Backyard Design Ideas on a Budget

Backyard Design Ideas on a Budget

Backyard Design Ideas on a Budget

Backyard Design Ideas on a Budget

You know those people who have amazing backyards that they LOVE entertaining in all spring, summer, and fall and even in the rain, because they have that amazing huge gazebo? Well, that wasn’t always me. And it might not be you, either.

Well, last spring I changed all that and I didn’t have to mortgage the kids or rent out the dog to do it. My house is officially on the map of “backyards to envy.”

Here’s how I got started:

First I dug out all those home and garden magazines from the basement and threw them out. That stuff in those magazines costs a lot! Forget it. Next, I looked at what I already had. What did my landscaping look like? How about my fence? That old shed might be able to get some new life breathed into it. Hmm…

Then, I decided what I really wanted to DO in my backyard. For me, it was simple: I wanted to eat as many meals outside as possible and even work in a lounge chair when I wasn’t expected in the office. I also wanted space to play with my kids and my friends when we had a barbecue. (That would require a horseshoe pit.)

Now I had to decide what would best accomplish that for me and at what price. So I dug around on Pinterest to find some awesome pictures and inspiring backyard design ideas on a budget.

So, let me share some of the top ideas I found and then I’ll wrap this up with the ideas I used for my own yard.

1. A French-style auvente. This is really just a fancy way of saying an awning or a pergola (another fancy word). The French style involves wrought iron and can either have a slatted wooden cover or bamboo cover to which you plant flowering vines at the base and have a lovely canopy by July.

Other variations include a typical awning, a retractable awning, and a greenhouse or sunroom. The latter sometimes requires a building permit, so it can be a bigger pain in the butt than the others, as well as more expensive.

2. Fish ponds. As the name states, these little ponds are for Koi fish (large goldfish) and can be custom made or bought and installed. Just digging a hole in your yard and filling it with water won’t really cut it. And if you have small kids, be aware of the danger – they may try to catch the fish!

3. Fire pits. These are great all year round, if only for the visual effect. They can vary from super-expensive custom-made jobbies, to a repurposed washing machine drum or fieldstones. This is a simple concept that has been around since the Flintstones were a real family.

4. Convert the shed into a kid’s playhouse (or an adult getaway). Yes, this is officially a trend. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I was a kid and made the crumbling shed in the backyard of the house we rented into a hideout for me and my friends. Now, people are adding plumbing, electricity, internet, and even full-on landscaping. This is a great idea when your kids become sullen teenagers. Now, YOU can have a place to get away from them.

5. European-style summer kitchen. Yes, again with the European stuff. But you have to admit, those people in Provence know how to live. The summer kitchen is exactly what it sounds like: a full kitchen out of doors. Most of them don’t have a full-sized fridge, if any fridge at all. But they all have sinks, multi-burner stoves, barbecue grills, and even pizza ovens. Add a bar and some stools, and you can open a small pub!

6. A deck in the middle of the yard. These come in various configurations, but they basically distance you from the house and create a romantic or cozy space. Often, these will include a kitchen, bar, barbecue, fire pit, and/or pergola.

So there you have some great backyard design ideas on a budget. Most of these ideas are well under $1,000 and the majority of them are only a few hundred bucks each.

Finally, like I promised, here’s what I did to my yard:

I removed some plants, moved some, and added others. I wanted to create a better balance of flowers and trees and make a large, open area in the center and the back for my horseshoe pit and barbecue deck. The cost of moving plants: $4 for some Tylenol

The barbecue deck is basically an extension of my wooden deck. I removed the sod from a kidney shaped section of my yard about 15 feet across at its longest and laid out a stone patio for the barbecue grill. I took the dug up sod and filled in areas of my yard that needed it, including the spots where I removed small trees. I also built a fieldstone wall around one side of the BBQ area for sitting on or setting drinks on.

The shed at the back of the yard got a new lease on life and became a meditation lounge. Well, that’s what I call it. My wife calls it her “sanctuary” from the kids and me! For this, we relocated the lawnmower and a few rakes to the garage. Yep, those were the only useful things that were in there. Next, we cleaned it out, painted it inside and out, added a floor using 2x4s covered with a cork and then carpeting, installed electricity and lighting, a water cooler, a small sofa and coffee table, a teacup warmer, a CD player, and a few other comforts. My wife decorated it with various Buddhist knickknacks from our trip to Bali and brought in a bunch of candles.

We also added some climbing roses on one side of the shed with a trellis to give it a classy touch.

I hope I was able to spark that creative section of your brain and give you plenty of great backyard design ideas on a budget.

The horseshoe pit was pretty easy. Again, I dug up sod, this time in a 6×6 space on each side (40 feet apart as per regulation). I installed a ¾ frame at ground level made of 2x4s (the front portion doesn’t have a board so the horseshoes won’t go THUNK!), and filled each pit in with several bags of sand. Boom! Game on.

I also turned over a small section of the yard (about 3×8) in a sunny spot for a veggie and herb garden and opted to grow only basil, oregano, rosemary, and tomatoes this year. I plan to make a ton of pesto and tomato sauce for the coming winter. Plus, I love my tomato and basil sandwiches on buttered toast. Mmm-hmm.

A few of the other things I did included painting old pots and wooden crates that became new planters on the deck, which also got a refinishing. We also took the kids’ old wagon and repurposed it into a movable bed for pots of cilantro and daisies. Kinda weird, I know, but I love it.

The best part and the biggest savings came from shopping online for my supplies at,, and At each of these shops, I got cashback and was able to go into the store and pick up my purchases. (Click the link below and sign up for free.)

I hope I was able to spark that creative section of your brain and give you plenty of great backyard design ideas on a budget. Enjoy the makeover and enjoy your backyard!

  • Steven L. Rhyner

    Wow! I love that photo of the “backyard” in this article. It certainly would work where I live which is in a rain forest in Southeast Alaska! Nice ideas here, thank you for this article.

  • CashBackQueen

    Yeah, I agree with Steven – I could step right into that picture and spend the summer there! I love to travel, but it’s always nice to come home, so it makes sense to spend money on improving your space! :-)