Are we over budget?

Oh, hell yes.

Do I really mind?

Well, it depends, honestly.

We have spent quite a bit more on this kitchen remodel than we were intending. Our initial budget was $6,000: $5,000 allocated for the kitchen cabinets and lighting, and another $1,000 for the floors. My parents gave us a very generous gift card to Lowe’s for Christmas, and we received a few smaller gift cards from other relatives who heard about the upcoming project, bringing us up to right around $6,750.  The initial budget that we had created was a very rough estimate for what it would cost to purchase all of the big ticket items only, not counting incidentals. The five grand we had set aside was for cabinetry, our new farmhouse sink (a real steal at $312. A comparable porcelain, 36” wide double sink with attached drip rail was literally in the thousands. Believe me. I looked.), the new range hood (another incredible Ikea deal. $429 for a stainless and curved glass hood. We were debating between the one with the glass detail, and the all-stainless one, but decided to spend the extra $50 to get the one with the glass detail that matched the curves on all of our appliances), and all of the hardware (We had purchased new hardware for our existing kitchen already, but soon discovered that our modern style pulls with the old-fashioned cabinet doors just looked wrong. Besides, the number of cabinet pulls we needed to complete the new kitchen was different than what we had originally tallied. So now we can use the pulls we already purchased for the bathrooms and closets in the rest of the house. It was another expense we weren’t really anticipating, but I think it will be worth it in the end. And now we have a few extra pulls for some other projects around the house. Like a desk I want to repaint and update.).  With the wonderful Ikea kitchen sale (it happens annually, right around March and April in the States), we managed to score a 20% discount, bringing the total for our entire kitchen down to $4,200. $4,214.06 to be exact.

NOTE: You can ONLY get the discount if you spend over $5,000 at once in the kitchen section. I bought a corkscrew as well, and that $1.99 was considered part of “Food and Dining” and did not count towards our discount. It wasn’t a big deal because we had plenty of other stuff that did count, but if you plan on doing this at some point, keep those distinctions in mind. It caused a chuckle at check-out, because the girl ringing up our order had to ring up all of the kitchen stuff separately from the rest, and the thing that got flagged in this ENORMOUS shopping list was a two-dollar corkscrew. God forbid we get forty cents off of that!

Being a scant $785.94 away from our “max” just after buying the barebones needed to make a kitchen, Honest Husband and I knew that things were going to get much pricier than what we had initially believed. And that’s a painful truth to come to.

But, like any pain, we winced, got up, stretched, and moved on. We are still very aware of our budget (exactly how much did we go over? That’s for another post!), but I think that we’re wiser now because of it. So, here I’d like to dispel a few Myths and discuss a few lessons that we learned with budgeting our DIY kitchen remodel.

Myth #1: Going Over Budget Means You are Terrible with Money and/or Horrible Irresponsible as a Person in General

You may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you.

Honest Husband is an engineer.

I’m (almost) a PhD in Literature.

We’re smart.

Like, for real.

I have a spreadsheet that has all of our expenses for this kitchen listed on it.

We don’t pay our bills late.

We save for retirement and our girls’ colleges.

We have investments.

We pay down debt.

We’re good with money.

But it’s still really, really, really, really embarrassing to admit that we’re over budget. Because we thought we wouldn’t be the ones over budget. Oops.

Everybody thinks that they’ll stick to the budget. That they’ll be the ones who figure it all out ahead of time. That they’re smarter than everybody else. At least, that’s what we thought.

But we’re not smarter than everyone else.

We’re not special, unique little snowflakes.

We’re just clunky ole ice cubes.

Myth #2: “Plan” for “Surprises”

This myth always drives me nuts on a semantic level. Because, seriously. The nature of a surprise is that it is unexpected. It is therefore impossible to “plan” for. Now, having a contingency in place is not a bad idea.  Understanding that your initial estimates will almost always and completely be blown to smithereens at some point?  That’s pretty useful. But it’s a myth that you can “plan” for “surprises.” Because they’re (spoiler alert!) surprising.

Of course, what this common myth is saying is to expect the unexpected. Be on alert. Have some extra money stashed under your mattress in case, say, you discover black mould behind your sink cabinet (we did, by the way. Not enough to panic over, but enough to make us say, “Ewwww!”). But what this kind of thinking conveys to homeowners and DIYers is that we needed to be emotionally “prepared” when bombs that we thought had been diffused end up blowing up all over the place.  It places the emotional burden on us. We needed to have “planned” for the unexpected costs. We should have “expected” these things. Which implies that we have no right to feel mad, or frustrated, or embarrassed, or fed up. Because we should have been prepared.

