These days home improvement stores and online retails sites are as busy as grocery stores. Just about anyone that owns a home seems to have a never-ending list of projects and improvements they want to make. Whether getting inspiration from home improvement shows on TV, online or elsewhere, they all seem to have one project after another to tackle.
One thing I hear from people is that there are two hurdles that tend to slow or halt most projects and they are time and money. We all have busy lives and between work, family, and other daily commitments, it’s hard to set aside time to check off those to-do items around the house especially when they are big projects.
When it comes to money, there are things we can do to get projects done while being mindful of budgets but if you aren’t sure where to keep costs low (save) vs. where you can make more of an investment (splurge) then it can be hard to simply start any home improvement project.
B and I have been DIY Home improvement people for more than our 20 years of marriage. We’ve learned a lot about where to put our money in home projects and where to try to save and how to save without sacrificing quality and design.
That’s what I want to share with you today. Now I will say before diving into this topic that we all value different things and while I can share my own view on this topic, it’s important to consider what you value and then prioritize your spending based on what’s most important to you and how you use your space.
Where to Splurge in your Home Improvements
It’s never fun to put a lot of money into parts of your home that you don’t see but if you have to spend wisely to stick to a budget then I suggest investing the bigger part of your budget on the permanent, fundamental items; the items or materials that are hard to replace once finished.
Things like the best quality insulation you can afford and the best windows and doors you can afford and key areas. Also things like kitchen cabinets and maybe even flooring though I’ll also mention flooring as an area to save.
A few other places to splurge:
Splurge on Paint but save on the painter:
When it comes to paint, there are a couple of points to make. You can actually both save and splurge with this one.
Hiring a painter to do the work is fine, but it will cost you. Our realtor for the beach house bought the house next door shortly before we closed on our place. Her cottage is quite a bit smaller than ours; maybe more like 500 square feet. When she got quotes from painters to paint her house, the average estimate was $5000! Yes, that’s right. $5K for 500 square feet of house. If you are physically capable, save on painting by doing it yourself.
Now when it comes to the paint itself, you kind of get what you pay for.
Home improvement store paint is fine and I’ve used and am actually a fan of the Lowe’s paints. More recently, we’ve invested more in paint at the beach house by buying directly from Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore and the selections and quality is better. I have noticed much more coverage with just one coat and I’ve found colors to be more true to my swatches and more consistent when buying a color again.
Prices vary quite a bit and if your budget allows, get the highest quality paint you can even if its from the home improvement stores. Paint, even the most expensive brands, is a relatively inexpensive investment if you do it yourself.
Splurge on Exteriors, Windows and Doors
If exterior work is on your list including windows, doors and cladding, buy the best your money can buy. These are items you will typically replace just once so you want to buy materials that will last.
These items can also be high ticket items. About 5 years ago, a close family member had windows, doors and siding put on their 80s style ranch and it cost in the neighborhood of $30,000. Today, with rising costs of labor and materials, that same job would likely cost $40,000 – $50,000! It’s a big number but a worthwhile investment for the value, efficiency and longevity of your home.
Splurge on Kitchen Cabinetry
I mentioned this above but kitchen cabinetry is one area you don’t want to cut costs. Like many other things, you get what you pay for and I strongly urge you to buy the best cabinets you can within your budget.
Your kitchen is one of, if not the most heavily used rooms in your house. It will take a beating and as the heart of your home, is also often the centerpiece of your home as well. While beauty and function are important, quality is maybe the most important as you want your kitchen to last.
The good thing to know about cabinetry is that products are improving and you can actually get great quality cabinets without buying custom built cabinets. The range or RTA cabinets (ready to assemble) is ever expanding and I can say from our own experience with our kitchen renovation a few years ago, RTA cabinets can be more affordable without sacrificing quality.
We compared IKEA, Lowe’s and Home Depot options alongside some RTA options and ultimately went with RTA. Our boxes are solid wood, not particle board. They are assembled with nails, not tiny staples and plastic clips like many box store cabinets are, and all the doors and drawers came standard with soft-close hardware.
