Kitchen Remodeling and Your Budget

The Dollar Stretcher

by Gary Foreman


We have kitchen doors from the 70's or earlier. We would like to change the color but don't know whether we should stop there or go as far as changing cabinets.


John's got a lot of company. Kitchen & Bath Business Magazine forecasts that there will be 6 million kitchens remodeled this year at a total cost of $79 billion!

It isn't surprising. Kitchen remodeling projects generally recover nearly all of their costs when you sell your home. MSN House & Home released a report showing that projects costing up to $25,000 returned 90% or so when the home was sold.

So that's a good reason for redoing your kitchen. Another is that it's one of the most used rooms of your home. And, if you listen to the people who study such things, the more time your family spends in the kitchen the healthier and happier your family will be.

OK, so you're thinking about doing something. But, like John, you wonder how much to do. The best place to start is to figure out what you can afford. Kitchen projects can quickly get out of hand. Once started, it's easy to upgrade to a more expensive drawer pull or cabinet door. There's a lot of pressure to go just one step further. And then one more after that.

But those decisions can be very expensive. Have a dollar limit in your mind based on what you can afford. Hold on to that boundary. Just about everyone, including your own ego, will want you go spend more.

And, expect some unanticipated expenses. It's prudent to only plan to spend 90% of the money you'll have available. Save the 10% for mid-project surprises.

Next you'll need to decide how extensive your remodel will be. It may be as simple as repainting wood cabinet doors and walls. Perhaps new countertops and faucets. Or it might be a matter of gutting the entire kitchen and starting from scratch.

Naturally, more extensive means more expensive. This is the stage to get some rough pricing for different aspects of the job. Bounce the costs against your budget. You should have enough information to decide how much you want to take on.

Some people will argue that it's ok to borrow for a kitchen remodel. After all, you're making your home more valuable. That's true. But you'll still end up repaying the loan when you sell. And that means less money in your pocket. If you do borrow consider repaying the loan while you still live in your home.

If you're going to be making major changes, be sure to consider the three major functions of a kitchen: storage, preparation and clean-up. Think about how your family uses the current kitchen. Make major decisions before you start construction. Remember making adjustments once work has started will be expensive.

New cabinets are generally the most pricey part of a fully new kitchen.

Choose them carefully. Their style and color will have a major impact on the room. And, your budget.

In fact, choose all your materials carefully. You'll find that quality varies considerably. The fact that there are lots of choices means more work for you, but does provide a greater opportunity for savings.

Don't assume that the big home center store is the cheapest or best. Check with specialty kitchen and cabinet shops. Ask if they have any cabinets that they were unable to deliver. You may be able to benefit from another's mistake.

If the job is beyond do-it-yourselfing, ask around for a handyman or contractor. Unless the job is fairly simple (read inexpensive) you'll want to get three bids.

Check out contractors thoroughly. Ask for references and contact them. Ask the contractor about licenses, insurance and bonding. You don't want to make a mistake here. Under normal circumstances a full kitchen remodel will take about 2 months after planning and materials have been ordered. The wrong contractor could drag that out indefinitely.

Talk with the contractor before starting. Ask lots of questions. The way they answer will tell you a lot about how they'll perform. For instance, some will encourage you to skip getting required permits. Better you should skip that contractor. Yes, the permits will cost you. But they'll also guarantee that the job is planned and done correctly. The building inspector can be your best insurance against shoddy work.

Finally, expect disruption. Eating all your meals out for two months can get expensive. So some families load up the freezer with meals that can be reheated in the microwave. It's easy to prepare extra portions of the meals that you're already making during the weeks before your kitchen is off limits.

Updating a kitchen can make a big difference in your home. Whether it's just painting cabinet doors or a full blown new kitchen, it takes time, consideration and money. Hopefully whatever John decides will bring his family together and make many fine memories.


Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. You'll find information on hundreds of ways to stretch your day and your dollar. Visit today!