HGTV has filled our head will lovely, beautiful lies. Like the idea, it HAS to cost $15k-$60k to remodel a kitchen. Oh sure, it can cost that much. And the home will be TV worthy. But if our goal isn’t to live in a home worthy of the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but create a comfortable space that helps grow our financial freedom….how much cash are we really talking about?
Before we started renovating homes, I had no clue what things would cost. It was a huge disadvantage when we started shopping for a house and rentals. Money Magazine says the average kitchen remodel is something like $15,000-$60,000. That’s a big range and quite frankly a LOT of money.
So these are our unglamorous, real life, frugal renovation budgets.
Real Life Affordable Kitchens Remodels
These are often quoted as the most expensive room in the house. And things can get out of hand quickly! But my kitchen never made my “Show Up and Lean In” list. It should look reasonable, and be functional. The end.
We have removed and replaced three kitchens over 5 years. Here are those rough numbers.
Kitchen 1 Renovation Cost: $4500 (not including labor help)
This was the most expensive because we went with nicer, big appliances. Plus we moved it from a tiny space into a different room. (If you want to save money, never move anything. Ever. Ever. Just replace. Never relocate.)
I bought and stained this trim to give it a custom, finished look. That probably added an extra $250 with the labor. The backsplash also added a nice touch. We bought the backsplash tile on sale at Costco (all materials $120) plus I hired this part out (about $200), although now I could do it myself. Kitchen pulls ran about $50. By using stock cabinets (on sale 20% off) then adding $620 of “extras” it gave the overall kitchen a very nice feel. We get compliments on it from everyone. Those other little extras actually make our countertops seem like real stone (Instead of $200 worth of laminate they really are).
Side note: It was this kitchen sink pipe that had busted and flooded the basement. Which filled the basement with mold and allowed us to pay cash for this house.
Kitchen 2 Renovation Cost: Under $3500
Kitchen two is in a large but low priced rental. Here we used the same cabinets and counters, but no trim, backsplash and pulls. Those are little projects for another day. We bought a new fridge and microwave but no other appliances. We did repaint and add new light fixtures. This was the first kitchen we did entirely on our own, and it took us about 8 days during one of our mini-retirements. (Now we could do it in about 4 days or a professional crew in 8 hours!)
Kitchen 3 Renovation Cost: $3,350 total
Kitchen 3 is also in one of our rentals. It was originally a rather low priced rental, but we are steadily and slowly updating it to a mid-priced rental.
We did this remodel at the very start of our current mini-retirement. I foolishly thought it would be “fun” and save some money to buy unfished cabinets and paint them myself. My sweet husband was like, “That’s a horrible idea. But if you want to….I’m not helping.” So, 7 months pregnant and the size of an adorable house, I painted these. Where you might ask? In a nice woodworking shop or garage? No, of course not. In my bedroom. On a stool. With a paintbrush.
Did you notice this kitchen is enormous? Like 12 feet by 24 feet. No joke. It legit took 20+ hours. Happy mini-retirement to me. But we did save money.
A few years later we upgraded the stove, fridge and added cabinet pulls (We got those items on sale for $850). The nice thing about renovations is you can slowly add to them as you have time and money. At some point, we will probably add a bit of trim and backsplash tile.
Kitchen 3 took Adam 2 weeks (4 hours a day) with some help from the renter. That was for the tear out, paint, new floors and kitchen installation.
We redid the floors in kitchen 1 and 3. We used laminate that runs about $1.50 with backing. It’s held up well in both places (5 and 2 years). If you take your square footage x cost per foot x 20%. Plus about $200 for a little trim or transitions.
General frugal tips:
Consider stock cabinets: And watch for them to go on sale. We bought all our cabinets from Lowes during their twice yearly 20% off sale.
Buy your own crown molding: The crown molding that goes with the cabinets is overpriced. You can find nicer standard molding and give it a more custom look.
Laminate countertops: I love our laminate countertops! Where a stone option might run you $3,000 laminate will set you back about $300-$500. People will say that the stone is timeless but I have yet to walk into a kitchen from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s and thought “I love the finishes in here!” I think even high-end counters and cabinets look dated every 30 years.
DIY: Cabinets aren’t actually very difficult to install. It’s a matter of getting them level and screwing them into the studs in the wall. Countertops were a bit harder for us, but not an impossible learning curve with the right tools.
Time Estimate: If you give yourself 2 weeks, that will be enough for the learning curve and actual work.
Buy the house with the UGLY kitchen: People think a kitchen remodel will cost them $20,000+. So if you buy a house with an incredibly ugly kitchen, you can save a ton of money! If the house fits your needs but has a really ugly or dated kitchen, you might save $20,000. For $5000 you can replace and update the kitchen.
I talk a lot about reducing expenses that are less important to you in order to have more resources for more things that matter more. Here are some things we have spent money on in the last few years that added way more value to us as a family than an extra $15,000 for a luxury kitchen.
- 6 week vacation: $3,500
- 4 weeks of travel: $2,500
- Pop-up camper: $4,000
- Two nights away at a local resort: $400
- Classic car: $4500
It’s always hard in the moment. Because of course the HGTV version is more beautiful. But the beauty in our kitchen lies in the extra options it’s given us to do things that really matter to our family.
For Conversation: Have you ever renovated a kitchen? Does it seem like an overwhelming or doable task?
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