the old barn

Money Saving Questions to Ask When Building a Home

January 13, 2021

Saving money when building a home shouldn’t feel like an insurmountable obstacle.

Yes, it’s a challenge. Yes, it can be frustrating and discouraging at times, but…

You can save money when building a new home!

– repeat after me-


Make that your home building motto and you’ll do just fine.

I’m going to start this post off with a parable. Don’t skip reading this part. It’s good stuff that you’re going to want to tell your kids. AND Jesus spoke in parables…Enough said.

Parable to help you save money building a new house:

There was a little girl at her Grandmother’s house playing with a bouncy ball in the play room. Also in this play room was a beautiful doll house that her grandmother had always told her was very old and very valuable and to be very careful when playing with it.

The little girl adored the doll house! Suddenly her bouncy ball bounced right into the doll house. She reached her little hand through the tiny window to get the ball, but when she tried to pull her hand out it was stuck. She screamed for her grandmother to help. No matter how hard they tried, they could not free the little hand.

Ultimately, the grandmother had to break the doll house to pull her hand loose. When the little girl pulled her hand out, she was clutching tightly to the bouncy ball in her fist, which had made it impossible to fit her hand back through the opening.

If she had just momentarily let go of the 25 cent ball, the valuable doll house could have been spared and the little girl would have enjoyed it for years to come, maybe even her children too.

What does this have to do with how to save money when building a new home?

These next questions are designed to help you decide if you’re clutching to a quarter machine bouncy ball, which could lead to you not being able to afford your dream house.

Questions to Ask YOURSELF

to help you get your dream house AND save money when building:

What is most Important to me/us?

Make a list of ALL of your wishes, wants, and needs, and pie in the sky dreams.

Then order and prioritize your list.

What can you NOT live without and what CAN you live without?

Keep this list handy and let it guide your decisions when some sacrifices need to be made. What will bring you the most joy/value over the years, a bouncy ball or doll house?

Can it be added later when the budget allows?

Remember the bouncy ball? If she had just let it go for a moment, she could have had both.

Maybe you could put off finishing the basement or bonus room until later.

Maybe you could add a barn door or interior french doors later, these are easy to add later once you have the cased opening built during construction.

Landscaping, lawn sprinklers, built-ins, fences and glass shower doors/enclosures are all easy to add later with little to no demo. Even a back porch can easily be added later in most cases!

Could you live with a shower curtain for awhile until your wallet recovers and you can get glass shower doors at that time?

Do you really want to be paying interest for 30 years on these items?

We added these built in bookshelves to save money during the build about a year after we moved in. Click here to see how we built them.

If you’re building and looking for ways to save money when building a house, I recommend not putting in glass shower doors right away. They’re easy to add later and you may find you don’t really need/want them after all.

Home building Money saving tip: Don't put in shower glass when building a house
How to save money when building a house. We recommend NOT putting in glass shower doors during the build.

We had planned to temporarily use a shower curtain if needed, but it wasn’t necessary.

And we decided that cleaning glass shower doors wasn’t on our “favorite things to do list” so we are keeping it open.

Our daughter’s shower, however we found does need glass so we did that recently (10 months after moving in) now that our wallets have recovered a little.

Are we able to do any of the work ourselves?

This is a time, talent, and tools question.

DIYing is NOT for everybody.

Many times a well-intentioned money-saver ends up costing him or herself more money in the long run than if they’d hired a professional in the first place.

So be honest with yourself on this one:

  • Do you have the time?
  • Do you have the know-how?
  • Do you have the tools? Or will buying/renting the tools make it not such a good cost-saving project?

Could I hire and coordinate the subcontractors myself?

One area, you may be able to take on and save significantly (in the ballpark of 25% ) is by being your own General Contractor (We have done this twice!).

Let’s break that down into dollars: If a builder estimates your house build will cost him $400,000 to build, you could save $100,000 by hiring the subcontractors and purchasing the materials yourself!

If you’re thinking you wouldn’t know where to start, we have you covered. Coming very soon, we will be releasing a guide for self-contracting your home build using our simple system that even construction novices who don’t know a beam from a column could follow! This guide is full of money-saving tips so you can save in addition to the 25% builder fee!

To learn more about that process, check out this LINK

Can I get the look for less?

Brand name items cost more and there are often identical or similar items to be found.

That Pottery Barn light fixture you love probably has a twin on Overstock or Wayfair.

Here are some money saving ideas for lighting and other fixtures.

Also, check Facebook Marketplace, local shops, flea markets for items that could add history and character to your home.

All new everything can be beautiful, but a house with historic charm is beautiful and unique.

We used a FB Marketplace antique dresser in our Guest Bath as a vanity. It adds so much warmth and character to the space.