Take our example.  Though we weren’t planning on putting down flooring just yet, I found some wonderful, beautiful groutable vinyl tile at Home Depot for $1.79 a square foot. It was only available for a limited time, so we decided to pull the trigger. The entire kitchen and laundry room retiled for only $500?? Score! We were such budget masters.

When we finally decided to pull up the old Formica tiles and the vinyl sheet flooring underneath it, we were pleased and relieved to find a solid, dry, somewhat-outdated-but-still-very-useable luan. Huge sigh of relief. All that needed to be done was to scrape off the old adhesive from the original vinyl flooring, pour some leveling compound on it, and place our new vinyl stick flooring down. A few hours of gruesome, hard work, and we’d be set! Cheap floors that looked like ceramic, but without the coldness of real tile, and with a more forgiving bounce and flex.

Two hours into scraping off the old glue (a horrible job. My hands were sore for days after!), I decided that I needed some “inspiration.” I went into the garage, grabbed a few of the new tiles, and set them on the underlayment to see what the results of all of this hard work would look like. Ahh, new floor!

Wait. What?

Why is there that huge lip between the oak hallway and the kitchen? A full half inch. Doesn’t sound like much in theory, but it’s a mountain in flooring terms. (As little as a quarter inch of difference from one section to the next is enough to make people trip regularly, especially in houses where we all naturally anticipate even, level flooring)

Honest Husband stood in disbelief, the putty knife still in his hand, “We pulled up two layers of flooring. The entire kitchen is a quarter inch too low. The entire kitchen is sunk down now.”

In situations like this, I turn into a character that I like to call The Constant Questioner: “What? No way. Do you think it’s noticeable? Can we just put a transition strip across? Do you think we’d get used to it? Maybe we’d get used to it?  Would people trip on it? I don’t want people to trip on it.”

The elation of the morning. The jokes we had told while getting covered in 25-year-old adhesive dust. The feeling of accomplishment as we scraped and cleaned off entire plywood sheets. It all came crashing down. There was no way to get around it. In order to make it right, in order to make it complete, we needed to add a layer of underlayment.

Luckily, we have access to things like pneumatic tools, so we didn’t have to spend money renting or even buying an air compressor, but at the end of the day, we spent a good $300 that we hadn’t expected just on birch plywood underlayment, 5,000 inch-long staples, and a giant bucket of wood filler.

It ended up being the best decision. Whereas the old underlayment appeared to be in good shape, and was useable, the new underlayment is truly great product. We spent the extra money to get a high end, solid plywood to completely cover the old luan. Because of its stability, even our not-entirely-level kitchen floor (there’s a dip in one corner of the room. You mostly only notice it in the dining room, or, say, when you’re on all fours, trying to chip away old adhesive with a 3” putty knife) now feels solid, doesn’t squeak or bounce, and having this good product underneath our groutable vinyl tiles ensures that the grout will remain solid and won’t crack with age and use. And it brought the kitchen floor up level with the rest of the flooring in the house.

But even with the clarity and calmness of hindsight, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a terrible afternoon in the Honest house. It sounds weird to say this, but we needed to progress through the stages of grief when we encountered this surprise. Denial, anger, depression, bargaining. We went through it all. Fully and completely. We were caught off guard and felt helpless. Our great, money-saving ideas were destroyed. Again. It was terrible.

But, we kept working, and we reached Acceptance. Even, dare I say, Joy.  It cost more money, but it was done correctly. It was going to be all the better for the bomb.

Though we knew that things were going to cost more than we had initially believed, once the surprise hits you, there’s no “planning” for it. So instead of trying to “plan” (and drive yourself crazy thinking of every possible worst case scenario), try to allow yourself to feel that disappointment. Go through your grief. This is your home. Your work. Your sweat. The thing that you do to make your family smile. You’re emotionally invested, and you deserve to take the time to have a meltdown, or freak out. Walk away for awhile (Honest Husband and I took a long lunch break and watched old sitcoms on Netflix for an hour or two). But, once that’s done, keep working and move on. It’s only money.

