How to make room for redecorating in your budget

After living in apartments with white walls for most of my adult life, I was excited to become a homeowner when my husband and I got married. Paint options! Landscaping! Curtains! My house was a blank canvas, just waiting for me to decorate it. Well, the decorating buzz wore off quickly after I found out how expensive everything was. I thought, naively, that asking my mother-in-law to sew some curtains for me would be a cheap alternative…until I priced the fabric.

And that trend continued. Landscaping plants? Yee-ow! New flooring? My wallet felt pinched again. Despite the sticker shock, we have accomplished a lot in the six years since we've moved to our current home.

The first check I always need is a reality check

Redecorating on a budget - Lisa's kitchen before

Lisa Aberle's kitchen before redecorating

I love reading DIY blogs and magazines, though their ideas of inexpensive kitchen remodels are usually different than mine. But I have to be careful: When I flood my brain with picture after picture of fantastic home makeovers, my house with lots of character seems in need of a major face lift.

For instance, when we moved in six years ago, the kitchen was my least favorite room in the house.

Dark, peeling cabinets, atrocious drawer pulls that caught every bit of flour that drifted off the counter, chartreuse counter tops, lots of very shallow drawers, and more unpleasantness welcomed me every morning.

Such a room practically begged for some TLC, and I had ideas of how everything — even the layout of the appliances — could be improved. But I didn't want to do anything at all, until we had saved enough money to do things exactly the way I wanted to do them.

We planned to do most of the work ourselves which would have saved a bundle. But with the average kitchen remodels nearing $20,000 (and I think that's kind of conservative), it would have been expensive.

DIY, the answer to life meets budget

Anyway, somewhere between adopting our children and quitting my full-time job, we decided that a full kitchen remodel was not a responsible use of our money. Instead, I allowed my husband to do what he had wanted to all along: paint the cabinets and walls and replace the drawer pulls and handles.

DIY - how to redecorate on a budget

Lisa Aberle's kitchen after redecorating DIY

For less than $400, we went from dark to for-$400-this-is-a-major-improvement. It's not really impressive, but we saved a lot of money.

Even though we still deal with shallow drawers and no range hood, I don't even think of making other improvements. I am also happy we don't have tens of thousands of dollars wrapped up in a kitchen.

I think I will cook here happily for another decade or two, beating eggs on my Formica chartreuse counter top. (If you spent money on a kitchen remodel, don't read this as a condemnation. We just did what was best for us.)

My best money-saving tip may actually prevent you from spending money at all: Figure out what you really like and what fits your house.

For instance, our house feels cottage-like.

Even though I think granite counter tops and stainless appliances and gorgeous cabinets are, well, gorgeous, it wouldn't fit in our simple house.

It would make the rest of our rooms look shabby by comparison.

Look for unexpected sources of inexpensive materials

1. Paint

Two rooms in our house were painted with leftover paint from my sister's house. I think I paid her some money for the paint, but I know it was below market value.

Redecorate on a budget with leftover paint

Lisa Aberle's kitchen makeover with paint

I was happy to get the colors I was looking for, and my sister was glad to declutter.

Many paint manufacturers are now selling small sample jars. As someone who can't pick colors well, those sample jars have saved me several times.

Even when I've picked the wrong hue, I have taken the paint back in and had the color changed slightly.

(This can be tricky, but I have a favorite paint guy who can usually handle my color-changing quirks!)

2. Fabric

As I mentioned, I couldn't believe (and still can't) how expensive fabric is. But look beyond fabric stores. For instance, I found two king-sized duvet covers made of cool fabric at a thrift store for $3. While I plan to use one as a duvet cover, the other will eventually be made into curtains. What about bed sheets? Vintage bed sheets may have really fresh prints, despite their age. While I haven't done this, I would consider making pillows out of old clothes, if I found a pattern I liked.

3. Floors

Before we sold our first house, we wanted to put new linoleum in the bathroom. It just so happened that friends of ours had just put new linoleum in their bathroom and wanted to get rid of the extra. We had to make one extra seam, but it looked good.

