How to Remodel Your Kitchen on a Budget – Costs & Design Ideas

Remodeling a kitchen is a big – and expensive – project. According to HomeAdvisor, the average kitchen remodel costs $22,185, and a full-scale remodel with custom cabinets, granite counters, and high-end appliances can come to $30,000 or more.

If you’re a homeowner with big kitchen dreams and a small budget, your heart is probably sinking as you read these numbers. But don’t give up hope yet! There are a lot of ways to stretch your kitchen remodeling budget. With the right combination of patience, creativity, and elbow grease, you can make a big impact in your kitchen for a few thousand bucks – or even a few hundred.

Better still, a kitchen remodel done on a budget can add value to your home. According to HGTV, most homeowners get back 90% to 100% of what they spend on a kitchen remodel when they sell the house. That means if you do that same project for half the cost, you can actually double your investment. Savings today plus returns tomorrow – that’s a win-win.

Many of the same tips that work for decorating on a budget also apply to remodeling. In addition, there are other strategies that can work for any kind of remodeling project, not just kitchens. These general savings tips fall into three main categories: planning, materials, and labor.

The first, most important rule for saving on a kitchen remodel is to take your time. Give yourself a few weeks – or even a few months, if you’re planning a major renovation – to get a clear idea of exactly what you want. Look at lots of different design ideas, price out various options, and get advice from contractors and other pros. Having a clear plan will help you avoid mid-project design changes, which can really jack up the overall cost.

As you plan, think about your priorities. It’s tempting at the start of a project to say, “While we’re at it, we might as well…” and tack on a whole wish list of other jobs to do at the same time. Before you know it, the scope of the project has ballooned to twice its size – along with the budget.

Instead, step back and look at your kitchen with a critical eye. Ask yourself what bothers you most about it, what you actually like, and what you don’t love but can live with. For instance, maybe you need new cabinets, but your existing counters and flooring are okay as is. The more of your old kitchen you can leave untouched, the less you’ll spend on the remodel.

This is especially true when it comes to the kitchen layout. Relocating your kitchen sink requires re-plumbing all the pipes that lead to it, and moving a range involves shifting gas or electric lines. Consumer Reports says either of these jobs will require at least a day’s worth of work from a plumber, an electrician, or both – at $45 to $145 per hour.

Even if you have to move things around, think twice before you add a lot of extra space to the kitchen. Big kitchens don’t just cost more to build; they can also be tiring to work in. According to Architectural Digest, each side of your kitchen “work triangle” – the space between the stove, fridge, and sink – be between 4 and 9 feet, and the three sides together shouldn’t add up to more than 26 feet.

The best way to save on materials is to keep what you have whenever possible. Often, a fresh coat of paint is enough to give dingy old walls, cabinets, or even counters a whole new look. You can also look to other rooms in your house for pieces you can reuse. Maybe that old bench you’re so tired of in your front entry would be just the thing for your new breakfast nook.

Here are a few other ways to save on materials for your new kitchen:

According to HomeAdvisor, about one dollar out of every four spent remodeling a kitchen is for labor – plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and so forth. The more of that work you can do yourself, the more money you can shave from your budget. So, it makes sense to DIY (do it yourself) whenever you can.

However, when you’re remodeling on a big scale, trying to do everything yourself is probably a mistake. Tackling a job that’s beyond your abilities won’t save you money if you end up having to hire a pro to fix your mistakes – or if you end up with hospital bills after an accident with an unfamiliar power tool.

When deciding whether to DIY or hire a contractor, research the job carefully to get a clear idea of what it involves. Be honest with yourself about your DIY skills, and decide whether it’s something you can handle on your own. If it’s a job you’ve done before, or one where a few rookie mistakes won’t do much damage, go ahead and tackle it. If not, leave it to the pros.

One part of the job you can probably do on your own is demolition. Tearing out cabinets and flooring is a lot easier than putting new ones in, and you don’t need a contractor’s license to swing a sledgehammer. Doing the demo work yourself turns the kitchen into a blank slate, so your contractors can come in and get straight to work on the more complicated jobs.

