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How do I make my house feel like home? Average Spent in Your First Year

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Ever wonder about the cost of making your house a home? Let me show you the average spent annually, plus how to make a house a home on a budget.

beautiful glass vase full of pink peonies with text overlay "how to make your house a home on a budget"

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average annual spending on various items when making your house a home (decoration, appliances, painting, repairs, etc.) is $8,927.

This is as of 2007, for single-family detached homes built before 2004. For people who purchase newer homes (built after 2004)? The average annual spending is even more in that first year: $12,332.

What about people who own a home all ready: how much do they spend per year to make your house a home (or at least feel like one)?

Turns out they are still spending, on average, $4,420 per year.

Anyway you look at it, making your house a home can be expensive.

My husband, Paul, and I are in the category of new home owners in a home built before 2004, which means the average spent in the first year of home-ownership by other people in our situation would be $8,927.

On the way to picking up a beautiful rug for our living room-turned-library from a seller on craigslist, I started to wonder what our own expenses on furniture, decorations, upgrades, etc. have added up to thus far, 9 months into home ownership.

But before we get into that, let's talk about what “make a house a home meaning” really is.

Make a House a Home Meaning – What it Means to Make Your House a Home

There is a real difference between a house and a home. A house is a collection of walls, a roof, and all the other details one would expect where they are going to live.

But a home? While this can be a subjective word, what it boils down to is the place where you feel safe, comfortable, and like you belong.

A home is an environment that supports you — you feel comfortable in it, things are set up for you + your family's best benefit, and it's a sanctuary for your life to unfold.

The way you turn a house into a home is by taking any space you're living in (or going to be living in), and changing/renovating/adapting it so that it “feels” right for you.

A fun exercise to complete that will drive many of your purchase/renovation/repair decisions — write down the following:

  • How do you want to feel when you're in your home?
  • How do you want your spouse + family to feel when they're in the home?
  • How do you want your guests to feel when they're in your home?

For me? I decided I want our home to be: a sanctuary, an environment that supports creativity, loving, and playful.

When you've finally done enough of the things to turn your house into a home, you'll know it. Because you just feel it in your bones.

This isn't to say that making your house a home comes cheap. In fact, people can go way overboard in their spending for this because it's a really important quality-of-life thing to do.

Let's look at our own experience with spending in our first year as homeowners while trying to make our house feel just right.

Psst: ever fantasized about someone else renovating your home for free? Here's my article on how to get your house remodeled for free, and tv shows that remodel homes for free.

Making My House a Home: Purchases + Ways We Saved

I didn't kept track of ALL house expenditures we made in our first year of home-ownership in anticipation of writing this article.

But I can certainly recall most of what we have spent.

To keep this data pure, I am including only items that were purchased solely because we bought a home, and that would not have been purchased if we had stayed in our apartment.

  • Appliances: $800 (refrigerator)
  • Plants/Seeds/Landscaping: $200
  • Two Wingback Reading Chairs: $45 (Craigslist)
  • 8”X10” Rug: $50 (Craigslist)
  • Paint/Painting Supplies/Spackle: $300
  • Whiteboard for Office: $20
  • Office Chair: $35
  • Cast Iron Sink: $80 (Craigslist)
  • Energy Efficient Lightbulbs: $25
  • Repairs: $220 (3 service calls to home warranty, two toilet repair kits)
  • New Locks: $100
  • Other Decorations: $300 (bookends, picture frames, etc.)
    • Total Spent: $2,125

Hint: here's how to buy quality furniture cheap.

So how have we gotten off so easy (“easy” being about $6,802 less than the average we discussed above)?

Mostly because of the choices we made.

When we purchased our home as first-time homebuyers, we held off on buying mostly everything because we knew we would be getting married soon.

Instead of shopping, we added things to our registry list (which was almost just as fun, I have to tell you!). We even held off on purchasing things like shovels, rakes, and gardening gloves and instead put these on our registry, which definitely brought a few chuckles from close friends. This took a lot of patience on our part, but it certainly paid off, as you can see in our list below:

Gifts to Us or Purchased with Gift Card/Monetary Gifts (Wedding):

  • Bar Stools
  • Weedwacker
  • Flatware set, pot and pan set, Dutch oven, Pyrex dish set, slow cooker, etc.
  • Towels, bathroom set
  • Patio Chairs
  • Grill
  • Tools: Reciprocating Saw, Mouse Sander, Rake, Ladder, Shovel
  • Kitchen Appliances: Microwave, slow cooker
  • Bird feeders
  • Nightstands

Another way we saved on many things while still decorating our home was by purchasing used items. Click To TweetCraigslist has become our best friend of late, and we are also very thankful and grateful to friends and family who have given us their old items they no longer want.

Our friends and family were generous with us by giving us items they no longer needed.

Given to Us by Others:

  • Lawnmower
  • Fireplace Tools
  • Washer/Dryer (left by owners and work great so far!)

Finally, we re-purposed many items from other time periods in our lives, and also from what the previous owners left behind, such as the curtains and curtain rods in the library, large brick stones in the landscaping, the chimera the previous homeowners left behind (which I have always wanted one!), etc.

