Stay on Budget with Minor Kitchen Updates

A minor upgrade shouldn't break the bank

Painting, adding some track lighting, and refinishing cabinets can all fresh functionality and make a substantial aesthetic difference in your kitchen without having to turn your pockets inside out.

Word to the wise—no matter how easy an update might seem, often it turns out to be at least a little more difficult and expensive than you originally estimate. Tack on an extra 15% to your estimated cost to avoid nasty surprises when you total your project costs. Also take into account that an easy update for one person is not always that simple for another. Every kitchen is different, so expect the unexpected. If everything goes according to plan, you can celebrate.

Plan your strategy

Updating your kitchen takes planning, budgeting, and time to figure out the best improvements for your particular home. If you don't have a good plan, it's likely that things will go haywire and you'll end up regretting it. Make a list of priorities and list of things you can afford to do, as well as the amount of money you're willing to spend. Is your budget $500 or $1,000? Which would you rather do? Replace that old fluorescent overhead light that gives you a headache or indulge in the new single bowl sink you've had your eye on?

First things first: make a list of things you need or want to do. Next invest a little time in doing some research on how much each task costs and the amount of time it takes. Once you know that, you can order your priorities.

Minor Kitchen Redo

For a very frugal redo of a small kitchen of modest proportions (13' x 15'), we estimate that if you do all the work yourself and shop around, the cost for materials would be as follows:

Two new pendants for over the bar and four halogen under cabinet lights
Backsplash using inexpensive field tile and minimal trim, adhesive, grout, and sealer (10'x1'-6")
Refinish four lower cabinets using stripper, steel wool, scrapers, sand paper, tack cloths, stain, and varnish
Prep and paint four upper cabinets after removing doors
Install new linoleum countertops using short pieces leftover from flooring project, adhesive, and oak edging
New composite sink ($200), faucet ($180), plus supplies ($20)
Estimated total
15% more or less for unanticipated expenses
Grand total

How much will it cost?

The key to controlling costs is planning not only the big picture but each individual project. The tighter you plan, measure, and shop for the best deals, the more you can control costs.

How long will it take?

They say timing is everything. So it is with home improvement projects. Get your order established. Some things must be done in a certain order. For example, in the project outlined, the counters must be installed before the sink and faucet, which all need to be completed before you do the backsplash.

Organize your plan of attack for a three-day weekend when you can get the counters, sink, and faucet installed so you're not trying to work a real job during the week and come home to cook dinner amid a mess. This could lead to KFC Syndrome—the result of which destroys your food budget because you give up even attempting to cook.

Tips to take to heart

If you've watched any of the home improvement shows that tout complete remodels for $1000, you can see how far a well-planned design, a savvy shopper (or battalion of shoppers), and a few buff carpenters can go. You can do the same thing; it's just going to take you two months of weekends instead of 48 hours.

If only a few of these are in your budget, you can always throw in a few extra projects in the decorating department. Paint is the great standby for style on the cheap. Add a few hanging or potted plants to the room. For additional ideas, read Low-cost Kitchen Updates.

Do a thorough cleaning and declutter. Reorganize what you need to keep. Purchase some new spice organizers, recycling bins, or a set of new placemats to coordinate with the fresh paint.

Making your kitchen beautiful isn't as daunting as it seems. Spread your costs over a period of time—say four months or so—and just work on one thing at a time. Every weekend, serve up just one bite of the elephant. Spend your budget in phases. Before you know it, you'll have a nice new kitchen without the major funds and anxiety caused by cramming it in all at once.

Do you want a little extra help with your project? An experienced handyman can help simplify some of the more difficult aspects of your project. Find a professional at

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