While We’re at It

Richard Quinn

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the antithesis of the DIY guy. I was completely banned from home repairs many years ago after I set out to replace an electrical outlet—but switched off the wrong circuit breaker before doing so.

We’ve undertaken two major renovations in the past 12 years. The first was an addition to our vacation home. The second is ongoing—a new kitchen at the same house.

We spent months on the plans. In the case of the addition, we reviewed the architect’s drawings and, with the current kitchen project, the 3D computer-aided design models. We set a budget and got estimates for each step of these two projects, or so we thought.

In the case of the addition, we ended up about 50% over budget. To date with the kitchen, it’s close to the same, with more work still to come. Did we get ripped off by the builders? Not at all. We were undone by the “while we’re at it” syndrome. That and our own failure to ask more questions and pay closer attention to details. Notice I use “our.” I’m married to a lovely lady addicted to HGTV. Every new show she watches presents new ideas—even after the plans are approved and the budget set.

In the case of the addition, wainscoting, crown molding and a last-minute idea for French doors boosted the final tab. Oh, yes, do you want a full basement or crawl space? I’m not crawling anywhere.

Now for the current project. The pantry didn’t turn out the way my wife “thought” it would, despite approving the design. Add $3,000 to redo it. As naive as I am, it never occurred to me a new kitchen also meant all new appliances. Who knew a microwave can go into a drawer?

When setting our budget, we forgot to add in the plumber and electrician, because we were so focused on the big-ticket expense—the cabinets. What could it cost to hook up the new sink, dishwasher and fridge when nothing was being moved? More than $2,000, that’s what. Of course, cabinets need pulls and handles. They have to be just right, including those seahorse pulls. Those cost what? My wife hasn’t yet made the big reveal.

And then there’s the door from the kitchen to the laundry room. That old door just doesn’t look right. It’s a metal door because the laundry room used to be part of the garage, which is now a grandkid’s bedroom. Did I forget to mention that project? That one wasn’t too bad. We only decided after the fact to put in a sliding door between the new room and the laundry. Too bad we decided after it was done, which meant the contractor had to open up a wall.

As far as the new door goes, I bet you’re thinking, “Just buy one.” Is it ever that simple? It appears the door my wife envisions doesn’t exist. Can you say, “Have one made to order”? My wife can. So far, we haven’t found anyone to give us a price. They seem reluctant to do so. That doesn’t sound good, but at this point I’m conditioned to surprises. Last summer, we were looking for a new screen door and we found some lovely ones. That is until we learned they cost $3,000. That’s not going to happen. I can just imagine one of the grandkids poking a toy through the screen. Where’s the nearest Home Depot?

After reading this, I bet you think I’m upset about going over budget. Nope, it was expected. When we started the kitchen project, my wife and I agreed on a number. We naively were thinking about $35,000. As soon as we talked with the cabinet people, I knew that number was toast. When we picked the granite countertops, I knew the numbers were heading even further north.

The real shocker was the $700 fixture for the sink. All it does is turn the water on and off, hot or cold. Even at that price, I still have to touch it.

Once you have a new kitchen, other rooms look a bit shabby. According to my wife and HGTV, that is. Soooo, we’re on to painting the house inside and out, including the wood-stained trim from the 1980s to make it white, like the trim on the addition. See how this works? But I suspect that, if your wife is an HGTV addict, you already know that.

I find the secret to coping with special project spending is having the right mindset. I’m frugal by nature, which is why it took 30 years to get the kitchen project started. But once committed and once I know where the money is coming from, I’m all in. As with buying my dream car several years ago, the money is isolated in a bank account. Once it’s there, I don’t stress over spending it. My little secret: I put more into the account than the budget indicated.

Richard Quinn blogs at This is his 100th article for HumbleDollar. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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