We towed the fine line between building the kitchen of our dreams and avoiding the price tag of our nightmares. Now I’m sharing seven ways we saved, and how we managed to stay right on budget.
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If you’ve ever tuned in to an HGTV home makeover program or Googled the words “kitchen renovation,” you’re probably well aware that the price-tag on a full kitchen gut-job can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Some sources estimate that a minor makeover (like resurfacing cabinets or swapping out countertops) can land you in the $10k ballpark, while a full-blown, out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new kitchen remodel (think new cabinets, replaced appliances) can range anywhere from $20k – $50k. Others suggest that you should plan on allocating 15% of your home’s value on a kitchen remodel (umm hello, that’s like a second down-payment?!)
Those numbers are enough to make anyone woozy, but they were particularly daunting for a certain pair of accidental suburbanites who had dream home goals on a starter home budget.
Our kitchen journey was far from easy, but in the end, I’m proud to say we knocked the whole thing out for a fraction of those internet estimates (check out this post breaking down exactly what we did, and how we did it!) Today I’m sharing seven tricks that helped us achieve the kitchen of our dreams on our very tight budget.
1. Shop Strategically
Patience is a virtue. It’s also a necessary skill if you’re balling on a budget. We learned pretty quickly that there are tremendous savings to be had… the hard part is watching and waiting for the right time to buy.
Some savings are easy to spot. Take paint, for example.
My parents raised me right: they raised me not to steal, not to lie, not to cheat… and not to paint with anything other than Sherwin Williams. Luckily, the SW happens to have pretty frequent sales… with pretty substantial markdowns. Shopping on sale days saved us 30-40% on paint, and it meant that we were able to upgrade!
Some savings are less easy to spot, though. If you’ve ever shopped for appliances, you’ve probably quickly discovered that every day is a holiday in the world of washing machines and stoves. Stores will use any excuse to advertise “slashed prices,” but don’t let the red signs and exclamation points fool you… not all “markdowns” are created equal (and sometimes the fine print tells a different story.. *cough* mail-in rebate *cough*)
We found the best deals when we skipped the hoopla of holiday sales entirely, and realized that the best way to save on appliances… was to change the way we were shopping for them.
When we decided to replace our kitchen oven with a wall unit, we were overwhelmed by the in-store prices we saw… until we took the search on line. After a lot of browsing and price-comparing, we managed to save over a thousand bucks on our new oven / microwave combo unit with Goedekers (and they were beyond awesome to work with!)
Shopping online is a great way to save… and as an added perk, many retailers offer free delivery (which is a service that a lot of big-box stores charge for!) Google’s Shopping search function is an incredibly helpful tool for comparing prices and searching for deals. It doesn’t include all retailers, but it casts a pretty wide net and is a great place to establish a baseline when pricing out big purchases.
We saved big by shopping on line, but there are still deals to be had in brick-and-mortar stores. If your budget is tight and your patience level is high, discount appliance outlets like Sears Outlet can be a treasure trove of savings (though the trade-off means some appliances come out-of-box, with minor cosmetic damage, or without a warranty).
Speaking of open-box… it’s definitely worth your while to scan the open-box section of your local Home Depot or Lowes. The items can be hit or miss… sometimes you’ll find unopened, mint-condition items that have been returned, and sometimes you’ll find defective appliances that have been repaired (but are no longer covered by warranty). Pickings may seem slim, but keep an open mind and an open eye… you just might get lucky (we sure did!)
Shopping strategically doesn’t end with major purchases. We also saved big time when it came to stocking our brand new kitchen. Check out this post to get the run-down on how we found the best deals for our budget.
2. Do the Hard Shit Yourself
Gutting a kitchen and starting from scratch can be totally daunting (especially if you’ve never wielded a sledgehammer or hacked away at sheet rock with a jab saw before). At times you might feel tempted to just throw money at the first person who says “I can take care of that for you!” and let them take the reins.
Don’t give in to temptation. (Well, unless you shit diamonds and sleep on a pillow full of Franklins… in which case, why are you reading this post anyways?)
One of the best secrets for saving money during a kitchen makeover isn’t really a secret at all: DO IT YOUR (damn) SELF. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s something you’ve never tried before. Even when it means getting your hands dirty.
We were quoted over $1000 to remove our existing tile backsplash and install a new one (not including the cost of tile, grout, and adhesive). “No can do,” we said.
And the DIY savings didn’t stop there. We also saved several hundred dollars on labor by plumbing our sink and disposal ourselves.
These tasks may seem challenging at first (especially if you’ve never done them before), but there’s no better way to save (or to learn!) than by taking the initiative and picking up that jab saw. If you get stuck along the way, consulting the gurus on YouTube, Houzz, or other forums (all a Google search away!) can be a wealth of knowledge.
Still, it’s good to know your limits. While we were confident enough to take on some challenges, we were also content leaving bigger tasks to the pros (like installing our kitchen cabinets!) If you DO decide to enlist help, skip the Yellow Pages and try services like Thumbtack or Angies List (make sure you check reviews, get multiple quotes for a project, and negotiate for a fair price!) Before hiring a helping hand, it’s also a good idea to consult Home Advisor to price out jobs and make sure you’re getting a good deal.
3. Find “Hidden” Savings
Standing in our pre-remodel kitchen was incredibly daunting: everywhere we looked, we just saw more money that we would inevitably need to spend. We knew that every improvement or upgrade that we added to our ‘wish list‘ was driving up the total expense of this project. With that ever-growing sum in the back of our minds, our kitchen started to look more and more like an absolute money pit.
Don’t fall for that hype. YES, remodeling a kitchen is expensive, and YES, a lot of those expenses are unavoidable. But before you write off your existing space as a total gut-job, consider the savings that are right in front of you.
