There are some design, decor, or construction elements that come only in your choice of "cheap and crappy" or "expensive and worth it" but most are available in a wide range of prices. I like to focus on those that are in the middle, and when I use the word "save" it means to find reasonable quality at the lowest price; "spend" means that quality is really worth some extra spending.
Save on these items:
- Decorative accessories (bedding, artwork, rugs...) for kids rooms. Children grow up so quickly that spending significant amounts of money to please their tastes of today is going to be regretted quickly because before you know it, they'll be wanting to replace all the farm animals with guitars.
- Interior door handles. You can easily find these for around $50 each - or in a "builder's package" with multiples in a box for around $25 each. Often they are the exact same just with less appealing packaging!
- Rugs or carpets for dining rooms. Even if you don't have children, your dining room flooring is never safe from spills. Instead of grape juice it may be red wine and instead of pureed carrots it may be a plate of spaghetti. Accidents happen. And if your carpet gets a stain and has to be replaced, let it be something that you haven't spent a fortune on. Although do look for washability, colorfastness, and other features that improve the durability and longevity of the rug.
- Light fixtures in bedrooms. Especially now that the trend is to put more decorative, chandelier-like lighting in the bedroom, it isn't necessarily where you want to go all-out with crystal or designer labels - leave that for the dining room and other areas that guests see and that are less likely to have a dramatic style change every few years.
- Closet organizer systems. Whether custom-made or bought from a big-box store, these come with both expensive and affordable options. Explore your options and really assess your needs because changing them later tends to be costly.
- Chairs. You're going to sit on them routinely, so the last thing you need is a wobble developing within months, or fabric starting to look twice its age.
- Recessed "pot" lighting. These aren't a do-it-yourself installation for most people, and even changing the bulbs can be a challenge depending on your ceiling height. Most have built-in transformers and other parts that affect the quality and longevity of the fixture itself as well as of the bulb. Look for good quality - if you have to change the bulbs half as often you will quickly save your money back.
- Flooring for kitchens and entrance ways. The kitchen floor is subject to spills, fairly heavy traffic usually, and chairs scraping along it. If an accidentally dropped pot will damage multiple tiles, it won't be long before you'll be looking for a new floor. In the entryway, depending on your location, your shoes and boots bring in salt, sand, water, mud, oily dirt, and who-knows-what else. The flooring should be able to withstand all that and more for at least several years.
- Toilets. Again, not a D.I.Y project to replace one for most people, and they get a lot of use. Nothing is more annoying than the constant sound of running water in a toilet tank, or having to explain to guests: "um... you'll have to flush twice, and hold the handle for a few seconds." Look for a model that has a dual flush feature to save water, and a decent manufacturer's warranty.
- Paints, especially for washrooms and kitchens. The humidity and odors both in the washroom and from cooking can penetrate right into the paint and cause discoloration, staining, and even bubbling. Opt for 100% acrylic paint for both of these rooms - it is mold and mildew resistant, has a stain resistance to it, and is washable.