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by the author of The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices
You finally moved out on your own and though you’re just scraping by, you’re loving every minute of it. However, one thing that you’ve quickly come to terms with is your need for some basic tools. But you’re broke. You need to get tools on a budget. And also, you now finally understand why your dad had a basement packed full of them – without tools a home falls apart.
The problem is though that you’re living on a shoestring budget and don’t have much room to spare at all for dropping hundreds of dollars at Lowe’s. So what are you to do? How do you buy tools on a budget? And what do you really need?
Let’s take a closer look below…
What is it that you actually need?
Part of the problem with shopping for tools though is that it’s easy to get caught up in buying something that you don’t need. Or at least something that you don’t need at this moment. By all means, if you have to fix some plumbing, go ahead and buy the right tool for the job.
If you are buying tools on a budget and only need the basics for your run-of-the-mill home repairs, I would start with the following list below:
Almost ten years ago, I picked up one screwdriver at my local Harbor Freight. I had a special coupon that let me get it for free. It’s still going strong and is the go-to screwdriver in the house junk drawer. While ideally, you would have a set of screwdrivers of various lengths, head types, and head sizes, if things are really tight, you’re going to be able to get the greater majority of what you need done, done just by having this one simple tool.
And if you can get it for free, even better.
The benefit of this is that it’s essentially four screwdrivers in one. Is it made-in-China stuff? Yeah, absolutely, but it’s been seeing heavy, regular use at my house for close to a decade now and it’s still hasn’t broken, so I think it’ll serve your purposes as well.
You’ve got to have a hammer. You’ll use one of these all the time at your place, whether you’re hanging pictures, removing old nails, or whatever. Go ahead and get yourself one of the claw hammers with the nail-removing tines on the back of it. Save the specialized hammers for later.
This is the big-ticket item on this list, but you’re going to end up using it often. There’s an olde English proverb that goes, “I’m too poor to buy cheap tools.”
That’s the catch here. You want to make sure you’re putting your money into something that will work. Ideally, I would look at Milwaukee, as they’re a high-quality drill that will last you for years. However, I started off with a Black and Decker, which is exponentially cheaper, and did everything I ever needed it to do.
Right now, you can get a Black and Decker drill and be good to go for all of $50. Most other drills out there on the market are $120+. If you’re on a shoestring budget and need something that will get the job done, you can get by with a Black and Decker for quite some time.
If you’re going to have a drill, you need to have drill bits. Typically, I prefer to just spend the money and get Dewalt brand bits. I have less trouble with those ones snapping. Harbor Freight does sell a pretty comprehensive kit of bits as well though. The only problem is I’ve found I tend to break those more.
If you’re not using your drill all the time, you can probably get by with the Harbor Freight bits for a little, uh, bit. If you’re remodeling a house, just go ahead and buy the Dewalt. You’ll thank me later.
Of all the tools I use, these are easily one of the most often used. Personally, I don’t really like regular pliers. I use needle-nose for just about everything as I’ve found they give me better control. I’m a locksmith, so that may impact my decision here a bit, but even around the house these are my go-to ‘grippy’ tools.
Once more, I really like the needle-nose variety of these. For things I don’t have the hand to hang onto with, these work great.
Yes, you have to have channel locks. You’ll end up using them all the time, I promise. I’ve found that the bigger they are, the easier they work.
Allen wrench set
The best versions of these I’ve found out there are the ones that fold up like a little pocketknife. They’re the most convenient to keep hanging around the house, they don’t take up a ton of space, and they can tackle the majority of Allen wrench jobs out there.
There are other versions available out there as well which are literally just a set of Allen wrenches – and they have their place – but my preferred method is the fold-up versions.
Where to Look for Tools on a Budget
Here are some places to get tools on a budget.
Lowe’s End Caps
You’ll soon grow to love this store. I’ve yet to find a more comprehensive place to shop for tools than here. I don’t like Home Depot at all, so this is my primary source. I’ve found that if you browse the end clearance caps – particularly right after Christmas and Father’s Day – you can find some awesome deals on tools.
Last January I found some great stuff there and saved probably around $10 per item. I highly recommend keeping this in mind now that Christmas is just around the corner.
This is the dollar store version of Lowe’s. That’s hard to beat! While nothing in here is going to be considered high-quality, walking through here is like walking through a candy store. It’s incredible what they have and at amazing prices. I’ve bought all kinds of tools here in the past that are still working fine years later after heavy daily use locksmithing. I highly recommend you do some serious shopping here.
Check out the coupons they have as well. They post some of them online, but if you subscribe to their mailing list they’ll send you an even more comprehensive package of coupons in the mail. Free tools, heavy discounts, and so on are all regularly included coupons within these booklets, so they’re well worth your time.
I’ve found some awesome tools at yard sales in the past and often at a steal of a price. The best yard sales are from the people that are moving. Just about a year ago I was able to get a nice cast-iron Craftsman router for free simply because the people didn’t want to pack it in the truck with them.
If you spend some time browsing around peoples’ lawns this coming summer, I can virtually guarantee you that you’ll find similar deals. Yeah, the tool isn’t going to be brand new (most likely), but it will still get the job done, and you’ll be able to pick it up cheaper than just about any other place out there.
