5 Places to Skimp on an Outdoor Space

5 Places to Skimp on an Outdoor Space

Erin Roberts
Jun 27, 2014
(Image credit: Bridget Pizzo)

It's summer — time to get outside and enjoy the season! Time to enjoy that whole extra living room that is your own yard! Now, I don't have my own outdoor space, but I was raised by an avid gardener and general outdoor enthusiast. He's also an overall spare-no-expense, let's just get the "nicest" one kind of guy, except when it comes to his outdoor space.

It's the kind of space, even more so than an interior room, that is truly never finished. You can go out and spend tons of money on plants and flowers, but a month later they'll be past their prime and you'll be itching to head back out to get more flowers to fill the spaces left by their now dead friends. Then, suddenly it's fall and a little too cold to truly enjoy being out there for very long, so your furniture will sit unused for the next several months as it weathers the winter. Overall, the outdoors is an ideal place to skimp a bit. In the end you're out there to enjoy being outside, and luckily that's the one thing that's guaranteed whether you spend a dime on the space or not.

Here are a few tips for where to skimp in your outdoor space, all endorsed by Dad of course!

  1. Furniture. Sure, the outdoor furniture at Restoration Hardware is beautiful, but for the $3000 you would spend on an outdoor sofa there you can furnish your entire space at a cheaper retailer. The quality and durability of the outdoor furniture at Home Depot is great, Target has a huge range of inexpensive options, or you might even get lucky and find something at a discount retailer like Homegoods. Jon and Sherry at Young House Love recently discussed their outdoor sofa options, including a pricey Restoration Hardware version, and opted to go with a Home Depot choice. As they experienced, one of the keys to choosing high-quality, low-cost outdoor furniture is to scour the reviews to see if people are still happy with their purchase after a season or two has passed.

  2. Flooring. Get creative with flooring. If a concrete patio and paths (and all of their associated expenses) are not in the budget, or aren't your style, there are lots of fun options that don't cost an arm and a leg. A combination of pea gravel and pavers can define a seating area, and flagstone sunk directly into the lawn makes a beautiful pathway. If all else fails, there's nothing wrong with plunking your seating directly onto the lawn and enjoying the grass between your toes as you lounge around the yard.

  3. Plants. Sharing plant cuttings with friends and neighbors is a great way to cut back on the cost of your outdoor space, and to add variety to your flower beds. Most gardeners are willing to share (It must be related to the gardening, they spend so much time nurturing!), so if you notice that your neighbor has a bed overflowing with yellow roses, it's all right to stop by and see if she'd be willing to part with a plant or with a small cutting of one of the bushes. Twenty-five years ago my father transported iris clippings from his sister's yard 1300 miles away to our then home in New Hampshire. When I drove by the old house last month the irises were still growing, so those clippings can be pretty hardy!

  4. Water. It might sound crazy after you've spend so much time, money, and energy getting your outdoor space the way you like it, but skimping on water is good for the environment, your pocketbook, and if done properly, for your plants. This is all about smart watering. I'm sure everyone remembers those old arcing sprinklers that are so fun to run through, the ones that soak everything from above, a bit like a heavy rain shower. Well, unfortunately for all the kids and kids at heart that love running through those sprinklers, they aren't making efficient use of all of that water. It's much better to water your flower beds just from the roots using a perforated soaker hose laid around the bases of the plants — it gets the water where it needs to be without uselessly soaking the leaves of your plants. Another tip, one I learned growing up in drought prone North Texas where watering restrictions were put in place every summer, is to water your plants and lawn in the evenings or very early in the morning to prevent the water from simply evaporating.

  5. Do It Yourself. I can be pretty outspoken about DIY not being an automatic money-saver. I'm a big proponent of DIY for getting custom items and finishes, but I try to be realistic about the cost of time/materials in comparison to just buying the ready-made item. With outdoor spaces it's a bit different. It's not so much about buying an item, but paying for someone's time to lay out your paths, plant your flowers, and build your awnings, plus you're still paying for all of the materials. So, with outdoor spaces anything you can do yourself is going to represent a savings. Now, if you're building heavy structures, or laying concrete, be sure to consult with professionals, even if it's just to get a thumbs up on your plan before moving forward. Also, it's very important to remember to call to get all of your utility and cable lines marked before you do any digging, even if you're just planting a small bush. It can be a pain to wait for someone to come out and mark the lines, but it is far less of a hassle and far less dangerous than accidentally striking one of those lines.

If you need more ideas to get you started, here are 50 Ways to Save Money in Your Backyard This Summer.

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