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Frugal DIY: Interior Painting


Interior paintingI’m done painting our old condo! Well, I will be done by Friday afternoon so I’m calling it good. All in all, it was relatively painless. I painted many times (5?) before and this job was straight forward. Initially, I was very reluctant to do it because I was completely worn out from moving. I figured – why not hire someone to do it? We’re not poor anymore. I could afford to hire a painter, right? Well, it turned out I couldn’t do it.

I got a few quotes and the cheapest one was $1,800, not including paint. Yikes! That was the “off the book” price. Wow, that is insanely expensive. Our place is only 970 square feet. Why is interior painting so expensive? I couldn’t stomach paying that much and changed my mind about hiring a painter. Once I committed to DIY, the job became easier. Interior painting is a semi-skilled job, at best. Pretty much anyone can do it. And I already had most of the painting equipment from the previous time.

How can they justify charging that much? I just don’t understand. I spent about 25 hours total on the job. A 2 man crew can get it done in one long day. I guess hiring anyone is going to be super expensive these days.

To paint or not to paint

Let’s rewind for about 10 days. At first, I thought I could just touch up some spots on the wall and doors. We had a can of touch up paint from the welcome kit from 12 years ago. I stirred it up and went over all the spots I can see.

  • Nail holes (spackled)
  • Scratches and streaks from furniture
  • Dirty areas from hand rubbing
  • Various minor discolorations
  • Basketball marks all along the wall, door, and ceiling. These were the worst. RB40Jr had a basketball hoop and there were a ton of marks from his kiddy basketball.

Unfortunately, the touch up didn’t work. On some walls, it looked okay. But there were noticeable patchy spots on some walls and especially doors. I guess 12 years of living there left its mark. The old paint was faded and the touchup didn’t blend.

touching up

Here is an image of the closet doors. I turned up the contrast to show you the touched up patches. The touch-up paint showed a lot more on the doors for some reason. I guess the wood absorbed more paint than drywall. Anyway, this was unacceptable. Prospective buyers would probably fixate on the patchy paint. So I concluded we had to paint the place.


The actual painting went pretty well. I painted most walls and the condo looks good. New paint really freshened up the place. I spent 2-4 hours each day on this project.

  • Sunday – painted bedroom 1 and touch up the ceiling.
  • Monday – painted the hallway.
  • Tuesday – painted the living room and kitchen.
  • Wednesday – painted the doors.
  • Thursday – painted bedroom 2. A guy was fixing our bathrooms.
  • Friday – paint 2 bathrooms and touch up.
  • Saturday – final touch up if needed.

Unfortunately, I had to take a week off from blogging to do this. Also, we had a little snow this week. Our son had 2 delayed starts and a snow day. Luckily, that didn’t delay the painting project. RB40Jr came along and kept himself occupied with his books. He was helpful on several occasions too.

*Starting a blog is a great way to build your brand and generate some extra income. You can see my tutorial – How to Start A Blog and Why You Should. Check it out if you’re thinking about blogging. 

Painting tips

Anyway, I’m relieved this project will be done soon. I was afraid I’d have to paint for 2 weeks. DIY worked out pretty well this time. The place is going on the market on Tuesday so we really have to get it done by Sunday. A couple of extra days of padding are good. Hopefully, I can spend this weekend unpacking and relaxing a bit. It’s been a long month for us. I’ve been moving and fixing stuff since February 3rd. I need a beer…

Okay, here are some tips for novice painters.

  • Use the same color. Bring a sample to match or get the same color code if possible. This makes painting so much easier. If you go with a different color, you’ll probably need at least 2 coats. I only had to do one coat because the same color is much more forgiving.
  • Prep. Prepping will make painting and cleaning up much easier. I used the blue masking tape and it worked beautifully. I paint one or two walls and remove the tapes. From previous experience, I found that leaving the tape on overnight was a bad idea. The paint fused to the tape and it was a pain to remove. Now, I go light when I’m near the tape and remove it ASAP.
  • Clean. Clean the wall a bit before painting. Paint doesn’t stick very well to a dirty wall so clean them with soap and water. I only cleaned a few grubby spots in our case. The walls weren’t too dirty. Also, get rid of the cobwebs on the ceiling and along the corners. They’ll get in the way.
  • Fill holes. Of course, you should fill the holes with spackle. Sand it a bit if the fix doesn’t look good.
  • Just do it. If you haven’t painted before, it will seem daunting. Don’t worry. As long as you don’t spill a whole bunch on the carpet, it is fixable. Get a drop cloth and go for it. Watch a few YouTube videos to get an idea of how to paint. It will become easier as you go.
interior painting

Frugal DIY

Interior painting isn’t that difficult. I don’t know why it cost so much. If you have time, I highly recommend DIY. You’ll get better as you paint more. The price is really ridiculous. How can they justify charging like a skilled laborer? I guess the economy is really good.