When a company is doing the estate sale for the family of a deceased person, the deals aren’t quite as good. But if someone is cleaning out the home of a family member, you just might find a motherlode in the garage.
The family is having this sale because they’ve gone through and taken everything they wanted already. They just want to get rid of the rest of it so they can put the house up for sale or move into it. Don’t be afraid to make an offer to completely empty out the garage for them for X amount of dollars if it looks like you’ve stumbled upon a gold mine. You can always take the stuff you don’t want to the dump or resell it.
How do you get tools on a budget?
Buying tools on a budget (and using them) is a lot of fun, but it’s very easy to get carried away with spending a lot of money that you don’t have on stuff that you don’t need just at the moment. However, by following the above advice, I think you’ll be impressed with just what you can stock your home with and for how small of an expense.
So buy tools. You do need them. But do what you can to not blow up your budget in the process.
What are your thoughts on the situation? Are there other arenas to buy tools you enjoy that we didn’t include above? Are there other tools you think we should have added to the list? Let us know in the comments below!
8 thoughts on “Where to Get Tools on a Budget (and What You Actually Need)”
There is a useful variety of handsaws worth mentioning: hand saws, coping saws, hacksaws, etc, which can be acquired as needed.
Allen wrench sets come in both metric and SAE versions. Knowing that difference means getting the correct set(s) for your projects.
Drill bits come is both wood cutting and metal cutting types. Get the correct type and size range for your projects.
Anytime one turns on power tools, it’s a really good idea to have safety goggles. Having all the tools in the world can’t make up for the regret of losing an eye to a flying piece of “something.”
Another critical safety tip when using power tools. Remove your rings, watches, bracelets, and any long sleeved shirt or jacket so you won’t lose a limb that will never grow back. That’s a non-obvious reason to have at least a temporary heater in freezing weather so you can work in short sleeves.
Two fundamental items not mentioned are a worktable and a bench vise. For beginners with minimal space, a take-down table system can work. One takedown model is the Black & Decker Workmate system, but there are cheaper DIY designs on YouTube. Having a bench vise is key to being able to hold things still while you cut/drill/sand/modify/etc them. Then it’s a good idea to drill mount holes [unless your vise has a clamp-on mount system] in your worktable top so you can remove and re-install that vise as needed. Sometimes you need the entire table’s flat surface for some projects.
Another advantage of that takedown system is its portability. If you need to help a friend, a take-down table and vise system is a lot easier to transport.
A source of tools worth mentioning is the tool rental sections at places like Home Depot or Lowes. For some one-time projects where you need a specialty tool, it may not make economic sense to tie up that much cash for “forever” …. but renting can be financially much more reasonable..
In the 1800s the great Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle left us with this timeless commentary:
“Without tools, man is nothing, with tools he is all.”
Always try to by the best quality you can afford so research, ask tradesmen/women what they recommend and be on the look out for second hand bargains. Rusty hand tools can be rescued with an overnight bath in a diluted vinegar solution followed by vigour rubbing with a scourer or abrasive pad and then light lubrication. Like owning one quality survival bush knife, good well cared for tools will serve you a lifetime and even your grandchildren, God willing.
Irwin was a good brand until they moved manufacturing to China. Sadly most brands you mention are a shadow of their pre-China days.
Yard sales are a great source for made in America goods – most don’t realize the value of what the deceased relative owned.
ditto on the goggles
those hard foam things to kneel on
good pair of gloves
utility knife and blades
my work bench is a pair of fold out sawhorses and a rescued closet door that folds vertically. its strong and has solid wood on the edges
an assortment of sheet rock screws. i have one of those parachute bags with diff compartments. also several 5 gallon pails with plastic trays that stack inside
look at the loan shark places they’re full of tools
For battery operated tools, have an extra battery. Also handle potential tools, for fit and weight, just dont purchase online.
For tool reviews and suggestions. Project Farm on You tube does an excellent job. Feeling a bit intimidated by the project, Seejanedrill also on You tube provides excellent tutorials.
I love my multi-head screw driver! It’s even got Allen heads in various sizes. $10 at the gun range, of all places. I also scored a Black & Decker drill at a yard sale for $20. Yes I’ve had to buy bits over the years but such is life. I bought my knee pads at Menards and it was the best $30 I’ve ever spent! Those things save my back a lot of pain.
And yes, the tools add up over the years. This is one reason to buy quality. A needle nose pliers here, an electrical meter there, it’ll add up. I’ve had some of mine for 20 years and never regretted keeping them.
I have tools that were my fathers, mothers, yardage, estate sales, things found on Craigslist, Lowes, Home Depot, and of course Harbor Freight. I love and use tools. A few specialty ones I’ve purchased through ebay.
I clea b ed out a garage for a welder, new vice still in the box, saws and more. I traded the bicycles for labor, and still have more to sort through some day. I appreciate the heavy workbench that was in there. I have assorted hammers, to sledge hammers, and mallets from that garage. It all started with purchasing a $10 sewing machine that needed repair.
I like picking up used tools by buying Tool Lots at auctions. Getting three or four boxes of misc tools has yielded tools I didn’t even know existed, yet were perfect when needed. A multi-punch leather awl contraption to punch holes in belts, yet also poked through sheet metal like nothing for instance!