Give Your Home an Outdoor Makeover on the Cheap

If you believe everything you read in the Lowe’s or Home Depot mailer, you probably think you need a new grill, decorative stones leading to your glamorous garden shed, and protective paint on the floor of your garage. And you absolutely need amazing new flowers in new pots with new spring colors, along with a new layer of mulch, new decorative rock, and a wind chime for good measure.

While all of these purchases can absolutely improve your home’s look this spring, these kinds of home upgrades can become costly – especially if you do them year after year. One season’s worth of mulch alone can cost $100 or more (depending on the size of your beds), and new shrubs, flowers, decorative items, and plants can set you back even more. And once you start upgrading, it can be difficult to stop.

So, how can you save money while keeping your home in tip-top shape? Here are some tips to spruce up your yard without spending a fortune.

#1: Tackle one project at a time, and ignore the rest.

At my house, we tend to take an either/or approach to home maintenance each spring; in other words, we tackle one project each year, and leave the rest alone.

This year, we bought a new garden shed… and that pretty much wiped out our yard maintenance budget for the year. To make up for it, we’re skipping the mulch altogether (we’ll survive), reusing all our pots from last year (except for one that busted), and trying not to buy anything else.

#2: Ask friends or neighbors to split their plants.

While not all plants can be divided and shared, some absolutely can – perennial plants are naturally inclined to spread. And if you’re trying to save money on lawn upkeep, it’s hard to beat free plants.

Kim Anderson of Thrifty Little Mom says her money-saving strategy for this year includes taking advantage of as many freebies as she can.

“My mother-in-law divided hostas she had in her yard and we transplanted them in our yard to make it look nice at no cost,” says Anderson. “Now, each year we can divide and transplant the ones we have to create more plants without spending money.”

#3: Lay long-lasting rock when you can.

Rock is easy to maintain and almost never needs to be replaced. Aside from pulling weeds that sprout up between your rock landscaping, you’ll have little work to do all year long.

Amy Blacklock of Life Zemplified says she set herself up for savings a few years ago when she gave up on struggling shrubs and chose to “plant” rocks instead.

“We finally tackled the overgrown shrubs on the side of our home we purchased two years ago. Because the area doesn’t get much sun, we decided to make a rock garden instead,” Blacklock says. “We purchased some pebble stones on sale and gathered numerous large stones and rocks from our field and our surrounding neighbors’ yards and fields. We then added a few potted plants that grow well in shaded areas.”

Keep in mind, you can buy 0.5 cubic feet of river pebbles for as little as $3.50 at Walmart. And you may never need to replace it again.

#4: Quit trying to keep things alive that shouldn’t be.

If you’re tired of paying for water or to replace plants that always seem to struggle, you can save money and hassle by giving up. If you live in a desert, for example, growing grass is an uphill battle that you will surely lose – but only after you spend a boatload of cash.

Aaron Crowe of Cash Smarter figured this out the hard way during California’s long drought that only recently came to an end. “After letting the grass die for years, because wasting water on a lawn in the backyard seemed stupid, we had the backyard covered with wood chips instead,” she says. “We’ve added lawn furniture and a hammock, creating a great outdoors area with minimal weed picking and upkeep required.”

#5: Hire a landscape designer to create a plan, but do the work yourself.

Perhaps you want to completely overhaul your yard, but you barely know where to start. If you’re willing to do most of the actual work but need some guidance on layout, materials, and plant selection, Cheryl Reed from service review site Angie’s List suggests hiring a professional for design work only. After an on-site consultation, they’ll come up with a master plan for your yard – and you can either have them do the work, or chip away at it yourself.

“If your plan is truly transformational, consider investing in hiring a landscaping pro to give you a plan that you implement yourself,” says Reed. “There’s a cost here, but a pro will have a better idea than you about what will work best, and it’s the perfect way to establish that phased-in approach to creating your best yard.”

#6: Explore the magic of paint.

Whether we’re talking about upgrading your home’s interior or exterior, it’s amazing what a can of paint can do. Paint makes surfaces appear cleaner and better maintained, and a cute color can brighten up any home or garden.

“Paint usually helps a lot!” says Mary Shockley, a Realtor in Florida. “Can you paint your sidewalk, front door, garage door?” With around $20 in paint and a paintbrush, you can liven up your home’s curb appeal.

Shockley suggests talking to a specialist to see what paint would be best for the surface being painted. And while you could go with a solid color you’re already comfortable with, new paints (including textured options) on the market can create some pretty cool effects for outdoor surfaces.

#7: Experiment with solar lighting.

If you want to spruce up your yard without any ongoing expense, solar lighting can highlight the beauty of your home – and add some utility and safety to walkways as well.

“An easy way to improve the look of your front and backyard is by installing strategically placed solar powered lights,” says Evan Harris of CD Equity Partners.

“Whether you’re looking to illuminate your yard for security reasons or simply to highlight certain features, investing in solar powered lights is an easy and cheap way to upgrade your home’s exterior. Better yet, they require very little maintenance after installation.”

You can get a 10-pack of outdoor solar lights for around $22 at

#8: Give everything a good cleaning.

If you don’t want to make any extreme upgrades, giving your home’s exterior a good cleaning can help brighten things up. Use Brillo Steel Wool Soap Pads to scrub outdoor garbage cans, clean up your grill, and remove grime from outdoor children’s toys and outdoor tables and chairs.

Sweeping your driveway, sidewalks, and garden pathways will also help, as will picking up trash and debris.

Borrow a power washer to spray down your deck and your exterior siding. Lastly, wipe down your windows to make your home appear shiny and clean.

#9: Dress up your patio.

If you plan to spend a ton of time outdoors this year, upgrading your patio might be worth it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, however. Most of the time, you can spruce up the place with some pretty pots and plants.

“Every porch or patio needs greenery,” says Lisa Melone Cloughen of Melone Cloughen Interiors. “Think containers, mixing a variety of urn and planter styles. Mix larger scale classically inspired urns with mid-century drip glaze pots and sleek glazed or zinc contemporary urns,” she says.

Melone Cloughen suggests filling the larger urns and some smaller ones, too, with a variety of plants based on color, texture, and dimension. Consider mixing taller plants with ivy and moss spilling over the sides.

“Bold color combinations such as orange and purple look really great too, and for smaller, tabletop arrangements consider a mix of succulents, all of which add to the visual interest of the space.”

The Bottom Line

If you want to improve your home’s look without overspending this year, the best thing you can do is ignore most of what your home improvement store says. Take a close look at your home, yard, and garden and determine what you really need to enjoy your outdoor space before you head to the store. If you go with a list of upgrades and a budget in mind, it’s a lot easier to avoid getting sucked into spending more than you planned.

Also remember it’s impossible to keep up with the Joneses. We all have those neighbors who spend thousands making sure their yard is in tip top shape. While there’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your home, you shouldn’t have to spend a bundle to create a clean and sophisticated look. By strategically investing your money into a few upgrades every spring, you can ensure your home looks well-maintained and presentable all year long.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at

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How are you saving on landscaping this year? What tips would you add to this list? Please share your spring yard strategy in the comments!

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.