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Budget Friendly Kitchen Updates

Small and inexpensive changes in a kitchen, like fresh paint on cabinets and an area rug, can have a big impact.

NEW YORK – The '90s were a great time for culture, music, and entertainment. However, kitchen designs of yesteryear have many folks scratching their heads in confusion.

If your family still gathers in a kitchen that looks like it's straight out of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, it's probably time to get with the modern-day program. Maybe the potential bill associated with a kitchen renovation is holding you back. If so, take a deep breath because upgrading your kitchen doesn't necessarily require a fat stack of cash.

To curate our list, we turned to the professionals, flipped through design sites, and peeked into some of the trendiest homes out there. Each suggestion we make considers cost, DIY difficulty level, materials required, ongoing maintenance and added functionality.

All told, we think you'll be surprised at just how affordable it can be to upgrade your kitchen.

Add a fresh coat of paint to your cabinets

Painting your cabinets can dramatically update your kitchen's look while adhering to a relatively low budget, depending on the size of your kitchen.

The folks over at Snazzy Little Things did their cabinet makeover for $95. The DIY difficulty level is generally low as long as you're comfortable with a paintbrush. You can likely finish the job over a weekend.

To complete the upgrade, you'll need paint, primer, brushes, painter's tape, and sandpaper. While there isn't any significant ongoing maintenance, touch-ups aren't out of the question over time. For the best results, we recommend removing all cabinet doors and hardware before painting.

Install a stick-on tile backsplash

Stick-on tiles are your budget-friendly best friend when it comes to installing a new backsplash at budget prices.

You can grab tiles anywhere from about $20-$50 per square foot at places like Walmart or Home Depot. It's a great way to DIY the job without professional help, and the installation process usually takes just a few hours.

You'll need stick-on tiles, a ruler, a cutting tool, and a level to ensure everything is lined up nicely. The best part is that there's no ongoing maintenance required besides maybe occasionally hitting it with some Windex. It's primarily a decorative upgrade but has some functionality to protect your walls from splashes.

Hang floating shelves

Floating shelves are an inexpensive way to display your dishware or other kitchen knickknacks on a tight budget. They're relatively easy to hang on your own, but enlisting the help of a friend makes the job easier and more enjoyable.

Installation can take a few hours, and you'll need the shelves, brackets, screws, a drill, and a level. Besides some occasional dusting, it's basically a set-it-and-forget-it job.

Floating shelves add functionality by creating additional storage space and decoration, allowing you to showcase your items. Take things a step further by using reclaimed wood for a rustic touch.

Upgrade lighting fixtures

Swapping out old lighting fixtures can give a whole new feel to the ambiance of your kitchen. Lighting fixtures are generally affordable, but you may need to enlist the help of an electrician if you don't feel comfortable working with electricity. Safety is a priority here.

This job usually takes about an hour or two. You'll need the new fixture, a screwdriver, and possibly some wire connectors. Other than changing the bulb periodically, there's minimal ongoing maintenance. It's a functional upgrade that also adds a stylish element. We recommend going with LED bulbs for energy efficiency.

Add an area rug

In addition to being a pleasurable companion for your feet, area rugs add warmth and color to your kitchen at a low cost. You might even be able to relocate a rug from another area of your home to whittle down the cost to zero. It's really only a matter of choosing and placing a rug that gives you the desired style.

Since it's for the kitchen, we recommend looking for non-slip, stain-resistant, and washable options. The nice part is that it's a no-tools-required upgrade. As for maintenance, there's not much to it. Run it over with the vacuum occasionally, and maybe wash it a few times a year.

Paint a chalkboard wall

Tap into your creative side and paint a chalkboard wall in your kitchen. For around $20, you can grab a can and open up a whole bunch of possibilities. The project takes a few hours from start to finish, including drying time.

Once it's up, you'll have a decorative and functional space for notes, menus, or silly doodles of your cat. Maintaining the board is simple - just wipe it down with a damp cloth, and your canvas will be blank for a new creation.

