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All about my new counters and backsplash

Upgrade your kitchen without a total remodel

Eagle-eyed readers have been noticing that my kitchen counters and backsplash have changed in the last 6 months or so, and more than one has written me to ask about our thought process behind the upgrades.

So, I’m here to talk about that!

Here’s what the kitchen looked like the day we bought the house.

frugal girl kitchen before

And here’s what it looked like with new floors, no wallpaper, a neutral wall color, painted cabinets, and new appliances.   Definitely better!

frugal girl kitchen after

Obviously, the cheapest option would have been to stop there and keep our old formica countertops and the jade green backsplash.

And we did go with that option for over 12 years.

But here’s the thing:

Mr. FG and I do not see ourselves living in this house for the rest of our lives, so at some point, we plan to sell it and buy something else that we like better.

(We bought this house because we’d outgrown our townhouse, and at the time, this was all we could afford. It’s pretty far from our dream house, but you can afford what you can afford, right?)

Anyway, when we talked to a realtor, she told us that unfortunately, it’s really, really hard to sell a house in this area without some kind of upgraded countertops.

And our old countertops were decidedly not upgraded.

Since we want to sell this house one day, we figured that we’d need to upgrade at some point, and we might as well upgrade now so we can enjoy the nicer kitchen during the years we still live here.

An upside of a small-ish kitchen is that there are only so many feet of countertop to replace. That helps keep costs down in a serious way.

We visited a granite shop that several family members recommended and we chose a fairly inexpensive type of granite.   Granite varies widely in price, but I’m just not picky enough to feel like a super expensive type is worth it.

We tried to pick something fairly classic, neutral, and non-trendy so that the counters will look good for years.

The backsplash had to be replaced along with the countertops since it wouldn’t line up with (or match!) the new ones.

I’d been wanting under-cabinet lighting for ages, and we figured this was a really good time to add that, since the walls under the cabinets would be accessible.

So. Mr. FG removed all the old tiles and then we hired our electrician friend to install lighting under the cabinets.

(notice the lovely ripped-up drywall backsplash!)

He’s an electrician by trade, and he does side jobs on the weekends. Since he gets to keep all the side job money, he’s able to charge less…so it’s a good deal for him and for us!

(This is the point at which we discovered the leaking septic vent in the kitchen.   It was very frustrating at the time, but it’s a mercy that we were able to fix it while the wall was open.)

Once the lighting was in and the plumbing problems were fixed, we picked out some backsplash tile.   Glass tile is pretty popular right now, but it’s a lot more expensive than ceramic tile, and Mr. FG and I didn’t feel like the look was that different.

So, we opted for ceramic.

gray ceramic tile backsplash

For installation, we asked our electrician friend if he could recommend a tile guy who does side work, and luckily, he could!

The guy we hired did a fantastic job, and he only charged $250 to do the install, some minor drywall repair, and the grouting.

Man, I love people who do side work on the weekends.   They are my favorite.

These three changes (counters, backsplash, and lighting) did a lot to update the look of my kitchen.   In fact, one of my readers thought we’d remodeled!

In my dream world that’s what would happen…I’d knock down a wall to switch to an open design, but that’s a lot more money than I want to pour into a house I don’t plan to spend 30 years in.

So, this is a good compromise.   The kitchen is updated and modern, it’ll work just fine when we sell our house, and it didn’t cost nearly what an entire remodel would.

Besides, when you look at what we started with…. FG kitchen before does almost feel like a complete remodel.

I hope this inspires some of you who would love a kitchen remodel but can’t afford it.

If that’s you, think about what you could do that’s a little less expensive.   Maybe there are ways you can upgrade bit by bit like we did, and maybe you’ll discover you don’t actually need to gut your kitchen in order to update it.

P.S. Dose of reality: I cleaned up my kitchen before I took the pictures in this post.   If you visited my house on a random day, the kitchen would be looking much more like this.

Or this:

Don’t let my outrageously clean photos fool you. We live here.   And as a result, our kitchen pretty much never looks as clean as it does in the earlier photos.

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Saturday 7th of April 2018

Lovely kitchen! We re-did our kitchen 4 years ago (kept the appliances since 2 out of 3 were relatively new) and I feel SO much happier with my home now. I know you think your original kitchen was horrible ... trust me, mine was much worse, and painting the cabinets wasn't an option. Replacing them was the only solution (lest you be horrified, we kept many of the cabinets to use in the basement/garage for storage--they didn't end up in a landfill). Something I don't think you mentioned but also has a big impact on your kitchen is your flooring--obviously that has been replaced at some point! I hope you get a lot of enjoyment out of your kitchen upgrades--under-cabinet lighting is da bomb!!!


Sunday 8th of April 2018

The under cabinet task lighting is AMAZING. So great.


Saturday 7th of April 2018

Thank you for the "real" pictures. I was really feeling like a worse slob than I am (with three cats and three dogs)! Your kitchen is beautiful!

Diane C

Friday 6th of April 2018

I did a multi-phase budget kitchen remodel in my last house. I saved the granite countertops and glass backsplash for last. They looked so marvy-fab, I kinda wished I'd done it sooner. By waiting, granite prices had dropped considerably and the company I worked for also had a tile division, so I was able to get employee pricing on the backsplash. It really did pay off though. My house went for $61k(!) over asking price, so it was money well spent. It sold so fast, I only got to enjoy the final version of my kitchen for a month or two. Fortunately, the new young family loves it, too!

Womp-womp warning: It's probably because of the topic, but the ads on this post are very um, non-FG. Both in the size/volume/obtrusiveness and the featured products. Has something changed? If it has to, that's cool, but I kind of hope it's temporary.


Friday 6th of April 2018

I should do a heads-up post about this, but I just started with a company that is managing all of my ads for me all in one spot. So, I'm still tweaking how the ads show up and when and trying to find the sweet spot between how many they require and how many I want and how they display.

The upside is that I should have way fewer problems with rogue ads appearing where they shouldn't, and if a bad one comes through (like those ones that pop up on iphones), I know exactly where to go to get that turned off or cleared out.

Thanks for the patience with me as I work through this!

Danielle P.

Friday 6th of April 2018

I am a long time reader of your blog. I have always enjoyed your take on frugality. I was concerned about your comments that you used tradesmen who are working on the weekend because they can charge less due “being able to keep all the money.” My mind interpreted that as “paying someone under the table,” which surprised me, after reading your blog since 2010. Are these tradesmen moonlighting yet paying taxes? Did I misunderstand? Thanks


Friday 6th of April 2018

Nope, here's what I meant by that. Hypothetically, let's say that an electrician working through a company charges me $100/hour. The electrician doesn't actually get paid $100 an hour...a lot of that goes to the company, not to him.

If he's working a side job on the weekend, though, he gets to keep what I pay him, without having to share the pay with a company.

So, it wasn't a comment about their tax situations, but rather about the difference between being an entrepreneur vs. working for someone else's company.

Mrs. Picky Pincher

Thursday 5th of April 2018

Wowza, what a transformation!!! I think your upgrades look amazing!

And here's the thing: I could have lived in my house with floor-to-ceiling lime green paint (yes LIME green). There are just some things that we spend money on to feel a little fancier. It's okay to spend money upgrading your home if it's important to you.

We're going to put awesome new flooring in the house next year. Does it need it? Nah, but it's something we really would like. We want to pay off the house and maintain it either as a rent house or as something to pass on. And plus, it does increase the resale value.

But there's nothing wrong with upgrading because you want it to look nicer. :) It's about balance.

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