Update: I wrote this post about our first house a few years ago and it has been a popular post ever since! It’s got a few updates for you. I still gaze lovingly at the “after” pictures of that kitchen. I loved it so much!
When we bought our house, it needed
some work a ton of work.
Our county has a program to help first-time homeowners purchase their home. We bought a foreclosure home and then this program paid to have everything brought up to code and to fix things that were a health or safety hazard. It was absolutely amazing. They made our house livable.
However, just because our house was safe to live in did not mean it didn’t need any work.
Every room needed to be painted. The kitchen was ugly and not very functional, and a lot of small updates needed to happen.
It was actually kind of funny because blue is my least favorite color and everything in this house was blue. Blue walls, blue kitchen counters, and blue carpet. I’m glad to say that not much of the blue remains!
Update: I talked all about fixing up your house when you’re broke in a Facebook live session within our private community group (click here to join the group, we’d love to have you!). You can watch the replay below:
How to Fix Up Your House When You’re Broke
1. Make a List
Everything can be made better by creating a list, right?
A new house is overwhelming! Write down everything that you would like to fix or change.
Even little things like replacing lighting in the bedroom take time and money, so put it on the list. If you need to purchase any appliances, add those to the list too.
It’s ok if your list is five pages long because you’ll decide what’s most important next.
2. Set Priorities
It’s time to focus.
We had all kinds of ideas for our house about adding a second bathroom and putting on a deck. While those things would have been great, we needed to set our priorities.
Decide what’s most important.
We focused on painting each room first. It’s relatively inexpensive to do and makes a house feel like it’s yours. We also bought a washer and dryer, the scratch and dent ones from Sears, so that we could finally do laundry at home (hallelujah!).
Since we had a tiny income, we lived in our house the way is was for a while after that. We had a long list of projects, though, and the #1 priority was the kitchen.
3. Create a Project Budget
I did a ton of research to figure out what we needed to do to our kitchen and estimated how much it would all cost. I came up with a budget of $1000 to update the kitchen.
Research what needs to be done and come up with a budget for your next project.
Don’t forget to add in the little things. All of the tiny finishing touches don’t cost much by themselves, but they all add up.
4. Save Up
If you already have money saved up for projects, that’s awesome! Stick to your project budget and make it happen.
If you need to save up, start working on that. Work bonuses or tax returns are an awesome way to get money for a project.
I’m all about paying cash. Save up the money beforehand so that you don’t go into debt working on your house or have to stop halfway through because you ran out of money.
5. Do It Yourself
Do as much of the work as you can by yourself. Paying for labor is expensive!
We’ve been lucky enough to have family help us with most of our house projects, and it is a huge blessing. Some things are best left to the professionals, but you’ll save a chunk of money if you do a lot yourself.
Read some tutorials and watch YouTube videos to learn how to do your project yourself. You might be surprised what you can do and how easy some of it is.
(Sorry for the bad quality “before” pic, but you get the idea, right 🙂 )
6. Shop Holiday Sales
Hardware stores usually have good sales around the holidays.
We’ve gotten paint buy 1 gallon, get 1 free on Memorial and Labor Day weekends.
If you’re going to order anything online for your projects, check Ebates to see if you can earn cash back. I earned cash back for ordering our washer and dryer, plus window treatments. There are SO many stores that you can earn cash back at through Ebates, so it’s always worth checking.
Even if you’re not ready to do the work yet, start checking the sales for what you need for a month or two before you start. You might be able to save money by hitting up a good sale.
We saved money on our kitchen by shopping the sales at big hardware stores and buying stock cabinets and counters. If you buy what’s in stock, it’s always much cheaper than choosing custom finishes.
7. Shop Resale Stores or Free Sites
Just because someone else didn’t want it doesn’t mean it’s bad!
Shop around at resale shops, especially at a Habitat for Humanity resale shop, for materials. There may be discount home improvement stores in your area to check. We’ve seen nice bathroom vanities, lighting, and doors going for a fraction of what they cost new.
Austin’s uncle redid a bathroom with materials from the free section on Craigslist. He got some nice stuff, and it turned out great.
The more time you have leading up to a project, the more time you have to be on the lookout for good deals.
A tight budget doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with your house the way it is. By setting priorities, doing most of the work yourself, and finding ways to save money, you can do quite a lot!