For the jobs that require professional help, the best way to save is to find a good contractor who will do the job right for a fair price. Take the time to get multiple quotes on each job – plumbing, wiring, and so on – and make sure you get all the details about what is included in the price. The lowest bid isn’t a bargain if all it gets you is a half-baked job. Call the contractors’ references, and, if possible, look at some of their recent work in person to assess their skills.

When you decide on a contractor, get a written contract with all the details spelled out. It should list every phase of the project and every product that’s included. Also, make sure contractors provide copies of their licenses, workers’ compensation, and liability insurance, so you know they’re still valid.

Most kitchen remodels focus on changing the biggest items in your kitchen – cabinets, counters, appliances, and flooring. However, you can also make a big impact with smaller changes, such as adding a new backsplash or changing the lighting. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save on all these updates, both big and small.

Cabinets are one of the biggest costs for a kitchen remodel. According to Consumer Reports, new cabinets can eat up as much as 40% of your total kitchen budget. That works out to over $8,600 for the average kitchen remodel.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to keep this cost down. Here are a few ideas:

According to HomeAdvisor, having new countertops installed typically costs around $3,100 for a mid-range kitchen remodel. However, the price can vary widely depending on what material you choose. Common countertop materials include:

As you can see, material has a big impact on total price. If you have 60 square feet of counter space, you could spend as little as $300 for a cheap laminate or as much as $4,500 for high-end stone. And if you want fancy details, such as a waterfall edge, that can add another $1,000 to the total.

However, if you have granite taste and a laminate budget, there are ways to get the look you want for less. For instance, instead of buying a solid slab of granite, you can get cheaper granite tile and install it over a base of plywood and tile backer board. Using a dark grout helps camouflage the grout lines so the granite looks like a single piece. If you do this yourself, it costs roughly the same as a professionally installed laminate countertop.

Another option is to mix materials. You can buy one slab of pricey granite or quartz and install it on an island, then go with a cheaper laminate in a complementary color for the rest of the counters.

New appliances usually account for around 15% of the cost of a kitchen remodel. Consumer Reports says a full suite of new appliances from mass-market brands will run you about $5,000. Pricey professional-style appliances from brands like Viking and Wolf can triple or even quadruple that cost.

Here are some ways to keep the cost down:

According to HomeAdvisor, new flooring for a mid-range kitchen typically costs $1,800 to $2,800. Here, again, the price varies depending on the material you use. Sheet vinyl can cost as little as $1,000, while hardwood – a popular choice for modern kitchens – costs around $4,000.

If your budget won’t stretch this far, here are a few cheaper flooring options to consider:

One of the most popular ways to brighten up a kitchen is to add a fancy tile backsplash that covers one entire wall. This project can vary widely in cost, since there are all different kinds of tile to choose from, including colorful glass mosaic tile, plain white subway tile, and even stone. Home Advisor says the cost ranges from $592 for 20 square feet of ceramic tile to $1,240 for 40 square feet of stone.

However, you can cut this cost considerably if you do the job yourself. Consumer Reports estimates that you can DIY a new tile backsplash for around $3 to $5 per square foot. If you’re tiling over a bare wall, or replacing an old backsplash that was laid over drywall, this is a reasonably easy job. However, removing an old backsplash from a plaster wall is much harder, so you might need to call in a pro.

If you’re on a really tight budget, there are other backsplash options that are even cheaper, such as:

Updating light fixtures in your kitchen is a twofer: The fixtures themselves look better, and the whole room looks better when it’s properly lit.

New lighting usually accounts for around 5% of kitchen remodeling costs – between $1,000 and $2,000, on average. Here are some tips to get the most bang for your buck:

Sometimes, no matter how you pinch your pennies, you just can’t afford a head-to-toe kitchen remodel that lives up to your dreams. In this case, consider remodeling your kitchen in stages, instead of doing everything at once. For instance, you might replace the flooring this year, get new counters next year, and add a backsplash and new lighting the year after that.

Doing a remodel in stages has several advantages. First, it gives you more time to save money for each stage of the project. Second, it lets you break up the work into manageable chunks, instead of having it take over your life for months. And finally, it gives you a chance to live with each small change and see how it functions, which helps you get a better idea of what you’d like to do next.

What’s your favorite tip for remodeling on a budget?

Categories: Family & Home, Home Improvement

Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including,, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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How to Remodel Your Kitchen on a Budget – Costs & Design Ideas

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