Budgeting and Creating a Renovation Plan

stock images for social mediaA reader asked if I would post about how we budgeted for our renovation. There’s really not an easy answer, but I’ll do my best to share how Emmett and I tackle each project and stay within budget. Budget is probably my least favorite word ever. I hate math, I hate budgeting, and I especially hate finding something I love, only to discover it’s out of reach when it comes to our finances. However, I’ve come to learn that even though we don’t have a huge budget, honing things in forces me to be more creative with our money. Our main goal for our current renovation is to create a cozy, high-end look, while remaining WITHIN the budget. Click through to read a totally transparent post about how we landed on this house and what we plan to spend.

home-renovationWhen house hunting, we did experience a bit of sticker shock. Moving from the Midwest to Utah, there’s certainly a big price difference in the cost of properties and homes. We planned for the price difference and budgeted appropriately, but that didn’t make forking over double the cash for a small home any easier. Below, I’ll answer some reoccurring questions we’ve been asked….

Why did you choose this house?

During our house hunt, we visited LOTS of properties. Most of them had already been “flipped” but not to our liking. It would be a bummer to rip out new material, pay a higher price, and then have to start over. The house we landed on was really rough, but that’s kind of what we’re into. We looked at it as a blank canvas. Demo had mostly been completed and although it looked terrible in person, we knew it had potential. It also had the lowest price tag of any home we visited… which meant putting more money into the actual renovation. Location was high on our list, and this place fit the bill. For the rest of our wants and needs, check out this post.

I still have the notepad we used to make our pros and cons list for this home… I copied what it looked like (since the actual scribbled version is probably illegible):

pros-cons-listHow much did your home cost?

I can’t remember exactly (I’m not the budget brain in this relationship), but I know it was just over $200,000- which is really cheap for our location and Salt Lake in general. We actually paid above asking price to ensure it would be ours since the market is super competitive here.

How did you budget for updates and renovating?

Prior to putting in our offer, Emmett and I sat down with our calculators, Excel sheets, and notepads and went over allllll the details. Although there are lots of numbers involved with this part of the process, I actually enjoy dreaming up what we plan to do to the home. We first made a list of everything that would need repaired or replaced, this is what Emmett calls the Mandatory Budget. The Mandatory Budget had immediate costs such as replacing windows, but it also had costs we expected within 2 years–like replacing the roof and adding central air. We then made a list of the upgrades and fun things we wanted to do to the house, this is what Emmett calls the Discretionary Budget. Crown moulding, the fireplace renovation, and light fixtures fell into the Discretionary Budget. It is important to note, that when money gets tight throughout the process, the dollars are cut from the Discretionary Budget, so be careful if you are overrunning your own budget or you might end up without your favorite tile (but at least you fixed the hole in the roof).

gibson-renovationHere’s what we budgeted for- these are our exact estimates. We were pretty close on some items, but after receiving actual estimates, other items were far off. For instance, we spent wayyy more money on windows, but less refinishing the floors ourselves. The moral of the story is this- if you have time to get estimates from contractors, do it… but if not- use your best guess and do market research in your location. We had to make a decision on the fly and act fast to make an offer, this was our best guess at costs.

estimated-budgetSo, knowing that we’d have to put at least $60 – $75,000 into the house, we felt comfortable proceeding with an offer. Since then, we’ve definitely incurred unexpected costs and projects, but luckily we planned for it and are pretty good at rolling with the punches.

To be totally and completely honest, we always expect to pay for everything ourselves, but our plan (and hope) is to team up with sponsors we were planning to use anyway. For example… later this year, you’ll see a handful of organizational posts, as I signed on to be a brand ambassador for ClosetMaid. We already use their products (remember our last house), and it seemed like an organic fit. This certainly influences our budget when receiving discounts or products. As a designer, I also get a trade discount from some companies.

It’s also probably important to note, our actual budget lives in an excel file. Every time we make a purchase, we file the receipt and enter it into excel.

Where do you start?

Once taking possession of the house, it made sense to begin with the floors. Prior to unloading our moving truck, Emmett and one of our close friends refinished the floors throughout the entire home. We stayed with friends while the floors dried for a week, then proceeded to unload our furniture. Knowing where to start totally depends on your budget, home, and function. Part of our renovation schedule also depends on the blog, which sometimes makes things more difficult.

refinishing-floorsIf you’re working with a small budget and have to pick & choose, where should you put the money?

