Real-life reno': Budget blues

Last updated 07:00 10/07/2014

DEMO DERBY: The 'after' shot, showing off Adam's DIY demo' work.

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WATCH OUT: Adam wielding tools mid-demo.
LONDON DAYS: Adam and Rebecca on their way to get Chinese takeaway after he decided a fancy kebab didn't fit into his 'frugnomical' way of life. She looks to be being a trooper about the whole thing.
MULTI-TASKING: The budget projection written out on a Millenium Falcon cake template.

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On a scale of money management, I rate somewhere between frugal and economical. 

Let's call it 'frugnomical' (feel free to use that one).

Rebecca calls me something else: a tightarse.

She often reminds me of the time in London when I took her out to a Turkish restaurant in Islington, only to read the menu in the window and jump straight back onto the bus home, stopping instead for a sweet and sour pork from the local Chinese take away.

At that time I was a labourer working graveyard shifts for eight quid an hour and I wasn't going to blow a day's wages on a fancy kebab. 

So, Rebecca says tight; I say 'frugnomical': and such is the nature of the argument that plays out daily at our place as we discuss what we want to achieve with this renovation.


Rebecca has no love for the budget and no respect for my frugonomics. She wants polished concrete floors, sisal carpets, an extension, glass balustrades, a curved wall, round windows, gabion cladding, wool insulation and a photovoltaic solar energy system. 

Our son Tasman wants a portal built under his bed so he can travel instantaneously to the Star Wars galaxy.

And I just want a quality family home that isn't going to break the bank and that I don't have to spend every spare minute working on for the next five years.

The key here, I decided, is to set a budget early and manage it fiercely.

Before I started to plan which fixtures, fittings and finishes we can and can't afford I needed to get a better idea of the cost of the fundamentals of the project.

As a starting point I sat down with the brother-in-law to crunch some numbers on the back of an envelope.

NB: we didn't have an actual envelope handy, so instead I used the paper template previously printed off for Tasman's Millenium Falcon birthday cake. (This is completely unrelated to renovation but check out the video of the Star Wars cake I made a few weeks ago, complete with pyrotechnics and a wooden base. It is pretty awesome!)

Anyway, back to numbers, these figures are a guestimate but already they make for scary reading:

  • $16,000-$20,000: Builder's labour
  • $8000 Gib boards
  • $6000 Gib stopping/plastering
  • $6000 Electrician and light fittings
  • $5000 Plumber
  • $2000 New stairs
  • $2000 Concrete for levelling ground floor
  • $6000 Sundries (timber, mouldings)
  • $15,000 Deck
  • $10,000 Bathroom
  • $20,000 Kitchen
  • $3,000 Fireplace
  • $5,000 Carpet
  • $2,000 Demolition
  • $8000 Painter
  • $3000 Stucco repairs around new windows
  • $2000 Internal doors
  • $4000 Wardrobe fittings
  • $3000 Insulation
  • $3500 Council fees
  • $5000 Planning fees
  • $1000 Hot water cylinder
  • $20,000 New windows

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I'm sure there's plenty that we've missed out, but already we're on the wrong side of $150,000. This is way worse than an expensive kebab. Breathe Ads, just breathe.

My dad reckons I'm going to have a stroke worrying about it so much. "It's only money," he says.

But it's not money - it's debt. And that's an entirely different beast. I've already leveraged the financial equivalent of my left testicle with the bank and I don't intend to have my right one crushed by the weight of compounding interest.

I have crunched the numbers and $100,000 is all we have to spend. 

I'm sorry Rebekah, but the foot is going down! Please don't argue, it's going down. Down. Please?


Okay, so now that we've established that we don't have enough of it, it's time to work out where we will spend the money and where we won't and what will have to wait.

There are some obvious non-negotiables: tradesmen's fees, building supplies, council and planning fees - these will have to be part of phase one of the project and to a large extent are inflexible (although I do have some strategies for minimising the damage here that I will share in future updates).

The carpet and decking will have to wait until we can afford it and we will have to paint and decorate ourselves.

But it's the big-ticket items that I am targeting for the big savings: the windows, the kitchen, the bathroom - more on those later when we tackle each room.

I'm not a big fan of DIY, but while we are waiting for the builder to start I have taken to the demolition work to save us some time and money: click here for the demo photos.

Over the past couple of months, I have systematically stripped off all the wall and ceiling linings and flooring and fittings so that our downstairs area is now a shell. 

Demolition is a deceptively time hungry job and you don't want to be paying your builder $40/hour for the unskilled task. The brother-in-law says we've probably saved about $2000 in labour costs by doing it ourselves. The only cost involved was for the 7.5m2 skip which was $210 (for up to 1000kg).

A quick skip tip: book the skip through your builder and you can keep it on site for as long as you need. You may find that for a residential booking they will have a one week limit. Also, watch your weight as you will incur extra costs if you go over the allowed weight limit. We copped an extra $146 charge because we were 1100kg over. You may also want to put a tarp over it to keep out the rain because, as we found out, wet plaster board weighs a lot more than dry.

As well as making savings, the other option for improving our budget outlook will be to increase our earnings, and we've been doing this by selling off the reusable items on Trademe. A medicine cabinet ($30), the kitchenette ($200), old carpet underlay ($70), downstairs windows ($500), upstairs sliding doors ($1400) - all up we've raised $2200 so far and still have a beautiful rimu stair case, a kitchen, a conservatory, a ranch slider and the axeminster carpet to sell. Don't underestimate what people are willing to re-use and what they are willing to pay for it....

They say that when you're renovating you lose sense of the value of money. When you're writing cheques every day, what's an extra $1000 for those genuine marble tiles?

But I intend to keep a very close watch on the finances to ensure the budget stays relevant.

I may not be an expert builder, but I am a master frugonomist - and I have no intention of paying for a fancy kebab when a sweet and sour pork will do the job.


Total spent to date: $4235.85 + $356 (skip) = $4591.85

Total remaining: $95,764.15 + $2200 (items sold) = $97,964.15

Click here to see all the photos from the reno so far.

- Stuff


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