It's easy to pull the plug, draining your financial "tub" to finish your basement if you're not armed with a few cheap tricks. Not only can smart, inexpensive finishes on the ground level or below-grade floor boost your home's market value, but finishing the space adds value too since the basement will be less cave-like and more inviting.

Paint the Ceiling

For the basement with a low ceiling, use inexpensive paint to create the idea of more headroom.

  • A warm, saturated hue, such as rich gold or peppy paprika, stays true under poor lighting, and it helps make a chilly space seem welcoming. Don't interrupt the color; carry it up onto a low ceiling to blend with the walls for an endless effect.
  • If you prefer to use a pale hue for illumination and airiness, you'll want it to be a clean one; avoid muted, murky, dirty shades in favor of something like subtle yellowy cream, pale Kelly green or icy blue.

Cover the Floor

Although you might want to carpet a cold floor, it may not be the most practical finish; basements tend to be damp, especially in older homes. Here are other options:

  • Floating vinyl flooring can be both water- and budget-friendly.
  • You can always warm your toes on space-defining, washable area rugs, which are relatively wallet savvy compared to wall-to-wall pile.
  • If you plan to lay carpeting, opt for carpet tiles, storing extra for a quick swap as any become soiled or musty.

Dress Up the Windows

Small windows are a big problem when you want to make a basement flow with the rest of the home. Here's a three-part trick to make small basement windows look large:

  1. Rather than adding more or bigger windows, fake them with drapes.
  2. Mount the curtain rods high and wide to hang ceiling-to-floor panels as if dressing a large window.
  3. Stack back the curtains only as far as the window's sides to keep the secret hush-hush.

Lighten Up the Space

One of the quickest ways to foil a dark basement's finish is to ignore the lighting issues caused by small windows or limited fixtures.

Rather than busting through drywall to rewire the space with pot lights or track lights, add layers of lamps -- table lamps, floor lamps and swag lamps over end tables.