I’m a designer- not an expert, and certainly not a realtor or appraiser, but I personally think kitchens and baths are huge selling points. After tackling the necessities (new exterior doors, windows, appliances, electrical, etc.) We decided to put money into our main bathroom first. With that said, we were hit with unexpected costs, and now our kitchen budget is not where it should be. Does that mean the kitchen won’t get renovated? No way!! It will happen once we replenish the amount taken for use on the unexpected, maybe just a few months later.

We’d also love to try something we’ve never done before. Since we love our location so much, we’re even toying with the idea of building on in the future. A master suite and large garage would be at the top of that list!

What is something you’ve already learned about renovating your current home, that wasn’t an issue at your last?

Living in a home while renovating is pretty awful (especially since I’m a clean freak), but survivable. It has been challenging in a completely different way! I’m slowly learning to embrace the chaos knowing that it will eventually end.

Vice versa, we’ve learned alot from our previous reno! One thing that really stands out, is how much money you should put into a home… not how much you have or want to put into it. Would it make since to pour $100,000 into a home and when it comes time to sell, your home is the highest in the neighborhood. You’ll never recoup the investment, so you have to make sure the value is there. That’s not to say you should renovate on the cheap. I hate when people ask if we’re “flipping” our house. The answer is no- we’re renovating. We’re not using the cheapest materials just to make a dime. We want to love living here for awhile and really want to make this place our own- at least until our next home adventure.

Is there any advice you’d give someone about to renovate?

  • Take advantage of sales and discounts. I like to shop during holidays to get the biggest bang for my buck. I bought our front load washer / dryer set Memorial Day weekend to take advantage of savings. You might also ask about purchasing floor models for less.
  • Know when to DIY. We have already saved a ton of money doing most of our renovation ourselves. Emmett is super duper handy and knows how to do things to code. He has experience and I trust him. However, there are always a couple things that he will hire out. You should know when you’re in over your head and when to hire a professional. In the end, you’ll end up saving money and get the best result!
  • Don’t forget to consider functional decor items that will be installed after the renovation, like drapery. It’s a shame to blow your budget on the renovation itself, only to have it look unfinished and empty.
  • Consider design and function! I’ve definitely learned my lesson in making intelligent purchases. Just because something looks amazing, doesn’t mean it’s the most functional or of the best quality. Do your research for the sake of your home and family.
  • Above all, create a plan AND budget. Obviously this goes without saying, if you don’t have a solid plan of attack, things probably aren’t going to work in your favor.
  • Sometimes you have to tough it out. While renovating our previous home, we went without heat for a short stint. Was it fun? Of course not. Was it worth it? Yes- we saved a lot of money and eventually made our house super duper efficient.
  • Expect the unexpected. It never fails- you’ll experience a couple curveballs. Don’t let it get you down! You might have to spend a little extra time and money, but in the end, it will all work out.


Overall, I think it’s important to go in with a plan and goals. Here are six items that are super important, in my opinion, and necessary for each renovation.

key-items-to-consider-while-renovatingLike I mentioned, we’re not professionals… this is just our process. I’m assuming there is no right or wrong way to renovate, but I hope this is helpful to those in the process or those considering taking this same route when it comes to home ownership. Comment with any questions below!

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  1. This came at the perfect time! My husband and I are adding a master bathroom to our bedroom and I’m nervous yet excited. Budgeting everything is the hardest part…but I’m so ready to see it come to life!
    Thanks so much for this advice!


    1. That’s very exciting! I totally agree- budgeting is the worst. Hopefully this was helpful. Good luck with your reno! xo

  2. This was such a helpful and well thought out post! I’m about to redo my master en suite and will keep many of your tips in mind. Thanks!

    1. So glad you thought this was helpful! Good luck with your master suite Kayley. xo

  3. We just tore out the cabinet/sink and the tile in our bathroom and bought some relatively inexpensive tile from Home Depot to replace the old. For the vanity, I’m using a mid-century modern dresser and hubby will cut a hole in the top to put a sink. Thought this would be an inexpensive and quick update, but it ended up costing us so much because we ran into so many problems and ended up needing more tools we didn’t already have than we thought we would. Now I see the importance of planning and budgeting. =)

    So, this is a timely post for me… before we start the next project and end up in the same boat. =)


    1. Been there, done that (unfortunately)! It happens. It will be worth it once it’s all done though. Good luck with the next phase of your reno, Georgia! xo

  4. Linda Stevens says:

    Fantastic! So appreciate the pre-project planning guidelines. Definitely boosts my confidence with bathroom Reno’s and my wish list of Discretionary upgrades. Recently retired so I now have planning time but sad that I must do it on a budget! Especially Love your budget goal “make it look higher end than it is!” Turns my perceived budget con into a fun design challenge. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Linda! I love hearing that :) Have a great weekend!