Have you ever painted or do you prefer to hire a professional to do it? Interior painting is an easy DIY job. Why not DIY? Exterior painting, on the other hand, seems much more daunting. I haven’t tried that yet.

Image by rawpixel

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.

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{ 34 comments… add one }
  • GYM March 5, 2019, 10:54 pm

    Do you have baseboard moulding in your apartment? I think that seems more difficult to paint as you would need a semigloss or somewhat glossy paint. When we move out of the apartment I will need to paint this place too to sell it. I am thinking of hiring someone to get the job done. Good luck with the property listing!

    • retirebyforty March 7, 2019, 9:52 am

      I just touched up the baseboard moldings. It seems to work out fine. Maybe the darker color is less noticeable, especially on the trims. Good luck with painting. I think you’ll be surprised at how much it cost…

  • Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early March 2, 2019, 6:48 am

    Okay. I am absolutely TERRIBLE at painting and I don’t think I’ve gotten any better with practice. It’s our house, so it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect or anything, but if we ever went to sell we would have to do it over I think. Lol

    • retirebyforty March 2, 2019, 7:38 am

      Really? You probably need to put another coat on. It’s much more difficult if you change color. Good luck! 😉

  • David @iretiredyoung March 2, 2019, 4:02 am

    I’d DIY the painting based on that quote too. March should seem like a very relaxing month in comparison to the move and DIY of February.

    • retirebyforty March 2, 2019, 7:37 am

      We’ll unpack this month and try to relax a bit. It’s been very busy for us.

  • Sport of Money March 1, 2019, 7:24 pm

    Hi Joe – I moved a few times. I also own a number of rental properties. I’ve had my properties painted many times. However, I’ve only personally painted one, the first house my wife and I moved into together. After that one time, I’ve paid a professional to handle all subsequent paint jobs. The number one reason is because of the time commitment necessary to get the job done. I find it incredibly hard to free up the time to get the paint job done. In the case of a rental, a extra few days needed to get the paint job done might mean a month of lost rent.

    • retirebyforty March 2, 2019, 7:37 am

      You’re 100% right about the turnaround time. I would do the same if it was a business decision.
      Previously, I painted our 1 bedroom rental by myself. I did it in the evening and got it done in a few days. It’s hard work when you have to get it done quickly.

  • jim March 1, 2019, 12:56 pm

    Your property wasn’t built before 1978 was it? If so the lead paint rules may have explained the relatively high bids. Painters are legally required to follow more labor intensive practices to deal with lead paint properly. DIY folks typically ignore that.
    I was shocked by the quotes for exterior painting on a small house I got due to lead paint. It was like $4k for a small 2 bed house.
    I also assume your quotes were from well established contractors not the random guy off Craigslist.

    I have done a lot of painting myself. I started back when I was probably 10-12 years old painting in my parents rentals. I agree its an ideal DIY job that is well worth doing.
    Its not that difficult if take the time to learn how to do it right.

    • retirebyforty March 2, 2019, 7:36 am

      The condo was built in the 60s. Once, it was the tallest building in Portland!
      You’re right about lead paint. I know it makes a big difference with exterior painting.
      But I thought it wasn’t a big consideration with interior painting. We didn’t sand anything, just paint.

      • jim March 4, 2019, 10:30 am

        Yeah I’m not sure how much it matters for interior work if you’re not doing sanding. But the contractors may have accounted for some sanding and so they might still have to follow the prep and clean up rules for lead paint to be safe & legal. That would add time and cost to the job.

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance March 1, 2019, 12:25 pm

    That looks nice! I’m glad you’re settling in at your new place. 😀

    The paint color at our house is dark yellow. Not sure why the previous owner thought it was cool, but I already have a new color I want to use for our next painting project. It should be brighter and more modern. Your DIY guide will come in handy 😉

    • retirebyforty March 2, 2019, 7:34 am

      Thanks! I haven’t unpacked much yet because I was busy with everything else. We’ll work on it this weekend. It’ll probably take us the whole of March to settle in. I need to paint a bit here at the new place too… 😡

  • Xrayvsn March 1, 2019, 7:16 am

    That does seem like an outrageous price for painting such a small place.