Splurge on Faucets and Fixtures
I can say from experience that while it may be tempting to buy a cheap sink faucet or toilet, these items are best to splurge on. OK, I don’t mean spending $10,000 on a toilet, but buy the best you can within your budget.
When it comes to sink faucets specifically, there are a ton of inexpensive options out there that look really nice and appear to be decent quality but often the “guts” have cheap plastic parts or the finish isn’t durable and can wear off quickly.
When B and I first bought our home here in PA, we were still getting back on our feet after losing jobs, taking a loss on our Philadelphia house sale and all the bad things that went along with the economy in 2008 and 2009. We had no money and were trying to save on home improvement projects everywhere we could.
One of our very first projects as our master bathroom and when plumbing the vanity, I scored two pretty wall faucets for the sinks. In less than 6 months one of them started leaking inside the wall and damaged the brand new ceiling we’d installed in my shop / studio space underneath. Not only did we have to open up the bathroom wall, we also had to repair the ceiling in my shop which ended up costing us more money, plus we had to buy two new faucets.
My recommendation is to stick with brands you know and trust and be willing to fork over more cash to get something of quality rather than saving.
Same goes for your toilet, tub and sinks for much the same reasons. Cheaper fixtures like these can often have thinner walls making them less durable. The finishes can crack and show wear quickly plus these are typically items that aren’t cheap and easy to replace if something does go wrong.
So, now that you have some ideas on where to splurge a bit, let’s take a look at some areas I suggest saving.
Where to Save Money in your Home Renovations
We all love to save money where we can, especially these days; but when it comes to home renovations, as I’ve outlined above, it’s not always the best choice to save in all areas. So where is it wise to save money? Let’s take a look.
Save Money on Flooring
OK, so this one comes with a bit of a caveat. While flooring is one of those permanent fixtures in your home you can’t easily replace, with the ever improving products out there, flooring can be both a splurge and a place to save. I’ll explain.
While flooring (think wood flooring) is something you don’t want to skimp on, there are so many beautiful, durable and long lasting products on the market today at affordable price points that you can save a lot of money without sacrificing quality and looks.
When we did our floors on the first floor several years ago, we did our research and based on what we wanted for solid wood flooring, we could have easily spent $15 – 20K. With our DIY experience and willingness to put in the time and effort, we opted for unfinished utility oak that gave us the look and character we wanted for less than $2000.
So much has changed even since then and today there are engineered and laminate options that are sometimes more durable than solid wood. Many are scratch resistant, waterproof and never need to be refinished. Talk about an investment! If you aren’t tied to real wood but really only want the look, these options can be a fraction of the cost of solid wood, plus may even be more durable!
Flooring is one of those things that is personal to each homeowner so this is where you have to decide where your priorities are but flooring can be a great place to save.
Save on New Hardware
One of the easiest ways to give any outdated kitchen or bathroom a refresh without spending a ton of money is by simply swapping out the hardware. This can also be a great place to save money when doing a larger update too.
Like everything else, drawer pulls and knobs range in quality and price from just a couple of dollars to more than $50 per piece! I was shocked when I was shopping hardware for our kitchen at how pricey some hardware was and when looking at samples, I didn’t feel like the quality was equally better than less expensive options.
Truth be told, our kitchen hardware at home is from Amazon and cost us about $20 for 10 or so pieces. They were lightweight compared to some that we had sampled but once installed you’d never know. Even years later, they look just as great as they did brand new and I have never once regretted saving big on this element.
An added bonus about hardware is that this can be an easy swap out should you choose to upgrade down the road or decide you want a little refresh. Remember, splurge on hard to replace items and save on things you can easily change or update later.
Save on Appliances
This might be a controversial one for some and this again comes down to where your personal priorities are. If you are a chef or spend all your time cooking in the kitchen then obviously the kitchen is of more importance to you than other spaces in your home. You then may choose to invest heavily on your kitchen appliances whereas someone else (like me) may opt to save a bit here.
Everyone’s budget is going to be different and while I would never suggest buying the cheapest refrigerator you can find, I do suggest not buying the most expensive. Technology and features are improving every day and many mainstream brands offer really great products that are affordable to most without requiring a second mortgage on your home to buy them.