This money saving option is to recycle and repurpose: a bathroom vanity made from an antique wood dresser. It has a white quartz counter and vessel sink.

Will this still be important to me 5 years from now? 10 years from now?

Styles, trends, even personal needs change over time.

It’s important to consider if something will stand the test of time when determining it’s value.

Does the cost outweigh the value?

This is a personal question you need to ask yourself and it may come down to evaluating your reasons for wanting something.

This might be a good time to consider if others value it as much as you do, and if not, why not?

What is the long term cost and or maintenance cost?

Remember that some items continue to have costs down the line.

It’s often a good choice to choose the most efficient option if you plan to use it long term such as:

  • water heaters
  • appliances
  • air conditioners
  • insulation

But also some exterior materials may require more maintenance.

It’s important to consider both the upfront cost and maintenance costs.

Often the items that last longer or run more efficiently cost more up front, but less over time.

Can we do some of the work ourselves to save money when building?

You may recognize this question from above.

If you decided that you DO have the time, talent and tools, now you need to ask your builder.

Depending on your builder, this may not be an option.

If it is and you feel confident, you need to ask yourself one more question, will doing it yourself delay or slow down the build?

If you have a construction loan, time is money and if you are trying to save money when building a house, then you need to balance saving time too.

Maybe choose jobs that wont interfere with other trades getting their jobs done even if your tasks are not complete.

My husband and I chose to do some of the additional trim work and shiplap in our home to offset the cost of the additional trim materials.

This can easily done after the fact, and even after you move in.

We also did some tiling.

Additionally we screened in a porch, and did all the landscaping after the home was completed (and we paid for these item out of pocket instead of having them on our mortgage, therefore saving interest over 30 years.).

Are there are certain items or elements of the design that are causing the cost to be higher.

Things like lots of corners and ins and outs on exterior walls add to the cost.

It’s more steel in the foundation because all of those corners need reinforcement, but every in and out means more surface area for drywall, and exterior materials.

This may be an important part of the design and if it is, keep it!

The last thing I want to see as a home designer is boring rectangle houses everywhere. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Am I keeping an open mind and thinking outside the box to save?

An example for how we saved: We wanted a big double oven range as the focal point of our kitchen. However, those huge ranges are crazy expensive. We opted instead to 2 individual 30″ ranges side by side. I have 10 burners, 2 full size oven and the look I was going for AND I saved between $5000-$10,000!

Bonus: if I decide later on that I REALLY want to spend the extra $ and have one big range, I can do that without any demo, and it will fit in my space.

Most builders will say to cut square footage. That’s kind of tricky because not all square footage is created equal, but lets go with that. Remember that square footage is not easily added later, so you really don’t want to cut anything you may miss.

That said, some plans do have some fluff as is rooms are bigger than needed, or areas that you may not need at all. Consider that some spaces coule host multiple functions. If your office doubled as a guest room, could you eliminate some space?

I had a client who was certain they needed their closet to be a certain square footage. But with a little reconfiguration of the use of the space, I was able to get them MORE hanging and drawer space in a much smaller square footage.

Am I being a smart shopper for appliances, lighting, mirrors, and other fixtures.

There are a lot of great ways to save on these items.

You could shop big sale days like Labor Day Sales, go to Outlets, shop and compare online prices, use Rakuten for cash back, and all the while earn credit card points too!

For appliances, you’ll need to make sure to order correct sizes and/or inform your contractors of exact dimensions.

For plumbing fixtures, freestanding tubs need to ordered/decided prior to pouring a concrete slab foundation (if you have one). Showers sets and faucets will need to include trim kits and valves, in other words, not a replacement set.

Our 2 30″ ranges side by side instead one very expensive large one.

Could I/we be the cleaning crew to save money when building.

Builders usually pay someone to come in a clean up periodically. Offer to do this job in exchange for the cost cut from your building cost.

I hope you have found some ways you can incorporate to help you save money when building your dream home!

You may also find these posts helpful:

If you have any questions or suggestions, contact me or leave a comment!

Don’t miss any tips, ideas or inspiration! Be sure to follow me on social media! You can find me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.

photo of Jessica of Old Barn Design weraing a white and black triped shirt in front of a rustic barn door with balck hinges

Hello! I’m Jessica, wife to Cody, and mom to 2 boys and a girl, who are SO lucky because everyday with me is like an episode of carpool karaoke! They get a ride and a show! (What I lack in talent, I make up for in loudness and enthusiasm). I have a background in architecture and designed this home that we just built in a small Texas town. We self-contracted the build…and we are still finishing up a few projects. Oh! And our Floor Plans are available on this website. Most days you can find me on Instagram @the.old.barn so come say hi!

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