Try seasoning the chalkboard by rubbing chalk over the entire surface and then wiping it off. It'll prevent ghosting.

Install under-cabinet lighting

Installing under-cabinet lighting is a relatively inexpensive way to achieve that high-end look without shelling out all sorts of cash. If you're comfortable with basic electrical work or batteries are your jam, you can do this yourself. Just stick up a few battery-powered lights and call it a day. You'll deal with more maintenance but can achieve your desired effect.

Hard-wired under-cabinet lights are a little more expensive and usually take a few hours to install. You might need to hire a professional as well. However, once the job is done, maintenance is minimal. It's an upgrade that adds functionality while making things look fancy in the process.

Replace cabinet hardware

Swapping out cabinet hardware is an easy and affordable way to update your kitchen. The DIY difficulty level is very low, so you likely won't need a professional's help. It's a project you can complete in an afternoon.

You'll need new knobs or handles, a screwdriver, a drill, and possibly a tape measure. You might need some wood putty to cover the old holes, too. After the job's done, there's not much ongoing maintenance other than routine cleaning. This upgrade is primarily decorative but can make opening and closing cabinets easier, depending on the style you go with.

Add a pot rack

If cabinet space is becoming scarce, installing a pot rack is a stylish and functional addition to your kitchen at a minimal cost. Doing this yourself can be tricky, mainly because you might need to do a little match and secure the rack to the ceiling or wall really well. You don't want your cast iron to come crashing down on your head.

There are tons of creative ways to make a pot rack, so your material list is pretty fluid -- anything from a galvanized pipe to reclaimed wood and hooks can do the trick. When the rack's up, you'll have more cabinet space for your kid's growing collection of sippy cups.

Decorate with wall art

Hanging wall art is a budget-friendly way to bring personality to your kitchen. Anyone can hang some art with a Command strip or some screws and nails, so it's a super easy project. The most difficult part is choosing what art to go with.

You can find countless bargain art pieces online. If you want something more authentic or rustic, look for local yard sales or stop by a flea market over the weekend. It's a purely decorative upgrade but makes your kitchen feel more personalized and inviting.

Display decorative jars and canisters

Decorative jars and canisters are a budget-friendly way to get creative while organizing and beautifying your kitchen. You only need a few jars or canisters, labels, stickers, markers, and imagination.

There's really no maintenance involved other than regular cleaning and refilling whatever you stock each canister with -- sugar, flour, pasta, utensils, etc. It's an upgrade that's as mutually functional as it is decorative, helping you keep your kitchen tidy while adding visual flair.

Hang a pegboard

Pegboards aren't purely dedicated to hanging tools in Dad's garage. They're a versatile and affordable storage solution that you can use anywhere, including the kitchen. You can install a pegboard relatively easily by yourself or with a friend.

To complete this inexpensive upgrade, you'll need a pegboard, screws, anchors, a drill, and hooks.

Besides being highly functional for kitchen organization, pegboards are unique and customizable storage solutions for pots, pans, and utensils. You can even paint the pegboard to add a pop of personality and color to your kitchen.

Install a magnetic knife strip

Did you know that when your knives jostle around in your utensil drawer, they become duller and more dangerous to use?

Knife blocks can accumulate food and become a breeding ground for bacteria. However, a magnetic knife strip keeps your knives in tip-top shape while adding hygienic function and style to your kitchen. It's the perfect budget-friendly upgrade.

Doing this yourself is easy and takes approximately 30 minutes. You'll need a magnetic strip, screws, anchors, and a drill. From there, you only need to clean it occasionally and enjoy easy access to your kitchen knife collection.

Give your countertops a contact paper facelift

Contact paper is a budget-friendly way to give your countertops a new look and feel. You can do this one yourself in as little as a few hours, as long as you have a bit of patience.

You'll need contact paper, a utility knife, and a squeegee to complete this project. Look for a pattern that mimics the look of natural stone or wood to get that high-end feel without the blow to your bank account.

Once the job is complete, just routinely clean it after preparing meals like any other countertop. Don't let hot pans directly contact the counter to avoid unpleasant damage.

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