Build on a Budget: Home Improvement Tips for Saving Money

Home Improvement

Most people have an aversion to do-it-yourself home improvement that comes from previous projects that went poorly.  In many cases, the time and money spent on simple fixes quickly spirals out of control, leaving home owners with less money, and supplies they didn’t need.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Home improvement doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor, and there are lots of ways that home owner can shave a few dollars to make home improvement significantly cheaper and hassle-free.

Plan, Plan, Plan

“Measure twice, drill once” is the advice that old carpenters and remodelers would give to their apprentices and trainees. Well, that advice also holds up when trying to save money on home improvement, but in this case the phrase should be “Plan once, then plan some more and talk to an expert before you spend any money.”

The time a person spends planning, organizing and researching their home improvement projects translates into money saved.

At the beginning of a project, home owners need to spend a good amount of time planning out exactly what they will be doing on their project. Many home improvement projects seem fairly easy on the outside. Changing ceiling tiles, for example, seems really easy but the tiles are often brittle and it’s easy to break other tiles while replacing an old and worn out one.  In a few moments your project can go from one simple repair to a series of complex problems.

The way to avoid issues like this to research a project as much as possible and take as much time as necessary to plan things out. Instead of watching just one internet video about a project, search for several different videos of similar projects and notice the common elements. Take note of what tools and parts will be needed and make a detailed list of each tool and supply that you will need – plan out each step as far as possible.

This is also the time to think about which of your friends and relatives have tools that you may borrow; not having to buy an expensive tool for one job is a great way to start saving money for home repairs.


English: Salvation Army Thrift Store, Santa Mo...

Scavenging is another great way to save money on home construction. Many times people sell or throw out objects that they no longer have use for, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be used on your home improvement project.

Stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army often have furniture and items that are priced low and can often be turned into something worthwhile. Thrift store items are usually a good place to test out some new techniques without much consequence as well. Testing out your sanding, stripping and staining technique on an inexpensive second-hand coffee table will give you practice and keep you from damaging the parts of your house that you can’t afford to mess up.

Thrift stores offer many different items that can be easily refreshed to look good and improve your house, but advanced do-it-yourselfers can do much more with scavenging.

With a little experience you may be able to start transforming items you scavenge into something completely different. For example, in the past few years antique dealers have been turning old doors and windows into coffee tables. These have been very popular, and can sell for hundreds of dollars, yet the raw materials likely cost little to nothing.

Turning scavenged items into home improvements takes patience, time, and vision.  A homeowner has to see more than just the object and must look at the potential for what the item can become.

Retail Outlets

If you are looking to save money on your home improvement project, then most major retail outlets are going to be the last option before paying someone to do it for you, but that doesn’t mean that a thrifty homeowner can’t find some great deals at the lumberyard.

English: Baton Rouge, LA, March 4, 2006 - Loca...

Many large cities now have dedicated discount hardware and supply stores. These stores are often stocked with products that were either over stocked at other retailers or are irregular products that could not be sold in other outlets. These stores often offer large discounts and can have significant savings over buying materials from a big box store. There are also online retailers that offer deals. offers deep discounts on wood flooring and other items.

Big box stores also offer savings, but they are going to be priced significantly higher than discount outlets. You can save money by shopping when items are on sale or looking for items that are damaged or have been returned. Many shoppers buy materials they don’t need and return them to the stores, but the store cannot sell them as new, so they are sold at a discount.

Homeowners can also save money by buying scrap wood at big retailers.  Most large hardware stores have areas where they will cut wood for customers and often times there are scraps and extra pieces left over. Often times these leftover pieces can be purchased at a large discount and can be very useful. Why pay full price for a piece of wood that you only need 1 foot of?

Obviously big stores are going to have limited potential, but it’s up to the renovator to make the most out of these situations.

Every homeowner wants to make their house a better place, but that task can seem incredibly daunting – because it is!  Doing your own renovations or improving your home takes time and effort. If you want to save money while doing it, then it takes even more effort. But, with a little time and lots of elbow grease a homeowner can make significant improvements in their home without breaking the bank.

Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help consumers make home improvements while saving money with NerdWallet’s low interest credit cards.

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