And our new house had a similar story. Again I didn't want to do anything with one of our bathrooms until I had enough saved to do things exactly as I wanted them. Well, I decided that time was further off than I originally imagined, so we bought some paint (full price this time) and I stopped by our flooring place. “Do you have any remnants that are this big and in this color family?” They did. For $25, we put new flooring in our bathroom. Again, this was a major improvement with a minor effect on our wallet.

Don't underestimate the power of small improvements. And don't forget to let your family and friends know what you're looking for. Maybe they have just what you need for free or at low cost.

I spend a lot of time at home now. When I look around, I want to see reflections of our family and experience chaos-free living (or at least as much as Legos underfoot will allow — I never knew the pain of stepping on one until this year!). And it's best for my family if I can make our house a home as cheaply as possible.

Do you have any tips on how to find inexpensive materials for your living quarters?

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MoneyAhoy.com
MoneyAhoy.com
6 years ago

Sounds like you guys made out pretty well. Do you have any before and after pics? It sounds like you did it right – the best thing to do before starting a project like this is to set a budget and explore your options. It sounds like that’s what you did here.

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  MoneyAhoy.com

I do have before/after pictures. If I can’t get them into the article, I will email you them if you want.

A-L
A-L
6 years ago

I’ve had to cut myself off a lot from HGTV because I didn’t want to become unhappy with my home (which I love). Watching home after home totally redone with the most expensive finishes or hearing people complain about walk-in closets that are too small, bathrooms with only one sink, etc. seems a bit ridiculous to me in my 1915 home without a single walk-in or double vanity. But I don’t want to turn wistful about it. Better be happy with what I have than envious of something I don’t and spend a lot of money to get it (redoing/expanding… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago
Reply to  A-L

I stopped watching those shows for the same reason — I think the shows play up the whining and melt downs for dramatic effect too.

MoneyAhoy.com
MoneyAhoy.com
6 years ago
Reply to  A-L

I never really thought about this, but that’s a great point. After that much immersion, it has to impact your subconscious thoughts on some level.

I was also a HGTV addict, but got rid of it since we dropped cable. That was about the only station we ever watched on cable.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  A-L

Most of those decorating “reality TV” shows are not real anyway. They are always scripted and the materials used in the projects are usually removed from the home after filming is over.

Kathy
Kathy
6 years ago
Reply to  A-L

I also have issues with HGTV. The house hunter shows always have people over buying. Kids buying their first home want luxury materials that it took their parents 30 years to acquire. And every house that hasn’t been updated with the most expensive, fancy materials are considered to be gut jobs. Do those buyers really think that people remodel their homes every 5 years just because a new material or color has become the newest popular must have? And the real estate agents aren’t much better. Every criticism is declared to be an easy fix. New light fixtures? That’s an… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Kathy

House Hunters is scripted for the most part. People need to realize that its for entertainment purposes, not education.

Clara
Clara
6 years ago

I like to look at decorating magazines that emphasize a vintage or a cottage look. They tend to be full of nice ways to upgrade a home without a lot of expense. I also use yard sales to update things. Living in an older and smallish house, many of the furnishings I see in furniture stores would look ridiculous in my house. Just too big. So I tend to gravitate towards moderately priced antiques.

Brian
Brian
6 years ago

I think paint it your biggest friend, changing color in rooms can go a long way. One little tip I’ve seen used which makes a big difference is using color on ceilings, instead of just plain old white.

Carole
Carole
6 years ago

In these shows it amazes me that a couple with jobs that sound rather average can afford the homes they are looking at. They often seem to want something that their dog will like. Of course the kitchen is always “dated”. We have to remember that these are basically entertainment shows. I imagine the person who wrote today’s article has a very, attractive home with a lot of personality.

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  Carole

Thank you, Carole. I do think our home is very attractive with lots of personality :).

Elderly Librarian
Elderly Librarian
6 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Aberle

I enjoy Lisa’s writing style!

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago

Oh, wow, that is so kind of you!

