Learn 7 Ways to Beat the High Cost of Kitchen Cabinets

Man positioning kitchen units against a corner of a room next to a window
Gary Ombler / Getty Images

Remodeling your kitchen? Before you start shopping for that high-end fridge you have always wanted or the swanky slab granite countertops, consider this: kitchen cabinets can eat as much as 30% of your remodel budget.

So, if you want to have money left over for flooring, counters, sinks, lighting--in other words, everything else in the kitchen--you need to have a plan for capping the cabinets budget.

RTA Cabinets

Bottom Line:  Cabinets delivered to your door, unassembled.  Money is saved because you do not pay a company to assemble them.

RTA, meaning "ready to assemble," is a newish online cabinet industry that sends you flat-packed kitchen cabinets at a reasonable price.  Assembly is your job.

This keeps costs down because a.) Factory labor is not required to assemble the cabinets (though some RTA companies provide this option, for a fee); b.) Shipping costs are reduced due to the smaller boxes.

With a "cam-lock" system and pre-drilled holes, cabinet assembly is easier than many homeowners expect.

Typically, shipping costs are waived when your order price exceeds a certain amount, such as $3,000 for example.

Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Bottom Line:  If your cabinet boxes are in good shape, you can paint them for a remarkably fresh look.

Painting wood cabinets is no different than painting any other wood surface.

But it gets more complicated when dealing with melamine or laminate kitchen cabinets.

Melamine-surfaced kitchen cabinets are the bane of many homeowners' existence. Melamine is a thin man-made material usually applied to particleboard that does a great job of resisting dirt and easing wipe-downs.

As long as the melamine does not delaminate from the base, and as long as the homeowner is always happy with the look of melamine, life is good.

But if you want to paint your laminate or melamine, you need to prepare these non-porous surfaces so that they will "take" the paint.

Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations

Bottom Line:  Like the self-painting option, but with extra materials that make for a more professional look.

When you get to the heart of it, this all-in-one kit is really no different than painting the cabinets yourself.

But Cabinet Transformations does save you the considerable effort of assembling materials that often are not readily available.

It works on wood, melamine, and laminate, and includes deglosser, bonding coat, decorative glaze, and bonding top coat, as well as various stirring sticks, roller pads, and other implements.

Professional Cabinet Refacing

Bottom Line:  A company veneers your cabinet boxes and adds new cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

Cabinet refacing is an odd duck: something between a total replacement of cabinets and a high-end paint job.

Cabinet refacing is done by professionals (though a highly-motivated DIY might be able to take it on), and involves replacing old cabinet doors and drawer fronts, and veneering the cabinet boxes.

The insides of the boxes are usually not done. Expect refacing to cut your cabinet replacement costs by about 50%.

IKEA Kitchen Cabinets

Bottom Line:  The original RTA cabinets.  Except with IKEA cabinets, you pick them up yourself, saving on shipping costs.

Love it or hate it, that Swedish home store in the big blue box--IKEA--does offer authentically low prices on kitchen cabinets.

Not only that, IKEA kitchen cabinets are stylish, sleek, and contemporary.

But IKEA cabinets have notable downsides: they require assembly; you need to pick up and deliver the flat boxes of cabinets yourself; and the cabinets are largely made with particleboard. For an additional fee, you can have outside contractors deliver and assemble the cabinets.

Costco Cabinets

Bottom Line:  Discount automatically applied to cabinets purchased from All Wood Cabinetry if you are a Costco member.

Sure, you need to be a member, but this warehouse retailer is another avenue for low-priced kitchen cabinets.

Costco cabinets differ from IKEA's in two important ways. First, this is all-wood cabinetry. In fact, that is the name of the company that contracts out to Costco: All Wood Cabinetry.

Second, Costco kitchen cabinet styles tend to be more traditional, veering toward Shaker styles and away from Euro-modern or contemporary.

Hacking Cabinet Details

Bottom Line:  Often integrated with the cabinet painting option, this "hack" involves adding fun elements that dress up the cabinets at low cost.

As a real-world example, one homeowner did some minor carpentry and "fix-its" to turn her cabinets from blah to ta-dah!

She added colored glass door insets, changed out the boring pulls for nice glass pulls, added brackets to the bottom of the cabinets (not for structural purposes--aesthetic only), added beaded trim, and installed false feet to the base cabinets

The result: practically new cabinets for a pittance.

Used Cabinets

Bottom Line:  Giving a second life to cabinets that someone else would just as soon send to the landfill.

Just because a homeowner is getting rid of his or her kitchen cabinets does not mean that the cabinets are bad. 

Homeowners all the time are disposing of cabinets simply because they have better ones coming in. And if the homeowner is eco-concerned about landfilling cabinets, they will not want to toss them in the trash.  

If that is not enough, there is the financial incentive:  disposing of cabinets costs money.  By giving the cabinets away, these homeowners save on hauling or roll-off costs.

  • Search Craigslist for cabinets to buy at low cost or to haul away free from a private party.
  • Your local Habitat For Humanity Re-Store.
  • Search online for "architectural salvage yards." Though this sounds fancy (and sometimes can be exclusive), more often these yards will have prosaic items like sinks, toilets, flooring, and yes, cabinets.