By Lea Schneider
Before my remodeling project, working in my kitchen included decisions no home cook should ever have to make, like, “Should I open the oven or the dishwasher?” Only one could be open at a time. Good grief!
From my first moments in our house, I was planning out our dream kitchen—an island big enough for multiple cooks to work at, a deep sink for soaking big pans and under-the-counter lighting were all in the blueprint. Of course, as a professional organizer, lots of storage was a given.
My husband and I bought our house knowing that we’d bought a project. The good part was that I had a budget set aside to handle the kitchen remodel. The scary part was managing the budget and how to keep track of everything.
Today, I’m writing this from my dream island in my up-to-date kitchen. During the remodel, I learned a few things that can make any remodeling process easier. Like most things, it’s not so hard if you just know a few tricks, such as setting a budget and then purchasing a gift card for the total, so that you don’t dip into your savings.
Having a plan in mind when faced with decisions also helps. Of course, as an organizer, there is nothing I like better than plans and lists!
Four Keys to a Remodel Budget Strategy:
- Need vs. Want
When I was a child and would proclaim that I “needed” something, my mother was quick to correct me and make me restate my desire using the word “want.”
That little lesson actually applies to your kitchen remodel. Your first goal in planning a remodel is to figure out how to get all of your actual needs. In my case, the house’s old kitchen included a four-burner stove with two working burners, a leaking refrigerator and a dishwasher that made noises but didn’t clean dishes. Clearly, I could put new appliances in the “need” category.
Some of my other desires, like a granite countertop and under-the-cabinet lighting, were clearly “wants.” I could choose a different surface or skip the lighting and still have a kitchen.
Make a list of everything that you hope to put into your kitchen remodel. Divide that list into needs and wants. This will help you control your budget by securing your needed items before allocating funds for the dream items you can afford.
- Shop Different Price Points
One of the great things about remodeling is that there are so many choices.
While it would be great to be able to fit your favorite choice into your budget for every single item, it might not be a realistic plan. If you’ve ever watched the make-over shows on TV, then you know that someone is always surprised during a remodel. Hidden problems can and will come along. When they do, you may have to adjust your budget to fit in an unexpected cost.
Plan ahead by choosing items at more than one price point. If something happens and you have to make some budget cuts, it is much easier to make a decision and move on if you have another choice in mind. In my case, a high-end faucet gave way to an alternative that is still pretty and functional.
- Necessary Budget Items: Consult Experts to Prepare for the Unexpected
Not one thought of important things like load-bearing walls came into play in my dream kitchen. My mind was all about paint colors in the shade of the ocean. You can imagine that it was a bit of a shock when I learned that I had to have a new electrical panel in the basement to carry the electrical load of my new appliances.
When creating your budget, have an expert review your plans. I had a good overall plan in mind, but a kitchen expert brought up important issues, from stock cabinet sizes available to power outlet placement. In my case, I assumed that moving the kitchen sink to a better location would be very expensive, and I worked around that presumption. That might be true in some layouts, but my sink turned out to be easy to move, opening up new opportunities.
Use an expert contractor to come in and look at your electrical and plumbing needs, air-conditioning ducts and ventilation. They will also have the expertise to know if walls can come down or if doors and windows need replacing. Have them go over the proposed kitchen layout with you to make sure that all the support is there for holding the weight of appliances and in my case, that giant island with granite on it.
Don’t plan on spending every penny in your budget on purchases for the kitchen. You will find that you may need funds for repairs behind the scenes, like pipes or duct work, and you will be in much better shape if you’ve set some money aside for a just-in-case event. I have a brand new ceiling with new attic insulation. You can bet that wasn’t on my original kitchen list!
- Track your Expenditures
It’s easy to quickly lose track of how much money you’ve spent. I found that I was buying at a rapid rate to make sure that we had what we needed when it came time to install an item. I was picking out cabinet hardware one day and light fixtures the next. I needed so many things, small and large, that it was necessary to go back and dig through receipts later. It would be a lot easier to start tracking every penny spent from day one.
It is a lot easier, and less stressful, to keep your remodel funds entirely separate from your daily household expenses. The last thing you want is to realize you are short for buying groceries or paying the mortgage.
A separate account is one smart way to go, or another great tip I’ve learned is to buy a gift card for yourself. Putting your remodel funds into a gift card allows you to keep your spending separate. With a gift card, I could pay for items ordered online or at the store, and give it to my contractor to buy supplies directly. Stores like The Home Depot even offer Project Cards and DIY Cards exactly for this purpose, including an online sign-in that lets you track your receipts so you know exactly where your project budget is going. And because you can always find out your balance remaining on the card, you have a clear picture of exactly how much you have left and how much you have spent.
A kitchen remodeling project can be stressful, but with smart planning and budgeting, it’s well worth the effort. You’ll enjoy the end result for years to come. I know that I do!
Lea Schneider loves finding order in the midst of chaos. She’s had lots of practice while rehabbing a long-empty 1950s ranch house in Nashville, Tennessee. Lea is a nationally recognized organizational expert who writes for The Home Depot. To see Home Depot's gift card options to budget your next home remodel project, visit their site here.