23 Upgrades Under $50 to Make Your House Look Awesome

You don't need much cash to spruce up your property and upgrade your quality of life.

Are you dreaming of improving your home, but you don’t have the budget to do major remodeling? If so, there’s still plenty you can do to scratch the home-improvement itch — and make your home look great.

Here are 23 cheap ways to spruce up your home for $50 or less.

1. Do a cheap facelift

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There’s no quicker fix than a can of paint. Use it to give new life to dingy wood furniture. Try a new color in your bedroom or bathroom. Or just paint the ceiling a soft sky blue. HGTV has 50 ideas for DIY projects requiring just a single can of paint.

The DIY Network has more ideas, plus tips for painting walls and ceilings, advice for painting like a pro and 11 ideas for using chalkboard paint.

If you can’t afford to buy a can of paint at the hardware store, try these cheap sources for paint:

  • Find a Habitat for Humanity ReStore near you.
  • On your local Craigslist, search at the top left of the home page for “paint.”
  • Join a local Freecycle group. The organization has more than 5,000 local groups and millions of members who connect online to recycle all kinds of items. Post your request in the “wanted” area.

2. Update a bathroom faucet

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This Old House says replacing an old faucet with a shiny new one is an easy project that takes about two hours. The site has step-by-step instructions. To find a faucet within a $50 budget, search and compare prices online. Try searching by price at Overstock.com and Walmart.com. Or shop at a ReStore or thrift store.

Tip: Find a new faucet in the same finish — such as oil-rubbed bronze, chrome, satin nickel — as your other bathroom fixtures.

3. Declutter

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Decluttering is deeply satisfying. It can make your home feel new and different — and roomier. But it requires so many tough decisions: What stays? What goes? And what about all the stuff you don’t use but can’t get rid of?

Check out these seven ingenious ways to help get going. Here’s one that helps you organize as you declutter. And also check out “A Dozen Great Ways to Get Rid of Hard-to-Get-Rid-of Stuff.”

4. Make a Mason jar lamp

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Mason jar lamps are trendy. A YouTube video by TheSorryGirls takes you step by step through the process of making one. Krylon, the maker of aerosol spray paint, provides instructions for painting Mason jars for use as light fixtures.

If a single-jar lamp isn’t enough of a challenge, and you have plenty of Mason canning jars, look for instructions online for making a Mason jar chandelier. Stick to using found materials to keep your costs down.

5. Dress up an old sofa

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Give the couch new life by pulling a slipcover over its tired old self.

Slipcovers run as low as $25 at Walmart. If you can’t find a fitted slipcover that works on your sofa, don’t worry. Done well, a loose fit is timeless. Check Overstock and elsewhere for machine-washable cotton duck covers in many colors.

With any remaining cash, jazz up your new couch by making or buying an accent pillow or two.

6. Tackle carpet stains

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Take a Saturday morning and give your carpets some TLC at virtually no cost. There are several methods described — along with some of the potential hazards — at The Carpet Buyers Handbook.

For carpets stained beyond your powers of restoration, consider using a professional carpet cleaning service. Have only the most heavily trafficked room done if you need to keep costs below $50. When looking for a professional service, make sure you’re comparing apples with apples: Some charge by the room, others by the square foot.

7. Make a faux tile kitchen backsplash

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This is more than a simple painting job. A painted kitchen backsplash mimics the contemporary look of narrow horizontal stone and glass tiles. The project requires a lot of preparatory taping. But, judging from instructions and photos at the Reality Daydream blog, it is worth the effort.

8. Reupholster an ottoman

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Grab a staple gun and a simple piece of furniture, like an ottoman, and give it new life. Brooke Ulrich, DIY blogger at All Things Thrifty, shows how to tackle reupholstery. Here’s a quick video with a trick for removing old fabric from furniture, which she says is one of the hardest parts of the job.

Shop for fabric and a piece of furniture with simple lines at the ReStore, a thrift shop, Craigslist or Freecycle. Or search online for “fabric outlet” and “discount upholstery fabric.” Another source: Jo-Ann Fabrics’ frequent sales, discounts and coupons allow for big savings. Shoppers who sign up at the site get more discounts. Find a store near you or shop online.

9. Rearrange bookshelves

Evgeny Karandaev / Shutterstock.comEvgeny Karandaev / Shutterstock.com

“Style” your bookshelves with artistic flare. Better Home & Gardens has inspiration and tips. This is a fun, creative project, so spend some time and enjoy it. Among BHG’s tips:

  • Treat each shelf as a display, and then stand back and make sure all shelves work well together.
  • Position some items off-center on a shelf.
  • Place some books in horizontal stacks and use the stacks as bookends for books shelved vertically.
  • For a designer look, cover the inside of a bookcase with fabric or wallpaper.
  • Don’t pack treasures and collections on every shelf.
  • Pieces of pottery make nice, solid bookends.
  • Stack a pyramid of books and put one of your favorite objects atop the stack.
  • Use bookshelves as a gallery for framed photos or art.

10. Upgrade cabinet hardware

Andrew Bassett / Shutterstock.comAndrew Bassett / Shutterstock.com

If your kitchen and bathroom look dated, and you can’t replace the cabinets, replacing the cabinet hardware gives rooms a new look.

Here are shopping tips:

  • Remove one handle or drawer pull to see how many screws it uses and how far apart they should be. Your new hardware will need to have this same configuration.
  • Before shopping, take stock of your room’s style. To avoid being overwhelmed by all the options, first browse home decorating magazines to identify the look of the hardware you want, for example: Pulls or handles? Sleek and modern? Old world? Recycled and eclectic?
  • When you have a rough idea of what to look for, do some price shopping online. Try Ikea, Overstock and local and chain hardware stores. But also do an online search for “cabinet hardware” to see what’s available online.

