A Budget-Friendly DIY Kitchen Remodel

by Reader Contributors

Budget-Friendly Kitchen Remodel photo

Does the most used room in your home need a makeover? Make it a DIY job and save major bucks with these tips and tricks from our frugal readers.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am very eager to remodel our very dated kitchen, but we simply do not have the funds to redo the whole thing. I am not sure I can deal with our current kitchen until we have all of the money.

Has anyone ever remodeled a kitchen in stages? That is what I am hoping to do, and I am wondering what order is best to do this. Should we start with floors? Appliances? Cabinets? Lighting?

We have enough money right now to update one or two of these things. Since we are doing the work ourselves, I’d like to do this in an order that will not cause us extra work or wasted money later.

Thank you for any suggestions!

Inexpensive Modern Kitchen

My son had no funds to remodel his kitchen when they moved into their first home, but here is what he did that changed the whole look of his kitchen in a very dramatic way.

He took the doors off of all of the cabinets and lightly sanded the surfaces of the doors, framings, and his refrigerator. This was just so the paint would adhere to the surface. He painted everything gloss black with two coats and then a coat of polyurethane for protection and put everything back together again. Everything looked terrific!

Then he did another thing a little later on when he got some funds. He designed an island for eating by the windows and built it himself. The computer made it so easy. He ordered a custom-cut black marble top for it with little swirls/streaks in it and affixed that on top. He then found some kitchen stools for free on Freecycle, which he painted black as well. Over time, he has built up the nook. It is very classy looking when you walk into his kitchen.

He replaced the walls with plasterboard and painted in there and it’s great! New vinyl flooring completed the picture, and he is now done. For the price of the wood, paint, flooring and custom marble top, he has a modern and very strikingly beautiful kitchen.

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From Vandalized To Compliment Worthy

When we bought our house, it was a foreclosure that had been vandalized. Half the kitchen cabinets were missing, and the top ones that were left were sitting on the floor. The tile backsplash was ripped off the wall and the countertop/sink was cut through with a Sawzall®.

Here’s some of what worked for us. We did the whole thing for probably about $1,500, including appliances.

We got our appliances from Craigslist in white. They were really cheap. We covered the fridge with pictures and our kids’ art.

We used laminate countertops from IKEA. They cost about $150 total and we installed them ourselves. I know not everyone will be as confident as we are to install these themselves. There’s a second seam because they come in lengths that are too short for the long run, but we put an IKEA cutting board over that seam, and nobody sees it. Meanwhile, they compliment us on the cutting board. This way, we got a new look and can always upgrade later when we have the cash.

We put a hutch in place of some of the missing cabinets and got a cheap wall shelf unit in place of the missing upper cabinets. It now holds some of our really pretty dishes, and people compliment us on it.

I don’t know what you have for flooring, but you can’t go wrong with tile. Tile is pretty cheap anyway, but we used a bunch of random tiles in sort of beige/brown colors and made a pattern with them. Most people want to get rid of small amounts of leftover tile. If you are patient, you can find stuff that works together and make it look like a custom job.

Practice, Patience

My husband and I have gone through the exact same process in updating our kitchen.

We purchased appliances first at a scratch and dent store. The brand-name appliances available there provided us with great savings on the stove, refrigerator, and dishwasher. The scratches were so minor and actually faced the wall, so they were not an issue. The larger priced items for us were the countertop and backsplash.

In my opinion, go with what you like and you won’t regret it. I waited for sales, which made a difference in stretching my budget. My husband found he could install the kitchen flooring using the wood style that is so popular now. It took him less than a day to finish the job. At the same time, we put less expensive items like a range hood, sink, and faucet in before the countertop and backsplash. All of these were bought on sale, of course. It has taken a couple of years, but it was well worth the time and effort.

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Transform Your Cabinets

I had the 90s light oak kitchen cabinets. It was very outdated, but we didn’t have money to replace them. We painted them with Rust-Oleum® Cabinet Transformations® paint. It cost about $70 from Menards (at the time) and was worth every penny! What a huge difference! It went on very smoothly, and even the texture of the cabinets showed through. The color selection is wonderful. Make sure you de-gloss them and do all the required prep work.

We also changed the hardware and changed the appliances. It was $1,900 for a stainless dishwasher, microwave, fridge, and stove from Lowe’s.

Don’t Follow in My Footsteps

I thought I had found a solution for my laminate kitchen countertops, but it didn’t work out.

I had old white with gold glitter Formica® counters. One year ago, I saw something online called Giani countertop refinishing system. It promised to make my counters look just like granite.

Well, at first, it looked really fantastic, but months later, I noticed my colors were fading, and whenever I cleaned my food prep surface, it came off. This summer, we will have to do something else with the counters. I may have touted the product before, but now I know it doesn’t last. So I’m here to tell you to save your money and get something more durable.

This Order Worked for Us!

We remodeled our kitchen in stages.

We replaced the old appliances when we found them on sale. Much later, we replaced the cabinets and countertops. We kept our flooring because it was in good shape and we liked the color.

It worked out well for us to do the remodeling in that order. Deciding on cabinet and countertop colors to go with our new stainless steel appliances was much easier.

Paint color for the walls would be the last thing I would select.
Nancy B.

Are You Okay With the Layout?

To determine where to start in a kitchen remodel, you must first determine whether you will change the layout. If you can live with your existing layout, you can easily do it in stages. If not, it will be a lot tougher, if not impossible.

Before you do anything, decide what you’re going to do overall. Some appliances will require you to change your cabinet and counter dimensions slightly. Wood floors generally go under cabinets and will change their height. Sink styles require different mounting on countertops. Get a feel for how it will all fit together before you choose a “first” project.

Then, I would focus on what bothers you the most right now. Hate your sink? Replace the sink, faucet, and counters, assuming the old stuff will still fit until you replace it. Stove your biggest beef? Maybe start with appliances. Just don’t do anything you’ll have to undo at a later stage.
P & J

No Need to Spend a Bundle

We have a small house built in 1962. We did not want to spend a bundle of money updating our kitchen either. So we painted all the cabinets with a nice soft white kitchen semi-gloss enamel paint. We bought new modern brushed nickel hardware.

The biggest expense was the countertops. We sprang for a good laminate countertop that has a real up-to-date look. It cost us $600 with a friend’s help to install it.

We left the floor as is, which was still in good shape, but if you shop around, you can get pretty good deals on closeout flooring also. It is not hard to install if the subflooring is in good shape.

We cut and glued laminate panel board that looks like tile (the kind that they use in bathrooms) to the backsplash area. Then, we filled the seams with caulking that matched the lines in the panels and added a small painted cove molding to finish it off.

We painted the bottoms of the wall in the eating area with dark brown paint and wallpapered the top with coordinating wallpaper. It came out really nice and we get compliments on it all the time.
S.Lee in NC

On a Contractor’s Advice

I bought a house and started a remodel when I bought a refrigerator. I now have a contractor who has recommended doing the floor first because we have to move everything for that and can paint while everything is already moved. I will only paint my cabinets, which will be done with the painting. He recommends replacing the appliances last, as they can be done one at a time.

I swear by my contractor. He has done a great job on my other repairs.

Reviewed December 2023

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