Real Frugal Kitchen Renovation Costs

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?

affordable kitchen high end look

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)

cheap kitchen renovations

cost to move a kitchen

The original kitchen was so small it defied being photographed!

We moved this kitchen into this room, which was the dining room.

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.)

affordable kitchen high end look

affordable DIY kitchen remodels

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

How to you tube renovationYou Tube renovations

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

We couldn’t afford to renovate when we bought it, so this had to wait 3 years.

The kitchen was originally a U shape plus sitting area.

afordable kitchen renovation

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.

I don’t know why I’m even smiling. I was NOT happy at this point! I was big, and tired and just wanted a nap.

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.


affordable kitchen remodels

paint unfinished cabnets to save money

painted kitchen renovation

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.

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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26 thoughts on “Real Frugal Kitchen Renovation Costs

  1. This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time!!

    We bought an older house that needs lots of updating. And the biggest area is the living/kitchen/dining. I want a more open flow and more space for entertaining.

    We are getting some (free) design ideas from Lowe’s and Home Depot, then we are going to spend time saving up and figuring out exactly what we want. This seriously helps!!

    Those cabinets don’t look basic at all! I think they look beautiful! The whole idea of planning and doing our kitchen remodel has been a bit stressful, so this gives me some calm peace about the process.

    • We bought all our cabinets at Lowes. These were the cheap in stock option. They usually go on sale 20% off twice a year. Plus they can generally hold them for you for a month, in case you aren’t ready to start that weekend. =)

  2. Agreed! Buy the ugly house with nice bones! We lucked out with our home, which we renovated. We spend 80% of our time in the kitchen (it seems!), so we pumped money into a full kitchen demo/reno. And we DIY’d everything. Of course it helped TREMENDOUSLY that my FIL is a master carpenter. We did custom cabinets that he built and did a DIY concrete countertop (I don’t like laminate).

    • Custom building cabinets is crazy! I build some in wall cabinets for our master bath and even those kicked my butt. The concrete countertops are a very cool look. =)

  3. Am I hallucinating? Or am I remembering correctly that when we were at your home, Mr. Groovy asked you about the counter tops and was surprised to learn they’re not real stone. He doesn’t remember either. We’re a pair.

    Kitchen 3 is like the size of a living room!

    Great job on all of these! It doesn’t take much to make a kitchen look new. Painting walls and cabinets, and adding a new lighting fixture and hardware can make a huge difference. I’m less adventurous myself about installing cabinets, etc. but I’m sure I could learn.

    We curse HGTV. How did our (the collective “our”) expectations become so high?

    • Almost everyone thinks they are real stone. =) I even had an interior designer make that mistake. And kitchen 3 is enormous now! But it didn’t really work before. We might add an island because there is so much space. We might actually move into that house at some point, and I think it would be great to have the countertop space. There is even a full fireplace in the kitchen which I love because it feels so old world. =)

  4. We are planning out our kitchen renovation for later this year and are budgeting $6500. Our kitchen will be 10’x27′, so it’s quite large, but the reno doesn’t have to be expensive! Thanks for the tip on the crown molding/trim.

    I love the look of your refinished cabinets! Though painting them in your bedroom, on a stool, and 7 months pregnant doesn’t sound like much fun.

    • Painting cabinets is not something I would wish on any pregnant woman. And that is a big kitchen and very reasonable price! The crown molding is something we get tons of compliments on because it’s so unique yet subtle.

  5. Our kitchen remodel was around $6000, but Rob had to redo all the electric, and replacing the hood went from being a $250 job to about $1250.

    IKEA usually does a huge “kitchen sale” where cabinets go to 20% off. We waited for a full year, and finally bit the bullet. They did the sale again in October 2017.

    • I wish we had an IKEA closer! They actually have great quality cabinets. And I love meatballs. =) There are always things that go wrong in the remodel. In kitchen 3 the dishwasher was 1/2 inch too big, so we had to order a custom skinny one that ended up costing close to $500. But all the cabinets were installed and painted and I just couldn’t bear to tear them out and redo the configuration at that point. My very pregnant self had enough!

