More Bang for Your Buck: Paint Me Frugal

Paul's post about DIY got me to thinking about all of the times that I wasted money on trying to improve my home. There have been many of these times, more than I care to share. Also, the government is probably listening, so I don't want to go into too much depth when it comes to my remodeling mishaps. So, let's forego the Pergo and crown molding disasters and talk about paint.

I've painted a LOT of home interiors over the past four years - at least 7 homes of varying size and wall texture - so I feel like I should know a thing or two about paint. My mother had a certain loyalty to a small paint shop in her home town (which was closed on weekends), but after one too many Saturdays in which we ran out of paint and had to put a project on hold until Monday, I finally talked her into breaking down and going to Home Depot. She fought it, small town girl that she is, but eventually relented.

Up until I bought my own home, I'd continued using Home Depot's paint brand, Behr. It ran roughly $20 a can, went on smoothly, didn't splatter when rolled on, and washed out of brushes fairly easily.

So, it's kind of a mystery as to why, when I bought my own home, I would go out and spend $40 on Ralph Lauren paint for my kitchen. I'm still puzzling over that one. Not only did it take three coats to cover my cream-colored walls, but it didn't go on smoothly at all! My home was new construction, and the walls absorbed the paint unevenly (although the hallway that was painted with Behr? Perfect). So my kitchen is a blotchy, dark brown mess right now, and I have to start all over.

I've since disciplined myself and found ways to stretch my painting moolah. Although it pays to be frugal, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and splurge on certain items in order to get the job done right. There are other sites that tell you how to get prepared to paint, and I recommend that anyone about to tackle a painting job for the first time give them a perusal.


Paint - I recommend Home Depot's Behr or Lowe's Valspar. They are cheap ($20 for a gallon), smooth, and come in a wide range of colors and finishes. Some ratings are available here. I will occasionally go all out and use Benjamin Moore, because it's great stuff, but it's roughly twice the price.

Tape - Painter's tape, in my experience, is a rip-off. If you are truly unskilled with a brush (don't knock your skills until you give it a go), you might need it. But if you buy a good brush to do your cutting-in (see below), and keep a wet rag on hand to wipe any drips or smears off of your trim, you'll be fine. The tape is pricey for what it does. It's hard to remove in one piece, and paint will often either seep below it or stick to it, and then peel off along with the tape.

Drop Cloths - If you have a tarp, that will do the trick. Old sheets work fine, too. I rarely use a drop cloth of any kind unless I'm painting a carpeted room. If you do buy a drop cloth, buy the cheapest kind, and reuse them. No need for the big canvas ones.

Paint Pan - Nothing fancy - your basic plastic or metal one will do.

Primer - You don't need to buy expensive primer. Kilz will do. So will any white paint that is less shiny than the paint you plan to use on the final coat. Some colors require a colored primer - avoid choosing these colors if you can.

Painting Attire - Please don't bother with the coveralls. Old jeans and a t-shirt turned inside out will do.


Color Palette - After months of living with a horrible blue-green color that looked SO GOOD on the paint chips, I hired a color consultant. For $150, he picked out a palette that fits my mood, room use, weather, and budget. If I had used him to begin with, I wouldn't be stuck with unused cans of looked-good-at-the-store green and wow-that-dries-dark yellow. I always though that I was really good with color - turns out I'm not, so I let the experts tell me what to do now.

Brushes - For cutting-in work, buy the best, stiffest angled brush that you can. At roughly $12, it might seem a pricey buy, but it's worth it. You'll have straight lines and less write fatigue. Be sure not to let the paint seep up past the bottom 2/3 of the brush's bristles, and wash the brush out thoroughly. I also like to tape the metal band around the brush to prevent blisters while painting.

Rollers - I don't buy expensive rollers. I buy a lot of cheap ones. I'll use one, wrap it in plastic and use it again on the same color. When I'm finished with a color, I throw it out. The amount of water that it takes to rinse out a roller is ridiculous, so I just buy the cheapest ones and toss them when I'm done.

Beer - Coors Light simply will not do. Get thee to an Alaskan Amber.

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Paul Michael's picture

I agree with almost everything, particularly Ralph Lauren paint. We used it for the bedroom, and although the color was good, it went on awful, dried patchy and took two coats. Home Depot's Behr is excellent. I also really like Dutch Boy, and their paint can is excellent. Nice job on the rethink Dutch Boy.

As for Painter's Tape, it has always produced excellent results for me (except with the Ralph Lauren paint). I think it can save a lot of time if you are careful not to use it as a super paint-proof barrier. It will almost certainly leak if you are piling paint on top of it.

And as for beer, well, Guinness, Boddingtons, Murphy's Stout, Stella Artois, Red Stripe, Sam Adams and Old Speckled Hen are my favs. Unless you'd care to brew your own, which will be featured in one of my 'how to' articles in the future.

Guest's picture

1. Line the roller pan with tin foil -- when you're done, carefully discard the lining and you won't have to wash out the pan.

2. I use painter's tape, so sue me. That said, I have found that lightly scoring the line where the tape meets the painted wall eases the job of peeling off the tape.

3. [Suggestion for those who use painter's tape]: When cutting in along the ceiling, attach your angled brush to one of those adjustable brush holders that you can screw onto an extension pole. This saves LOTS of hassle -- no going up and down the ladder, no lugging the ladder around, no stepping around the ladder, etc. Yes, you do have to use the ladder to tape the ceiling -- but that is faster than actually cutting in the ceiling.

Andrea Karim's picture

I just can't get painter's tape to work for me. My mum has always sworn up and down that she doesn't need it, but I would faithfully roll it out and spent hours removing it aftewards until the last time I painted my place, and I finally gave up. I just can't get it to work for me.

As for Guiness - I can't drink that unless it's on tap. When you going to teach us how to brew our own, huh? Huh? When?