Minimize stress, keep expenditures under control, and reap the rewards of a well-executed home improvement project by following these budget guidelines.
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Who doesn't want a home that looks like it belongs on the pages of a glossy home design magazine? Or at the very least, a few stylish rooms that you're proud to show off to guests. Remodeling your home, however, is generally an expensive undertaking. But no need to despair; it's entirely possible to stretch those renovation dollars significantly in order to achieve your home design dreams. To help you save on your next renovation project, we asked industry experts to share their tips for making the most of a remodeling budget.

remodeled modern gray, white, and wood kitchen
Credit: Nathan Kirkman

1. Focus on priority areas.

When trying to stretch a remodeling budget, it's a good idea to choose a few areas in your house that you really want to invest the most money in, then scale back your spending in other less important rooms.

"For most people, these areas are typically kitchens, foyers, powder rooms, and the primary bathroom," says David Steckel, a home expert at Thumbtack. "For other spaces, you can use more cost-effective items when it comes to tiles, hardware, lighting, and other details. As an example, you can go with marble countertops in the kitchen and Caesarstone in the kids' or guest bathroom. This will help you to mix in high-cost items in highly used or visible areas of your home and save money on others."

2. Combine projects.

Although this might sound counterintuitive when it comes to creating a home improvement project budget, the more areas you can get remodeled at the same time, the better, says Yoselin Castro, a senior interior designer with Portland-based Mackenzie Collier Interiors (MCI). Taking this approach is more efficient in the long run for many reasons.

"This includes saving time, money, and stress," says Castro. "Every remodel comes with fees necessary to get the project done, such as project management, permits, and even things like a port-a-potty for your construction crew. When you combine projects, contractors typically charge lower project management fees, since they can work on different things at [the same] time throughout the entire house, instead of waiting for a specific product for one space."

3. Ask for feedback on ways to cut costs.  

A good contractor should be able to value-engineer some items if they seem out of reach in terms of price, says Pamela O'Brien, principal designer with Pamela Hope Designs.

"For example, it's less expensive to frame a 10-foot ceiling than a 12-foot ceiling," says O'Brien. "While 12-foot ceilings are quite grand, they require more materials in everything from framing to trim to the window treatments themselves. Ceilings at 10 feet still feel tall, and can save on costs."

Steckel also encourages making the most of your design pros. "Encourage your remodel team to make suggestions, and make sure they perform a value engineering exercise where they analyze what the requirements of the project will be before beginning construction," says Steckel. "Leveraging the experience and knowledge of the team you've hired is key."

4. Make all design decisions before you start work. 

Finalizing a project's design elements can be exhausting and overwhelming. As a result, these types of decisions often get delayed until after you've started your home renovation. However, this approach can be bad news for your budget.

"Just as important as deciding on your budget before you start is the process of deciding on your plan, your materials, and even those pesky details like where you want new outlets," says Annie Elliott, product and design manager for New Again Houses, a company that transforms old houses into modern homes. "For example, if you put off the decision to move that wall that's always bothered you, you may spend too much of your budget early on purchasing fancy new exterior doors, forcing you to make a tough compromise later on your floors or go over budget to get what you want."

If your budget and your design decisions are finalized ahead of time, you and your contractor are much more likely to enjoy a smoother construction process, as well as a happier budget, says Elliott.  

5. Identify a few things you can't do without and compromise on the rest.

With oodles of access to inspirational (and sometimes over-the-top) design ideas through platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and more, it can be hard to say no to things you love but can't necessarily afford. 

"I always suggest picking a few larger remodel items you can't do without, building them into your budget appropriately, and then compromising on the rest," says Elliott.