  6. We are currently doing this! So grateful that T’s work (and their supplier relationships) have enabled us to get so many things for basically cost price (appliances, sink, tap, insinkerator etc). I should tally up the savings on this! We are deciding to go with custom cabinets but laminate counters and this is the bulk of the cost.

    • That is awesome! I really love our laminate counters. They are super easy to install, clean, no maintenance and crazy affordable. Plus in reality, if we ever want to switch them out for some reason (maybe if we sold), we can easily take them out and have only “lost” $200 for their 5 years of faithful service.

  7. Haha! My cousin in Massachusetts just finished remodeling the kitchen in his home. I kid you not, the remodel cost over $140K! But the nonetheless I think you hit upon an essential truth. You don’t need to spend ginormous sums of money to have a fabulous kitchen. And your 3 kitchen remodels prove it. Mrs. Groovy and I have remodeled two kitchens. The one in our New York condo cost around $6K, and the one in our Charlotte condo cost around $5K. And they both turned out great. It’s amazing what paint, sweat equity, and new appliances can do. Great post, Jillian. Thanks for reminding us that an HGTV-worthy kitchen isn’t a prerequisite for a comfy home and a fulfilling life.

    • “an HGTV-worthy kitchen isn’t a prerequisite for a comfy home and a fulfilling life.” Amen to that! It’s a weird spot to be in to tie so much of our happiness, meaning, and joy in life to things. Often times I think buying nice stuff is just easier than creating a meaningful and rich life. There is a lot of work that goes into deep friendships, a healthy body, interesting hobbies, effective service, a fulfilling marriage. Those are hard things to create and maintain. Buying granite counters is easy compared to that. In lacking the former, we feel compelled to make up for it with the later.

  8. I’m such a sucker for before and after photos! Love all of these.

    We’ve updated our kitchen bit by bit over the years. We go budget for most things, but then if there’s something we absolutely love, we can afford to spend more because we’ve saved in other places. Our fridge is from a used appliance store and we bought our range off a neighbor’s driveway for $75, but then we splurged on limestone tiles (that my husband installed). We LOVE how it dresses the basic kitchen up and hides all the toddler’s crumbs 🙂

  9. Well, at least the cabinets look fabulous! Not a full kitchen, but I definitely decided we needed to paint our master bedroom and bathroom at 8.5 months pregnant. There are definitely no pictures of me from then because I regretted that decision about an hour into it. Lol. But yes, DIY definitely saves a ton of money, and the rooms do look better now 🙂

  10. Nice updates! I think those renovations cost so much when you hire someone to design your kitchen, and then do ALL of the work. As you’ve shown, you can get a great kitchen with nice appliances, cabinets and more for a great price if you want to put in some sweat equity. Great job on those reno’s!

    • The funny thing is, hanging cabinets isn’t incredibly hard. It took us a few days to learn and a few days to get it done. But pros can do install a decent sized kitchen in a day. We hired a guy to help us the first time who charged $20-$25 an hour. So even with a few days help, it wasn’t much. I’m happy with them. And two are rentals, so the bar is rather low. =) All the potential tenants are super impressed when they see the kitchen after all the other places they have looked at. =)

  11. May I also suggest butcher block counter tops? They’re the same price range as laminate.

    That, and our IKEA cabinets were the only frugal thing about our house renovation (given that we were living with the hidden black mold, and half the renovation was paying someone to tear out the rotted bits while I was sick for over a year from it).

      • I’ve had butcher block for years – low maintenance. At least twice a year, you’ll need to oil it with mineral oil (as in, clear off the counter, wipe it on, and give it a day to soak in). If you don’t like the worn look, simply sand where the boo boos are and add a layer of mineral oil. Boom!

        • That’s not too bad! Some friends installed one and they seemed terrified of it. We were hanging out pouring and drinking wine in their kitchen and they seemed on edge the whole time. =/