8. Borrow or rent tools, instead of buying
We all know how many tools home improvement projects need. Especially if you are doing it all yourself. And these tools aren’t cheap. Instead of buying them, it’s better to rent them or borrow from a friend. Look for a tool-lending library in the town where you can rent what you need for a minimal fee or sometimes even free of charges as a form of community sharing.
Since you won’t be needing them after you’re done with your projects, it’s better to save money and spend it perhaps on new paint.
9. Focus on the little things that can make a big difference
You don’t have to take on the big-ticket items to fix your house. Replacing windows, doors, and the deck sure can give your house a very appealing facelift. But the chances of that happening are thin when you’re on a budget.
Little and inexpensive things like new paint, doorknobs, ceiling fans, faucets, bathmats, and toilet seats can actually make a huge difference. These little items will give your house that new and improved look in less money.
DIY Home Improvement Ideas to Make Big Improvements for Little Money
1. A coat of paint can do wonders
A coat of new paint is easily the most transformative thing you can do for your house on a budget. The best part is that you don’t necessarily have to hire a professional. Do a little research, watch a couple of YouTube videos, buy some useful tools and you can do the job yourself. Here is how we’ve redone a basement room that was a little too dark (see before and after pic below).
2. Install new doorknobs, switchboards, and light fixtures
Like I said above, little things can make a huge difference. Doorknobs and switch plates are easy to overlook but install new shiny ones and you will see how the whole space instantly gets elevated. The same goes for light fixtures and faucets. Good lighting opens up the room and makes your space look bigger.
Faucets, however, tend to be a bit expensive. But you don’t have to replace all the faucets in your house at once. Start with the kitchen and do the bathroom next month. You might also find some discount deals on your local home improvement store.
3. Add an inexpensive stair runner
The whole staircase can’t be ripped apart and replaced when you’re on a tight budget. Try an inexpensive runner instead to give your stairs a non-slip new look. Check out a thrift store or get the biggest table runner you can find (which works for stairs, of course).
4. Accentuate with crown molding
Another way to upgrade your house is by adding crown moldings. But the easy way. Look for lightweight foam moldings (polystyrene foam coated in hard plaster). They are not only inexpensive but also easy to cut and install.
You can finish this project over a weekend and give your rooms an elegant touch.
5. Introduce greenery to your home
THE most inexpensive way to give your home a new look is by adding greenery. Never underestimate the transformative power of lush green leaves and bright flowers.
Add a bunch of easy-to-maintain indoor plants like the snake plant, aloe, money plant, jade, rubber plant, and Philodendron to your living room. The greens will breathe a new life into your space and make it look brighter.
6. Add new curtains, rugs, towels, and sheets
Faucets and light fixtures seem too much? Replace curtains, rugs, towels, and sheets instead. You won’t have to spend a lot of money and will still get a new look.
Why Should I Fix My House?
When you’re on a stringshoe budget, you’re tempted to ask why bother? The truth is that fixing up your house will make a lot of things easy for you. Here are a few benefits:
Fixing it will increase the market value
Your home will become more comfortable for you to live in
It will be more inviting and welcoming for your guests
You will be able to enjoy your house to its fullest potential
Read these Posts to Save Money on Birthdays & Groceries:
- Save On Your Groceries with this $50/Week Cheap Grocery List
- How to Make Birthday Special When You Are Broke: 50+ Cheap Birthday Ideas
- Living on $2500/month: Look at Our Actual Budget
Monday 21st of February 2022
Creating a budget and savings plan helped us out like crazy to refinish our cabinets. That was awesome tip and I can't thank you enough for it.
Monday 10th of September 2018
I really appreciate your tip to try and save up money so you can avoid going into debt if you are renovating your house. My wife and I recently moved into a house that is a fixer-upper, and we want to make sure that we get everything fixed. I will be sure to tell my wife that we should save up money before we start any repairs!
Monday 10th of September 2018
I'm glad it was helpful Mark! Having the cash up front to pay for your projects will take so much stress off. And it may help you stretch your money further when you have to get creative about ways to stick to your project budget. Good luck!
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Sunday 18th of September 2016
Thank you for the info. Where did you get the counter tops....or were they already there? Counter tops and back-splashes are where it gets pricey. Any suggestions please?
Sunday 18th of September 2016
Our countertops are just laminate. We bought what was in stock at Lowes. They have hundreds of options that you can custom order, but you'll save a ton of money if you pick what they keep in stock. We don't have a backsplash. Our counter goes up a few inches and then I used semigloss paint so that it wipes clean easily. It's not perfect, but it gives a nice, updated look.