Nobody likes a house with an outdated bathroom.
Of course, you can use a blue toilet and bathe in a pink tub, illuminated by eight naked light bulbs shining on a stained 1970s laminate countertop. I do, for now. But do you really want to?
Building the spa bathroom of your dreams may cost more than you want to spend. But you don’t have to empty your wallet to improve your bathroom. A little bling and a few luxurious touches can give you a big impact for a small amount of money, and that’s a good place to start.
“One little thing creates that luxury instead of worrying about everything else,” says Laura Redd, an interior designer in Greensboro, North Carolina. “I think sparkle is a big thing.”
You should also avoid adding a $100,000 bathroom to a $200,000 house, Redd notes, because you’ll never recoup your investment.
But there are other ways to save, too.
“Paint is always, on a budget, your best quick option on a makeover,” says Justin DiPego, senior editor of Do It Yourself. And you can do that yourself.
But with a bathroom renovation, you want to be careful about getting in over your head, especially if your home has only one bathroom.
“Know your limits,” DiPego says. If you’ve never laid tile before, a bathroom is probably not a good place to start. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to hire someone who knows the ins and outs of the job. “You’ll end up saving money in the long run because you won’t screw it up.”
Hiring a contractor is usually smart for plumbing and electrical work, as well as for complicated tile jobs or ones that require tearing out walls.
But, Redd says, don’t let the contractor choose the materials. Shop for them yourself instead. You’ll be sure to get what you want, and you won’t have to pay for the contractor’s shopping time.
Here are 13 ways to save money while improving your bathroom:
Bring in some posh accessories. Search for items that can change the look of your bathroom dramatically without anyone picking up a wrench. Those could include a new shower curtain, plush bath sheets, a new rug, a magnifying makeup mirror or perhaps a flower in a vase. “Don’t cheap out on your towels,” Redd says. “Bamboo towels are phenomenal. They last forever.”
Paint the walls. Avocado fixtures against white may look extremely dated. But change the walls to a complementary color, and “suddenly the avocado green is a player,” says Mary Anne Brugnoni, a designer in New York. “Paint is your best friend.”
Change the showerhead. You can buy a rain showerhead, massage showerhead and other models that will give your bathroom a spa look and feel as well as improve your shower experience. Most of the time, you can make the change in five minutes with a wrench.
Shop around for vanities and fixtures. Compare prices online, in big-box stores, in specialty stores and even on Craigslist. Watch for sales and clearance items, too. You can find deals online on everything from faucets to vanities, and the online selection is much larger than what you’ll find at any store.
Use granite remnants for counters. Granite shops often have small bits of granite left over from bigger jobs and will sell you enough for a bathroom vanity counter at a discount. To find out what’s available, call your local shops first then drop by to see the granite and negotiate the price.
Shop around for tile. You can find nice floor and wall tile for $1 to $2 per square foot. Use that less expensive tile for most of the work, and then incorporate luxury tile as accents.
Tile a smaller area. Instead of tiling all the bathroom walls, tile only around the tub and shower, and use drywall for the rest of the area.
Create a vanity from a piece of old furniture. “If you want to get creative, and you have that creative gene … you can create something unique,” Redd says. If your vanity is wood, refinish or paint it rather than buying a new one. She bought a used piece of furniture for $45, a cultured marble top for $150 and two sinks on closeout for $50 each, creating a unique double vanity for just $245.
Renovate just part of your bathroom. If you can’t afford to tear the entire bathroom down to the studs and rebuild it, consider renovating just the tub and shower area. “It’s going to give them the impact of a new bathroom,” Brugnoni says.
Use a shower curtain instead of a glass shower enclosure. “A curved rod with a really cool shower curtain is going to save you a lot of money,” Brugnoni says. Plus, a shower curtain adds color and can be changed out easily.
Choose chrome rather than brushed nickel fixtures. It’s cheaper, and there are more choices. And chrome is even making a comeback, Brugnoni notes.
Buy a framed mirror or frame your existing mirror. That small change can quickly give your bathroom a more glamorous look. If your mirror is small, you may be able to buy a frame at a yard sale or thrift store. For a large mirror, use molding to build a frame.
Have everything planned and materials in hand before you start. Changing course in midstream always costs time and money. You should know what you’re doing and when you expect to finish before launching into any grand bathroom renovation.
A version of this story appeared at U.S. News & World Report.