Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Public schools are failing our children OR How to set a kitchen budget Saucy Style.

In an effort to keep my promise to discuss every agonizing detail of my kitchen remodel I thought I'd start by talking about budgets since I think about mine 24/7.  People say the first step to starting a remodeling project is establishing a budget.  WRONG.  It's fantasizing!! 

lusting via Head Over Heels
But I already do that in spades so Step 1 is accomplished!  I'm already batting a thousand on this project.  Awesome.  Except when it comes to finding a contractor...

So after you daydream a lot about things you aren't going to get then you really do have to set a budget for your own little slice of heaven or hellhole.  I'd like to tell you that I did shit tons of research about budgets before I set my own but I did the opposite.  I did absolutely zero research and used a revolutionary concept called "I figured out what I could afford and what feels appropriate for my house and neighborhood."  I actually did more research compiling this blog post and even that was only during the commercials of a Law & Order: SVU marathon.

During those commercial breaks, most of what I found was condescending or so generic as to be a waste of a url.  Articles directed you to ask yourself a lot of really tough but insightful questions like how long are you planning on staying in your home?  Are you renovating to sell the property quickly?  What are your needs for the the space?  Are your goals realistic?  *eyeroll while stabbing self in face with fork*  This is not helpful in setting a budget.  These are vague questions nicely enumerated to fill an article with lots of buzz words but very little information - much like listening to Sarah Palin speak.  In ModSauce Ranch land, these questions are already answered and set the framework for every paint color, every project and every decision I make.  If you need someone to prompt you to think about those things then I'm not so sure you need to be owning a home in the first place or be allowed to dress yourself.  Are you being realistic?  That's like asking a liar if they're telling the truth - who the fuck knows?  Way to really enlighten homeowners about the process, you obtuse jackholes.   

Sigh... just a fantasy via automatismc

I think what most people are looking for is what comes AFTER these questions are answered. Remodelers probably want guidance for what is appropriate to spend for their area, their home value and their income which unfortunately can't be summed up by a generic and neatly packaged bar graph.  At least not one that I could find in the two pages I looked at in the Google search results.  Some articles go a step beyond pretty buzzwords and at least help you determine your Debt-To-Income ratio for you to see what you can afford by offering a complex formula that you need wizard magic to solve.  Wizard magic or tricky tricky multiplication...  Seems an acceptable DTI ratio is about 35-45%.  Mine is 30%.  Suck it.  It took me an entire episode of Law & Order to figure that out.  This number is just an easy indicator for someone else to evaluate your financial situation but you could also accomplish this by being aware of your monthly budget.  You know, the one that you should be pretty damn familiar with because that's where your grocery money and shoe allowance comes from.  The bank should confirm what you already know.  If you wait to see what the bank tells you what you can afford or are actually surprised at the rejection when you apply for a loan because you have too much debt then you have bigger problems than an ugly kitchen.  (This doesn't apply to people who live in big cities where the "rent is too damn high!" and sammiches cost $25.  I don't know how y'all survive - your  COL is the probably the highest in this galaxy and your DTI must average 107%.)

Apparently I'm still not done with the fantasizing part.  Gitte Kjaer via Desire to Inspire

Upon even further research after more commercial breaks it sadly seems most people have no idea how to set up a budget for themselves which I blame on stupid kids and their public education.  Being a product of a public education system of a state regularly ranked in the bottom 5 in the nation I can assure you our economics class consisted of Jerry Springer episodes, Mountain Dew breaks and finger football.  Good thing I was blessed with something called common sense.  In addition to an extra helping of fabulosity of course.  

Here's where I enumerate all the super smart things a Madame did (or highlight all the ways my education failed me):

Numero uno:  I established a rough spending cap to the fabulosity.  This is where things get fuzzy (read: drunk).  I interrogated neighbors and friends who have done remodels in the area and kept a loose eye on home sales.  Possibly peeped in some windows but whatever... they didn't see me so it doesn't count.  I then just arbitrarily picked a percentage for what I felt comfortable paying for a kitchen as it compared to what I paid for my house. Not the appraisal value but the value of my original mortgage - I don't bank on fake numbers and I certainly don't do it after the housing crisis.  So that number was 18-20%.  I'm a rather conservative madame.  Only when it comes to finances of course!  *wink*  Somehow a quarter of my home's value invested in one room (not taking into account the future higher appraisal rate of course) seems excessive.  If the Ranch was perfect (it is in spirit) except for the kitchen then that number might have been higher but I doubt it.  Other shit - hello roof, windows, bathrooms, real furniture, gift wrapping room, nail salon, etc - needs to get done in the near future and I can't have my resources maxed out.  Nor would any respectable Madame want to be maxed out in any regard.  Except when it comes to glitter and snark.  Half of the remodel would be paid from my special kitchen savings fund collected after I sold some of my eggs, half from a loan and half from selling crafts made from Charlemagne's hairballs, Rit Dye and sequins.  