Myth #3: It’s Only Money

Money’s important. Money’s life-changing. Money’s not everything, but it’s a lot of things. Again, don’t feel shallow if you happen to have a healthy dose of anger, fear, or sadness as you see your budget fly out the window. When people shrug, “Hey, it’s only money,” they are speaking from a place of privilege that not everyone enjoys.

(And, remember, what they’re really saying is, “Hey, it’s only your money.”)

Myth #4: Look for Deals!

Yes, look for deals on some things.  But think very carefully about what can and cannot be made more cheaply.

For us, we decided to save money on the cabinet boxes, choosing less visually appealing and cheaper melamine boxes, as well as cabinet doors and cover panels made with a combination of solid woods and veneers.  We could have spent money on solid wood cabinet boxes, but it seemed like an unnecessary expense for us. You really only see the interior of the cabinets when you open it up, and how often are you standing there, examining the cabinet box as opposed to what’s inside of it? We also saved on the countertop and the flooring. The countertop is going to be laminate, and the floors vinyl. We decided to use these less expensive options for several reasons. Firstly, if you have attitude about these products, you really need to check out what’s available right now. Advancements in the technology to make and design these products have been taking off. It’s not your grandmother’s vinyl kitchen floor! Our goal is that both the countertop and the flooring will be virtually indistinguishable from solid-surface products until people actually walk up and touch them. My cousin recently remodeled her kitchen, and she put in groutable vinyl tiles throughout her kitchen, breakfast nook, and entryway. It wasn’t until the third day staying at her house that I realized the floor wasn’t travertine. And I had to be told.  These things look amazing now.

Secondly, the budget was a major consideration. Do I want a lovely, interesting granite with heavy figuring and bold colors? Of course! Do I want to spent $100 a square foot to get it? Not unless it comes with a happy ending! We’ll have about $500 in countertops, and around $1,000 in floors all told.

Thirdly, durability. I drop stuff. All the time. And I spill red wine. Basically any time I open a bottle (and I like to open bottles). And my daughters like to bang pots on the floor. And I let them. And life’s too short to spend it worrying about scratching my four thousand dollar counters.

One place where we didn’t try to be frugal? The kitchen faucet. In our last house, we bought a cheaper faucet (right around $100—you can barely find a kitchen faucet for less anymore), and I hated it. This is a piece of equipment that I use constantly. I needed consistency in flow. I wanted metal valves, not plastic. I wanted solid feeling buttons when I changed the spray settings. I wanted it to look nice. I wanted it to operate organically (those faucets with the on-off pulls on the side instead of the top? They never feel natural to me. Pull down for on? Forward for hot? Or cold? Or which? They’re also just another example of the tyranny of right-handedness in America today. Almost all of them are designed to be installed so the handle is on the right side of the faucet. Fascist. I was determined to find a faucet that turned on from a lever on the top. No exceptions). Just today I ordered a new kitchen faucet. I spent almost $300, but I’m confident in the brand. It’s made in America. It has a lifetime warranty. I love it. I loved it the second I saw it. I wanted something nice, and, dag-nabbit, I went for it!

Figuring out where you need and want to spend some extra money is just as important to budgeting as figuring out where and how to save.

Myth #5: Go for Classics

Honest Husband is like a fine hardwood floor: he needs a little time to adapt (which is why I needed to spend so long convincing him that Ikea was the way to go).  I’m like a giant block of granite: hard, decisive, and not necessarily for everyone. We’re a really good design combo.

He’s the rock, and I’m the kite. He keeps me from disappearing into dark sky, and I yank him up from the ground.

So he reels me back in when I get too extreme with my design ideas. And I get him to take chances.

And we both have concluded that the ultimate test of whether or not something is going to be permitted to bust our budget is love. Do we love it? Does it make us smile? Does it make us happy? Do we think about it, even after we walk away? Then we’re doing it.

Who cares if, in twenty years, our kitchen is going to look “so 2014”?

We are designing for nobody’s happiness but our own. For nobody’s aesthetic but our own.

Do people question our choices? Constantly. <<Check out this link. It’s a GIF of the light that we bought for our breakfast nook. We LOVE this light! Is it “timeless”? Hells no! Is it all kinds of awesome? Hell yeah!

Do people warn us about “getting tired” of things? Sometimes.

But do we love it? Oh yeah.

Budget. Busted.

Advertisements