    The biggest pain for me when I DIY paint is the prep work, mainly applying the painters tape to protect sealing and other trim, etc.

    I also suggest splurging and getting a power spray painter. Makes life a ton easier. The last time I did paint, I used a roller with a tube where you can draw the paint into it so you don’t have to repeatedly add more paint. Made the work much faster and that is a pretty cheap option (think $30 or less). If I ever do it again, power sprayer for me though.

    • retirebyforty March 2, 2019, 7:30 am

      The rolling was the easy part. Painting the trims and corners was a lot more difficult. I don’t think a sprayer would help much with that right? I’m afraid I’d make a huge mess with the sprayer too.

      • Pennypincher March 3, 2019, 2:49 pm

        The sprayer scared me-ha,ha. It came w/all these stern warnings of injury if not used correctly. Back to the store it went. Besides, after 6-10+ hours of nonstop painting, who wants to spend another hour cleaning that thing out. Worked wonders on my garage ceiling tho, I hired that one out.

  • Money Beagle March 1, 2019, 5:55 am

    I know various techniques that would, ideally, make me a good painter. Unfortunately, I don’t have the patience for it, so when I do it, it’s an average job at best.

    Couple things:
    1) If you do fill in with spackle, you should definitely sand, and you should brush on a little bit of primer before you paint. Otherwise you’ll almost assuredly be able to see the spots when it’s sunny.

    2) I try to remove the tape as well when it’s still wet. If that’s not possible, I find that removing slowly (patience again *lol*) at a 45 degree angle actually helps get it off without peeling off the new paint. Most of the time.

    • retirebyforty March 1, 2019, 6:30 am

      Thanks for the tips. I’ll just touch up those spots. 2 coats should do. 🙂
      You’re right about the tapes. It took me a couple of times before I realize that.

  • James C. Samans March 1, 2019, 5:39 am

    Is that really a high price? Let’s think about it.

    The author spent 25 hours on this job. Assuming dedicated painters would work somewhat faster, we’ll call this 20 man-hours for a paint crew.

    The $1800 bid most likely included paint. One gallon generally covers 350 sqft. You want two coats? They’re going to need six gallons, which will be about $150. They also need drop cloths and filler; add another $30.

    So, that’s $180 off the top, with $1620 left.

    Workers Comp adds about 14 cents on the dollar, because the odds of injury are quite high. Social Security and Medicare taxes borne by the employer are 7.65%, and those are due whether paid by a literal W2 employer or owed as the employer half of SECA for independent contractors.

    Those are just the direct costs. If these folks come through a business, it has its own overhead and profit requirements. The workers might get half of the net revenue. So, of the $1270 or so that remains from the expenses, there’s about $650 for the workers. That’s $32.50 per hour — which translates to $65,000 a year of gross pay if they’re working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year.

    They probably aren’t. Odds are, they work about three-quarters of the time, so a professional painter working with a company grosses a little less than $50K per year.

    Take a moment to consider how little you think a painter SHOULD be paid.

    • retirebyforty March 1, 2019, 6:28 am

      That’s not including paint. Also, it’s off the book. The regular price is $2,000 if I want a receipt.
      A painting crew should have all the equipment already. Why would they need to buy drop cloths for each job?
      I only got new rollers and a few paint brushes for this job.
      If you take into account taxes and deductions, then you need to do that for professional jobs too.
      I made over $100,000/year as an engineer, but I took home less than $75,000. Everyone has to pay taxes and deductions.
      Anyway, I’m glad the painters are raking it in. The economy is good so they can charge a lot. Hopefully, they’ll save up for the rainy days.
      IMO, they should get paid about the same amount as teachers and waiters. Maybe $50k to $60k gross income/year.

