There’s never enough money.
Our dreams are fatter than our wallets. It’s easy to overextend—to throw a few extra bucks on the credit card—when embarking on a project. Here are a few quick tips that help us keep our budget in check:
1. Make automatic transfers to a home improvement savings account
We have a savings account designated for home improvement only. We’ve setup automatic monthly transfers into that account so that we don’t have to think about it. Otherwise, it’s too easy to say, “Well, the kitchen renovation is still a couple months away, but I could really use this bluetooth egg timer, like, yesterday, so maybe we skimp on the home improvement savings just this once.” No, it’s just there, automatically, in a separate account where it can’t commingle with our other money, and there are no decisions to be made what to do with the money. When the kitchen renovation rolls around, we pat ourselves on the back for being so fiscally prudent (which we aren’t).
2. Add a 25% buffer to budgets for large projects
Just consider that 25% gone so that you can be pleasantly surprised if you don’t spend it all. Speaking of surprises, houses are full of them. Want to open a wall? I promise there will be a pipe or electric or rotted wood that you didn’t expect to find. Surprises are expensive. Learn to expect them so that you don’t have to overextend to pay for them.
3. Make the most of credit card rewards
First, if you carry a balance on your credit card already, skip straight to #4. But if you’re able to pay off your balance each month, consider designating your rewards solely for home improvement. It’s free money. We use our Discover card for almost everything, and Discover allows us to redeem cash back for partner gift cards, which, in turn, give you even more free money. For example, we can redeem $45 of our cash back for a $50 Lowe’s gift card. We hoard those points until a big project rolls around and then revel in all that we’re able to buy for free. Of course, it isn’t free money if your balance carries over, so tread cautiously.
4. Bargain hunt
Don’t just buy everything at one big box store for convenience’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, we have a Lowe’s a half-mile from our house, and I now have squatter’s rights there. But, when we renovated our kitchen, we purchased our range from Sears, our sink from Amazon, our cabinets from Ikea, and so on. We probably saved thousands by researching and sourcing carefully. Our range hood has an inconspicuous ding in it, which translates to $50 in our pocket. The hammer drill I bought was a factory-reconditioned Bosch (i.e. not cheap), saving hundreds. We don’t intend to use the tile saw often, but purchasing a cheap one at Harbor Freight was just as cheap as renting, so we’ll be in the black next time we do use it. And of course, there’s always Craigslist. We found it was cheaper to replace our washer and dryer with a newer set off Craigslist than it was to schedule a service call just to get a repair estimate.
5. Do it Yourself
No surprise that we’re beating this drum, right? But be judicious about what you take on yourself—not just as it pertains to your abilities, but your sanity as well. Some projects are fun, others not so much. Some are easy, some are hard. I insisted on rerouting a cast iron radiator pipe when we renovated our kitchen. I was able to do it, and it saved us hundreds, I’m sure. But that seemingly small project exhausted an entire day (and me). Next time, I’ll likely hire a plumber to knock that out in a fraction of the time, while I focus my efforts elsewhere, bringing the cost and benefit more inline with one another. Nonetheless, doing most or all of the work yourself will save thousands on a large project. And there is nothing more rewarding than standing back and looking at what you built with your own two hands.
Give it a try.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please leave additional budgeting and savings tips in the comments. We want to hear them!