design-budget
Illustration by PHUONG NGUYEN

While there is, unfortunately, no magic formula to determine exactly how much your renovation is going to cost, there are ways to account for the foreseen—and unforeseen—changes to your space. Depending on the scope of your plans (Are you only making over the kitchen? Is this an all-encompassing gut job?) and how luxe you’re looking to go, your cost estimate will look totally different. And although you might feel mentally and emotionally prepared after consulting a trusted architect on pricing, you’ll be surprised how fast impending mishaps will blow your bank account to bits.

Because we firmly believe that a much-needed remodel shouldn’t leave you broke, we took your most pressing finance questions to the pros who know it best. Ahead, a few of our favorite designers share the money tips and tricks they swear by, for staying within budget.

Leave Enough Overage

It might seem like a no-brainer, but your budget should always take into account any unfortunate surprises you might encounter along the way. Problems almost always happen, which is why having a cushion is key.

“Add at least 10% to your budget for surprises and upgrades that happen as you open walls and make decisions on the fly,” suggests Natalie Myers of Veneer Designs. “If you budget correctly, you won’t be hit with sticker shock and will remain cool as a cucumber throughout the process. Conversely, don’t commit to more improvement work than you can afford or you will end up with a half-finished job that the builder has walked away from.”

If you really want to stay on the safer side, leave 25% overage says Justina Blakeney of The Jungalow. While not-so-obvious roadblocks can range from toxic mold to crooked bathroom tiles, there’s no such thing as being too cautious.

Mix Highs and Lows

Any seasoned renovator will tell you that getting through a major project with money still left in your pocket comes down to knowing where to splurge and where to save. Pairing high-quality pieces (say, you’re really set on having Calacatta marble countertops in the kitchen) with more budget-friendly objects and fixtures is a great way to save. It’s what designer Andria Fromm has dubbed “the Target dress with Jimmy Choo heels” concept.

“There are so many ways to save money, but still make an impact… and companies have picked up on this!” shares Dee Murphy of Murphy Deesign. “For example, the Ikea kitchen cabinets paired with custom fronts from Semihandmade are absolutely beautiful. Save there and spend more (in my opinion) on real marble countertops. Also, remember to search out vintage pieces—even for the bathroom as a unique option for a sink and cabinet combo!”

If you’re still not sure where to start, invest in one or two pieces that you love and build the rest of the room around them, suggests Becki Owens. “For example, [start with] a beautiful vintage rug with a unique pattern and pretty color. Then add in textiles and neutral furnishing to finish the space,” she explains.

Define Your “Must-Haves” and a “Nice-to-Haves”

“Make a list of the things that are most important to splurge on and then prioritize from there. Sticking with a budget is all about give and take,” says Shea McGee, one part of the husband-wife duo behind Studio McGee.

If you have issues with compromise, you might want to rethink renovating your home altogether. Both of your lists should not only be realistic, they should also be balanced.

“Some well-intentioned clients once spent most of their budget on custom cabinets and didn’t have anything left. A statement backsplash and faucet would definitely have made a wonderful mark in a small space like theirs. You can’t have the best of everything, but finding a middle ground is best,” says SoCal-based blogger, Anita Yokota.

Itemize!

That’s right, get into excel and go crazy. Assigning $$ to every item you plan on purchasing for your new space beforehand (even if it’s just a rough estimate) will help keep track of where your money is going and why. “I always pre-plan prior to beginning a project,” says Utah-based designer and blogger, Sarah Gibson. “I’ll itemize everything needed in excel, go over the budget, and then begin the ordering and scheduling process.”

Having your architect or general contractor layout general pricing for the whole project isn’t enough. If you’re willing to get into the nitty-gritty, you’ll sleep better at night knowing you’ve done your best to account for every detail.  

Get multiple quotes and check referrals from contractors. This will keep your stress level down. Assign a budget number to each line item in your project and balance your project budget two to three days apart, inputting receipts totals into a running spreadsheet,” says Tavia Forbes of the Atlanta-based firm, Forbes + Masters.

Need more help planning your remodel?

This Is How Long a Home Renovation Actually Takes

7 Things to Know Before You Renovate

What to Expect When Planning a Bathroom Renovation

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