16 Tips to Save on Home Remodeling


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The best way to save on housing is not to buy or rent more house than you need. The best way to fix up the home you have is to use some simple tips that can save from 20% to 50% on remodeling costs.

Food, clothing and shelter: the basic necessities, and expenses, of daily life. This week I’ve done posts on 28 Ways to Save on Food and 18 Ways to Save on Clothing. Now it’s time to tackle shelter.

There are lots of ways to save on shelter. I did a story not long ago that offered 3 Tips to Lower Your Rent. I’ve done stories on buying houses cheap, including How to Buy a Foreclosure. I did a story that featured 5 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast. I even did a story a few months ago about a $10 raffle for a three million-dollar waterfront mansion.

But let’s start at the foundation and build from there. The single best way to save on shelter is simply not to buy or rent more home than you really need. That not only saves you rent/mortgage payments. It can also save you in many other expense categories as well.

Here’s a quick paragraph or two about saving on shelter from my latest book, Life or Debt 2010.

Now let’s consider shelter. What’s wrong with living in a house that meets your needs for space and comfort? The reality that we’re supposed to buy into is that we “need” to spend at least 25% of our gross monthly income on a house that’s more a status symbol than a place to stay warm and dry. As a result, we find some people facing foreclosure and others living in mansions with rooms they’ve never visited. And those people are often unhappy because the status that comes with such a house in no way enhances their self-esteem. It does, however, significantly enhance their debt burden.

Who says that a modest house that provides shelter isn’t enough? This isn’t a law of nature like gravity. It’s invented by people who build houses, sell houses or lend money for houses. When I was a stockbroker, some of the wealthiest clients I visited lived in modest homes. Often much more modest than the homes of the heavily indebted salespeople that catered to them.

In my reality, a nice house is cool, but I try not to buy, clean, furnish or air condition more rooms than I actually need.

So much for buying houses; what about improving your home? Another place to save big. Watch the 90-second news story below for some quick tips, then meet me on the other side for more.

Now let’s recap those tips with a little more detail, then add some more.

  • Go to the ReStore. As you saw in the above story, you help others and save huge at the same time by checking out Habitat for Humanity ReStores. There are 400 nationwide: Here’s a list of ReStores locations. Added bonus: They may also take away your old but still serviceable cabinets, fixtures, etc. and save you the cost of having them hauled away. And even get you a tax write-off!
  • Bid on materials. As I also pointed out in that video, another place you can also find stuff super-cheap is at auctions. Here’s a link to US Treasury auctions, but do a search and you’ll find others.
  • Use salvage materials. Craig’s list and Freecycle are good sources. I found a good article on Walletpop about finding reclaimed materials.
  • If you’re hiring help, buy your own supplies. You heard the guy in the story: contractors might mark up the prices they pay for materials. So either buy the supplies yourself or, better yet, find a contractor that won’t mark them up and is willing to prove it by furnishing receipts.
  • Ask your help for help. Your hired help may have materials left over from prior jobs or know someone that does. Doesn’t cost to ask.
  • Be a laborer. While building stuff requires special skills, tearing stuff down and cleaning the worksite doesn’t. Help with the grunt work and save the money you’d be paying the grunts.
  • Do the simple stuff. Painting, sanding and insulation are all examples of home improvements that aren’t rocket science. And these days there’s plenty of free online help, including how-to videos, but be careful. Take it from somebody who knows: It’s easy to get in over your head.
  • Do it yourself… with training wheels. When I wanted to put recessed lighting in a house I owned a few years back, I hired an electrician to basically tell me what to do and watch me do it. Savings? About 50%. Don’t know the first thing about the first thing? Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and build your karma while you help build a house.
  • The calendar is your friend. Air conditioning is cheapest in January, heating’s cheapest in July, and hired help is cheapest when the weather’s the lousiest.
  • Find the right help. If you’re hiring help, don’t ever hire the first person that shows up. Get written bids from at least three people, then pit them against each other to get the lowest possible price. Where do you find people?
  • Use Angie’s List. There are several sites that let you choose contractors from lists, but I like Angie’s List because contractors can’t put themselves on. Every contractor has been added by a consumer with either a positive or negative review. Alas, it’s not free. But if the project is big, it could be worth it. When I replaced every window in my house last year, I saved 20% and got quality work by reading reviews, then pitting several top-rated companies against each other.
  • Don’t be in a hurry. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but it often pays to wait. For example, I bought an oven at auction and stored it for 2 years before I did my kitchen remodel. Be on the lookout for super deals on flooring, cabinets, etc. Acquire it all piece by piece at the best prices you can find, then remodel when you’re ready.
  • Plan your remodel around the deals you find. In other words, don’t be fixated on a certain fixture or cabinet or overall look; be flexible. Find super deals on the most expensive components, then plan around them.
  • Avoid costly construction. Moving plumbing, load-bearing walls and electricity is expensive. As I noted above, be flexible in your plans.
  • Don’t overbuild. Recognize that virtually no home improvement returns as much in equity as it costs, especially if you use hired help.
  • Don’t finance. If you can, avoid paying interest. It increases the cost of the project, and the added cost doesn’t show in the work: only on your bills.

There you have it: my favorite ways to save on home improvement. But if you’ve got more, I’d love to hear em! And remember the goal: to boost savings and pay down debt. So if you save, put those savings to work!

Stacy Johnson

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