My "research" shows me that national averages for a low end kitchen remodel are $22,000 and a mid to high end remodel can be anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000.  I'm definitely at the low end or below because I aspire to one day be lower middle class.  However, these figures are pretty meaningless to me because I have no idea the value of the houses these kitchens are in or where they are located.  Living in the South has its benefits such as a steady supply of biscuits and gravy, redneck charm and a cost of living that is ridonkulously cheaper than anywhere else in the country.  None of those numbers seem appropriate for my own little piece of the ghetto.  Especially when I learn that the low end remodel usually consists of just refacing the cabinets and putting in new vinyl floors and laminate counters.  That is not inspiring considering I have to completely gut my kitchen.  Despite my ass-kicking DTI ratio I feel permanently broke so I need this project to be less than the low end number and preferably a lot closer to $458.79 (my eggs weren't top of the market apparently) which is my real budget.  There weren't any bar charts on the internet that included that number.  Or ones that showed how to pay in biscuits and gravy.

via digsdigs

Thing 2: Next, I made a fake budget.  This is also known as a 'working' budget or just a spreadsheet that I still change all the time depending on what pretty tile I find.  Before I found a contractor or made the material selections I had no idea what any of this stuff would cost so I faked it.  I guessed at how much labor and installation would be, roughed in some cabinets prices based on previous plans and then pretend-shopped for everything I would need making sure to account for overages and extra bottles of wine I'd probably be imbibing during the process.  I might have thrown in a few pairs of shoes for good measure.  Because I'm a genius that number was pretty damn close to my 18-20% number.  My estimates were further confirmed by the final cabinet plan and contractor bids I received so I may be cheap but I'm not unreasonable.  Guesstimation was a skill I excelled in during school because I hate studying so in that regard public education served me well.  Or maybe it was my laziness paying off rather than the school system...

Lili Diallo via If the Lampshade Fits

Step C:  Against the advice of probably everyone in the world I adjust my budget all the time. It's still changing today.  My end number is relatively the same but shit happens so even though I have a safety net if I go over budget based on unforeseen circumstances - like we discover a band of goblins living in my crawlspace - I'm not too worried.  Except if they've placed a curse on the house because then I'm fucked.  If I was building a giant addition (like the future nail salon) I might be a little more strict about numbers and vigilant of possible goblin happenings. 
But this project is small and a few hundred dollars here or there isn't a dealbreaker for my budget and especially not over the years this kitchen will be in use.  Nothing in this project seems to be a fixed number anyway until I actually hand over one of my fat checks with the teddy bears on it.  Sometimes I find myself just staring at the spreadsheet like I'm trying to unlock the secret Code of Excel thereby saving me thousands of dollars.  But it never happens.  Everything is a big tangled orgy of changing decisions and ebay availability.  I make a decision in one area and it changes another - I save $200 here and omigod now I can afford that sink I wanted rather than having to use that bucket!  

via House and Home
So the good thing is I can afford a real sink right now and the rest of the budget is on point and still under my spending cap.  People say that remodeling your kitchen can only help the value of your home but they haven't seen a lot of the shitty kitchens I have.  My kitchen can only be improved upon so although I can only gain value it is NOT true for everyone.  Sucks to be you, people with shitty taste.  Turns out the national average for the ROI is only about 70% for kitchens.  What say you about that HGTV??   I'm just going to go ahead and guesstimate my ROI will be about 153%.  My guesstimations haven't been wrong so far so there's no way I could be off on that.  

Unless there's a goblin curse involved.


  1. Ah, the woes of having Champagne taste and PBR budget. I also aspire to be middle class someday, but alas, being an architect, will have to rely on the appearance of being middle class due to my superiority complex and self-indulgent taste levels. I'm assuming Charlemagne is your cat and not your neutered ex-boyfriend or a dead European monarch. You know what will help your crafts projects sell? Put a bird on it. That makes it art. ;-)

  2. EBArchDesign - it's kinda the same for designers. I talk/rant/snark on all kinds of things outside of my pay grade but justify it because I have a degree gawddamit!

    I think your idea is great to really push my art career! Charlemagne (my cat, not neutered ex-boyfriend) brings me dead birds all the time and I should really put them to better use. Cradle to cradle, ya know. The people of Portlandia won't know what to think of a half-eaten bloody bird carcass when I present it at the craft fair!

  3. Sing it, sister! Keep on keeping it real and telling people how it really is.

  4. I am so loving this post! You are so right! You and I have to meet one day! I am glad to see that you have worked out a realistic budget! I think that all public schools should make the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Class Manditory for graduation!

    Your Charlemagne sounds like my Miss Tabby, who is NOT a tabby, BTW. She came with that name from her previous owner, my beloved deceased aunt.

    I anxiously await the next installment of your adventures in kitchen remodeling! I, too aspire to be lower middle class again, one day. I got rid of the nice upper middle class house last year when I got rid of the lowlife husband!



  5. Kim - I gots to keep it real - I don't know any other way. It's my gift and my curse.

    Gloria - I'm glad though because I have a lot of goblins. And currently a really ugly kitchen...

    Brenda Lynn - Thank you! I've never actually read any of Dave Ramsey's books but if he keeps it straight-up country common sense then I like him. Stayed tuned because next week we'll be talking about cabinets with Nick!