Maximize Your Design Budget


No one really wants to talk about budgets, however it is an essential part of any design project and ensures that something that is supposed to be enjoyable runs smoothly. Here are a handful of ways to start determining your budget as well as how to maximize it.

make a design wish list

Write down everything you would like to do to your space/s and what you would like to buy. Be specific..

MASTER BATHROOM: new floor tile, new sink or vanity, vanity lighting, etc.

Think about what you want and need (need first, want second) and include anything you want built: shelving, cabinetry, etc. Don't forget to include practical stuff that needs to be fixed, upgraded and purchased.

determine your actual budget

Be honest with yourself! How much do you actually have to spend on your project, RIGHT NOW?? If the money isn't there yet, it might be a smart idea to hold off for now, or at least prioritize a bit until you can actually set aside a decent amount for your project. There's no point in stressing out about money when a new master bedroom should be something to look forward to! Your budget should be the amount you are happy to spend without going broke or feeling guilty!

get familiar with the cost of things

Before you sit down to draft your itemized list of things you need for your project, so some research. Check out stores, look online at the many retail stores that offer a variety of things (google is your friend), look at catalogs, talk to your friends about how much the new sofa they bought (and you fell in love with) costs. Sofas for example, can range anywhere from $500 to $5000 (and on and on), so start to price out things that meet your style, quality and comfort standards. Another example: kitchen appliances are all over the place. Think GE vs. Viking.

Find out how much work you will need to hire out. Having a hard time choosing finishes and visualizing everything together? Hire a designer! We know how to do this (seriously) and trust me, you will save a ton of time and feel confident in all of your choices before work begins. Think about other trades you may need to hire: contractor, tile installer, electrician. Get at least 3 written estimates for each job before finalizing your budget.

prioritize your purchases and labor

Start itemizing with your wish list, real costs and total budget in front of you. Perhaps that fancy stove you've been eying in every magazine will need to be re-thought because you would also like a new fridge, dishwasher and tile backsplash. If you have a whole home to furnish, or a kitchen to remodel (huge, huge costs can go into just this one room), then maybe you need to tackle each room separately. Kitchen first, furnishings second, then window treatments, etc.

Also, don't forget to factor in the stuff such as labor costs. If you are installing wallpaper, you not only need to buy the wallpaper, but you also have to pay the person who installs it. Rule of thumb: include 20%-25% for labor costs and at least 18%-20% for freight and delivery charges on any purchases.

drafting a plan

Put a plan on paper! Write down a detailed plan of what you would like to accomplish with your design project. Break everything down, list work to be done, items to be purchased (include the extras), as well as the amount you plan to spend on each. Use a computer spreadsheet and make it formal if you need to. Include a section for the amount you want or can spend and a section for the amount you actually spent. Take it a step further and ensure you stay organized and on track by ordering each item chronologically and set a timeline for getting it done (or bought, delivered, installed). As a designer, this is part of my job when I work on any project. It pays to be as organized as possible to ensure that projects come out on budget and in a timely manner!

invest in the important room features (and the big stuff)

Consider spending more for the things you will use everyday, are hard to change and will hold value over time. For example: a solid, sturdy bed frame will last for years versus a cheaper version-this is what I mean about the "big stuff" and hey, we have to sleep everyday and the bed is usually the largest item in the room (sometimes even the focal point). Some other places to invest more in your home are floors, permanent components like built-ins if they will be a large feature in your space and well made furniture (always worth it!), including long lasting upholstery. Whatever it is, just make sure that what you are spending is going towards investments for the future and will serve well over time.

save a little for the extras but don't overspend

Once you've set aside the bulk of your budget for the big stuff, tally up what's left for the extras: linens, lighting, decorative accessories. For remodels: plumbing fixtures, wall accessories, light switches, etc. Most of the extra stuff is offered at a wide variety of price points and is easy to switch out or upgrade later. Instead of buying trendy furniture or finishes, follow trends in accessories. Again, these things are easy to switch out when you tire of them or just need a room refresh.

make trade offs to balance your expenses

Design projects and budgets, whether it be remodeling or furnishing, are a process. It involves review, rethinking, reevaluating and adjusting until you arrive at choices you can live with. Here is an example: if the hardwood floors you choose eat up more of your budget than planned, rethink other items needed in your project and downsize where necessary-rugs, dining chairs-places where you can buy a tad cheaper and still live with your choices and reach your budget goals. 

watch your budget and avoid mistakes

With any design project, remodeling, furnishing or building in new shelving, set aside 10%-15% of your total for unexpected expenses. If you are re-designing your bedroom and it turns out hanging the lighting is a little more complicated than expected, you may need to hire an electrician ( and this is a great example of why having extra is a great idea). Other common mistakes and oversights when budgeting:

Impulse Buys: How many times have you been to the store to buy one thing and end up with way more than you actually needed? Uh huh, me too! Carry your list of must haves and your budget with you when you shop to help keep you focused. If you do run into a must have for a great deal, think strongly about why you need it and make sure you will actually use it! Adjust your budget as needed.

Freight and Delivery Charges: The most overlooked budgeting oversight ever!!! Freight and delivery charges can be significant and they add up fast if you have multiple orders. Make sure to look up or ask what the freight and delivery charges will be when placing your order and add the amount into your final budget.

Supplies: If you are doing any of the construction, installing or painting on your own, don't forget to add in the amount for supplies such as paint rollers, brushes, tarps, etc. The costs for supplies can add up quite fast as well, so watch the amount you are spending and make sure to add the amount to your final budget (and that painter bid you got may start to look fairly reasonable).

phase it in

Unless you have an unlimited budget, you may not be able to do everything right away. What you can do however, is make out a long range plan including expenses and categorize everything in to design phases. You can then tackle your design projects as time and money allow. A typical way designers tend to tackle a design project is: background and surfaces first (ceilings, walls, floors), built-ins (shelving), furniture, fabrics, lighting and accessories.

For help with organizing and maximizing your budget we have provided a free budget sheet here. Please contact us with any questions, we are happy to work with our clients on their budgets to ensure a fun, stress free design project!