New kitchen cabinets typically make up a significant percentage of your budget. As long as you want the full-service kitchen cabinet package, from design and planning to delivery and installation, you might spend as much as one-third or even a half of your kitchen remodel budget on new kitchen cabinets.
But there are ways around this financial heartache. By being creative, finding the right supplier, choosing lower-cost materials, and doing some work yourself, you can seriously slash your kitchen cabinet bill. But it won't be easy. In the game of finding cheap or free used cabinets, you also need to be nimble, tenacious, and competitive.
Whenever you purchase cabinets—new or used—pay attention to cosmetic defects, of course, but also look for features such as dovetail joinery, full extension drawer slides, and soft-closing hardware. Cabinets with (or without) these features should be priced accordingly, so know what features you want and what you're prepared to pay for.
Free, Cheap, or Bartered Cabinets From Groups or Lists
Purchasers of new kitchen cabinets always have one pesky problem they need to deal with: disposing of the old cabinets. Sending several hundreds of pounds of plywood, MDF, and man-made materials to the local solid waste station can hardly be considered green and eco-friendly. Not only that, disposal is expensive and messy.
Cabinet owners reward the person who satisfies their needs first. As a potential recipient, you will need to respond lightning-quick and often promise to come soon. You will need to load the cabinets by yourself, 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. Or, the cabinets may have been removed from the kitchen by the owner, but they are clogging up a garage or shed.
By playing the freebie or barter game, you can score drastically cheap or even free used cabinets.
Facebook Local Groups / Buy Nothing Project
One good source of free kitchen cabinets is through your local Buy Nothing Project group. Buy Nothing is a hyper-local, neighborhood-specific initiative that, as the name says, requires that everything is listed for free.
One positive aspect of finding free cabinets through your local group is that competition tends to be not as fierce as when the materials are offered to the entire city or region. You will have others competing for the materials, but there will be fewer people doing so. Also, you can often personally appeal to the person offering the items.
The downside is that Facebook Local Groups mainly have small items like bookshelves, clothing, treadmills, and area rugs. Larger items are scarce, but they do come up from time to time.
Items on Facebook Marketplace come at a monetary cost or at the cost of bartered items. Areas covered by Facebook Marketplace are not as granular as with Facebook Local Groups. But they are usually within your same city or metro area.
Craigslist For Sale/Free
Regularly checking your local Craigslist For Sale/Free or For Sale/Barter sections invariably will turn up kitchen cabinets. Large remodeling materials are a common feature on Craigslist.
- Quality can vary, so be sure to carefully study photos of the cabinets and speak to the owner.
- Commercial interests often browse Craigslist in the hope of finding free items that they can refurbish and re-sell. Letting the owner of the cabinets know that you want them for your personal use often can sway their decision in your direction.
- Listings move fast in Craiglist. Set up automatic email alerts to notify you when items come up matching selected keywords.
- Used cabinets can be painted. Quality cabinet paint can be expensive, but its steep cost is mitigated by the reduced cost of the cabinets.
Habitat For Humanity ReStore
Habitat For Humanity's ReStores are a wonderful source for home-related items. At over 900 U.S. locations, ReStore prices can be 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. Also, by shopping at ReStores, you help to support community Habitat For Humanity programs.
Commercial Salvage Yards
Fun to visit and often well-curated, architectural salvage yards represent the best of castoff home elements. 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. Of all the low-cost sources of kitchen cabinets, salvage yards have the highest costs. Owners and workers tend to be savvy about the value of items and mark the prices accordingly.
New RTA (Ready to Assemble) Cabinets
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.
Not all is perfect with RTA cabinets, though. Shipping costs can be prohibitive, due to the sheer weight of the product. Due to those shipping costs, if you do not like the cabinets, shipping them back to the company can be enormously expensive. Also, RTA cabinet styles tend to be fairly traditional, so if you want modern, slab-door cabinets, you will find only slim offerings.
- Free shipping offers tend to apply only to large orders, often $5,000 or more.
- Extras often cost more than their true worth. Turntables built into your cabinet may cost more than if you purchase separately and install them by yourself.
- Hardware purchased through the cabinet manufacturer tends to be expensive. Purchase your hardware, install it yourself, and save money.
- If you don't like the idea of self-assembly, in many cases, you can purchase ready-to-assemble cabinets and pay an extra fee to have the company assemble the cabinets before shipping.
IKEA cabinets represent the confluence of factors that make for an inexpensive cabinet: self-assembly, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) construction, and the ability to physically 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 many 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, you can have an entire kitchen's worth of well designed, fantastically cheap cabinets. And by being able to physically see, touch, and operate the kitchen cabinets before purchase, the possibility that you may need to return them is greatly lessened.
Warehouse Club Stores
Warehouse membership club stores such as Costco and Sam's Club are known for low prices on many products. While you might expect to get a bargain on toilet paper or a coffee maker, 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" part of its name since cabinet cores are made entirely of furniture-grade plywood and veneers.
Showroom Display Cabinets
When shopping for cabinets, you pass by these things 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 at 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 kitchen 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. If you can develop a rapport with a manager or owner, you may be rewarded for your efforts with big savings.