Anna
Anna
6 years ago

I bought an 801 sq foot condo last year that’s about 25 yrs old and had all the original cabinets, appliances, flooring, etc. I got a great deal on some good used Kitchenaid appliances (convection oven for $150 and stainless-inside dishwasher for $100!). I have had some work done in the kitchen this year and I so want to do more, but the money isn’t there yet! As much as I love the look of granite countertops and stainless appliances, I don’t know if I’ll recover the cost when I’m ready to sell – that’s definitely a consideration. My kitchen… Read more »

Kristin
Kristin
6 years ago
Reply to  Anna

My view is that stainless steel and granite are today’s avocado and harvest gold, and will be out of style in a few years, and the kitchens that contain them will be “dated.” I agree with previous poster Brian who said that paint is one’s best friend. I just painted our bathroom and it looks so much better than the washed out color it was before. A big improvement for not a lot of money. Although I was surprised at how much things like towel bars and robe hooks cost. I wanted to replace them as well, since the existing… Read more »

FI Journey
FI Journey
6 years ago

Since my wife and I starting using more neutral paint colors a few years back we’ve been able to make our paint last a good bit longer, since those colors can be reused in other areas around the house.

remy66
remy66
6 years ago

Great post. I would add : epty your house.
If you throw away what you don’t really need, you’ll have less repair.

Kate
Kate
6 years ago

I have to admit, I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I don’t want to spend a whole bunch of money unnecessarily on home renos and decorating. On the other, we live in a house whose previous owner was a very inexperienced DIYer, and it shows. There is laminate tile all over the basement that doesn’t line up, there are chunks of carpet stapled together to make a rug on the stairs (rather than a stair runner), there are shelves installed into the drywall without the proper screws, and she tried to do DIY plumbing. Other than… Read more »

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
6 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Along those lines, don’t rush it – especially if it’s your first time doing a project. We’re pretty experienced DIY-ers by now (we’ve renovated both our house and a duplex), but if you look at one of the first projects we did – tile around a bathroom vanity it’s not so great. It was a rush job (we were moving in and wanted a sink in the bathroom), and it shows. Since then we’ve done other tile work that is excellent, so I know if we had taken the time we could have made that amazing as well. But we… Read more »

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  Kate

I agree. Our DIY skills have improved, but you can definitely tell what our first project was (incidentally, Mrs. PoP, it was bathroom tile!).

Diane
Diane
6 years ago

Don’t overlook places like the Habitat ReStore, if you have one in your area. You can usually find good building materials there much cheaper than retail, and sometimes working appliances, sinks, etc.

Tiffany
Tiffany
6 years ago
Reply to  Diane

I’ll second the Habitat for Humainity ReStores! They are AWESOME! I found a whole bag of brushed aluminium door pulls (approx 40) for $10, a steal when the same thing at the big blue and orange stores was $2/pull. Also got a nice screen door for $2.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
6 years ago

Have kids, it will make any decorating or redecorating seem completely pointless.

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago

Haha, yes! Our hardwood floors that we painstakingly refinished are sprouting scratches like crazy, even though we’re trying to work with the kids on how to take care of things. Frustrating, but we’re trying to be realistic about it.

KK
KK
6 years ago

True! My 3 year old climbs on the kitchen drawers of my new kitchen! I have decided I will not buy much needed new couches until he is at least 6 years old.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

Which is one (of many) reasons why I’m not having them. 🙂

Sam
Sam
6 years ago

Paint can work wonders, ask can better lighting and a few inexpensive accessories. My husband and I are planning a redo of our home office, we have the plan, not just waiting until we have a little time. We got some great ideas from the many Ikea hack websites that are available. So we are creating a built-in system utilizing Ikea cabinets and bookshelves, paint, and some trim boards.

There are so many great websites with easy DIY ideas, so make sure you do your research.

We also utilize a house project target savings account.

Katie
Katie
6 years ago

I feel compelled to mention restore – the thrift stores that are affiliated with habitat for humanity. We’ve purchaseds marble tiles for 10 cents each, paint, a garbage disposal, etc. Worth a peek if there’s one in your area.