You might want the best of the best, but the reality is that the ideas on those Pinterest boards you're making can get expensive. When it's all said and done, you'll be happy that you did a few things that make your home magical, and you won't even remember what the alternative options were for all those other smaller decisions you made.

blue kitchen marble counters and walls
Credit: Dylan Chandler

6. Only replace cabinet fronts.

When it comes to making decisions about a kitchen remodel, think carefully about your cabinets. If cabinets are still in good condition, you can leave the existing structure intact, suggests Carlos Adame, owner and project manager for Transom Remodeling, a Dallas-Fort Worth-based firm specializing in home remodeling. "Just replace the doors to give the entire space an instant facelift," says Adame."Upgrading just cabinet fronts in a 10x10 kitchen could save between $8,000 to $12,000." 

7. Opt for marble look-alikes. 

Another cost-cutting tip that can be implemented in your kitchen or perhaps even a bathroom: Skip the marble countertops. Marble is expensive. And on top of that, it requires frequent maintenance and care, says Adame. Selecting quartz, on the other hand, could help your renovation dollars go much further.

"Quartz is an engineered stone, making it a more affordable option," explains Adame. "Granite is another solid [budget-friendly] option for countertops."

8. Choose engineered wood instead of hardwoods.

Engineered wood is a great way to get the look of oak, maple, or cherry hardwood floors, but with more durability, at a lower cost.

"Engineered woods are designed to handle water spills, as well as wear and tear," says Adame. "Engineered wood is a layer of plywood bonded to a thin hardwood veneer, and does not need sanding or staining."

Bamboo flooring is another durable and affordable option, says Adame. Bamboo is a type of grass that has many benefits. The material does not absorb moisture, and won't expand and contract.

9. Don't purchase expensive hardware for every space.

Hardware, such as drawer handles and pulls, can range from $3 to more than $100 each. Splurge on hardware in the guest bathroom where you only need a few. Choose less expensive hardware for hidden areas (like your laundry room) or spaces that require many handles or pulls (like the kitchen, which could have between 50 and 100). "Make hardware choices based on the use of the space," says Adame.

white modern tile bathroom
Credit: John Bessler

10. Use solid subway tiles and simple patterns for tile installations.

It's easy to get carried away with tile designs. There are so many stunning options. But keep this in mind as you peruse picture after picture of gorgeous tiles: Adding multiple tile colors—or patterns, like herringbone—makes a tile installation more complicated, time-consuming, and (here's the key part) expensive. "When adding a pattern, there's waste in both labor and materials that could be avoided by choosing a solid tile," says Adame.

11. Be willing to get down and dirty.

In a dream world, all the tricky parts of a remodel would be done by an amazing team of contractors and professionals, but when numbers are tight, one of the best ways to cut down on costs is by rolling up those sleeves and doing the nitty-gritty tasks yourself.

"Of course, most major remodeling should be left to the pros, but when it comes to ripping up carpet or a quick paint job, a little DIY goes a long way," says Emily Yeates, principal designer at her full-service interior design firm Urban Revival

12. If it isn't broke, don't fix it.

As tempting as it can be to gut an entire kitchen that isn't to your tastes, if the cabinets are sturdy, it's much more budget-friendly to give them an updated coat of paint and new hardware than splurging on entirely new pieces. "Not to mention, typically cabinetry can be refinished by a professional in a fraction of the time it would take to build brand-new," says Yeates.

13. Save by buying in bulk.

It can seem tempting to piecemeal your way through your home improvement projects. However, this approach can often be costlier overall.

"If you know you want to replace the floors in your home, save up and do all of them at once," says Andra DelMonico, lead interior designer for Trendey. "You can secure volume discounts for buying a larger amount of supplies and have stronger negotiating power with a contractor."

14. Mix materials.

Last but not least, don't be afraid to have fun and mix things up a little with your design. Being willing to do so can make a big difference for your bottom line, and the final look of your home.

"While a house with incredible hardwood floors throughout sounds picture-perfect, it can be killer for the bank account," says Yeates. "Don't be afraid to mix materials! Think big fun tiles in the bathroom, a beautiful neutral carpet in the bedrooms, with extra spent on timeless flooring for the main areas. Using mixed materials is not only easy on the budget, but it can make a house feel more individualized and unique to your tastes."

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