      • jim March 1, 2019, 12:20 pm


        The taxes that James mentioned are paid by the employer not the employee.
        So its not the same as the deductions on your paycheck you used to get. The workers comp and employer share of social security/medicare is in the 15-20% range total. So if a painter gets $60/hr it costs the employer maybe another $12 on top of that. Thats all before taxes that the employee pays.
        Plus cost of other benefits.
        Plus Portland & Multnomah county net business taxes ~4% (course this is more of an “everyone pays taxes” but it adds to all business costs in your city in a way customers don’t see on the bills)

        • retirebyforty March 2, 2019, 7:32 am

          Thanks for your input. You’re right. Self-employed people pay more taxes than a regular employee.
          Hence, the “off the book” price.

    • jim March 1, 2019, 11:41 am

      “Workers Comp adds about 14 cents on the dollar,”
      Its actually 4-9 cents for painters in Oregon.
      Oregon has low workers comp.

      I agree with your points in general though. There is lots of unseen overhead cost for contractors.

  • Lazy Man and Money March 1, 2019, 5:11 am

    Wow, I’m doing some math on that and you saved yourself $72 an hour (at 25 hours) with DIY.

    You’d think the pros would be more efficient and probably make $100 an hour (assuming one can do it in 18). So interior painting is a $200K a year job?

    I’m sure they have costs (like paint and supplies) and time setting up new jobs, but wow this seems like a high paying career option!

    • retirebyforty March 1, 2019, 6:22 am

      They probably don’t work 100% of the time. Although, the price is probably higher because the contractors are all busy. We still have a building boom here in Portland. It’s probably a cyclic thing. The jobs will probably run dry at some point. Hopefully, they saved up for the rainy days.

  • Pennypincher March 1, 2019, 4:54 am

    Outrageous bid for the job, Joe! I would have done it for you for that price. It ain’t brain surgery! And so satisfying when you step back and look at the finished job.
    So many great tips to follow on YouTube. Even Walmart has decent supplies. But buy the best quality paint & brushes you can get, Home Depot or Lowe’s, do not skimp here. And prep, prep, prep, clean, spotless surfaces. Yes, it seems to take longer than planned, but reward yourself w/the $$ you saved!

    • retirebyforty March 1, 2019, 6:20 am

      We’ll use the money to fix the rotted out balcony door. Now that’s a big job. We need to get a custom door and remove all the trims. I can’t do that myself.

  • Colleen @SomewhatOutThere March 1, 2019, 4:10 am

    I was recently reminded that I’m far too picky to pay someone else to paint our house. We just finished a much needed bathroom renovation and the painters were sloppy (IMHO). Every time I go in, I see streaks and little blobs that shouldn’t be there. Completely unsatisfactory.

    Just like our finances, no one cares more about a good quality paint job than we do.

    All that said, you’ve inspired me to get painting in the rest of the house. Thanks for the refresher tips.

    • retirebyforty March 1, 2019, 6:19 am

      If you’re picky, you definitely should DIY. Why pay a whole bunch of money and still need to do fix it? Enjoy painting. 🙂

  • Dave @ Accidental FIRE March 1, 2019, 2:26 am

    Painting is something that I would never ever pay to have done, I actually enjoy it. Probably because I’m not a very skilled person when it comes to other DIY stuff, so the fact that I can paint successfully makes me feel accomplished 🙂 I don’t enjoy taping and fixing holes in plaster and drywall, but to me that’s the up-front cost to get to the fun part which is the painting itself.

    • retirebyforty March 1, 2019, 6:15 am

      Once I got in the flow, it wasn’t a tough job. You’re right, it is somewhat enjoyable. The problem is all the fume you’re breathing in. 🙂

      • jim March 1, 2019, 11:21 am

        Zero VOC paint is not that expensive now. Glidden Premium advertises 0 VOC as just one example. With a zero VOC paint there are none of the possibly dangerous volatile chemicals.

  • Mr. Tako February 28, 2019, 9:12 pm

    Those “skilled contractors” don’t do a very good job painting either. They’re in such a hurry to get to the next job that they end-up doing terrible work. I’ve seen it and been very upset with the results.

    It’s really not hard to DIY interior paint, just time consuming. Most of the work is in the prep — putting down tape, mixing paint, masking, drop cloths, etc. At least when you do it yourself, you get the job done right!

    When I was a kid, I spent many a weekend painting walls in my parent’s rentals. Good times! 😉

    • retirebyforty March 1, 2019, 6:13 am

      That sounds about right. The painting in our old condo wasn’t done that well, to begin with. The walls aren’t smooth nor straight so there is only so much you can do. Hopefully, next time RB40Jr can really help paint. 😉

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