Tearing out kitchen cabinets? As tempting as it might be to grab the sledgehammer and pull a Chip Gaines, press pause and first consider whether your cabinets are in good enough condition to donate. If your kitchen is still in good nick, don’t just throw it in a landfill.. donate it! Besides helping someone in need, donating your kitchen can save you the expense of a tear-out!
Instead of paying upwards of $500-$1000 to have our existing cabinets removed, we donated them to Habitat for Humanity (read more about our experience here). They’ll remove cabinets and countertops for free (and you can even deduct the donation from your taxes!)
If donation isn’t an option, there are still ways to salvage items from your kitchen and find hidden savings by listing unwanted items (cabinet door hardware, old appliances, garbage disposal, etc.) on CraigsList. We were able to make a nice profit on the downdraft range oven that came with our kitchen, and that helped offset the expense of purchasing a replacement!
4. Turn Upgrades into Ways to Save
Shocking revelation: the word “upgrade” isn’t always necessarily synonymous with “more expensive.” Sometimes adding a custom touch or fun accent is actually a way to save. We learned that this is especially true when that ‘upgrade’ is replacing kitchen cabinets!
When we started the process of planning our new kitchen, we knew that reworking this awkward ‘bar’ area would be a key component in creating a cool (and functional) kitchen.
Just for kicks, here’s what we started with:
We knew that removing the wall cabinets would help to “open up” this weird little corner and give our kitchen better “flow,” but this decision wasn’t entirely motivated by aesthetics: what sweetened the deal was knowing that we would save a couple hundred bucks by opting not to install new wall cabinets over the bar. Instead, we backsplashed the wall and later added a pair of floating shelves (see how we did that here!)
Another place we saved by replacing cabinets with a cheaper “upgrade” was over our stove. This snazzy stainless steel hood adds instant “wow factor” (I can’t use that term with a straight face) over our range, and it actually cost less than if we had filled the space with cabinets!
5. Know when to Compromise
Back when we were in the planning stage of our kitchen makeover, my dad imparted on us these words of wisdom: “ya don’t gold-plate a Kia” (which is basically the antithesis of every episode of Pimp my Ride ever). Translation: don’t upgrade something beyond what it’s worth.
While it may be tempting to use a kitchen makeover as an excuse for upgrading every finish and installing every bell and whistle, it’s important to stay realistic… especially if you plan on getting some of that investment back when you sell. An upgraded kitchen is a great way to increase the resale value of your home… but only to an extent. Don’t upgrade your home beyond what it’s worth (and if you do… don’t expect a buyer to take the hit for your luxuries when you sell).
We kept our wish list (and budget) in check by nixing upgrades that had little return on investment. Pot-filler faucet behind the stove? Nice, but unnecessary. Upgraded glass subway tiles? Pretty… but not worth quadruple the price per square foot.
You can take inspiration from the pretty kitchens on Pinterest, but make sure it’s just the style you take inspiration from, and not the bottomless budget. Make “the look for less” your personal mantra, and find creative ways to replicate styles you like, at a price you can afford.
Did I love the look of a Rohl fireclay farmhouse sink? Heck yes! Could we afford to spend $3000 on a kitchen sink? HECK NO. But $299 for an Ikea sink with a similar style? Well, that we could manage.
Sometimes expensive upgrades are unavoidable. New appliances cost a lot, no matter how creative you get. When in doubt, base your investment on the permanence of an item. Don’t scrimp on cabinets, then blow your budget on luxury cast-iron stoneware. Your first priority should be to invest in the purchases that stay in your kitchen (that means quality appliances, dependable cabinets, Breton technology quartz…) Don’t blow your kitchen budget or compromise on the important stuff for the sake of anything that can easily replaced down the road (like pots and pans).
6. Invest in the Right Tools
When planning the budget for any home improvement project (especially as first-time homeowners who don’t have an established arsenal of power tools), it’s important to factor in the cost of tools and supplies. While planning for these often-overlooked expenses can easily inflate your project budget, remember that purchasing tools is an investment: you buy a tool once, but you might go on to use it for dozens of other projects.
That’s how we justified our decision to ‘invest’ in a wet saw. We were faced with the option of renting a saw for one day, or spending twice as much to own a wet saw forever. While the initial investment of purchasing a wet saw added $$$ to our budget, it saved us the hassle of having to rush through all of our cuts in one day… and it’s also something we’ll have available when we move on to tiling our bathrooms (you can read more about our experience using the wet saw to cut tile for our backsplash project here!)
I mentioned another one of our best investments in my recent post on pup-proofing our home (check it out here!) Investing in a good carpet cleaner has, in the long run, saved us hundreds of dollars that we might have spent renting machines.
It’s not always fun, but it’s true: sometimes spending a little money now, saves you a lot of money later.
7. Pace Yourself
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is the Pinterest-perfect home. Before you begin your project, make peace with the fact that you WILL be living with a ‘work in project‘ kitchen for a while. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine!
We started our kitchen last fall, and we were still working on the finishing touches when spring rolled around (this was partially due to the slew of other home improvement projects we were juggling alongside our kitchen makeover).
The point is: go at your own pace. Don’t rush for the sake of rushing, and don’t compromise on doing the job right the first time, just to get it done quickly. Good things take time, but it’ll be over before you know it. And when you’re standing in your beautiful new kitchen, all the blood, sweat, tears, late nights, and money spent will be worth it.
WANT TO SEE MORE FROM OUR DIY HOME MAKEOVER? HEAD ON OVER TO THE ‘BEFORE & AFTER‘ PAGE TO SEE HOW WE’VE TRANSFORMED THE REST OF OUR HOME!