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  • Writer's pictureNathan Zarcaro

8 Tips for Renovating a Home on a Budget

Updated: Aug 14, 2023


Homeownership is expensive. That should not come as a surprise to anyone.

And even after you’ve purchased your house, it is common to do all types of renovation and maintenance projects.


Many new homeowners, myself included, love the idea of living in a modern home with a beautiful white picket fence and a luscious green lawn. But in reality, it can be really expensive.


So, how are you to balance, the expenses of homeownership, student loan debt, and all of your other financial obligations, all while trying to build a home a home that is gorgeous?


Today I’m back to give you 8 tips for renovating a home on a budget in 2023.




What are home renovations?


Home renovations are projects that you want to complete around your home or property in order to:


  • Make it more modern

  • Improve your curb appeal

  • Make cosmetic changes that you find more suitable to your taste


These renovations may occur in any room with your house, including your kitchen, your bathrooms, your bedrooms, your living room, or any outdoor space across your property.


Renovations may be made for a number of purposes, including:


  • Something in disrepair

  • Something that needs updating

  • Something that you simply want to change



Completing home renovations on a budget


When you buy a home, you need to be careful, or else your excitement to make it your own may quickly become anxiety over the money required to do so.


Luckily, I have 10 tips designed to help you complete your home renovation projects, without breaking the bank.



1. Keep a running list


Shortly after my wife and I bought our home, I found myself obsessing over everything that I wanted to update. What resulted was mental stress over striking the balance between wanting to complete projects and having to preserve my savings in case certain systems in my home needed repairs.


So, I created a list of the findings of my home inspection report, and which systems, appliances, and parts of my home were most likely to fail first. Then, I made a spreadsheet of these items, and I began to do research on the associated costs to fix or replace these features when they stopped working properly.


For example, our home inspector told us that we would likely need a new HVAC system within five years. It is estimated that a new HVAC system will cost us about $10,000, so we always strive to have cash savings on the side to cover it, should this expense arise at any time.


Then, after meeting my retirement savings goals, I put additional money away in a home renovation fund to be used for things like cosmetic updates rather than fixing faulty systems.


This way, I know I am preparing financially for all outcomes.



2. Start slow with home renovations


Like I mentioned, I anticipated starting home renovations, soon after closing and moving into my new home. But after moving in, I quickly realized that my avocado green shower did not bother me anywhere near as much as I thought it would.


The same proved true for the wooden toilet seats and the 1970s style kitchen cabinets.


The moral of the story is this: it is okay to start slow.  Instead of spending thousands of dollars right off the bat, we decided to take on more manageable projects, like painting, walls, planting flowers, and replacing light fixtures and ceiling fans,


And while we still will renovate our kitchen in our bathrooms at some point, it felt good to save some money for the future, while at the same time start to make the house our new home.



3. Don’t underestimate curb appeal


My wife and I quickly found that some of our desire to complete home projects was to put our own stamp on our new property.  And while we decided to hold off on the interior, I did do a significant amount of landscaping on the exterior.


We quickly found that it was possible to make a huge difference without spending a ton of money. Curb appeal was easy to boost and more affordable than we could’ve imagined. This spring, I spent hours in the yard, digging out overgrown, old shrubbery, planting new perennials, removing weeds, and laying a fresh bed of mulch.


I was able to do a significant amount of work in my front yard for just $1,000, and our home now looks completely different from the street.


Many Americans think that plants are incredibly expensive, and they can be. But this is highly dependent on where you shop. I quickly found that the Lowe's and Home Depot garden centers in my area sourced their plants from local nurseries.


In fact, at one point, I found the same plant from the same nursery I had already visited in my area. The one difference? This one was much cheaper!


Anyway, I was able to save a lot of money and make a huge difference.



4. Use Facebook marketplace and other resale sites


My sister’s boyfriend was actually the first person to keep me in on this secret, but depending on the type of home renovation you are trying to complete, you may be able to source new or like new materials for a fraction of the cost on sites like Facebook Marketplace.


Sometimes, you may even get products for free.


After he told me about this little-known secret, I went on Facebook Marketplace myself and, just in my area, I found listings for slabs of granite countertops, as well as almost new backyard hot tubs for a small fraction of the price.


I also recommend that you explore online or in person warehouses and liquidation websites to see if you can find a great deal on materials you need. Sourcing materials for less can be the key that helps you to renovate a home on a budget.



5. Open a Lowe’s/Home Depot credit card


Depending on which store in your area is more prevalent, you may consider opening a credit card with either Lowe’s or Home Depot.


Generally, I am not a fan of advising my readers to open credit cards. However, in the event that you will be spending money, renovating your home, either on a DIY basis or with the help of a professional, receiving the rewards from these credit cards can absolutely save you some money.


I looked up the credit card perks offered by each retailer.


As of May 2023, the Lowe's credit card offered a flat 5% discount on your in-store and online purchases (most items eligible). Other benefits offered by Lowe's include special financing for qualifying purchases above $299, though I never recommend that you finance purchases made on a credit card.


Home Depot's credit card, on the other hand, offers no ongoing discount on your purchases, though they do offer some discounts for new cardholders.


Each retailer has a card without an annual fee, which is a necessity for me. But personally, I want nothing to do with special limited-time promotions, so I would be inclined to go with Lowe's.



6. Shop around for contractors and quotes


Anytime you’re renovating a home, and especially if you're on a strict budget, it is a good idea to get multiple quotes before committing to a contractor, installation company, or other professional.


That is not to say that you should always pick the cheapest quote, however.


Essentially, I recommend that you make sure that you are asking all the right questions before you make a decision. I find that it helps to frame your ideal outcome. This may vary from person to person, but I want to get the highest quality materials and labor I can, while adhering to the budget that I have set.


Some questions to ask during the quoting process include:


  1. What materials/finish do you recommend I use?

  2. What other options do I have, and how will this impact pricing?

  3. What are the pros and cons to each of these options?

  4. What else should I be aware of?



7. Consider alternate materials


Marble countertops are really having a moment in 2023. And while they look great, they are really expensive, even more so than granite.


My advice to homeowners looking to complete renovation projects on a budget is to consider alternate building materials when prices begin to get out of hand.


I am an avid HGTV watcher, and I routinely see episodes of my favorite shows where designers and homeowners alike shop for products, only to have to pivot at the last moment due to cost constraints.


Another great example of this is tile. Depending on the material and style of your tile, it is not uncommon to similar styles that vary greatly in price. Travertine, a versatile and highly sought after tile, comes in all sorts of quality, texture, and finishes, and prices per square foot can range from as little as $2 to as much as $20 or even $30.



8. Set a budget in advance of each project


For my readers that made it all the way through this article, I've saved my most basic piece of advice for last. Always, always, always set a budget in advance of each project.


And while it can be tricky and even painful to stick to it, it is critically important that you do. I find that it becomes easier to stick to a budget if you keep in mind that doing so will allow you to complete more of these renovation type projects in a shorter period of time.



Conclusion


Renovating a home on a budget is not easy to do. But with enough advanced planning and solid execution, it can be done, particularly if you follow the eight tips on this list.


Now, I want to hear from you. How do you stay on budget when completing home renovation projects in and around your home?



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About Nathan Zarcaro

Nathan Zarcaro is the founder of The Student Debt Destroyer and is passionate about personal finance related causes.  A 2018 graduate of Providence College's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Nathan studied Finance, and has worked for industry leaders in both finance and healthcare.  In his free time, Nathan enjoys playing golf and traveling with his wife Brigid.

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