Building your dream on a small income

Scale back on size and, where possible, make your own materials or use own labour to cut construction costs. PHOTO/file

What you need to know:

Not everyone has all the millions put together to build their house from the ground up in one go. We explore how one can build their dream even with meagre earnings.

Sulaiman Kururagire bought his 50x50 feet plot of land at Sanga village on Semuto Road in Matugga in 2009 at Shs2.5m. He had saved the money for close to two years.

As a motorcyclist who operates in the heart of Kampala City, Kururagire says he did not have money to start building his family home immediately after acquiring land. His house plan, which was drawn by an architect friend at Shs200,000, dictated that he builds a four bedroom house, with a dining and living room, a kitchen and two indoor toilets, one in the master bedroom and the other a shared facility for the rest of the house occupants. 

“As a daily earner, the money I retire at home with was not enough to sustain my family and build at the same time. I had no clear budget estimation to complete the entire house but I had a picture in mind of the kind of house I wanted,” Kururagire starts.

After acquiring land, Kururagire was determined to put a roof over his family within the shortest time possible. However, because his job does not guarantee a fixed daily income, he thought it achievable to build his house in phases, just like he had saved slowly for approximately two years to buy land.

Saving bit by bit

“There are days I go home with as little as Shs20, 000 depending on how busy I have been. There are days when I am unwell and stay home or when one of my family members is unwell and I have to spend on medical bills. There are also unexpected needs and this means that if I am saving towards something that costs a lot of money, it takes a lot of time. It is why I started building in 2015,” Kururagire narrates.

With an unpredictable daily saving, Kururagire says he decided to first build two rooms, a living room and a bedroom so that he could move out of his rented quarers. He bought 10,000 bricks, which was the equivalent of two Isuzu Forward truck trips, with a piece costing Shs150. He also bought two trips of sand at Shs120, 000 per trip from Semuto, a short distance from the site. To that he added 15 bags of cement, each at Shs25, 000 thenand 30 white iron sheets at Shs18,000 each .

“The engineer who oversaw construction of the house and his foremen charged me Shs800, 000. I told him (engineer) I was working on a tight budget of Shs6m and he did everything within the budget from the foundation to roofing and plastering. I would pass by the site in the evening after work to see the progress of the construction,” Kururagire recalls.

At roofing stage, Kururagire used roofing poles which he says were cheaper instead of timber because of working on a tight budget. The Shs6m also allowed Kururagire to plaster his house with three trips of sand and apply two makeshift layers of paint to be able to move in. He also built an outdoor latrine. 

“Even if I was not able to build the whole house I wanted, I was happy that I had two rooms to call home. If I had waited to save as much as Shs50m, I would still be renting. The biggest motivation was land acquisition. I am still saving to have the rest of the rooms built. Much as it will take time, I am happy that the landlord is off my back,” Kururagire concludes.

Tweleve years later, Kururagire says a 50x50 feet plot of land at Matugga, costs between Shs8m and Shs10m.

Unlike Kururagire, Micheal Barigye had accumulated savings worth Shs30m in four years. Of this, Agaba used Shs17m to buy a 50x100 feet plot of land at Kasangati in 2016. After acquiring the plot, he decided to start building with the Shs13m. He wanted a three bedroom house, two indoor toilets and a bathroom, sitting and dining rooms and a kitchen. 

Agaba says the Shs13m catered for the foundation and could only raise the house up to window level. The foundation, he recalls, was costly.  It consumed approximately 40 bags of cement, with each bag at Shs32, 000 then. “I did not compromise on the foundation because I was aware it determines the strength of the house. I bought hardcore stones, gravel, a few iron bars and clay bricks that could withstand any kind of water effects on the foundation. It is where the bigger percentage of the Shs13m was spent,” Barigye says.

When the construction process reached window level, Barigye halted the work for approximately nine months as he worked and saved to resume much later. The target was to raise at least Shs15m to take him to a certain level. The Shs15m resumed construction from window level, past the ring beam level and luckily catered for all the roofing timber.

Let your construction team know that you are on a budget. PHOTO/rachel mabala.

“The Shs15m was not enough to buy versatile iron sheets and I had to halt again for approximately one and a half months as I saved for iron sheets. I was compelled to acquire a low interest loan of Shs6m from a Sacco at work to do the roofing because I did not want the roofing timber to get damaged and add to my expenditure,” Barigye explains. 

