How to Update a Kitchen on a Budget


Updating your kitchen can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re on a tight budget. The kitchen is often the heart of a home, so remodeling this important space can not only improve functionality but also increase your home’s value. The good news is that with some planning, creativity and elbow grease, you can transform your kitchen without breaking the bank. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process of updating your kitchen on a budget, from establishing your goals and making a plan, to DIY renovations and cost-cutting tips. With these strategies, you’ll be able to give your kitchen a fresh new look while being kind to your wallet.

Determine Your Goals and Needs

Before diving into a kitchen remodel, it’s important to determine what you hope to achieve. Consider the following:

What’s your budget?

Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Take into account must-have updates vs. upgrades you can postpone. Focus spending on changes that will have the biggest impact.

How long do you plan on staying in the home?

If you may move soon, focus on simple cosmetic changes. If staying long-term, consider more significant upgrades that will increase function and enjoyment.

What’s your aesthetic?

Take inspiration from kitchen designs you love. Decide on a style – modern, rustic, traditional etc. This will inform material and finish choices.

What’s currently working and what isn’t?

Assess what you like about your existing kitchen, and what needs to change. This will help prioritize updates like improved storage, new appliances or better lighting.

How will you use the new space?

Determine your must-haves like entertainer-friendly features or pet-friendly finishes to inform an optimal layout.

Make a Renovation Plan and Stick to It

With your goals and budget in mind, it’s time to make a plan for your kitchen update.

Create a layout

Use graph paper or online planning tools to draft a new kitchen layout maximizing function and flow. Consider traffic patterns and refrigerator proximity when arranging appliances and cabinetry.

Make a timeline

Give yourself ample time for each stage – planning, permitting, demolition, installation. Build in a buffer for inevitable hiccups. Create a project schedule to stay on track.

Set a budget

Track all anticipated costs and subtract them from your overall budget. Include materials, new appliances, labor, fees for contractors or permitting. Pad the budget by 10-15% to allow for unexpected expenses.

Hire contractors judiciously

Consider DIYing cosmetic updates like painting cabinets and save on labor. For specialized work like electrical or plumbing, hire pros. Get at least three quotes.

Communicate changes clearly

Keep all contractors, family members up-to-date on the plan to finish on-time and on-budget. Adjust as needed.

DIY and Cost-Cutting Tips for Updating Cabinets

Refacing or refinishing kitchen cabinets can make a dramatic impact. Here are budget-friendly options:

Clean and degrease existing cabinets

Thoroughly wash cabinets with a degreasing cleaner like TSP. This prep is key for achieving long-lasting results.

Sand and paint existing cabinets

Lightly sand, prime, and paint cabinets and doors in your color of choice. Replace hardware for a polished look.

Stain or re-stain wood cabinets

Strip existing stain, evenly apply wood conditioner then use gel stain for vivid, lasting color that shows wood grain.

Reface cabinet boxes and doors

Affix new veneer like wood, laminate or Thermofoil directly over existing cabinet boxes and doors for a fresh facade.

Replace doors and drawers only

Install new cabinet doors and drawer fronts from a big box store or cabinet supply shop for a fraction of full cabinet replacement.

Frost glass cabinet inserts

Etch or use frosted film on existing glass doors to soften the look while still allowing light to shine through.

Add trim and molding

Install decorative trim pieces, corbels or feet below cabinets to update their style and give the eye a place to rest.

Low-Cost Countertop Options That Look Luxe

Countertops see a lot of wear-and-tear. Luckily, there are stylish options kind to your wallet:

Tile countertops

Use ceramic, porcelain or mosaic tiles. Add interest with a decorative inset or border. Use large grout joints for easier cleaning. Seal yearly.

Concrete countertops

After installing plywood substrate, apply concrete overlay product, available in tons of colors. Buff smooth and seal. Can be DIY’d.

Recycled glass countertops

Mix colored recycled glass aggregates with concrete and pour over substrate. Sand and seal for an earthy, eco-friendly surface.

Butcher block or wood countertops

Use inexpensive lumber like oak or bamboo, joined and sanded. Requires diligent oiling but ages beautifully.

Laminate countertops

Affordable, durable and low-maintenance. Look for patterns like stone and concrete that mimic high-end materials at a fraction of the cost.

