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How to Build Your Smart Home on the Cheap

A Google Nest hub with a dollar sign on the display next to a plant.

You don’t have to blow your budget to make your home smart. There’s always a discount, a cheaper alternative, or a nerdy trick that can save you money as you build up your smart empire. Here are some tips to help you build a smart home on the cheap.

This article focuses on ways to save yourself some cash, but we can also help if you want to build a smart home, but not necessarily on the cheap, or if you need to pick a smart assistant.

Start with a Strong Smart Foundation

Building a smart home is a lot like working on a home improvement project. You should have a goal in mind before you buy any equipment. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending money on things that don’t really suit your home. This might cause you to have to backtrack and replace equipment in the future.

We suggest you build a strong smart home foundation based on your priorities. For example, if you definitely want a smart doorbell, aim your wallet at that, and a smart display that meet your standards. Then, your future purchases can build upon the equipment you already own.

It requires some research to choose the products you want. Articles about the best video doorbells and smart assistants will help. An inexpensive place to start is with small smart speakers, like the Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini. These are essential to any smart home, and they open up a world of flexibility and control you can build up over time. Of course, if you’re buying smart cameras or doorbells, you might want a smart display instead of a speaker.

Once you know what you need to build your smart home foundation, it’s time to start shopping! Let’s take a look at some ways you can get your smart home devices for the cheapest prices.

Never Pay Full Price

A magnifying glass over the Amazon logo on the Amazon website.
Casimiro PT/Shutterstock

The prices of smart home products are always fluctuating—so much so, it’s kind of ridiculous. For example, the third-generation Echo Dot jumps between $20 and $50 about once a month—and that’s just on Amazon. Other big retailers, like Best Buy, Walmart, and Target, also regularly discount their smart home items. It’s easy to keep up with these discounts and sales.

Websites like Slickdeals and CamelCamelCamel can automate the deal-hunting process for you. Just create an account, choose the products you want to buy on sale, and then wait for the email notifications to roll in. Again, because smart home devices are on sale pretty often, you shouldn’t have to wait too long.

If you want to save even more money, you can purchase older devices. You can get a first-generation Echo Show or Google Home Hub at an incredibly low price, and they run the same software as the newer smart displays.

The same is true for smart speakers, doorbells, and even thermostats. Just keep in mind, the older smart doorbells and thermostats might not have some of the features their newer siblings do.

Woot, Amazon, and eBay are all great places to buy “older” smart devices. Just avoid buying any used products—even factory-reset smart home equipment can pose a security risk. Refurbished items (which are often just returns) can also lead to security breaches. This shouldn’t be an issue with manufacturer-refurbished products, but it’s not impossible.

There’s Always a Cheaper Brand

A Wyze smart plug in a socket with a wooden coverplate.
Wyze Labs

Google and Philips Hue lead the smart home market, and they sell fantastic products. Their stuff is also a bit expensive, though. In some situations, it’s better to just buy a more affordable brand.

Many cheaper smart home devices have the same core features as their more expensive alternatives. They might be missing some minor bells and whistles, but it’s usually never anything major. Again, it depends on the product, too. For example, the cost difference between two smart cameras might only be $30, but you could save hundreds if you buy Wyze smart bulbs instead of the premium options, like LIFX or Philips Hue.

Speaking of Wyze, it’s probably our favorite of all the affordable smart home brands. In addition to its full-featured smart bulbs, the company also sells cameras, plugs, and motion sensors at prices far below the competition.

We also love Lenovo’s smart displays, Eufy’s robotic vacuums, Kasa’s smart switches, and Bulbrite’s affordable, luxury-style smart bulbs.

For some things, though, it’s better to stick with a leading brand. Again, it’s about your goals and priorities for your smart home. If the main thing you want is a robust, beautiful smart thermostat, you should probably go with a Google Nest or ecobee. If you’re just looking for a thermostat you can pair with your phone or smart assistant, though, an inexpensive, Wi-Fi connected Honeywell will get the job done.

Make Your Dumb Devices Smart

Hands holding a phone and taking a photo of a coffee pot.
Natpant Prommanee/Shutterstock

If you’re thinking about replacing your dumb devices with smart ones, you might want to hold off on that for a minute. It’s actually very easy to add smart features to some dumb devices, and that can save you lots of money.

Smart plugs, for example, only cost about $15 a pop, and they can add voice-controls to a lot of dumb devices. You can plug your air conditioner, space heater, lamp, or coffee maker into a smart plug, and you’re good to go! This does work best with electronics that have a solid On/Off button or switch, though. This allows you to leave the device turned on, and then control the smart plug with voice commands, routines, or If This Then That (IFTTT).

The Logitech Harmony Remote is another sweet (and affordable) way to smartify your dumb devices. It can connect to anything operated by a remote control, like string lights, TVs, stereos, game consoles, electric fireplaces, or robotic vacuums. After you pair the Harmony Remote with a device, you can control it with voice commands or through an app on your phone.

Smart Home Products to Avoid

A stainless-steel smart fridge.

Not all smart devices are worth your money. They might seem interesting at first glance, but they rarely bring anything special to the table. In fact, some just make your life more complicated.

Take smart fridges for example—the built-in display might be cool at first, but it won’t last nearly as long as a standard “dumb” fridge. Plus, any software, cameras, or displays it has will eventually require maintenance, and manufacturers like Samsung haven’t shown any interest in keeping their smart fridges updated. As a result, some smart fridges are already running clunky, obsolete software. A smart fridge could also compromise your home security 10 to 20 years from now, as they’ll then be out of date and easy to hack. These same problems apply to any smart appliance, whether it’s toilets, ovens, or furniture.

It’s also wise to avoid smart products intended to fix nonexistent problems, like pillows, water bottles, and very expensive toys. The disposable nature of these products makes them poor candidates for your hard-earned cash.

Buying smart home devices is a lot like buying furniture. There are always sales, discounts, used items, and more affordable brands available. However, if you start with a strong foundation and always research anything before you buy it, you’ll be on your way to a smarter existence in no time!

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »