Yellow miniature model house and pink ceramic piggy bank on white line balanced on black and white woman's finger, blue background.

You can create the perfect balancing act between your savings and your home. 

Image: PM Images via Getty Images

How to make a smart home on a budget

A smart home sounds like an expensive thing, right? Though at one point it was, the reality is that that is no longer the case. Gone are the days where making your home smarter meant shelling out thousands of dollars, getting a professional installer to set up everything, and then likely paying hundreds a month to keep up a subscription service.

A tight budget is no longer an obstacle to getting smart devices — with thousands of smart products available for sale, you’re sure to find some in your budget.

Also: The two smart devices I will never install in my house

My family moved into a home with no smart capabilities that bordered between fixer-upper and money pit earlier this year. We started from scratch and made a list of what we envisioned for our smart home. This helped us get started and stay in a budget because, again, money pit.

HomeKit, Alexa, Google Home, Home Assistant, etc.). This will likely determine what brands of products you can buy down the line.

Also: The 4 best smart hubs: Get smart about home control

An example of a starter list of smart home devices could look something like this:

  • A hub (something to run your smart home on).
  • Three to five smart light bulbs.
  • Three to five smart plugs and outlets.
  • Video doorbell.
  • Indoor and outdoor cameras.
  • Three to five motion sensors.
  • Smart lock.
  • Smart thermostat.

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Thinking through what you want your smart home to look like is essential to getting it done. When you envision your smart home, think about what you will need, how you’ll use it, what kind of automations you want to run, if any, and even what brands and systems you like. 

What you’ll need and how you’ll use it

You don’t need every smart gadget out in the market. Prioritize. If a security system is a priority, add it; if a video doorbell isn’t, then don’t add it just because you feel like you should. Also, consider what home automation system you prefer (HomeKit, Alexa, Google Home, Home Assistant, etc.). This will likely determine what brands of products you can buy down the line.

Also: The 4 best smart hubs: Get smart about home control

An example of a starter list of smart home devices could look something like this:

  • A hub (something to run your smart home on).
  • Three to five smart light bulbs.
  • Three to five smart plugs and outlets.
  • Video doorbell.
  • Indoor and outdoor cameras.
  • Three to five motion sensors.
  • Smart lock.
  • Smart thermostat.

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Thinking through what you want your smart home to look like is essential to getting it done. When you envision your smart home, think about what you will need, how you’ll use it, what kind of automations you want to run, if any, and even what brands and systems you like. 

What you’ll need and how you’ll use it

You don’t need every smart gadget out in the market. Prioritize. If a security system is a priority, add it; if a video doorbell isn’t, then don’t add it just because you feel like you should. Also, consider what home automation system you prefer (HomeKit, Alexa, Google Home, Home Assistant, etc.). This will likely determine what brands of products you can buy down the line.

Also: The 4 best smart hubs: Get smart about home control

An example of a starter list of smart home devices could look something like this:

  • A hub (something to run your smart home on).
  • Three to five smart light bulbs.
  • Three to five smart plugs and outlets.
  • Video doorbell.
  • Indoor and outdoor cameras.
  • Three to five motion sensors.
  • Smart lock.
  • Smart thermostat.

Personally, I don’t like buying smart home subscriptions; it’s an additional monthly expense that I’d rather avoid. 

When considering the actual devices to add to your home, read the fine print. Many brands like Ring, Wyze, Blink, and more, offer a subscription for access to the full range of their devices’ features. 

Determine which features are available without a subscription to decide if those are enough for you, or whether you’re comfortable paying the monthly subscription charges for features you want. If not, look for alternatives with no subscription required, like Eufy.

Closeup image of female customer paying for service subscription with credit card

Image: DragonImages via iStock / Getty Images Plus

Here are just a few smart home brands that either don’t require a subscription or offer subscription-free options:

ZDNET is always on the lookout for the best deals as well. 

Be mindful of what deals make sense, however. If you want a home security system and find a bundle with everything you need plus a few cameras that require a monthly subscription, it might not make sense for you in the long run. Choose bundles carefully with only the items you need and that fit with how you will use them.

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Though this sounds like a pretty basic recommendation, looking out for good deals can end up saving you hundreds of dollars in your smart home journey. 

For example, we keep lists on Amazon with the smart devices we want to add to our home. This makes it easy to watch for any deals on the big days: Prime Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and around holidays. Of course, ZDNET is always on the lookout for the best deals as well. 

Be mindful of what deals make sense, however. If you want a home security system and find a bundle with everything you need plus a few cameras that require a monthly subscription, it might not make sense for you in the long run. Choose bundles carefully with only the items you need and that fit with how you will use them.

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Though this sounds like a pretty basic recommendation, looking out for good deals can end up saving you hundreds of dollars in your smart home journey. 

For example, we keep lists on Amazon with the smart devices we want to add to our home. This makes it easy to watch for any deals on the big days: Prime Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and around holidays. Of course, ZDNET is always on the lookout for the best deals as well

Be mindful of what deals make sense, however. If you want a home security system and find a bundle with everything you need plus a few cameras that require a monthly subscription, it might not make sense for you in the long run. Choose bundles carefully with only the items you need and that fit with how you will use them.

What I got for my smart home on a budget

When we moved into our current home, we knew that security was a top priority, but we also wanted the convenience of controlling devices from our iPhones or Apple Watches. That being said, buying a home in 2022 is not for the faint of heart, so we had to stick to a strict budget. Here’s a list of what we decided to start with a few months ago to make our 1999 home smart:

HomePod mini

Top view of a HomePod mini on a wooden surface.