How to Stretch Your Reno Budget and Make the Most of Every Cent

Whether you’re a new homeowner or looking to renovate after a long time (or perhaps for the first time after owning your house for years!), dreaming up decor plans for your pad is exciting. However, if you’re on a tight budget, you may feel like many of your most wonderful ideas will need to be nixed. Not to worry, with these savvy workarounds and budgeting tips, you’ll be amazed by how much you can achieve with not much cash!

Determine your budget, needs and wants

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Reno works and furnishings tend to cost more than you think, so to avoid under-budgeting and compromising your vision, experts advise having a 10–20% buffer in your budget to cover any hiccups. You should also come up with a list of needs and wants. Don’t even think about getting that fancy chair, even if it’s on sale, until you know your funds will adequately cover the essentials.

How much should one budget for a renovation? “For a 5-room HDB resale flat, $50k will be on the lower end, $80k is mid-range and $120k is high.”—Kaylin Ang, Fifth Avenue Interior

Plan and be practical

Changing plans halfway through a reno can result in unnecessary costs and delays, so don’t get carried away with selecting paint and artwork before you settle nitty-gritty details such as how much storage you’re going to need in each room, and where power points and lights are going to go. Consider how various spaces will be used so you can make informed decisions on practical material choices and the number of furniture pieces you can fit without hampering flow.

Tips on hiring an ID? How do you know pricing is fair? “Read reviews of the company and spot the IDs in the company who are frequently mentioned. Do in-depth research and get quotes from companies in a similar tier.”—Kaylin Ang, Fifth Avenue Interior

Fix issues early

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When you’re working on an older home, you may encounter issues like water or structural damage as well as mould. These problems may throw off your budget—that’s where the extra cash headroom comes in handy—but fix them quickly to prevent bigger bills for fixing buckling tiles, peeling wallpaper and even bad health in future.

Target the prime areas

Don’t feel pressured to renovate the entire house in one go. In fact, you may come up with better ideas when not rushed, especially after you’ve got a better feel for how you like to live at home. Besides, dreaming up decor ideas is fun. When you don’t have much to spend, focus on sprucing up the kitchen and bathrooms to improve your day-to-day experience. These areas also tend to give you the best return on investment if you’re looking to sell your place down the line. Buyers like to know that these spaces are durable enough to withstand heavy traffic and pleasing enough that they won’t have to shell out money for a gut reno.

Where are your funds best allocated if you have a tight reno budget? “Work on your kitchen and the two toilets. Go for loose furnishings, web finds, and try your hand at some DIY projects such as painting furnishings with chalk paint as well as buying and installing your own handles on cabinetry.”—Kaylin Ang, Fifth Avenue Interior

Leave things to the pros


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Always rope in the pros when it comes to any electrical, structural or plumbing works. While home reno shows make it seem easy to bust down doors, rewire lamps and switch out bathroom fixtures, fumbling your way through these processes could result in safety issues, fines, leaks that could affect your neighbours and a whole lot of wasted time. Wouldn’t you rather get things done right and quickly? Before outsourcing these jobs, be sure to get references, multiple quotes and don’t always go for the lowest bid. As the saying goes, “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Tackle some easy tasks yourself

Depending on your creativity and crafting skills, you may be able to take on some decorating tasks yourself such as applying wallpaper, reupholstering old chairs, changing out cabinet handles and installing curtain rods. But know your limits. Some people feel they can tackle a paint job, but if you have to watch your kids or don’t think you have the patience to wait between coats, get a professional or help from loved ones even if the tasks seem easy.

Buy once, buy better

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Designers like to say “Buy well, cry once.” Go for the good stuff when it comes to things like furniture, upholstery, kitchenware and fittings. Yes, they’re likely to cost more, but they tend to look nicer, feel good and last longer too. Besides, well-made furniture tends to be constructed with materials that are better for you and the environment, and you’ll be supporting a business and the craftsmen too. Can’t spare the cash right now? Save up instead of buying a stopgap item. Before splurging, do read reviews and test out the products for yourself so you know you’re paying for quality and not fancy marketing.

Shop smart

Tempting as it may be, you don’t have to furnish your house all at once. If there’s no hurry, wait for sales before buying big-ticket items like sofas, dining furniture, appliances and electronics. Showrooms may offer good deals on floor pieces—items like ceiling lamps are good buys as they’re less likely to be handled, stepped or sat on—and you could also trawl online platforms for secondhand goods. Do also drop by thrift and recycle shops as you’ll be able to find unique, well-made pieces for a lot less. Bonus tip: Believe it or not, $2 chains aren’t always the cheapest places to shop. At some stores, plates, vases, cups and flowerpots could cost even less!

Reuse and repurpose

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Your family’s hand-me-down furniture may not be to your taste, but you could easily customise furnishings with paint and new hardware. You could also get creative with the use of your existing furnishings and items. Sturdy cabinets could be converted into a vanity, a bench could be a new display area for books and knick-knacks, your dining table could become a workstation and old bins, baskets and bowls could be used to grow plants. The nice thing about antiques and vintage pieces is you won’t feel pressured to keep them looking pristine, an upside if you have kids. As a last resort, if the items really don’t work for you, sell them to get cash to buy stuff you truly love.

Mix high and low-end

This tip could apply to both material and decor selections. Create an overall elevated look by splurging on items you’ll see and touch most like your backsplash, bathroom fixtures, kitchen range, countertops, taps, knobs, sofas and dining table for example. You can then save on things you won’t see as often such as hangers, in-closet storage boxes and trash bins. Put a cheap piece of art inside a gorgeous, well-made frame, add a smoky glass top on mass-produced cabinetry, the options are endless. By mixing high and low price points, you’ll not only save money but also create a more interesting and layered appearance that looks completely custom.

What are some costly reno mistakes homeowners make and are there “upgrades” that aren’t worth the cost? “Carefully consider any hacking of walls as this may negatively affect the resale value of your home in future. Additionally, built-in studies may not be worth the cost as it will be difficult to convert the room for other uses in future.”—Kaylin Ang, Fifth Avenue Interior

Think long-term

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When buying appliances like your fridge, air-conditioner, dishwasher and washing machine, think beyond aesthetics and function. Go for those with lower energy and water usage for savings that will accumulate over time. It’ll be better for the environment too. Don’t just buy what the salesperson recommends. Read reviews to make sure the appliance will last long enough, and doesn’t require costly maintenance, so you can reap benefits.

Make a statement

Stick to more timeless, neutral hues for large furniture pieces like your bed and sofa, then go wild with accessories to add interest. Using bold patterns, bright colours and textures can deliver high visual impact without costing a lot of money. Think ruffled curtains, oversized art, deep and striking bedding, wallpaper with large prints, funky rugs and tasselled cushions.

Favourite tricks for making a home look bigger and brighter? “Using loose furnishings and styling can play up the brightness of a home. Go for light wood flooring and white walls to make the house feel bigger, and use day curtains, or no curtains at all, to achieve an airy feel.”—Kaylin Ang, Fifth Avenue Interior

This post was adapted from an article originally published in the June 2021 issue of SquareRooms. Opening image courtesy of Mesh Werk Studio.