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Financial Wellness

10 Tips for Nailing Your Next Home Improvement Project

Any homeowner knows that home repairs and improvements aren't cheap. Add to that the rising costs of labor and materials, and home improvements can quickly derail your budget or land you in debt. For instance, the national average cost for just a small bathroom remodel is $11,365, according to 2023 data from home-improvement site Angi.

Fortunately, there are ways you curb costs on your upcoming projects. Here are 10 tips for saving money on home renovations. 

  1. Create (and stick to!) a budget. Before you start any project, create a budget and don't forget to add a cushion to cover any unexpected costs. In the past, experts advised adding 10% to 15% to your total for cost overruns. However, since costs continue to rise you may want to double that number. Consider putting money away in a Club savings account that you can set aside to use for your home improvements.
  2. Be flexible. Decide which items on your project list are non-negotiable and which ones are not. Is your heart set on a high-end refrigerator, or would you be ok with a less expensive model or even one on clearance? Instead of costly hardwood floors, would you be alright with laminate planks that resemble wood instead? Just that one choice could save you a bundle and still provide the wood floor look you desire. 
  3. Compare contractors. Before reaching out to contractors, get a rough idea of costs on websites such as Angi or HomeAdvisor. Ask neighbors on social media sites like NextDoor and Facebook to see who has had similar projects done and how much they spent. Get recommendations for contractors from trusted websites, friends, family and neighbors. Visit contractors' websites and read reviews. Be sure to verify that the contractor is licensed, and has liability and workers' compensation insurance—otherwise you could be liable if a worker is injured on your property.
  4. Get multiple bids. Before choosing a company or contractor, get written estimates and bids from at least three of them. Compare prices, but also the quality of work. Shoddy work will cost you in the long run. Ask several of each contractor's references how satisfied they were with the work provided, and was it completed in a timely fashion. 
  5. Wait for the off-season. Having work done in the spring, summer or fall can cost a premium. If you're flexible on the timing, consider scheduling your project in January, February or March. Many contractors are less busy at those times and may cut you a deal. Weather is a factor, of course, so you will need to be prepared for delays due to snow, rain, etc. depending on where you live. 
  6. Minimize food costs. If you are planning a kitchen remodel, you will not have a functional kitchen for some time. Getting takeout or eating out every night can quickly add up and wreck your budget. Before the remodel starts, set up a mini fridge, microwave, and hot plate in another room or the garage. You can cook more meals at home and save money. You can often find used mini refrigerators for free or next to nothing on websites like NextDoor, Facebook, Buy Nothing Groups, and Freecycle.
  7. Stick to standard sizes. Semi-custom pieces can cost double the price of standard size stock pieces. Custom will cost even more. Be willing to sacrifice some options—such as crown molding or a custom color—to get the less expensive stock pieces. Ask your contractor if he or she has any odds-and-ends left over from other jobs that you could have or buy for a small fee. 
  8. Save on the cost of materials. There are many ways to save on materials for your project. You can find free or cheap materials online on sites like eBay, Craigslist, Freecycle, NextDoor, and Facebook local Buy Nothing Groups. Also check out local flea markets and yard sales. Habitat for Humanity has Habitat ReStores that sell new and gently used furniture, building materials, and appliances at a fraction of retail prices. Most state governments also have building-supply auctions. 
  9. Maximize space before changing it. HomeAdvisor puts the average 2023 kitchen remodel price in the $14,549 - $40,425 range. Perhaps instead of remodeling your entire kitchen, you can maximize the space using a little creativity and reorganization. For instance, you could save thousands by replacing lower cabinet shelves with pullout drawers containing pot trays, Lazy Susans or racks for canned goods and other items, says This Old House. You can also reface cabinet doors and add new decorative door/drawer pulls to revitalize or create a new look.
  10. Do some of the work yourself. Some projects are best left to professionals, especially major plumbing or electrical work. However, paying someone to do basic tasks like interior painting and trim work can cost a small fortune. Most people can DIY painting, tiling a backsplash, and other minor tasks. Online videos, home improvement stores, and local community colleges can teach you how to do more complex jobs, like installing flooring, resurfacing bathroom cabinets, or refinishing hardwood floors (much cheaper than replacing them).

If you need cash for your home improvements this summer, take advantage of a low-rate home equity loan, a home equity line of credit, or a home improvement loan. For your in-store and online purchases, be sure to use a credit card that earns you rewards with cash-back option on everything you buy.

Resources: Money Talks News, Habitat for Humanity, Home Depot, Lowes, HGTV, A Beautiful Mess, Experian, Angi, HomeAdvisor, This Old House

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