Save on Lighting
One of my favorite bloggers wrote once about the importance of splurging on lighting because if you don’t the lighting looks cheap. It was a blanket statement and it really bothered me. It’s the one thing that has stuck with me about her because in my mind it felt out of touch and completely false.
We are all entitled to our opinions of course but here’s my take. Lighting is by far one of my favorite things to source for any space. It’s like adding jewelry to an outfit.
Lighting can make or break a space. It can either blend with a room or be the focal point. That’s what makes me love lighting so much.
Now when it comes to saving or splurging, like appliances, flooring and so many other things, the range of options available is becoming so vast. There are so many reproductions of high-end designs that are equally as beautiful and still of good quality that you can truly get a great look for much less if you put in some effort.
For example, the oversized lantern light that I originally bought for our dining room and then moved to our family room when we did our kitchen and dining room renovations cost me about $75 and was a reproduction of a designer lantern that would have cost about $2500 for the same size.
Having seen both versions in person, I truly cannot tell that ours was a mere fraction of the cost of the designer version.
Now if you are only shopping the big box stores then your selections will be very limited and often lack the style and size options that you can find online. While B and I have purchased our fair share of basic lighting from home improvement centers over the years, when we are looking for something more special, we do go elsewhere and tend to spend a bit more but not splurge worthy.
Save on Tile
Here’s another controversial place to save. When it comes to floor and wall tile, prices range from around a $1 per square foot to well over $50 per square foot. Again, decide where your priorities are but keep in mind that when it comes to tile, there are quality options in materials like porcelain that are essentially reproductions of more expensive tiles like concrete, marble and natural stones that look just as good as their more expensive counterparts. Porcelain tiles are very durable and look great too.
By going the cheaper route, you can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars simply by choosing a less expensive tile with the same look as the high-end options.
If you can’t skip the more expensive tile then get creative with how you use it. For example, rather than do your entire backsplash in your kitchen, use the pricier tile as an accent behind your oven range to create a focal point and then use a less expensive tile everywhere else.
We did this at the beach house. Keeping the price per square foot of the house in mind should we decide to sell it eventually, we have been very mindful of the cost of materials we are using so that we don’t price ourselves out of the neighborhood and lose money.
The tile I fell in love with and what became the foundation for all other design decisions was this beautiful Bedrosians tile. While it is actually a less expensive version of a concrete tile from Italy, even it was over budget for our small kitchen. Not wanting to find a cheaper tile, we came up with the idea of doing an oversized feature wall behind our oven range and do the rest of the kitchen in shiplap to match the rest of the house.
At first I was disappointed that we wouldn’t be wrapping the entire kitchen in this beautiful tile but now that it’s done, I have to save that I’m glad we used the tile more sparingly. I think it makes it a little more special and looks more unique than if we had just done a typical backsplash. Plus, what we had leftover inspired our upstairs bathroom design. More on that to come!
Save on Décor & Furnishings
When it comes to finishing your space and filling it up with all your “stuff” you have a ton of opportunities to save big. This is actually one of my favorite parts because it’s not a one-and-done deal and I love the thrill of the hunt. While investing in your primary furnishings; a quality sofa, the most comfortable mattress you can buy, a sturdy dining room table, etc., accent furniture and decor are great places to save.
Scour thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, clearance sections, Craig’s List and Facebook Marketplace, even Ebay and Etsy for all the finishing touches for a space. From accent furniture, antique side tables, inexpensive wall art and so much more, you’ll be amazed at what great things you can find with a little digging.
Plus, mixing old and new gives any space a more layered, interesting look compared to simply buying an entire display from your favorite retailer.
Remember, your decor and accessories are where you can really let your own unique personality shine through. Tell your story, collect over time instead of trying to fill your space all at once. Use plants, shop your own home and have fun.
Wherever you choose to splurge and save in your home, I hope that I’ve given you some things to think about for your own spaces. While I personally love saving everywhere I can, I’m also willing to splurge on something that I really love. The key is to understand yourself and the things you value the most and then put your money into those things. This will ensure that your space is a true reflection of you and will be a space that brings you joy and comfort for many years to come.