From Lights to Cameras, Here’s How to Set Up a Smart Home on a Budget

A woman talks to her smart speaker while making breakfast.
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Turning to a virtual assistant and asking it to dim the lights or turn up the thermostat was once a vision of the distant future. Now, automating your home is merely a truth of today’s world. But can you create a smart home without destroying your wallet?

Prices on smart home gadgets, including smart plugs, smart lights, smart doorbells and smart thermostats, have decreased. We’ll walk you through our favorite budget picks and guide you on how to get started on your budget smart home.

Just remember to be nice to your virtual assistant. We don’t want a repeat of Disney’s 1999 movie “Smart House.” That just wouldn’t be much fun.

What Is a Smart Home?

Before diving too deep into things, we should discuss what constitutes a smart home. The term “smart home” is a loosely defined buzzword, but in our particular case, we’re referring to homes with some level of technical automation.

If that sounds complex, don’t run away just yet — it’s easy, we promise! A modern-day smart home tends to connect common household fixtures, such as lights, plugs and doorbells, to the internet. Once they are connected, you can control them in various ways.

One of the most popular options for controlling home appliances is with your voice using a virtual assistant, such as Alexa, Google or Siri. However, you’ll also be able to control such devices from your smartphone or tablet with ease.

Which Smart Home Assistant Should I Choose?

When you’ve decided to assemble a smart home, you’ll first need to select a home assistant and smart speaker to help you control it all.

But picking an assistant is more than just selecting your favorite voice. Each assistant will enable access to different smart home gadgets, such as a smart plug.

The top three assistants are Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant. For this guide, we will focus on Alexa. The ecosystem of available devices for Alexa is not only large but also cheap and affordable.

Amazon’s smart speaker devices are known as Echos, and you can pick one up for about $20. For shopping on a budget, we recommend purchasing the third-generation Echo Dot; it’s great for issuing commands or listening to a few of your favorite tunes.

You’ll want to place an Echo Dot smart speaker in each room of your home from which you want to issue voice commands. We’d recommend selecting a common area, such as your living room or kitchen.

Once you receive your Amazon Echo Dot, set it up by following the instructions in the box. Now that your Echo smart speaker is ready to roll, the fun part begins — adding smart devices to your home.

Smart Home Devices on a Budget

When shopping for cheap smart home devices, the most critical factor is whether the products will work with your smart assistant. In our budget smart home example, we’ve ensured that every device we picked works with Amazon Alexa.

Best Budget Smart Lights: Sengled Smart Bulb

Smart light bulbs are the foundation of most smart homes. When it comes to devices that we wish to control in our home with a simple voice command, lights are at the top of the list. Replace your light bulbs with smart bulbs, and you can easily control them.

The Sengled Smart Bulb series is one of our favorites due to its relatively modest price; a pack of four sells for about $30, or $7.50 per bulb. Not only can you control the on/off function, but you can also dim the bulbs or change their color on command.

Best Budget Smart Plugs: Kasa Smart Plug (HS103P4)

A smart plug enables you to turn your standard outlet sockets into smart sockets. Plug in appliances or wired devices into the smart plug to control them remotely or by voice command.

For smart home enthusiasts on a budget, we recommend the Kasa Smart Plug HS103P4 (we know it’s not a sexy name). It’s sold in a pack of four for about $25.

Best Budget Smart Switches: Kasa Smart Dimmer Switch (HD220)

A ceiling light fixture with multiple bulbs can quickly become expensive if you buy a smart light for each socket in your smart house. One alternative is to purchase a smart switch that will upgrade the light switch you already have on your wall.

Our top pick for a budget smart switch is Kasa’s Smart Dimmer Switch (HD220), coming in at only $18. Swap out your existing light switch for this unit, and you’ll be able to control your ceiling fixtures with a swift command — and installation is a breeze.

Best Budget Smart Thermostat: Amazon Smart Thermostat

Installing a smart thermostat is a slick way to control your home’s temperature at night without slipping out of bed and save money on your electricity bill. You’ll be able to easily monitor your energy usage all day, whether you are home or not.

We love Amazon’s Smart Thermostat, which delivers a smart home temperature-control experience for $60. You can program a schedule, control the temperature remotely, or examine your heating and cooling spending over days, weeks or months.