11. Rearrange furniture

Alex_Po / Shutterstock.comAlex_Po / Shutterstock.com

Ask someone whose home styling skills you admire to help you see your home and possessions in a new light. Stay open to change and new ideas.

Last year I asked someone I know to spend an hour with me finding how to make better use of a difficult space in my home. She has a true genius for visualizing space. She spent two or three hours coming up with new configurations for my same old furnishings that somehow made the space roomier, more usable and much more attractive.

12. Brighten the entry

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Follow these three steps to revitalize the look of your home’s entry with a little elbow grease and a can of exterior paint:

  • Start by taking everything off the front porch or deck and scrubbing it from rafters to floorboards.
  • Clean the front door and give it a new paint job. Consider a stylish color that complements your home’s exterior, yet is a little brighter. Your local paint store will have paint chips and ideas. Browse Pinterest or Houzz for color schemes and inspiration.
  • Replace or repair damaged screens or storm doors. Polish metal doorknobs and fixtures.

13. Install a front door kick plate

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A kick plate is a broad strip of polished metal used horizontally along the bottom edge of a front door to protect it from scratches, kicks and dog paws. Kick plates are decorative as well as functional. Brass is traditionally used, but popular finishes now include antique brass, pewter, antique bronze and black.

Change your old kick plate for a new one, or install a kick plate if you haven’t used one before. After choosing a metal finish you like, use the same finish on all of your exterior hardware.

14. Paint exterior shutters and trim

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A fresh coat of paint (or two) on shutters and trim provides a quick, easy shot in the arm for your home’s exterior. Paint all the trim or just the window trim. And if you are short on time or materials, repaint only the front-facing trim. It’s safest to use a color that’s already part of your home’s exterior color scheme.

15. Install new doorknobs

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Put attractive new knobs or handles on interior doors and closets. For family members who are aging, arthritic or disabled, make life easier by replacing knobs with easier-to-grasp door levers like these at Home Depot.

16. Make a new headboard

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Craft a new headboard for your bed or refurbish your old one. If you scrounge for free and cheap materials, you can do it for less than $50. A few ideas:

17. Shine a new light

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Lighting plays an important role in home decor. Installing new lights, or even changing the wattage, can change the look and mood of a room.

“After years of work, LED lighting companies have finally achieved their goal of producing a good replacement for the common 60-watt incandescent bulb,” says MIT Technology Review’s article, “How to Choose an LED Light Bulb.” Some bulbs are rated to last 25,000 hours, or up to 25 years, depending on the use.

The article tells how to choose among the various brightness options and select bulbs for shape, function, color and light quality. It says:

For the consumer, the main benefits of LED fixtures are clear: They’re energy-efficient, can last for more than 20 years and, in many cases, give off good light. The prices have gone down steadily as well, as the LED components have dropped in price and lighting companies introduce better designs.

When investing in new LED bulbs, consider changing the fixture itself as well. Look for used fixtures online, at thrift shops and ReStores.

18. Add drama with light

Marco Poplasen / Shutterstock.comMarco Poplasen / Shutterstock.com

For a fun project that delivers instant drama for less than $50, install flexible LED ribbon lighting atop or under cabinets. For less than $50, you can get, for example, an 8-foot length of Armacost RibbonFlex Pro RGB LED tape light. Armacost has installation instructions and project photos and ideas. Find how-to installation videos at YouTube.

19. Give your home a deep cleaning

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If you’ve felt like you’re stuck in a rut and you’re considering spending money on a shrink, first try using Oprah.com’s checklist, timeline and instructions for deeply, thoroughly cleaning your home in eight hours. Oprah.com calls it “spring cleaning,” but don’t let that stop you from doing it now.

The psychological benefits of a really clean home are immense, and you’ll feel wonderfully virtuous for doing it.

20. Add container plants

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New plants dress up your home’s porch and garden and give great curb appeal. You can start plants from seeds in spring or in a greenhouse. In autumn, dig a few of the more vigorous and prolific perennials from your garden or a friend’s and install them in pots. Ivy, a pest in gardens, looks terrific trailing down sides of planters, for example. Your local garden store or nursery may have a half-price area from which it sells cast-offs. Often, watering and care is all they need.

The Micro Gardener has loads of ideas and photos for garden containers made from furniture, kitchen equipment, bathroom fixtures, toys, baskets, boxes and even clothes and shoes for use as outdoor planters. Check out her vertical garden made from a hanging cloth shoe rack.

21. Install kitchen utility hooks

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For a quick kitchen upgrade that you’ll enjoy daily, install a wall-mounted row of sturdy utility hooks. Use them for everything from dish towels and pot holders to utensils and measuring cups. You might even slip a recipe you’re using into a plastic ring-binder sleeve, add a ring clip and hang it for ready access

22. Install new house numbers

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Change your old house numbers. Find them with an online search, at hardware stores or shop for handmade numbers at Etsy.

23. Give light switch covers new life

Anna Jurkovska / Shutterstock.comAnna Jurkovska / Shutterstock.com

Here’s how to give grimy old light switch covers new life: Toss them out and treat yourself to new ones. For a fun project, cover some of them with decoupage.

What cheap, satisfying home upgrades have you done? Tell us in the comments below or on Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

Marilyn Lewis
Marilyn Lewis
After a career in daily newspapers I moved to the world of online news in 2001. I specialize in writing about personal finance, real estate and retirement. I love how the Internet ... More


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