Stainless steel

A pro kitchen look on a budget. Opt for a single sheet for a seamless appearance. Can be installed over existing countertops.

Inexpensive Flooring Options for Kitchen Updates

Floors take a beating in the kitchen. Here are budget-friendly flooring ideas that can stand up to messes:

Sheet vinyl

Self-adhesive sheets create a waterproof surface that’s comfortable underfoot. Choose stone and wood look vinyl for realistic visuals.

Luxury vinyl plank

Durable, scratch-resistant LVP mimics hardwood or tile with less upkeep. Stagger planks randomly for a handlaid look. Installs with click-locking system.

Porcelain tile

More affordable than ceramic or stone, porcelain tile comes in huge shape and pattern varieties. Use large tiles with groutless edges for a seamless effect.

Concrete resurfacing

Overlay or microtopping systems create a fresh concrete look over existing floors. Polished or stamped finishes available. Can even be DIY’d.

Sheet linoleum

Naturally antibacterial, affordable linoleum comes in retro and modern patterns. Can be installed over surfaces like plywood for easy DIY installation.

Simple Lighting and Hardware Updates

With lighting and hardware, small tweaks can make a noticeable difference:

Replace dated lighting fixtures

Swap builder-basic lights with updated, budget-friendly fixtures from home improvement stores. Stick to a cohesive finish like brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze.

Install undercabinet lighting

LED tape lighting brightens countertops affordably. Hardwire for a seamless look or use plug-in strips for easy install.

Update switch plates and outlet covers

Replace old, discolored plates with fresh white or metallic covers matching new cabinet hardware and fixtures for a pulled-together look.

Install a ceiling-flush mounted light over sinks

Rather than boob lights, opt for an affordable low-profile LED light to brightly illuminate sinks without detracting from the ceiling.

Install a dimmer switch

Dimmers allow you to control a room’s ambiance. Hire an electrician if unfamiliar, as improper installation can cause fires.

Freshen up hardware

Match new handles and knobs finish to other metallic finishes for a cohesive look. Spray paint existing hardware as a budget option.

Incorporating Pops of Color and Pattern

Not ready for an all-white kitchen? Use these tips to work color into your space:

Vintage dishware

Display inherited or thrifted dishes in glass-front cabinets for pops of retro color and charm. Coordinate with wall colors.

Window treatments

Roman shades or curtains in colorful patterns add visual interest without big commitment. Layer over white sheers to soften.

Hand towels and potholders

Introduce hues and patterns through easily swapped-out kitchen linens. Tie colors to small appliances for a pulled-together effect.

Bold backsplash

Use tile or removable wallpaper to create a vibrant backsplash as a focal point. Coordinate with accent cabinet colors.

Patterned rugs

Anchor work zones like sinks and stoves with lively patterned area rugs. They disguise drips and spills too.

Vibrant small appliances

Perk up major appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers by pairing them with colorful stand mixers, toasters and other countertop appliances.

Frequently Asked Questions About Updating Kitchens on a Budget

How much does it cost to remodel a kitchen on a budget?

Budget kitchen remodels typically range from $10,000-$25,000. Focus on visible improvements like cabinet fronts, countertops and backsplashes rather than gutting the space.

What are the best places to save on my kitchen remodel?

Reface rather than replace cabinets, opt for affordable countertop materials, install DIY lighting. Shop sales, reuse fixtures and appliances and self-install where possible.

What projects should I avoid trying to DIY?

Leave electrical, gas line work, ductwork and plumbing to the professionals to avoid safety hazards. Hire for tasks requiring special tools or skills.

How do I add storage without replacing cabinets?

Optimize existing storage with drawer organizers, lazy susans and pull-out shelves. Repurpose blind corner cabinets with specialized hardware. Add a rolling cart or hanging pot rack.

How can I change my kitchen layout without remodeling?

Rearrange your existing footprint for better flow and function. Upgrade carts rather than built-ins. Add an island on casters for flexible prep space. Use fold-down prep tables.


Updating your tired kitchen doesn’t have to drain your savings account. With careful planning, prioritization and budget-savvy material selections, you can give your kitchen a fresh new look without overextending your finances. Focus on big visual impact updates first, take your time to DIY where possible and work within your existing footprint. With a little creativity and elbow grease, you’ll gain a kitchen space you can enjoy for years to come – all while sticking to your budget.