How to start a smart home on a tight budget

I love smart home devices, but boy can you drop some serious cash on smart home gear… It’s not exactly a cheap hobby. If you are on a budget then starting a smart home can be a bit daunting. Where should you start? Which devices are the most useful and should be bought first.

The easiest way to start a smart home on a tight budget is to buy: (1) smart lights, (2) a smart voice assistant, and (3) a smart security camera.

If you focus on these three products, you will build the most useful part of your smart home and ultimately get the most use out of it until you have a bit more money to build it into a fuller system.

What devices should I start with in my smart home?

Pick a smart voice assistant

First, figure out what voice assistant ecosystem you want to be part of. Are you really into Google? Have an Android phone, Chromebook and every Google product under the sun? Then that probably means that you would really get the best bang for the buck out of a Google Home product. You will already have a Gmail account to login and store user information and probably already use a lot of the services that Google offers on Google Assistant.

On the other hand, if you’re more into Amazon services like Kindle, cloud cameras from Amazon and buy a tonne of products on Amazon regularly, then you may actually be better off with an Amazon Echo.

Pick a smart bulb ecosystem

Right now there are two main smart bulb brands that you can start your smart home with. First is Philips Hue. This is kind of the grand father of smart home lights. They are super easy to install and look great. Not only that, but Philips offers all kinds of shapes and sizes of smart home bulbs from pot lights to decorative light strips. The other brand we really love that will get you started really quick is LIFX. LIFX is a hubless smart home light solution that is as simple as screwing in the bulb and connecting it to the LIFX app via wifi. These bulbs are the brightest out there and also feature quite a few shapes and sizes that can get your smart home lighting going.

What about smart security?

You don’t need to be buying a full home security system if you are just getting started. We recommend starting with a great smart security camera that you can build around. After all, if you buy the right camera which connects to other devices then you can easily scale your system up over time. Our favorite smart home security camera right now is the Nest Cam IQ. This camera absolutely kills it in terms of quality and offers some really smart artificial intelligence for facial recognition. If the cost of this camera is a bit too much for your budget then consider the Amazon Cloud Cam. If you’re into the Amazon ecosystem then this one is for you.

Another really great place to start with smart home security is a good doorbell camera. And right now the Nest Hello is the undisputed champion. The Nest Hello has by far the best quality picture and can connect to Google Home speakers to announce visitors as they approach your door. How cool is that?

How to start a smart home on a tight budget nest hello doorbell

Nest Hello is a great first time smart home buyer item. And it connects to Google Home!

What about smart home hubs?

We wholly recommend buying a smart home hub but it depends on your priorities as a new smart home owner. If you want to build slowly then it may be a good idea to pick up a smart home hub as your very first purchase. Something like the Samsung SmartThings Hub is under $100 and will give you a great backbone to connect to pretty much any smart home device regardless of the wireless protocol they use. For example, if you really want to do smart home lighting correctly, installing z-wave smart home light switches is actually a really great idea. This way you can use the light switch like any old light but also benefit from remote controlling the lights from an app and any smart home automations. With smart home light bulbs, you are limited to ONLY controlling through the app or smart voice assistant. This means that you will have to leave your light switch on all of the time. I actually taped my light switches on when I only had smart light bulbs.

If you start with a hub you can also build your smart home in a way that keeps the control interface in one app instead of across 4 or 5 different apps.

We did a whole run down of the best smart home hubs available right now. Find our why the Samsung SmartThings Hub is the winner.

Getting your Z-Wave on

If you do in fact buy a smart home hub, you will open up the possibility of connecting to thousands of zigbee and z-wave/z-wave plus devices. These devices, which use special low energy systems utilising different wireless frequencies are awesome and can also be surprisingly affordable. There are great leak sensors, motion sensors, sirens, cameras, locks and more available on Amazon and other stores. Z-Wave is probably the most common and is a great technology to build your smart home on. Over time the affordability will add up when you are buying things like light switches VS more expensive smart bulbs.

Google Home VS Google Home Mini

We were surprised at how much we loved the Google Home Mini when it came out. It is the perfect voice control device for most people’s smart homes and is very subtle in its little puck-like design. The only reason you may want to go for a full-size Google Home or Google Home Max is if you are focusing on music. The little Google Home Mini just doesn’t have the bass response you will want with music. But if you want to save some money and aren’t too worried about music, get the Google Home Mini as a first step to voice control.

What about smart thermostats?

We love smart thermostats! They have saved us many hundreds of dollars on electric bills over the years and are super convenient to control from anywhere. But I wouldn’t argue that the smart thermostat is the first smart home device you should buy. You’ll get a lot more mileage from a set of smart home bulbs and a voice assistant like Amazon Echo or Google Home. Save the smart thermostat for your next round of purchases when your budget has expanded a bit.

If you do want to pick up a smart thermostat anyway, we highly recommend both the Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation and the EcoBee 4.

How can I save money on buying smart home devices?

You can actually find some really great deals on any of the entry-level smart home devices above. We keep an eye on prices on many of these items and chart out the price history for each of them. Check out how the price on the Google Home Mini has fluctuated over time. You could save some serious dough if you just keep an eye on the prices on the smart home gadgets you want to buy. Go on over to our store to check out price tracking on pretty much every great smart home item out there.

Price history for Google Home Mini - Chalk
Latest updates:
  • $49.00 - June 20, 2019
  • $29.00 - June 5, 2019
  • $49.00 - May 15, 2019
  • $29.00 - May 2, 2019
  • $49.00 - April 23, 2019
  • $39.00 - April 14, 2019
  • $49.00 - April 5, 2019
  • $39.00 - April 3, 2019
Since: February 6, 2019
  • Highest Price: $49.00 - February 6, 2019
  • Lowest Price: $29.00 - May 2, 2019

Don’t buy bad quality smart home devices

There is a difference between buying a smart home on a budget and buying crap. There are a lot of Chinese made versions of brand names that simple won’t be worth the money saved. The quality can suffer greatly and the ease of use with these budget smart home devices can be extremely frustrating. With smart home devices you want to make sure you are buying devices that:

  1. Are well made and supported with software updates by the manufacturer
  2. Work well with other devices, including compatibility with smart voice assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo
  3. Have a decent warranty
  4. Have quality apps and software that have good user experiences

After all, smart homes are supposed to make your life easier, not introduce frustration due to the fact that you wanted to save a few bucks. In the long run you are going to be glad that you bought a Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa compatible light bulb. You will love when you realize that there is an If This Then That IFTTT channel for your gear which enables amazing new automation potential. You WON’T love when the device stops getting security updates because the Chinese company you bought if from ceases to exist.

Conclusion: How to start a smart home on a tight budget

It really is possible to add a lot of the basics for a smart home within a tight budget. Lighting, smart voice assistants and cameras will cover most of the basic needs and if you buy the right products then you will be able to build upon them in the future. But there is no point in buying very cheap devices which won’t have the compatibility with other devices. It’s all about creating a fully integrated system where each device can be automated with others.

Get started with these essential smart home devices

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