12 Money-Saving Tips from DIYers Who Pulled Off Incredible $200 Redos This Year

published Dec 18, 2020
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Before: Fireplace with beige tile surround and oak mantle against white wall

A good DIY can do a lot: keep renovation costs low, instill a sense of confidence after a job well done, and make even the smallest spaces feel more personal. And in 2020, a year when it seemed like everyone decided to do projects themselves, this genre of home repair took on a new meaning. 

Maybe installing a fire pit allowed you to see your loved ones outdoors, or painting a room in a fresh coat meant that you weren’t stuck staring at the same shade for the hundredth day in a row. Seasoned DIYers Racheal Jackson, Amanda Walker, and Teresa Feldmann have also spent time updating their surroundings this year, and their efforts have already been featured in Apartment Therapy. Since their three projects all cost less than $200 each, you can say that they’re all experts in low-cost DIYs.

I revisited their handiwork to see what lessons they learned about saving cash and maximizing supplies while revamping common problem areas. With their 12 money-saving tips, you might be inspired to follow in their footsteps. After all, in 2020, the biggest DIY lesson might be that there’s no time like the present.

Tips for updating a bathroom on a shoestring

Racheal Jackson, creator of Banyan Bridges, knows a thing or two about budget-friendly projects—really budget friendly. She’s been updating her home without spending much for more than a year, and her rainbow-bright upgrade in her kids’ bathroom was no exception. 

Thanks to an art installation by Beth Harland that she spotted on Pinterest, Jackson was pumped to paint a variegated zigzag pattern on the walls using her existing shades, masking tape, yardstick, and pencil. The project cost her nothing, and took all of 15 hours to complete. And in the end, it made the bathroom look and feel like a space for kids. “Embracing colorful design makes our home another member of our family,” Jackson says. “I feel like our bathroom is alive. It’s invigorating.”

When it comes to updating a bathroom on the cheap, Jackson says that it comes down to looking for deals and not being afraid to try—even if the results aren’t picture-perfect at first. “Just because you don’t know how to do something doesn’t mean that you can’t,” she says. “Your first go might look clumsy, but your second one will look a whole lot better.” Here’s what else she has to say:

1. Hold onto as much as humanly possible

“I’m kidding, but I’m also totally serious. All of the paint came from my paint samples, and the plywood for the cabinets was leftover from another project,” Jackson says. “I try to conserve materials as best as I can. My garage may be full of wood scraps and random chairs, but I know it will all come in handy sometime.”

2. Using concrete on a vanity is a steal with lasting results

“These countertops are skim-coated concrete and I used Henry Feather Finish for them,” Jackson says. “The whole bag costs less than $20 and I used it in two bathrooms, with enough leftover product to do more. I did a two-part acrylic sealant over it, and it’s held up great!”

3. Don’t assume that a vanity needs to be replaced to look fresh

“I didn’t replace the vanity in here—I just took off the doors and the fronts and replaced them with birch veneer plywood,” Jackson adds. “A full sheet of this plywood costs around $60 at Home Depot, but the piece I bought was damaged so it was only $17! I was able to replace the fronts of two large vanities with it, and it makes this one look so much better.”

4. Never underestimate the power of paint

“Painting stripes yourself provides such a great bang for your buck,” she says. “You can usually pull them off with a couple of sample pots of paint, which range from $3 to $8 each. The graphic nature of the design draws the eye, creating a large impact with minimal effort.”

5. Plywood makes for a great base for so many projects, whether you’re in the bathroom or not

“It’s so versatile and so inexpensive, I use some form of it with every project I take on,” Jackson says. “I recently built a desk and several shelves in a closet with one $40 sheet of plywood. You can even have an employee make large cuts for you in the store for your convenience.”

Tips for rethinking a closet on a slim budget

As with most parents this year, Amanda Walker of Dwell Aware had to readjust her home in order to accommodate her children’s schooling. The closet in her sons’ room has a small entrance with deep sides, which made for an awkward use of space. So Walker had a bright idea: She’d turn the closet into a yellow-hued library, using IKEA shelves to display page-turners.

“This transformation has enhanced our life in so many ways,” Walker says. “It has given us a much better use of the closet, it’s an energizing area that my sons use for reading, and it’s just an extremely delightful pop of color when the closet is open. Also, since the clothes and shelving are on the sides, it is easier to organize regularly.”

In all, this sunny redo cost Walker all of $125, which was the sum of picture brackets and closet rods from IKEA, a gallon of yellow paint (Behr’s Buzz-In), and a metal conduit. “Don’t be afraid to entirely rethink how you are using a space and start from scratch, and make a more effective plan,” Walker says. Here’s what else she learned:

6. Take advantage of otherwise challenging layouts

“This project is so great for closets that are shallow with deep sides,” she says. “It utilizes space in a much more efficient way, and is great for any closet that you leave open often or all the time. It also works if you use this same concept outside of a closet to create a gallery library, like at the end of a hallway, maybe with a color-block behind it.”

7. Instead of tucking important items away, display them safely

“We have some special Italian books from family overseas, so it is nice to have a spot to display them but keep them out of reach from my two year old at the same time,” Walker says. 

8. Closet rods make it easier to customize needs as they change

“I love that we can fit in a lot of their clothes and have the ability to make custom heights pretty easily for the shelves and closet rod bars,” she adds.

9. Do your budget-saving homework

“Decor stores can have you believing that there isn’t a cheaper option for items like closet rods or shelving, but there are some very creative ways to approach solutions for this that can fit your style even better than what they’re offering,” Walker says. “You can always pivot and re-adjust your plans if you get stuck.”

Tips for overhauling a living room fireplace on the cheap

Teresa Feldmann of the Repainted House totally understands how an outdated fireplace can make the rest of a living room look like a blast from the past, no matter how new the furniture is. When she bought her home, she was excited to have a fireplace for the first time—but she wasn’t exactly excited about its 1990s look.

“I’ve always enjoyed home improvement projects, and I haven’t always had the budget to make big changes,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve learned that you can make a huge transformation, whether to room or a piece of furniture, mostly using new colors and paint.”

She spent a weekend and about $170 to give her fireplace a clean farmhouse look using tongue-in-groove MDF board, pine board, a self-made stencil, and that good ol’ paint. The results are modern yet timeless, reflecting her current style and propensity for creativity. When it comes to updating a fireplace—or, really, attempting any project—Feldmann recommends jumping in, even if it takes a nudge. “Not everything has to be absolutely perfect,” she says. “When something doesn’t come out exactly as planned, I look at my husband with a shrug and say, ‘It’s art.’” This is what else she recommends:

10. If you’re new to DIY, start small

“A piece of furniture is a great first project,” Feldmann says. “Check out thrift stores and online resources, like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, for the best deals. Search online for inspiration on how to update your piece, and go for it.”

11. Chalk paint is great for furniture or wall decor

“It’s extremely durable and versatile if you don’t get the finish you’re looking for on the first try,” she adds. “To save money, I make my own using formulas I’ve found online. My go-to ingredient is Plaster of Paris. And mis-tints at your local paint store are another way to save. You can get a gallon of paint for $5 to $10.”

12. Prepping for a project is key—even if it’s not as fun as getting right to it

“To me, this is the boring part, but it’s probably one of the most important things to do: research the best way to prep for your project,” she says. “Clean properly, use the right primer, work at the right temperature, and so on. Failing to do this may put all of your hard work in jeopardy, and you’ll likely end up doing it all over again.”