and walk out with a truckload of fixins. Just remember that in this housing market, improving for less may just be the smartest thing you can do.
Image courtesy of marie-ll