Renovating on a Budget: Seven Sources + Three Bonus Tips

If we’ve ever met, you’ve probably noticed two things about me: I love being creative. And I love a good deal.

Fortunately, these two things come together nicely when renovating. Because a) it’s inevitable that we’re going to blow the budget on things like structural steel beams, which seriously puts a damper on my dreams for all the pretty things; and b) the world has plenty of ugly stuff, both cheap and expensive. Finding deals that make sense requires both restraint (will this really work in my space?) and creativity (because there’s a fine line between “eclectic” and “junky”).

Over the years I’ve amassed a list of favourite haunts that I frequent as often as a I can. The best part is, sometimes you find a deal — but more often than not, you find inspiration. If you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, it’s so satisfying to wander amongst all the random treasures and try to envision them in your space. Here are a few sources of beautiful things on any budget:

  • Thrift stores. Goodwill, Value Village, Salvation Army … whatever version is in your area, thrift stores can be a gold mine for decorative accessories and, occaisionally, larger pieces of furniture. Since I don’t know who’s previously owned an item, I tend to steer away from upholstered pieces (although you could have items professionally cleaned or refinished if you found your dream piece) but have seen beautiful coffee and side tables, lamps, dressers and chairs at these locations. Vases, baskets, candlesticks and smaller decorative items are also a dime a dozen.
  • Habitat for Humanity Restores. These amazing stores also rely on donations, with proceeds funding new home builds for deserving families. It’s a win-win-win: you purchase heavily discounted, tax-free items; you keep said items out of landfills; and local families benefit with safe and affordable housing. Restores stock everything from small decor items to appliances, windows, and complete kitchens, so bring your measurements if you’re looking for something specific. Big box stores also occaisionally donate older inventory or floor models, so sometimes you can score a new item at a fraction of its retail price.

    (Pro tip: If you’re tearing out your own serviceable but used kitchen, Restores can send volunteers to remove your goods and issue you a tax receipt. Call your local Restore to learn more.)
  • Online marketplaces. Sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and Kijiji are packed with sellers offering wares for sale. It’s easy to search by area, category and specific item to find what’s on offer, and prices are usually negotiable. The depth and breadth of what’s out there is truly amazing, so set a timer when searching or be prepared to fall down a rabbit hole!

    And this seems obvious, but bears repeating: always remember that you’re buying from a stranger, so act accordingly. Meet in a public place, exchange money in person, bring a friend and remember the old expression: things that seem to good to be true often are.
  • Dumpster dive. Okay, not really (except for that one time!) … but just for fun, try going for a drive on a “big item” dump day. Most areas allow households to leave large items curbside for garbage pick-up several times a year. It sounds nutty, but swing through the fanciest streets in your ‘hood and see what you can spot — I’ve seen everything from paintings to desks to shower doors and exercise equipment free for the taking.
  • Scratch and dent outlets/sales. If you’re in the market for new appliances, try a “scratch and dent” sale in your area. More often than not, you’ll find brand-new items with minor imperfections (like scratches and dents!) at a discount. Some stores devote a section to these items, while larger retailers may have entire stores packed with options. It’s truly hit-and-miss, but worth a visit if you’re flexible about brand and colour (and if you’re not, call the store in advance to ask if they have anything that sounds like what you need). Depending on your room’s layout, a minor dent on the side of an oven, washing machine or fridge may not even be visible once installed — or you might just decide that a small visible scratch is worth the discount if it allows you to splurge on a luxurious backsplash or light fixture that will steal the show anyway.
  • Auctions. Yes, the old-school, raise-your-paddle auctions do still exist – but the internet has changed the game and online auctions are also thriving. In many cases you’ll have the opportunity to “preview” items at a physical location before bidding begins, which is always ideal whenever possible. And you’re not limited to high-end antiques; auctions are also being used to liquidate retail stores, restaurant suppliers and building materials. I recently scored nearly 400 square feet of high-end tile for a fraction of its retail price, making it well worth the trip.

    A word of caution: terms will vary, so ensure you know the rules before you bid. There is usually a buyers’ premium in addition to tax on your purchase, and you’ll need to be able to pick up your item(s) by a defined date and time. Sales are typically final, so no buyer’s remorse — determine the maximum you’re willing to pay in advance so you don’t get carried away in the heat of the moment. Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way … sigh …

  • Outlets. When a Restoration Hardware outlet opened nearby, I think I actually screamed. Anything that offers stuff you love at a better price is a win in my books, so don’t overlook outlets as one potential source of furnishings. The product at any given time is hit-and-miss and the condition of items varies, so I wouldn’t plan a room hoping “my” item will hit the floor anytime soon — but it’s definitely worth the occasional visit. Be nice and build a relationship with your favourite salesperson — if you’re lucky, he/she will give you the heads-up when your dream items arrive!

    Of course, it’s pretty inescapable that renovations aren’t actually free — money will be required (boo). If your money tree isn’t exactly flourishing these days, here are three relatively painless ways to find funds for your project:
  1. Sell items you aren’t using and reinvest the proceeds in your home. All those websites above work both ways — you can sell your stuff on them, too.

2. Save your Air Miles, then use them to buy gift cards for big box stores. Those gift cards can be used to purchase things you need — and bonus points if you use them to buy items on sale!

3. Repurpose leftover construction materials to create something new. That basement bar at the top of this post? It’s lined in leftover hardwood flooring, stained a new colour. No need to buy more material when what you have does the trick.

Working within a budget doesn’t need to be the constraint that limits your project. Instead, see it as an opportunity to be creative, think outside the proverbial box, and create a home that has memories and stories behind each piece. You just might end up with something that’s even better than what you envisioned!

What are your favourite budget sources? Comment below — I’m always adding to my list 😉

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