After roofing and fixing the window and door frames that cost approximately Shs6m, Barigye, for the third time, halted for approximately eight months in 2018 because he had become financially dry.

After eight months, he had saved Shs6m from his job and upcountry banana farming project to start plastering. Cement consumed the lion’s share of plastering both inside and outside the house with 60 bags, costing Shs1.92m, while labour cost Shs2m. He bought one white sand truck trip worth Shs600,000. He later supplemented it with one sand trip of a smaller size Isuzu Forward truck worth Shs300,000 upon realising that he was running out of sand

“The cost of sand depends on the source. I sourced mine from Kapeeka. In Luweero. When you buy it from local dealers who also source for it, it is costly compared to when you get it from the source,” Barigye advises.

When he decided to move into the house at the beginning of 2019, even after struggling to raise Shs1.5m to fix the window glass, Barigye had become financially exhausted and had no other sources of income except his job. He spent approximately Shs40m from the foundation to plastering.

“I did not have money to paint and decided to move into a plastered house as I recovered financially to embark on the other remaining phases. I was given a quotation of Shs3.5m for painting alone and Shs7m for floor tiling. I have not yet put up a perimeter wall for the house that also needs approximately Shs12m. All these will be done in the near future,” Barigye winds up.

He advises that if you are building on a low budget, look around for an engineer who is not only trustworthy but also patient with you. It is equally important to open up to them about your income inflow so that there is no extravagance in use of materials even when you are not at the site.

How to cut costs

According to Joseph Oryang, an engineer with Century Investors Limited, if one is trying to build on a low budget, they could think of putting up simple two bedroom houses with a budget close to Shs50m or Shs60m, which also includes the sewerage system. The budget could be lower if you are constructing a simple country home where you could mine some materials such as sand from your own land upon recommendation and approval of the sand quality by your engineer.

Making some materials on site

Oryang explains that one of the ways you can build on a low budget is by making some materials such as bricks or blocks at your site. If you have a skilled workforce that can make and lay cement blocks or bricks accurately, you need only buy raw materials such as cement and sand and block frames. You will not only avoid buying already made ones, with a piece costing as much as Shs2,000, but also avoid plastering the inside and outside by having blocks laid well with smooth surfaces.

“On the outside, you can just do painting and smoothing of the joints where blocks or bricks are laid in very straight lines and just fill and smooth the joints on the inside and apply paint directly on either side instead of using sand, cement, grout and then later paint, which all come at a cost,”Oryang says. 

Saving on interior doors

With exception of front and rear doors which have to be strong for security, the house design, according to Oryang, should not include too many interior doors. You can use curtains in some places such as the corridor.

William Kavuma, a furniture dealer at Ndeeba, says that internally, you can use semi-solid and solid flush doors. Semi-solid doors are the kind you knock on and they sound hollow on the inside. These have a wooden framework but are covered with plywood on either side. Solid flush doors do not sound hollow on the inside when you knock on them.

Semi-solid flush doors cost approximately Shs70,000 to Shs100,000 a piece while the solid flush doors, depending on the type of wood, can cost up to Shs400,000 without the frame.

“If you do cost comparison, you will realise that the cost of one solid flush door is equivalent to five semi-solid flash doors, assuming one solid door costs Shs400,000. You could get more semi-solid doors if the cost of the solid ones is higher,” Kavuma explains.


When it comes to roofing, it is recommended to use pine. Sections such as roofs are built once and you will not want a situation where roofing timber is eaten up by termites or other insects, and for longevity, it is better to do it from the beginning.

If you choose to use eucalyptus, treat it well with anti-termite chemicals such as oil and make sure it is dry. The challenge with dry eucalyptus, Oryang explains, is that carpenters do not like to use it because it is hard to punch nails in that may sometimes split it.

The interesting bit with pine is that even if it is not completely dry, it does not change shape like eucalyptus and this means your roof will look like it has just been constructed even after 30 years. Secondly, pine also has natural sap that is an insect repellant and this means it is durable.


According to Joseph Oryang, an engineer with Century Investors Limited, low cost housing could be simple two bedroom houses with a budget close to Shs50m or Shs60m, which also includes the sewerage system. The budget could be lower if you are constructing a simple country home where you could mine some materials such as sand from your own land upon recommendation and approval of the sand quality by your engineer.


You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.