Best Budget Smart Doorbell Camera: Blink Video Doorbell

A smart home is a safe one, and it all begins with your front door. Installing a smart video doorbell enables you to keep an eye on your home, whether in the living room, backyard or around the corner at the neighborhood cafe.

When it comes to cheap smart home devices, our pick for the best budget smart doorbell camera is the Blink video doorbell. For only $35, you can grab a wireless battery-operated video doorbell with a built-in two-way intercom.

Best Budget Smart Security Camera: Kasa Indoor Pan/Tilt Camera

If you also want to keep an eye on the happenings within your home, consider an indoor security camera. Connect it with your Alexa smart home, and you can view your camera from afar on a smartphone or a compatible Echo Show device (smart display).

The Kasa Indoor Pan/Tilt Security Camera is our favorite option for budget-conscious shoppers thanks to its pannable design and low price. Available for only $35, this smart camera offers up Full HD video, night vision and a patrol mode for intruders.

Best Budget Smart IR Remote Control: BroadLink RM4 Mini

Here is a product category you wouldn’t likely have thought about, but we are here to help you find the best cheap smart home devices. An infrared (IR) remote control enables you to control most devices that use remote controls via virtual assistant.

Our favorite product is the BroadLink RM4 Mini, which can control your television, set-top box, air conditioner, fan, electric fireplace and more. For only $26, you can control a world of devices, instantly transforming your home into something a bit smarter.

If you’re considering adding smart appliances to your home, check out our guide on the best times to buy appliances.

Best Budget Smart Robot Vacuum: Eufy RoboVac 15C Max

We aren’t quite at the point of having a robot like Rosie in “The Jetsons” to clean up all of our messes, but we have some slick robot vacuums that can come close. With a smart robot vacuum, you need only to issue a command and watch your home’s floors be cleaned.

Most robot vacuum cleaners are expensive, especially those connected to Wi-Fi, and can be controlled by an assistant like Alexa. Luckily, we found the Eufy RoboVac 15C Max, which can vacuum hard floors and carpets for only $160.

Best Budget Media Streaming Stick: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Media streaming sticks enable you to access video and music streaming services via your television. Adding an Alexa voice assistant to your smart home allows you to take your media streaming experience further, controlling your television with voice commands.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is our top pick for a budget media streaming stick, and, as you might expect, it plays perfectly with Alexa. For around only $50, you can command Alexa to turn on the TV, open up a specific streaming service and begin playing your favorite show.

Our Methodology

The market is full of smart home gadgets promising to upgrade your house or apartment, so we needed to select only the best — all while on a budget.

We began by researching the different types of products available on the market. We then assembled criteria, making sure the selected options met our standards. Factors we considered included ecosystem compatibility, overall reliability and pricing.

Each product we selected has been certified to work with Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem, our choice system for a low-budget smart home. We hand-tested the products we chose for reliability, or selection was based on a collection of positive testimonials from verified customers.

As the pricing was a foremost concern, we selected the lowest-priced products that still provided a top-tier experience. During our selection process, preference was given to brands with more trustworthy reputations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How Do I Create a Smart Home on a Budget?

Creating a smart home on a budget isn’t as difficult as you might think. You’ll want to choose a smart home system that offers cheap smart home devices. Our top picks are Amazon’s Alexa and Echo devices. From there, you’ll want to search for products compatible with Alexa; they can typically be found at low price points online.

How Much Does It Cost to Turn Your House Into a Smart Home?

It depends on what is important to you. If you want to replace a few lamps with smart lights, it might cost you $7 to $8 per bulb or smart plug. However, if your idea of a smart home is a robot vacuum cleaner and a smart wireless doorbell, you’ll have to shell out more money.

Is It Worth Getting a Smart Home?

Transforming your house into a smart home can be a rewarding experience. It makes your life easier, allowing you to issue commands with your voice, and it can save you money in the long run. A smart thermostat, smart bulbs and a smart plug will enable you to better control your energy consumption and monthly bill.

Which Smart Home System Is Best?

The primary voice assistant ecosystems to build your smart home around are Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Alexa and Google Assistant typically offer the most cost-effective solutions, with Amazon providing an overall cheaper setup. Siri provides excellent compatibility and privacy with Apple devices, but accessories are more expensive.

Michael Archambault is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder specializing in technology.