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Blowing the budget is everyone’s biggest fear when it comes to home renovation projects. Even if you follow standard guidelines—like building in a 20% cushion to cover unexpected costs, vetting contractors, and staying focused—it’s hard to prevent spending more than you’d like to. But with some strategic planning, you can save money in the lead-up to your big remodel and cut costs without cutting corners.
1. Figure out your priorities
We get it: You’re super excited to get into your new house, and you can’t wait to make it yours. But before you start envisioning walls coming down, scale down your big dreams, suggests Toronto financial counsellor Jessica Moorhouse, who is also host of the Mo’ Money Podcast.
“Yes, there’s a long list of things you want to do to improve your property, but be patient,” she says. “Take your time and slowly save up so you can pay for the renovations in cash.”
Avoid taking on more debt by making a list of what must get done versus what you wish can get done, a strategy that paid off for Moorhouse, who bought a house four years ago and made improvements without borrowing more money.
“We’ve paid for everything in cash, living within our means and saving up for those renovations. It makes us feel good, because we didn’t have to worry about adding more debt onto our budget. That’s the best strategy.”
2. Take a closer look at your new home’s utilities
Instead of simply swapping your name onto the property’s current utility bill, shop around for a better deal.
“See if another utility company can provide the same service for less money,” suggests Moorhouse.
“Sometimes, it’s so chaotic when you settle into a new home, but don’t let your home insurance auto-renew without checking with different providers to see if you can get the same policy for a cheaper price; that could save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in the long run.”
Other things you can probably get a better deal on include your internet, cable or satellite provider.
3. Keep yourself accountable
Instead of focusing on cutting out your daily $7 latte, Moorhouse recommends tracking your spending and making a budget to see where all your money is going.
“Look at every single line item and ask if it makes sense or if you get the same thing for less money,” she says. “Doing that–especially for monthly bills–is important, because if you can decrease those expenses, you’ll be saving much more money.”
One way to make sure you stick to the saving mindset? Plan a year ahead.
“Don’t just decide to redo a room on a whim; sit down and ask yourselves, ‘What are we doing this year?’,” says Moorhouse.
“I’ve got a whiteboard on my fridge outlining what we’d like to do in priority sequence. We know we won’t do reno number two until number one is paid in cash. Keep checking in with yourself about your financial plans.”
4. Out with the old, in with the not-so-new
Instead of paying full price for new furniture, appliances and decorative accessories, check out online marketplaces where you can buy or sell just about anything.
“Our previous owners had put in a brand-new, but ugly stove that had never been used, so we sold it and used the proceeds to buy a new one,” recalls Moorhouse. “Something you don’t like may be exactly what someone else is looking for.”
You may also want to check with friends, neighbours and family to see if they’re purging things you might need. For example, repurposing someone’s kitchen cabinets or leftover construction materials can save big bucks. Or, purchase good quality second-hand furniture that can be transformed with a coat of paint, adds Moorhouse.
5. Don’t forget about un-sexy home improvements, like maintenance
In addition to your budget for upgrades, set aside money for when things ultimately break down, cautions Moorhouse.
“We bought a 12-year-old place and once we got the keys, things started breaking down: We had to replace our air conditioning unit, our boiler, our dishwasher and our fridge,” she recalls.
Although these purchases weren’t high on Moorhouse’s wish list, she knew going in to expect repair and maintenance costs, so the funds were there.
“Depending on how old your house is, you need to set aside one to 2% of your home’s value for maintenance every year,” she suggests.
Your home inspection report can be a valuable tool; many inspectors include a range of fees associated with maintenance, repair and replacement costs. Keeping these tips in mind as you plan your renovation will save money and buy peace of mind.