How to Budget a Painting Project

A close-up image of painting supplies including a ladder, paint can, and paint roller.

If you’re considering an interior or exterior painting project and are working within a budget, you can achieve a professional look and keep it affordable by following a few helpful steps.

To maintain a cost-effective DIY paint project, implement a plan of action and focus on the areas that can negatively impact the budget which include square footage, paint quality, paint type, supplies, wall preparation, and repair. With the organization of a checklist and a plan of action in place, your painting project can be as smooth as the paint you’ll be applying.

Accurately Calculate Square Footage and Price

Since coverage capacity varies depending on the type of paint used, measure each room to determine the total square footage and then accurately calculate the number of gallons needed for the project. The budget should also include door trim, baseboards, doors, closets, and the ceiling (which may be a color different than the walls). Also consider the cost of additional paint needed for textured versus smooth walls.

Depending on the cost per gallon and the type of paint—flat, high-gloss, semi-gloss—you can do a quick calculation to see if you’re within budget. Read the information listed on the paint can as it provides the number of square feet a gallon will cover.

For example, if the label on the paint notes a gallon will cover 300 square feet and the area you’re painting is 1200 square feet, you’ll need 4 gallons just in paint. This does not include the cost of primer, which averages $7 to $15 per can with name brand paints that can range from around $20 to over $100 per gallon.

Take Time to Choose a Color Scheme

A rainbow of paint swatches.

One of the key steps to a quality and economical paint project is deciding which colors to use for interior or exterior walls. Spending money on custom blended paint only to find it isn’t the color you want is a costly mistake that negatively impacts the budget. Eliminate this situation by choosing paint samples from a local home improvement center to test at home.

Use a Primer to Reduce Number of Coats

When calculating the number of gallons needed, also factor in the cost of a second coat of paint. This is especially important for dark colored walls being painted with a lighter color. A room with dark paint must be primed to ensure there is no seeping of the old color through the new paint. You’ll save money and stay within budget when you use a coat of primer that can reduce the number of coats of finish paint needed.

Choose a High Paint Quality for Durability and Coverage

A paint roller with white paint covering a blue wall.

Paint quality varies from brand to brand, so it’s important to choose one that looks good and remains within budget. This means selecting paint that's durable, provides more than average coverage, and stands up to light scrubbing. The less often you need to repaint will save you both time and money.

Clean Exterior Surfaces Well

For a smooth application, exterior walls need to be free of dirt, debris, mold, or any other substance prior to painting. If you don’t already own a pressure washer, include the cost of renting a unit or hiring someone knowledgeable in the process who has the equipment. Failure to clean the walls well can result in the need for repainting sooner rather then later, thus costing you more in the long run.

Prep Surfaces to Prolong the Life of the Job

A hand using a piece of sandpaper to prep siding for paint.

Don't forget to consider any necessary repair work for both interior and exterior walls before painting. Repairs can include problems such as cracks and crevices that need caulking, the use of spackling to repair holes too large to use caulk, plugging nail holes, repairing damaged drywall, scraping off old paint, and replacing rotted wood around exterior window frames. Address these repairs first to prevent the need for repainting because of a blemished finish and therefore going over budget.