Secrets to Finding Cheap Kitchen Cabinets

White cabinets and brown countertops in a traditional kitchen
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images 

New cabinets typically make up a significant percentage of your budget—from 30% to 50%. As long as you want the full-service kitchen cabinet package, from design and planning to delivery and installation, this may be true

But there are ways around this financial heartache. Being creative, finding the right supplier, choosing economy materials, and doing some work yourself can seriously slash your kitchen cabinet bill. As with anything else, longer lead time and greater patience level will bring down your cabinet price point commensurately.

Free or Bartered Pre-Owned Cabinets

  • Pros: By playing the freebie or barter game, you can score drastically cheap (as in, free) used cabinets.
  • Cons: You will need to transport the cabinets to your home. Plus, you may even need to remove the cabinets from the other person's kitchen. Quality can be dicey, so be sure to carefully study photos of the cabinets and speak to the owners.

Purchasers of new kitchen cabinets always have one pesky problem they need to deal with: disposing of the old cabinets. Sending hundreds of pounds of plywood, MDF, and manmade materials to the local solid waste station can hardly be considered green and eco-friendly. Not only that, disposal is expensive and messy.

Often, the kitchen still has the old cabinets in place. Or, the cabinets may have been removed from the kitchen by the owner, but they are clogging up a garage or shed. In any case, the owner is desperate to be rid of the cabinets. You can leverage this desperation to your advantage. 

Regularly checking your local Craigslist For Sale/Free or For Sale/Barter sections invariably will turn up kitchen cabinets. Another great source are local Facebook groups or Facebook Marketplace. You may find both hyper-local, neighborhood-specific groups as well as citywide groups of people looking to sell or trade goods.  

Freebie cabinet owners reward the person who satisfies their needs first. Criteria include: responding lighting-quick; promising to come soon; loading and hauling by yourself; and generally providing no drama and hassle. You might even be removing the cabinets from the house by yourself, so clarify this with the owner first.

If the cabinets are not in perfect condition, you have a solution. Pre-owned cabinets can be painted. Quality cabinet paint can be expensive, but its steep cost is mitigated by the low (or no) price you paid for the cabinets.

RTA (Ready to Assemble) Cabinets

  • Pros: RTA cabinets are the same quality as pre-assembled cabinets. The only exception is that you put them together at home.
  • Cons: Shipping costs can be prohibitive, due to the sheer weight of the product. If you have any problem with assembling furniture, this is not for you. RTA cabinet styles tend to be fairly traditional, so if you're looking for modern, slab-door cabinets, you will find only slim offerings.

RTA stands for ready to assemble, a category of kitchen and bathroom cabinets available mainly through internet retailers. Once you place the order online, cabinets are shipped to you flat-packed. Assembly is simple because of the cam lock and bracket system that most makers integrate.

Do you hate the idea of self-assembly? Ironically enough, in many cases, you can purchase ready to assemble cabinets and pay an extra fee to have the company assemble the cabinets before shipping.

RTA will kill you on shipping costs. Free shipping offers only apply to large orders, often $5,000 or more. Extras often cost more than their true worth. Turntables built into your cabinet will cost more than if you purchase one separately and install it yourself.

Hardware purchased through the cabinet manufacturer tends to be expensive. Purchase your hardware, install it yourself, and save money. 

IKEA

  • Pros: No fly-by-night operation, IKEA is firmly established as a supplier of reputable, high-quality cabinets that often have a unique twist.
  • Cons: You must like contemporary style since this is the only style that IKEA offers. Plus, to make IKEA an inexpensive source, you must be able to transport the cabinets by yourself.

IKEA cabinets represent the confluence of factors that make for an inexpensive cabinet: self-assembly; medium density fiberboard (MDF) construction; and, most importantly, the ability to pick them up yourself. 

In a vague sense, IKEA cabinets fall into the RTA cabinet category, since most of their cabinets are flat-packed and require assembly. But IKEA deserves its own spotlight. For one, their cabinets have an unusually high level of design sophistication not found in other RTA offerings. For another, these cabinets can be purchased and picked up at brick-and-mortar stores.

This final distinction is critical when it comes to cost because it saves you from trying to jump through that hoop imposed by other RTA retailers: raising your purchase price high enough to qualify for free shipping. For the cost of a rental truck (and maybe the gift of a local craft beer to your volunteer helpers), you can have an entire kitchen's worth of well designed, fantastically cheap cabinets.

Architectural Salvage

  • Pros: Don't even think of calling them junkyards. Fun to visit and well-curated, architectural salvage yards represent the best of castoff home elements.
  • Cons: Pricing is uneven. Sometimes this is to your benefit, sometimes not.

Architectural salvage yards are where pieces of houses go to find a new home. Sinks, flooring, bathtubs, mirrors, wall paneling: every element of a home, including kitchen cabinets, can be found here.

Habitat For Humanity's ReStores fall into the architectural salvage category and are a wonderful secret found at over 850 U.S. locations. Prices are often jaw-droppingly cheap. ReStore volunteers often mark down prices incredibly low to keep items flowing. This is especially true with large items like kitchen cabinets that gobble up valuable floor space.

Warehouse Club Stores

  • Pros: Good quality kitchen cabinets with lower membership pricing.
  • Cons: You may find it easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything at a club store is cheap. This isn't always the case, and it is especially true with large items.

Warehouse membership club stores such as Costco and Sam's Club are known for stunningly low prices on many products. While you might expect to get a bargain on toilet paper or a Keurig, reviews are mixed as to savings on the really big items like automobiles, vacations, and kitchen cabinets.

You cannot expect deep price cuts at the clubs, but you will enjoy some savings. Most importantly, quality tends to be high. Costco, for one, has had a long association with Florida-based All Wood Cabinetry, which does live up to the "all wood" name since cabinet cores are made of furniture-grade plywood.

Showroom Display Cabinets

  • Pros: You might be able to grab stylish, quality cabinets that have never been used for cooking purposes.
  • Cons: Persistence and a certain amount of chutzpah are needed to get a good deal.

When shopping for cabinets, you pass by these things a million times and perhaps never consider that they may be just what you need. They are called kitchen cabinet displays, the type you see set up in home improvement stores, and more notably, local independent kitchen and bath design retail showrooms.

These fictional tableaux are meant to evoke a sense of what it would be like to walk through and use cabinets from major brand names. Because they are meant to show off the best that the manufacturer has to offer, display cabinets often come loaded with all kinds of bonuses, like bread-boxes, pull-outs, sliding spice racks, and more.

Finding display kitchen cabinets means persistence, leg-work, and adept social skills. But you will be rewarded for your efforts with big savings.