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We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty today, so if numbers, finances and budgets make you queasy, you may want to click on over to something pretty. You know, like this.


The fact of the matter is, Husband and I both freelance for a living. And while freelancing may be synonymous with pajamas, couches and Cheetos, it’s also a lot more difficult than it sounds (and I’m not talking Cheeto dust on my white keyboard).

For us, the freelance life is, yes, all of the above, but it involves much, much more — specifically in the budgeting department. While we have a few steady gigs that ensure a monthly paycheck, the bulk of our income varies greatly. A producer from L.A. may call Husband for a rush job, or I might get an article picked up in a national publication. And in these moments? Freelancing is pretty great. Yet when budgeting for a renovation, it’s important to plan around those surprise jobs — and learn to truly save some serious dough.

Behold, our Top Ten Tips for Renovation Budgeting:

1. Get real. Buying a home you can afford doesn’t sound glamorous, but it’s certainly the smartest route. They’re called starter homes for a reason, and by setting your sights on a price range you can easily afford, there’s much more room to play around (read: install a luxurious sauna!). Of course, don’t skimp on the neighborhood; you’ll get what you pay for.
2. Download a template. I used a budget spreadsheet similar to Carl Heldmann‘s, but feel free to use what works best for you. Fill it out, section by section, and aim high. It’s always better to have a surplus than come out empty-handed.
3. Make a list of wants and needs. In our case, Husband and I want a beautifully landscaped backyard, but need a washer/dryer (oh the woes of grown-up responsibilities). Build on the needs, and the wants can be moved to your honey-do list.
4. Pick your priorities. What do you want to renovate first? Would you rather cook in an unfinished kitchen, or bathe in an unfinished bathroom? Choose what works for your lifestyle. Husband and I don’t entertain (or cook, for that matter!) often, so the kitchen is a low priority list for us. However, the office is a must, as we both work from home. Take a look at your current lifestyle and prioritize accordingly.
5. Remember the hidden costs! Be sure to factor in taxes and hidden fees when planning your renovation budget. Homeowners’ Association dues and property taxes can often tip the scale and leave you with less than enough to finish the home. Personally, I prefer to keep two separate accounts for my renovation budget: operating costs and savings. Taxes and HOA dues go directly into savings, and anything else is fair game!
6. Cut corners. Get creative. Maybe you love the look of subway tiles, but can’t afford to tile your entire bathroom? Opt for a statement wall and keep the cost low. There are billions of ways to decorate on a budget, and you’re sure to find something you love (that your bank account will agree with!). Right now, I’m loving this magazine wall installation — a super easy, functional solution to brighten up any space — and you can finally use those raggedy stacks of mags you’ve been saving all these years.
7. Enlist help. Have a large family? The cost of a few pizzas will certainly outweigh hiring a team of movers. Gather help from your friends and family (but remember to return the favor when the time comes!).* Other jobs we plan to gather the troops for? Painting, landscaping and organizing.
8. Barter away! Have an artist in the family? Barter her services for free childcare. Have a neighbor who loves to drywall? Offer to mow his lawn for the summer. Get crafty with your contacts and cut down your budget in a big way. In fact, the architect I mentioned last week? Our brother-in-law. Let’s just say we owe him a lot of pizza.
9. Time is money. One of the biggest expenses of a renovation is the schedule. When you’re in a rush, it’s often easy to spend big bucks hiring help to finish, or even fixing a DIY job you’ve botched. Keep your cool (and your budget) intact by allowing ample time to renovate. Sure, tackling the hardwood floor installation may take Husband two weeks longer than a professional, but we’ll save a few grand along the way.
10. Do your research. You can save serious dough with a bit of research. Have a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore? Feel like trying out eBay? By researching the cost of plumbing fixtures, furnishings and other renovation staples, you can shave off some pretty high costs and opt for used or gently-used thrift finds.

*There are, however, a few jobs you should never ask of your friends/family — unless they’re a professional. Check out a few DIY Don’ts before you call in a favor!


See, that wasn’t so bad, right? Renovations can be a ton of fun if you stay on task — and on budget. And, of course, my final rule of thumb? When Husband tells you the entire renovation will take six months? Go ahead and tack on an extra three.

6 Responses

  1. cindy says:

    these are great points because they get you think about the whole project in a realistic way. there's nothing like some old accounting to keep you in check!

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  3. Melissa de la Fuente says:

    SUCH good advice….and that magazine installation is incredible. wow. I simply can NOT wait to see it all unfold! You are just so good at this hun…yipppee! :)

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