Regardless of finances, it’s always my goal to do my job better with less work. This is, of course, the basis of saving money. While potential cost savings are everywhere, the biggest place to save are in labor and labor related cost. This is especially true when it comes to skilled labor like plumbers, electricians, designers, consultants, or carpenters. Find a way to reduce your total labor input, and you will save big.
The best place to start is planning. A well planned project saves everyone time. Start with the basics. Who needs what, when, where, and for how long? When will you start, and when will you end? Make a calendar the shows the days when each trade will perform their task so you can avoid paying for multiple trips. Find out what questions the trades will ask you so don’t have to make decisions on the fly. Prepare your own questions so you can get them answered upfront. By far, the worse time waster is indecision. There is nothing worse than paying skilled people to stand around waiting on a small decision, but I see it all the time. Moreover, I have seen many jobs where the change orders cost more than the original job. Make your plan early, consider potential problems, and then stick to the plan. Your project will run smoother, and your expenses will be lower.
If you need to make drastic cuts, start with things that you can easily upgraded or replaced in the future. Light fixtures, appliances, window treatments, and such all can all be added very nicely after the fact, whereas your structural elements are hard to change. Plus, these items tend to have the highest mark-up, so it pays to give yourself time to shop.
Regardless of your budget, never compromise on the quality of your labor. Nothing can turn a job south faster than an inexperienced, unprofessional, or poorly equipped contractor. Using cheap labor is a major risk, even if you know the trades very well. For a homeowner, it’s absolutely reckless to hire anyway you cannot trust absolutely. The thrill of saving money is very short, but the pain of poor workmanship will last forever (or until you hire someone to rip it out...).
Lastly, remember that saving money is an honorable and smart goal, but being cheap is not. The surest way to get poor customer service is to try to save money at someone else’s expense. Look for ways to save your contractors’ time and effort and you will find them much more eager to lower their price. Also, ask your contractors early on for ideas and tips. Often, a simple change can save you big money.