Sunday, September 8, 2013

4 Tips for Designing Your Bathroom Budget, Tip 4

This is Tip 4 of a series of 4 tips you can use to design your bathroom (or any other space) within your budget.  :)

We began building our bathroom budget on a $1,400 permanent fixture base consisting of a $700 granite-walled round corner shower, $300 Kohler Santa Rosa 1-Piece toilet, and a $400 pebble "backsplash" accent wall.  We spent under $2,500 for all the new material in our dream apartment bathroom (even down to little plumbing pieces and thick towels) without sacrificing big ticket items and our own style.

4 tips helped us get the look we wanted for a price we could swallow:

1.  Splurge on the Permanent
2.  Crunch the Alternatives
3.  Hunt Like Goldilocks
4.  If Can, Do!  If Can't, Hire.

Today, I'm focusing on the final tip in this series:  If Can, Do!  If Can't, Hire to stay within a budget you can afford.  :)

4.  If Can, Do!  If Can't, Hire: Choose projects to hire out and DIY the rest.

Our $2,500 Bathroom Material Budget
The first three tips in this series for designing your bathroom budget focused on making a material budget.  The last and final tip is about decreasing the amount you spend on hiring out for labor.

Before I explain the final tip in this series, I'd like to share how we went from a $1,400 figure for the permanent fixtures of the bathroom to our $2,500 material budget in these two images:

So, with costs rounded to the nearest $5th dollar, the bathroom cost $2,450 in material alone and 62 hours x $40 + 2 hours x $30 = $2,540 in labor.

Had we DIYed the entire bathroom, it would have cost us $2,500 alone but with some hired labor, this bathroom was a $5,000 remodel in total; that's twice the sticker price we could have had.

This leads me to my point of the day, which I wish I could have changed in hindsight:

If Can, Do!  If Can't, Hire.
First off, we had a fantastic deal with labor costs because we hired a family friend and his boss who is an electrician and general contractor.  We invested 62 hours at the rate of $40 an hour for both of them and then $30 an hour for 2 hours on a day when only one of them was available to do some finishing touches.

Simply put, I did not want to tackle moving shower plumbing and electrical switches through the bathroom wall (when we moved the light switch by the entry way console instead of where the refrigerator is right now).  I am not licensed and I didn't know how to get a permit for any of these changes.  We were incredibly fortunate to settle on the rate we did, which saved us the most.

What also saved us money was that my husband and I tackled the rest.  The demo, a bunch of tile work, the floating shelves, etc.  Since I was comfortable with the people we hired, I watched them work, and then I asked to chip in since we renovated during a summer when I did not have to teach.  I asked them to show me how to do some jobs, and then when they left for the day, I did my "homework" until they came back another day to continue where I or my husband left off.

My best recommendation for saving on labor is this:  
  1. Find a reputable handyman or contractor through a friend or family member.
  2. Ask if you could assist and provide your own sweat equity.
  3. Assist as you are able, learn by watching or by asking for a tutorial, and complete tasks at night or on weekends when they are not actively working.
  4. Leave the difficult jobs to the professionals and tackle smaller tasks by yourself as you are able and comfortable.
This tip, in part, is an in hindsight tip.  Although I am glad that we hired who we did, for the sake of paying off a smaller loan, I really wish I had been more competent and confident DIYing our entire bathroom.  It's really the biggest way to save on any project.  I didn't mind spending more on the actual products in the bathroom because they will stay with the bathroom, but the labor?  That's another story.

If you are able and willing and if you know of someone who is experienced, ask if you can work together, learn beside them, and save even more on your bathroom remodel or any other project you need to tackle.

Let's Review:  4 Tips for Designing Your Bathroom Budget

1.  Splurge on the Permanent

  • Choose the big ticket items first, the items that will be permanent in your space.
  • To determine if something should be permanent and is worthwhile at a higher sticker price, consider lifetime cost formula.  Upfront cost / # of years until expected replacement = Cost/value per year.
  • Ask yourself if you'd regret not seeing what you really want everyday.

2.  Crunch the Alternatives
  • Creativity can help you get what you want at a cheaper price.  For every big decision, consider the alternatives and crunch the numbers for each option.
  • You may find that the best option costs more for a reason.
  • You may also find, like we did, that your preferred option actually costs less.
  • You won't know unless you consider the opportunity cost of each choice.  Think of it like eating out at a restaurant and choosing to substitute a smoothie for a soda.  It may cost more for the substitution, but you may enjoy it more.  Or, consider it like buying the extra large beverage for 10 cents more and having the opportunity to halve it with someone for the best savings.  The same can be true of your product shopping.
3.  Hunt Like Goldilocks
  • Look for the just right items for your needs and wants.
  • Consider every final purchase based on:
    • Just right style
    • Just right size
    • Just right spending
  • Hunt for items that are $100 or less.  There are so many options within this price range, and they are not nearly as expensive as your big ticket, permanent items.  These are items that you may eventually change as styles change.

4.  If Can, Do!  If Can't, Hire.

  • The final, and most painful part of developing your budget involves factoring in labor.  If at all possible, do what you can, or learn as you go.  If not, do be safe and hire a professional.
  • If you don't like the price tag on something, find or make a plan and make it yourself (like our 10 ft. of floating shelves)

My final formula for designing our bathroom budget was this:
  • First, I determined what new purchases were permanent, investment pieces.
  • The dollar amount for these is P.
  • Spend 1/4 of P on your non-negotiable building items.  P + 1/4P
  • Expect to spend another 3/4 P on your Goldilocks materials and accessories. P + 1/4P + 3/4P = 2P material budget.
  • In simple terms, our material budget was 2x the cost of our permanent investment features.  We chose the Goldilocks items last because they are the most flexible and DIYable.  :)
Expect to double your material budget to cover labor, but this figure is scalable to your own Can Do attitude!  :)

The cost of our entire bathroom remodel, material and labor, was 4x the cost of our investment items.  Of course, no remodeling formula is set in stone, because you have the power to Crunch the Alternatives throughout the whole process!  =D

What's even better is try to avoid a complete gut job if possible.  I still covet my $200 paint and elbow grease initial bathroom plan, but the sight of our dream bathroom consoles me.  =D

I hope this series was helpful, or at least somehow entertaining!  =D
I'm glad it's done.  This is the most I've written in a period of 4 days since college!


  1. Excellent series! In this tip, I especially liked the part about learning alongside your contractors. I consider that an investment in your knowledge, so you have that knowhow “banked” for future projects. You got really great deals on your labor cost and materials, and your bathroom looks beautiful!

    1. You're right, Joanne. I gained knowledge as part of our $2,500 labor payment. (It still makes me cringe to think I could have purchased 2 of my own versions of a "pricey" bathroom had labor not been part of the equation). To be honest, at one point I was trying to spend more on materials because I couldn't stand the thought of buying things for cheap and spending more on labor than on the things we would own. =D

      I'm still curious how $16,000 could be the norm for a 35-40 square foot bathroom, though! Maybe the lure of $6,000 shower fixtures is strong? :) I thought we splurged until I saw the averages.

  2. Great tips! Labor costs are so expensive they can often double or even triple a renovation's cost so #4's tip has a huge impact on budget. The more you can do on your own, the better on the budget it will be, but as you say, stay safe and hire out what you really can't do. You clearly did things right because you got a beautiful bathroom of your dreams within our budget, and wayyy less than the average cost!

    1. Thank you, Sharon. :) In the end, I don't regret anything about it. I just hope it will still be our style in 15 years, because it's staying put for a while. =D


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