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Determining One's Budget

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

If you’ve ever worked with an architect, contractor, designer or salesperson, at some point he or she has asked you about your budget. How can you give an answer when you don’t know what things cost? Are you afraid that if you do state a number, it will all be spent? Or, do you know exactly what you’ve allowed and are willing to say it out loud? Each of these reactions is common and understandable.  

Addressing the last is the easiest. Together, with each professional’s area of expertise, you can determine how best your budget suits your project. Will it fulfill your wish list? Will it allow for bells and whistles? What choices will you make along the way to stay within it? Addressing the first is the hardest. Often. a client looks to me for the answers. “How much will my remodel cost?” “How much will furnishing my family room cost?” While I have ballpark ideas in mind, a deeper conversation about a client’s goals is more productive Does the remodel include reconfiguring walls, electrical and plumbing plans? Is it more of a cosmetic upgrade? Do furnishings include investment rugs, collectors’ art, eight-way hand-tied upholstery and custom draperies? Or is it a blend of Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel?     As for fearing your entire budget will be spent, if you don’t want to exhaust it all, then that’s not really your budget. But if you’re comfortable spending what you’ve allocated, then why not invest wisely and get the best results it will yield? A conversation about budgets would not be complete without talking about “value”. This is the intangible entity that only a client can address. In a column I wrote last year, “More than a kitchen,” I bypass the actual remodel and, instead, describe the drastic changes it made in my clients’ personal lives. The new kitchen reunited a family. It brought adult sons with wives and children back home for Sunday dinners. It turned my clients’ eating habits from fast-food drive-bys to home-cooked. And, by connecting the kitchen with the family room, this couple shared more time together. How does one calculate that value into a budget? On the other hand, there’s my friend, Julie. During my years living in San Francisco, we were renters. While all my apartments were freshly painted with views of the East Bay or the Golden Gate and the ambience of fog horns in the background, Julie lived in a studio straddling Chinatown and Little Italy with the 30 Stockton bus clanking outside her window. While I invested in window coverings, she used stacks of unpacked boxes as her dining chairs. Julie and I defined two entirely different budgets for our apartments based on what we deemed valuable. I cared about aesthetics and entertaining. Julie cared about golf and tennis.   

Determining one’s budget is complicated by another intangible factor — disappointment. Once you’ve decided to invest, what percentage do you dedicate to ensure that you’re not disappointed with the result?   

The key to a successfully implemented budget is having a comfortable and honest discussion with trusted, experienced professionals. More often than not, they have the same goals as you. They want to create beautiful, functioning spaces timely scheduled and within budget. They also want to leave the project with exuberantly satisfied clients. “More than a kitchen” is archived at

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