You would never spend thousands of dollars on a car without researching the type of vehicle you need, selecting the features you want, and haggling with the salesperson for a fair price. Nor should you embark on a remodeling or decorating project without doing the same sort of legwork. Here are 25 tips that are sure to keep your budget on track.
1. Brake for garage sales. One person's junk can be a do-it-yourselfer's treasure. Never pass a garage sale or antiques store without stopping, especially when you're on vacation or passing through a neighborhood other than your own. Keep an eye on neighbors' curbside trash piles for great cast-offs.
2. Look for local outlet stores or wholesalers. They can be sources for buying plumbing supplies, kitchen goods, tile or stone, and other specialty items at huge discounts.
3. Utilize the Internet. Auction sites can help you comparison-shop for the best price on used furniture and other goodies, as well as bid on the items of your dreams. Some sites also offer free design advice and Q&A forums that allow you to post a question about a decorating or remodeling dilemma and read others' responses.
4. Scout out unwanted items. Snag overstocked or misordered items for a fraction of retail. Ask builders what they do with leftover materials, such as windows and flooring, or check out www.buildersexpress.com to bid on excess building materials.
5. Seek cheaper alternatives. If your heart is set on granite countertops, opt for tiles instead of a slab. If you plan on painting your new molding, choose urethane over stainable wood. Rather than costly hardwood wainscoting or paneling, search for wallpaper that mimics the look of wood.
6. Don't be afraid to bargain. Appliances with scratches or dents can be had at huge savings. Discontinued items, such as fabric, are often marked down dramatically, as are display models of sinks, faucets, and cabinetry. Offer to purchase them, and you might get a discount. Make sure to ask about the return policy before you buy.
7. Barter for materials or labor. Offer your skills in return for someone else's. For instance, pitch in during your brother's painting project in exchange for his assistance with yours.
8. Stick with standard sizes and models. Custom kitchen cabinets, for example, are very expensive. Save money by choosing stock ones, then attaching molding, corbels, or wood carvings for flair.
9. Seek out free advice. Take advantage of design services -- through computer-aided design (CAD) programs or from on-staff professionals -- at local boutiques, garden centers, and home improvement stores.
10. Rent or borrow what you don't have. Check with neighbors and friends for miter saws and power drills. Home centers rent heavy-duty tools, such as tile cutters, power washers, and nailers, for a weekend fee (usually about $50).
11. Stay put. When redoing the kitchen or bath, keep the fixtures and appliances where they are and work around them. Not having to move plumbing or gas lines will keep costs down.
12. Refresh, don't replace. Touch up scratches on sinks, tubs, and appliances with spray paints specially formulated for appliances. Or, check the Yellow Pages under "Bathroom Remodeling" for companies that resurface tubs and sinks for less than the cost of new models. You can also cover a dated refrigerator or dishwasher with wood or stainless-steel panels; some companies, such as Frigo Designs, stock standard sizes in kits.