I have a thing for old houses. Neighbourhood streets lined with mature trees and an eclectic mix of architecture, colour, and details. That’s my jam. And it’s why our hopefully forever home is a one-hundred-year-old charmer. Living in an old home comes with its own set of challenges, and it’s not for everyone, but if you’re willing to take it on then, it can be a lot of fun.

Since we moved in October, there have been never-ending weekend projects and a growing list of things we still want to do. That’s kind of the thing with home renovations. Once you get started, it’s tough to stop. This coming from the girl who’s gearing up to paint her bathroom for the second time because the colour isn’t quite right. Like the paint, we’ve made a few missteps along the way, but we’re learning lots about balancing our wants, our needs, and our budget. So, let’s talk home improvements and how to make an impact without going into debt.


No post on budget home improvement projects would be complete without mentioning paint. It’s cost-effective but impactful. You can change the entire feel of a room with a fresh coat of paint. It’s also pretty darn simple for DIY and easy enough to fix if you screw up.

I know I’m not the only one that has to repaint because they’re hopeless at picking paint colours. My advice on that? Lean hard into neutrals and look through lots of Pinterest inspiration images. Purchasing a small sample of paint to test out on your walls will give you a way better idea of how the colour looks in your space than the chip.

Paint Chips

If painting is in your future, then start scoping out sales. We’ve found buy three gallons get one free at The Home Depot and percentage off sales at other paint stores. The price for a gallon of paint varies a lot depending on the brand you go with. Sometimes the better quality is warranted and can actually save you money. If you are painting over a light colour, a higher quality paint with good coverage should get the job done with one coat. Less paint can mean a lower cost even if the price per gallon is higher. Do splurge on a good quality brush though. It will make a difference in your painting and will last longer with proper care.


Being talented in the DIY department is a definite budget saver for owners of old houses. Luckily, if that’s not you, it’s easier than ever to improve your skills by following internet tutorials. If we are ever stumped on how to tackle a project we go straight to YouTube to seek out a video tutorial. At least that way you can have a better idea if it’s something you can take on or if it’s time to call in a pro.

DIY savvy will serve you well with the boring home improvement stuff like fixing a leaky faucet or installing a new electrical outlet, but is also valuable when it comes to home decor. Not all of those DIY home decor posts on Pinterest are worth your time, but there are enough good ones to help you decorate on the cheap.


Maybe my favourite thing about owning an old home is being able to fill it with old stuff. Since moving, I’ve developed a mild obsession with thrift stores and resale sites. There’s a time and place for cheap Ikea, but it’s no longer my go to. There are a few modern pieces I’ve incorporated but I’m definitely on a vintage kick when seeking out new furniture and decor.

Luckily, there are deals to be found if you’re looking. The last couple of months I have been spending too much time browsing Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji for new pieces. Resale sites definitely give you the best bang for your buck if you can find what you’re looking for. The one issue is that you’re almost always responsible for picking up the piece yourself. There’s no free shipping when it comes to Kijiji. And that doesn’t always work out when you have a little car. I’ve passed on a few things because I didn’t want to deal with finding a truck to borrow.

Thrifting can also be a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon and find some unique items. I’m far from an expert but it helps to have an understanding of quality. Cosmetic imperfections aren’t necessarily an issue, but poor quality is. It also helps to go with an idea with what you’re looking for but be open-minded. Thrifting is more a process of finding something with potential than finding something perfect.

Printable Art

Ok, this was a game changer for me. We lived in a house before but our new place just seems to have so much more wall space. Empty wall space. And art? Well, it can be hella expensive. And when you’ve got a long list of projections, it’s not necessarily a priority.

Enter the internet. Did you know there are a ton of super cool websites where you can print art for free or super cheap?! This was news I just discovered recently and it’s a game changer. Goodbye blank space, hello gallery wall!

Printable Wall Art
Image Credit: BioDiversity Library

It can take some time to dig through the archives (literally) and find the right pieces but if you have an interest in history, then it’s a super interesting task. Check out the following links for completely free options:

New York Public Library Digital Collection
NASA Images 
Little Gold Pixel 
Biodiversity Heritage Library 
Ernst Haeckel (Kunstformen der Nature) 

You will likely need to do some minor editing to get the downloadable images sized correctly for standard frames.

Printable Art
Image Credit: The Crown Prints

If editing isn’t your thing, then you can also search Etsy for digital art that you can print yourself. There are tons of reasonably priced options (less than $10) and most will come with a variety of standard sizes. I’ve purchased a few pieces from The Crown Prints and have always been happy.

Once I chose a few pieces, I uploaded them to the Costco Photo Center and picked them up in store. The most expensive part will be finding frames. Thrift stores are again a fantastic option to find unique frames for cheap. Or Ikea if you want to go matchy-matchy.

Embrace the Weird

One thing I’ve found since moving into an old home is you can let the quirks drive you crazy or you can lean into the weird. We’ve got doorknobs that don’t function, slightly skewed walls and mismatched windows. This can be frustrating when doing things like buying blinds, but it also gives you greater flexibility to be eclectic with your decor choices.

In our old place, we only had one living room, in this house, we have two. That meant we were on the search for affordable furniture to make the second living room usable. Facebook Marketplace and local antique stores were where we found almost everything. And that means nothing matches. We’ve got a dark blue velvet couch, a gold and glass coffee table, and a dark wood cabinet. It’s a weird mix but it’s become my favourite room and totally works with the character of the house (at least I think so!)

Don’t Rush Into Big Purchases

Moving into your forever home changes how you feel about the stuff that is in it. I’ve very focused on investing in pieces that will be with us for a long time. It’s simple enough to change up decor items, but I want the big ticket furniture pieces to be the right fit for now and for the future.

Right after we moved in, we knew we had to deal with the main bathroom. It had a pedestal sink with no counter space or storage space. We needed a real vanity ASAP. I ended up buying a fairly cheap one from Wayfair and while it works, it’s not necessarily what I would have chosen if I’d put more thought into it. It was a rash decision made out of desperation. It can be helpful to live with something for a while and do your research (aka browse Pinterest) before hitting that order button. There’s a big difference between shopping for something that will be a temporary fix and something that will be a permanent fixture in your life for years to come.

Those are six tips I’ve picked up while renovating and decorating our new (old) home. Hopefully some will be helpful when you’re making your own design decisions. If you have your own set of tips share away in the comments!

Tips on how to upgrade and transform your old home on a budget.

This post was proofread by Grammarly.

Image Credit: Katarzyna Grabowska


  1. Hey…great post!

    I’m also into a bit of a mid century/vintage kick since we bought our new house. Unfortunately most furniture pieces are pretty damn expensive..(at least the ones I really like so far) but I keep searching …

    We went from under 800 sq feet to just under 2300 – so the ART thing is a HUGE problem for us – I am going to check out those free galleries right away!

    Would love to see some pics of your place – especially if you have any cool vintage furniture/art, etc!

  2. Sarah Reply

    Sounds like you have expensive taste like me! Keep looking though, things do pop up. I sure meant to take some pictures and include them but I didn’t get around to it. I’ll get on it though 🙂

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