Taryn Lund
Taryn Lund
6 years ago

I think beyond just trying to find cheap materials a big part of saving money on decorating is to have a game plan. Like with any large expense, you need to research your options, set goals and priorities, and plan a budget. If you realize you have (for example) $2000 to make some immediate changes, and then $50 a month after that for smaller projects you can prioritize what needs to be done first and what can wait. It also allows you to set aside a savings plan for big ticket items that might be currently out of reach. Another… Read more »

Mike Collins
Mike Collins
6 years ago

Even do it yourself jobs can cost a lot more than you would think. I think they key is to take one step at a time. Start with one project or room and then move on to the next one. That keeps you from biting off more than you can chew or breaking your budget.

Goldeneer
Goldeneer
6 years ago

I have done several frugal DIY renos for my investment properties. My best DIY reno was installing a granite countertop by myself for under $800. I’ve done this for 2 kitchens. It is possible to buy granite slabs for 8-9′ lengths, 25″ deep from local sources for under $300/slab. They are typically from China and have the top surface and edge polished. I made a template from paper in order to trace the back edges that meet the wall of the kitchen. With this template, I also marked the sink hole. Cutting Using a $50 hand held angle grinder with… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
6 years ago

Some big suggestions: become friends with a handyman/carpenter/contractor. There are many many jobs around the house it may be worth it to have someone a little more experienced do. Have you or your spouse sit in, possibly help while they are working, so the next time, maybe able to handle job. We have renovated pretty much our entire house, but we did it in seperate jobs and stages so we could pay as we went. As far as shopping, I love habitat for humanity and related type stores that sell not just furniture but other house materials. But go with… Read more »

Marie
Marie
6 years ago

I’ve found HGTV shows to be a good source of knee-slapping fodder, rather than frustration. I remember one in which the ditzy decorator was excited to make faux stained glass sconces by melting gummy bears into a swirl of color, then hardening them to plastic sheets. The mental picture of the ants that would be crawling all over them within the day had me gagging. As far as the learning curve of DIY, I’ve found it best to do a mini-apprenticeship by helping competent friends with projects before attempting my own. They get free labor while you get their guidance… Read more »

Diane C
Diane C
6 years ago

Don’t forget freecycle! I believe someone else mentioned Craigslist, which is another great resource. Where I live, there is a recycling center for paint and other hazardous liquids. They mix up the paints and GIVE IT AWAY! If you choose a light enough color, you can take it to a paint store and customize the color for a very nominal charge. Most important, IMHO: Don’t put off these projects. Do them sooner than later, so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor. I think it’s so sad when people wait to fix up their houses until they’re ready to… Read more »

Skint in the City
Skint in the City
6 years ago

I bought a fixer upper too Lisa – and nine years on we are still fixing it! In retropect it migh have been as cheap to buy a house that was already ‘done’, since a lot of money has gone into doing it up over the years. Still, like you, I’ve learnt a lot of tricks on how to breathe new life into old rooms on a budget. Paint is my best friend – not just for walls but for fleamarket furniture. A lick of silver or gold paint and some funky handles has transformed dressers and side tables in… Read more »

superbien
superbien
6 years ago

Oh your kitchen looks so amazing! It’s like a totally different space! Wow. I love the teal/aqua walls under the cabinets, it makes it look very luxe.

Also, you may not realize, but the combo of teal/aqua and chartreuse is not only a good combo, but is extremely “in”… well done making it look like you actually designed it from scratch to have a fresh colored kitchen!

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  superbien

Thanks! I had no idea chartreuse and teal were in, BUT I did find some (expensive) material to make some curtains with that has those two colors. Who knew?!

David Smith
David Smith
6 years ago

Sprucing up your home can be done economically. All you need is to plan things ahead. Buy inexpensive materials and get a trustworthy contractor. Doing-it-yourself is practical if you do not have enough funds.

Tina
Tina
6 years ago

I am the queen of inexpensive design. I went to college for design but I can’t understand how people can spend so much on decorating it. I got my red sectional sofa on craigslist for 250.00, vases and other accessories at Michaels(can find beautiful vases for 4.00!) reupholster my own chairs and have even bought outdoor fabric on craigslist and shop thrift stores for other things. Curtains are one place it is better to purchase because regular fabric is expensive but for small projects, check the remnant bins. I couldn’t afford to replace our bathroom vinyl so I painted it!… Read more »

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