Skirt high costs at most hardware stores, both major chains and local depots, with the following guide to some common building supplies and tools. The tips largely focus on how to save at the register, but many a quick fix is related to cutting costs over time, potentially by a noticeable amount. Phil Lindeman, freeshipping.org/blog
Paint: Paint is easily the most oft-used remodeling tool of homeowners, making it subject to abuse by sellers. There's a reason the price for a bucket seems inflated. However, that interior paint can often be purchased in "tester" cans for $5 or less. These smaller containers are great for covering a single wall or adding accents around the home. Most specialty stores carry these cans for generic and custom colors. While browsing, ask a store employee if your desired tone is on clearance. When people return unwanted colors in prime condition, the store sells these premixed buckets at a discount. The deals are irregular and rarely advertised, but it never hurts to try.
Power tools: Aside from hefty cabinets and doors, power tools are the costliest investment for an everyday handyman. Without care, you'll find yourself paying upward of $300 for a power drill. Shop sales and specific brands to avoid overspending. Shy away from "pro" models and those with loads of accessories you won't use. If you prefer to do everything virtually, scour online hardware outlet stores that specialize in factory-reconditioned tools. These tools are certified by the manufacturer to work like new and are sold for a discount of 20 percent or more.
Hand tools: A decent hammer, hand saw and adjustable wrench are part of any respectable toolbox. Wood handles are relics of a bygone era and not worth buying new. Given that you'll use these tools a few times per month, there's also little need to buy a swanky ergonomic version. Opt for a well-balanced tool with solid metal on all striking or sawing surfaces.
If you aren't concerned with the dents and dings of age, sift through garage sales and thrift stores as people recycle old tools on a regular basis. Don't pay over $5 and check for any serious damage, such as a cracked handle or missing saw teeth.
Plumbing pipes and joints: Buy the joints and valves sold in large open bins, rather than in prepackaged boxes. As for piping, PVC and copper have the longest lifespan of all cheap plumbing supplies, typically lasting more than 60 years. They're worth the typically negligible extra amount you'll spend.
Caulk: Caulk is a valuable material to have on hand. The all-purpose goo seals windows, pipes and seams, not to mention covers cracks in tile and porcelain. Very few jobs require an enormous tube and requisite caulk gun, however. To battle overkill, General Electric recently unveiled a new product line called Caulk Singles. Available through Lowe's, they're sold in single-use packages the size of a juice pouch and made for minor fixes. Register at the GE website for a 25 percent off coupon.