WordPress is far and away the most popular blogging software in the world. The ecosystem is large. There are thousands of themes to choose from, but how do you find a cheap WordPress theme that isn’t terrible?

The Price Tiers of WordPress Themes

There are three or four distinct price tiers when it comes to WordPress themes. At the lowest level you have the free themes. Next you have the really cheap themes that can range from $1 to $50. After that you have higher end or more specialized themes that cost anywhere between $50 and $500. The highest end is the custom themes which range from $500 to $50,000. Cost could be even higher depending on complexity, customization, and functionality.

What is important to understand before going looking for a theme is to understand what your budget is, what your needs are, and what is going to make sense for your project. It is easy to spend too much on a custom theme when you maybe could have used a pre-built theme with your logo on it. It’s also easy to be too cheap and end up with a terrible website that doesn’t meet your objectives.

Let’s look at each of the different levels of WordPress themes together.

Free WordPress Themes

Free is the cheapest you can get, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t find a high quality WordPress theme. Every year the WordPress team puts out a new free theme and they are usually pretty nice and clean. If you are just trying to fill a site with content and need a good, clean theme, the Twenty Twelve theme works well.

One thing that free themes don’t do as well is they don’t always have much in the way of extra functionality. It is completely different from theme to theme. If you are using some advanced functionality like a shopping cart or something, you will need to make sure the theme supports it.

There are lots of places that you can go to find free themes. WordPress.org is the best place to start. It currently has over 2,300 themes listed in their theme directory. You can almost certainly find something there to get started.

FabThemes is another place you can find nice looking free themes. The only caveat is they want you to share their site via Facebook or Twitter to unlock the download link. It’s not our favorite way to get a free theme, but the price is right if you find a theme you love.

There are other places to find free WordPress themes online, but those two are a great place to start.

Cheap WordPress Themes

The $1 to $50 tier of WordPress themes is what I would call the cheap end of the spectrum when it comes to WP themes. There are a lot of amazing choices in this price range and it is getting more and more difficult to see spending a lot more than this on your theme.

For most websites, you don’t need much more than one of these themes and your logo integrated with it. There are so many high quality, responsive , beautiful themes in this price range. It is hard to justify a higher cost theme as a good investment unless you have specialized needs.

At this price range you might start to see some advanced functionality baked into a theme. Also, you might start to see some specialization for certain industries, niches, or integration with specific plugins.

Below is a list of a few places that have an outstanding selection and quality of themes in this price range.

ThemeForest is the first place I would go looking for premium themes. It is quite popular and the prices are reasonable. A lot of the themes on ThemeForest are responsive and the price range is usually $25 to $75, but it varies from theme to theme.

Elegant Themes is a great provider of premium WordPress themes with an interesting twist. Instead of charging you per theme, they charge $39 for all 87 of their themes. It is an interesting model. If you have multiple sites that need beautiful themes, it can be a great way to achieve that at a reasonable cost.

WordPress.org also has a large list of companies offering paid themes. Not all the themes you find on their list will be in this price range, but if you are looking for a premium theme, that is a great place to find them.

Higher End WordPress Themes

At the $50 to $500 range you have a ton of options for WordPress themes. In this price range you are looking at specific functionality that needs to integrate with a theme.

For example, you might be looking for a theme that works with an e-commerce plugin like WooCommerce. If you are doing e-commerce, you want a nice looking store. So, paying for a nice theme makes sense.

Another thing you will see in this price range is the various WordPress theme frameworks and their child themes. A theme framework is a tool that can be used to save time creating multiple themes with minor variations. There are quite a few popular theme frameworks for WordPress like Genesis, Thesis, and WooFramework.

The biggest benefit to WordPress frameworks are their ability to change things yourself. You can change more settings and tweak the design without having to hire a programmer or designer to do that for you. As in all software, there is a learning curve, but in some cases it can save you money that you would otherwise pay a developer. It just depends on how much your time is worth to you.

One thing to note about this price tier is that some themes advertise functionality that is better handled in a plugin. For example, a lot of themes talk about SEO and having SEO optimization functionality. That’s nice, but if you want good on-page SEO in your WordPress powered site, you should just use the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin. It’s really great.

Most of the time, you don’t need to go the full custom route. Spending anything more on design is likely a waste of both your time and your money.

Custom WordPress Themes

If you have enough of a budget, the sky is the limit in terms of what a custom WordPress theme can cost. It will come down to how many hours it takes to complete the design and the programming of the theme.

The economics are likely not in your favor here. With higher end themes you can get advanced functionality for a little money because other people are paying for it. When you go the full custom route, you have to pay for it. So, in a lot of cases you end up with a theme that looks exactly the way you want it and that’s it. Nothing extra unless you pay for it.

One way to get around this limitation is to have your theme designed on top of an existing WordPress theme framework. That way you can at least get the benefit of having some advanced functionality without paying to build it from scratch.

I do think there is a time and a place for a custom theme, and in some cases it can be justified. It’s just that I see a lot of people spending $5,000+ only to get something that isn’t much better than if they spend $50 on a nice theme, $100 on a logo design, and a few hours to setup the whole thing. Most people just don’t need a high end, custom theme and the money and time would be better spent elsewhere.

Which Is Right For You?

I can’t say for certain what is the best option for you and your business. You have to make that decision for yourself, but just be aware that there are a lot of high quality options out there that don’t cost a lot of money or time to implement. That is one of the biggest benefits of using WordPress in the first place.

Article posted on March 5, 2014
Top image by: oakleyfamily

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