As I mentioned previously, Paul and I have several large projects ahead of us in order to update our home that straddle both categories of need and want, so it is very possible that when all is said and done, we will have spent around $8,927 in our first year as well.

In fact, we don’t have carpet or a floor in our master bathroom at this moment!

But we will be using our heads to save the utmost money, while not skimping on quality. I'll share with you how.

Cheap Ways to Make Your Home Look Expensive

We've got loads of other projects to complete on our house that will, undoubtedly, help it to feel like a home to us. Such as, updating our master bathroom — tiling the floor and shower, painting, and purchasing a new double vanity — fixing the sub floor in the upstairs bathroom that dips down about 2 inches from the rest of the floor, then re-tiling it, and updating the bathroom downstairs with new paint, new tile, and a new vanity.

These projects will certainly add to our total of $2,125. However, each of these projects will be paid in cash, will add value to our home, and I am sure we will still come in under the $8,927 average.

The list seems to never end, and it would be easy to spend that total $8,927 each and every year in order to help turn our house into a home.

But, we have many other things we want to do with that money (save for retirement, anyone?), and I'm sure you do, too!

So, let's talk about cheap ways to make your home look expensive:

  • Splurge on Paint According to the Feeling You Want to Have in Each Room: The high-end paint does not cost very much considering the huge amount of change it can make to your home. Different colors can make you feel different ways, so you want to identify in each room the feeling you'd like to have while you're in that room, and then choose paint colors based on that. Talk about an excellent, quick way to make your house into a home!
  • Upgrade What You Own Instead of Purchase New: Instead of purchasing new pillows for our library, I purchased these awesome Octopus pillow covers (ones that look like those, anyway, which adds the playful + creative feeling in our library from my list above!) to upgrade our current throw pillows. You can also do this by upgrading to new toilet seats instead of purchasing new toilets, and couch/lazy boy covers instead of new couches/chairs.
  • Pay Attention to Trim: Looking more expensive is often in the details. Adding trim to your walls and/or just painting the existing trim a white color to make it pop will make your home look more expensive.
  • Bring Back the Wood: Anywhere in your home where you can bring back original wood, you should do it. This could be taking up carpet to expose a wood floor underneath and sanding/finishing it. Or, like in our laundry room, peeling off years and years of paint for the custom-built wall cabinets and then sanding/varnishing them (wow, did that make our laundry room look more expensive for less than $100!).
  • Buy One Piece Per Room and Make it the Focal Point: If you just spend extra money on one piece per room — like a nice book shelf, or on the coffee table, or a cast-iron sink, or something like that — and make that the focal point of the room, the entire room will be upgraded.
  • Buy Used: We've had some great luck taking advantage of sites like Craigslist, Local Facebook Buy/Sell Groups, and Freecycle to buy expensive items for very cheap and help make our house feel more like a home. Things we've found include a wooden buffet for our dining room ($75), a cast iron sink for our laundry room ($80) and a glider chair for our nursery ($60).
Utilize places like Craigslist and Freecycle, where you can score some great items at amazing prices Click To Tweet

Average Spent in Home Maintenance Each Year – How Much to Budget for Home Maintenance

I want to give you one more thing to think about.

Did you know that, on top of the costs you WANT to spend, the average homeowner will spend between 1% and 3% of their home's value on repairs and maintenance each year?

We were surprised by this, and I don't want you to be.

Because not taking this into consideration when purchasing a home could lead you to end up house poor.

Home-ownership is not all lemonade and hummingbirds; it comes with financial responsibilities. That 1%-3% estimate cost for maintenance spending is above and beyond your down payment, mortgage, insurance, and property tax.

It seems fitting to discuss our own experience with this while a plumber is downstairs cutting a hole through our living room ceiling (eesh!).

The good news is that we listened to the experts and have purposefully built up an emergency savings fund/house fund to deal with issues such as this.

To give you an idea of our own experience with home maintenance and repair costs, here’s a breakdown for our last two years of home-ownership:

  • Year One:  Landscaping after hard freeze kills all of our front bushes and other vegetation ($150), A/C unit replacement (approximately $3,500 out of pocket after tax credit and home warranty), chimney cap installation ($450), replaced garbage disposal ($100), soaker hoses ($30) (Total: $4230, 2.5%)
  • Year Two: Foundation repair ($3,500), plumbing repair ($835 in total), washer replacement ($385), broken dishwasher (not repaired/replaced yet) (Total: $4720, 2.8%)

Hint: need things repaired on your own home? Check out this golden list of tried-and-tested tips for how to negotiate with a contractor. Seriously, we learned these through trial and error!

I am not writing this to scare you away from home-ownership, or even necessarily to complain about our plumbing bill. Rather I am taking the opportunity to show you how an emergency fund and house fund for maintenance/repairs is a must have when you figure out your expenses and determine whether or not you are ready to own a home. Having one of these is not a nice suggestion from current homeowners that is meant to deter you from owning your own home. Rather it’s solid advice.

How close have you gotten to the average spent in your first year of home ownership? What are some ways you have figured out to save money while still making your house a home on a budget?

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.
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