Where To Start?!?

Probably the best place to start, especially if you're on a budget, is deciding if you're going to work on just your front yard, just the back yard, or both?  It may make sense to consider just one of them this season and the other one next year. This approach might allow you to put more resources into each one resulting in a much more satisfying finished project.

First - Create a Plan!

It may (or may not...) sound like fun, but creating even just a simple drawing or layout of what you want to do, and where, can simplify matters greatly as well as help you outline an overall budget based on each design element.

If you have a sprinkler or rainwater collection system already installed be sure and take them into account as well in your overall layout plan.

Second - How Much to Spend?

"Start with the end in mind" as the saying goes.  Starting off knowing how much you want to spend in total can definitely help with both a written budget as well as your initial design/layout.  Of course this can change as you go forward, but it will definitely help apply some financial discipline to the overall project.

Third - Hiring a Contractor or "DIY"? ("Do It Yourself")

A 'contractor' can be as simple as one of the neighborhood kids coming by every week or so to mow the lawn once all the improvements have been completed all the way to a full blown landscape design/build company handling things from start to finish.

The two biggest issues here, of course, being time and money. With a sketched out design plan, and a written budget, ideas may come to light that you might not have considered before. You might now need to consider using a commercial contractor, or, you might realize that you actually can do more of the work yourself than you had originally thought.

Finally - A Few Resources to Help You Get Started!

Online Planning / Design Tool (Free, but an account creation is required.)

Budgeting for a Landscape Project

Flower Plants for Dry Gardens

Outdoor Lighting Ideas