8 Home Upgrades That Are Cheap As Hell But Make A Huge Difference

1. Knobs and hardware on furniture.

These can be bought in a big pack at stores like Home Goods or Marshalls for around $10, and make any old piece of furniture look new and fresh. Honestly, in many ways the key to going from “generic IKEA dresser” to “ooh where did you get that chic dresser?” is simply upgrading the knobs/handles. Pro tip: get a bunch that match to put on different pieces of furniture from different places so they look more cohesive, and like they belong in the same room.

2. Paint color (on furniture, not walls).

I’m so into spray paint for changing up furniture pieces whenever the mood strikes me. This means that every time I move, or decide a piece of furniture no longer belongs in a certain room, I can quickly paint it a color that matches another room and repurpose it, instead of throwing it out and possibly buying brand new furniture. I’m in the process of trying to paint some of my boyfriend’s stuff and mine so they look like they didn’t come from the lives of two separate people, and match a little better in our home.

3. Toilet seats.

This one is kind of weird, but having a dingy, stained, or peeling toilet seat just makes your bathroom look like a dump (no pun intended). You can get a new, clean, shiny one for somewhere around $30, and it will instantly make your bathroom look a lot nicer.

4. Blinds/curtains.

Having blinds on the windows that are broken/missing sections, are dirty in a way that is impossible to clean, or are twisted around each other is something that automatically makes a home look like a little bit of a sad dorm room. Having really nice, new-looking blinds (or replacing old-fashioned blinds with cordless shades like these) makes your place look clean and fresh, and not like it is falling apart. And if you have more flexibility on your window treatment life, elegant and simple curtains — it is almost impossible to go wrong with a simple linen pair — are always a great (and in many ways cost-effective) solution to the entire blinds issue.

5. Lampshades.

A lot of lampshades start out white, and despite all of our best efforts, eventually fade into a crusty brown-yellow color. The good news here is that most lampshades are under $20, so they’re quick and easy to replace if you want a simple home update. Additionally, if you have a bunch of mismatched lamps that you got as hand-me-downs during a move, or have stayed with you through a few different houses with different décor styles, you can easily spray paint the bases to match, and pick up a bunch of basic, matching lampshades.

6. Area rugs.

I think area rugs are magical, because even though rugs are often pretty pricey, you can get a good, smaller-sized one for under $50, and it transforms a room instantly. When I moved into my apartment, my boyfriend had a basic brown and tan rug that looked boring, but was functional. I recently replaced it with a $30 one from Walmart with a cute black-and-white pattern, and our living room looks like an entirely different place.

7. Pillow covers.

One of my favorite super-cheap ways to switch up home décor is to replace the pillowcases on my throw pillows. A lot of great-quality pillow covers will be anywhere from $10-20, but I’ve actually bought most of mine from Amazon in the $1-3 price range. This is a good, inexpensive way to change up the look of your room seasonally, or as your décor colors and preferences change.

8. Contact paper.

This is one of my favorite inexpensive and easily-replaceable ways to update a home. Adhesive contact paper comes in so many different colors, textures, and styles, but they stick to pretty much anything and come off easily if you want to change the style. You can do an easy desk or coffee table DIY by painting or staining the legs or base whatever color you’re into, and covering the top with this chic faux-marble contact paper to make it look elegant as heck for cheap. You can also use them to cover ugly rental cabinets, backsplashes, or put in a removable accent wall of fancy patterned wallpaper. Another possible idea: upgrade the ugly countertops of your rental without getting any actual housework done with this shiny, granite-look contact paper.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

Image via Unsplash

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  • Tara

    Hmm, I’m going to disagree about rugs. That Walmart one is cheap, but we know why — because Walmart is a terrible corporation that doesn’t pay its employees fairly or give them any benefits. If you want a large rug from pretty much anywhere else, you will quickly discover how expensive they can be. IKEA has a decent selection of larger rugs for more reasonable prices, but they’re still between $100-$500.

    • Classy Chicken

      Or just TJ Maxx it. They always have pretty rugs for very reasonable prices!

      • Zandypop

        Or Old Time Pottery, Homegoods, even Ross and Marshalls… There are a lot of places to look for rugs that are a good price. You just need to keep an eye out and comparison shop.

    • Alexis

      Lay two smaller IKEA rugs side by side – large rug, small price 😉

    • Rebecca Ann

      RugsUSA.com also have a lot of great options for cheap! Quite a bit of overlap with Joss & Main/Wayfair, but sometime you can find an even better deal than those sites.

  • tera

    I recently was replacing flooring and picked up samples of porcelain tile (the new large style) We went with wood floors instead, but I still had some samples that are a gorgeous marble pattern. I realized they are the same exact size as some cheap square end tables I have, placed the tile on there, and voila! beautiful “marble” topped tables, for the price of samples ( $3)

  • Emma Watson

    Can TFD do a video on how to apply and remove contact paper? I’m sure a video exists on YouTube but getting DIY from the TFD team, especially when it’s talked about with such frequency, would be great. Especially because it might be less intimidating than hardcore home repair channels.

  • Don’t forget the power of a simple houseplant! If you’re trying to go for that clean, minimalist look, a splash of green will take things from “sterile” to “inviting.” I recommend trying out a ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia); they run about $10-15 at home improvement stores (I got mine at IKEA) and are IMPOSSIBLE to kill (and I would know, having gone through a dozen houseplants this year but my ZZ plant is still truckin’). Intentionally underwater these guys and they will send up shoots with glossy new leaves throughout the summer.

  • lazuliz

    I love this! I spray paint pretty much all the cheap furniture we buy, it is easy and upgrades it from various shades of brown/black to a more fun and cohesive match. And after living in our house for 3+ years, it is in need of some additional upgrades. Thanks for the ideas!

  • J

    Psst – don’t underestimate your favorite Goodwill, either!! Got a nearly-new photo frame and a new lampshade there for $5… total!!