"Save money, don't spend" is the current American mantra. With the housing market in a slump, the unemployment rate hovering at 10 percent, and significant loss of value in most homes, it's difficult to spend money on anything but necessities. Is that home renovation you've been dreaming about light years away? Don't give up -- with a little creativity, you can spend a relatively small amount of money and make significant changes to your environment.

Lighting up your life

There are many ways to add a little more sunshine into your life. Add low voltage lights to your walkways, and create safety, security, and beauty. In addition to lighting up the path to your front door, they can illuminate your landscaping. Putting lights by gardens, patios, stonewalls, or trees adds inexpensive beauty to your home's exterior. Many systems are designed for the do-it-yourselfer, so you can save money on installation, as well. While you're at it, add new plants to your gardens so that the lights will have something to shine on. Purchase perennials for the gift that keeps on growing.

Protection from the light

As beautiful as sunlight is, there are advantages to keeping it outside your home and minimizing its impact inside. By investing money in simple shading, like solar window screens, awnings, and patio covers, you can save up to 5 percent on your energy bill while refreshing your home. Additionally, if you're going to add plants to your newly-lit garden, consider purchasing trees, shrubs, and vines and cleverly plant them in areas that will bring more shade to your home.

A facelift for your kitchen

The average cost of a kitchen renovation is $45,000, with the general rule of thumb being that the budget should be 15 percent of the overall value of your home. That's a pretty hefty price tag, and may be way out of your budget. There are nifty ways to spruce up you kitchen for just hundreds of dollars. Replacing the faucet and the cabinet knobs and pulls is like kitchen Botox - quick and easy but, unlike Botox, it lasts a lifetime. Wood cabinets can get a facelift by refacing them or adding a new coat of paint.

Bathroom miracles

Renovating a small bathroom can cost between $8,000 and $10,000. That's nothing compared to a kitchen, but it's still a lot of moolah. Give your bathroom new life by adding a new toilet seat, re-grouting, and purchasing a new shower curtain, bath rug, and matching towels. It may not look like a million dollars, but it may feel like it.

Home improvement loan

If you don't have the cash to fund these minor upgrades, use a home equity line of credit (HELOC) as a home improvement loan. You can take out a HELOC against the equity in your home, and only draw the amount needed. You'll only pay interest on what you borrow, but you must have a plan to repay the money back in a disciplined manner. Beauty is nice, but not if it gets you into heaps of financial trouble.

Published on October 16, 2006