Perfect Schmerfect

I learned in grade school that trying to be perfect would probably result in a caffeine-pill-fueled freakout a la Jesse Spano (yes, many of my life lessons were learned thanks to Saved By The Bell). Pretty much since then I’ve been in the camp of try-to-do-it-right-but-perfect-isn’t-possible.

So sometimes it’s weird when people mention that they think we live in this perfect world where nothing goes wrong and we never fight and life is just hunky-dory from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to bed. Unicorns and rainbows if you will. I think sharing Clara’s birth story helped a little in that regard (that day was definitely not the fairytale that we expected). But beyond dealing with some serious and scary moments like that, we’re also no strangers to everyday stresses. In other words, just like the rest of the world, stuff doesn’t always go our way. We fight, our house gets messy, we go over budget, projects take way longer than we expected, our moving truck gets stuck in the snow. We like to joke that we’re so normal it’s crazy, so chances are if you deal with it at home (dust bunnies, burned dinners, stupid arguments, spilled milk, broken china ceramic animals) it also goes down here.

But since our blog is mainly just a big diary about our home improvement projects and making our house a home, it’s hardly fitting to devote a post to our latest argument about Clara’s missed nap or the dust bunny under our TV stand (this just in: dust happens, and if you don’t see it we’re just not zoomed in enough, haha). But when things don’t work out like we hoped in the home improvement realm we always try to share those trials right along with our triumphs (the good, the bad, and the ugly all have a place here). Like this post about a ton of mistakes that we hope we don’t make again and this post about a failed recycled glass project and this one about a bummer of a string lantern attempt. We’ve even posted a super candid average day video with junk all over the place and I’ve shared my goo-related secret. Our house is not a showroom, that’s for sure.

And although we pride ourselves on being cheap-os who hunt down deals, save our pennies, and research projects within an inch of their life as we go, we still totally break obliterate the budget from time to time. Take the patio we’re currently putting in, for example. Going into it I was intensely naive. “I’m certain it’s a two day under $500 project.” Famous last words, right? Originally we were going to go for those cheap 12 x 12″ gray concrete pavers at Lowe’s and Home Depot (I think they’re around $1 a pop) so I thought we’d just need to dig out a flat spot and lay ’em down. Maybe it would come to $450 tops with some ground tamping tools and all the pavers. Then we decided we should do it right and match the fancier cobblestone pavers in our driveway, which turned out to be around $2.67 a square foot at Home Depot…

…and a whopping $3+ at Lowe’s. Our patio will be around 300 square feet, so $3 a square foot = $900 in just stone (let alone other supplies). We hoped that pricing out something local might save our budget and headed to a place nearby (Southside Builder’s Supply) and found out that they offered even higher quality cobblestone pavers than Home Depot and Lowe’s (that match our driveway and are made locally- score) for just $2 a square foot (67 cents cheaper than Orange and a dollar cheaper than Blue – which really adds up). Plus it was just fun to walk around their multi-stone sample patios to see what things would look like all laid out:

So after our local stone yard reconnaissance mission we felt pretty good about our deal seeking skillz and returned home to start digging up the side yard. And in a post about that I mentioned that the patio project would hopefully run us under 1K (I readjusted from my original $500 guess after realizing that cobblestone pavers to match our driveway would be pricier than the cheap $1 concrete square pavers that we originally planned to use). How did I get to 1K? Well, 300 square feet of stone at $2 a square foot = $600. And we figured that around $400 in gravel and sand and other materials and supplies should be about right.

More famous last words. But we’ll get to that.

First, we figured we’d do some digging before heading back over to the stone yard to place our order. Just to be sure we could get a nice level bed to place stones and not hit some unforseen craziness like a buried car or something that would make a non-returnable $600 purchase of cobblestone pavers a bad move. Remember that John had a little liriope digging party last week but we still had that brick path to remove? Well, at first it came up really easily…

… until we learned that half of it was laid on top of a huge thick slab of concrete…

… which took some pretty major sledgehammering to get through (and effectively demonstrated how NOT a two day project this was, seeing as we were already on day two without a single paver in sight).

But lo and behold, John got ‘er done. Ding dong the path is out. It took longer than we guessed and hubs was more than a little sore but it was a pretty sweet victory indeed (we worried we’d have to rent a demolition hammer for the thick concrete slab but John was a rock star with the sledgehammer).

He’ll drop in with more details about the entire digging process soon, but back to our stone order. After all that brick was up, we headed back over to the stone yard to place our order and were blown away when they worked up a grand total for us. Are you ready? $1,565. I almost dropped the baby. How could $600 worth of stone nearly triple when it came to the total cost? After I got a little color back into my cheeks I managed to stammer “ok, what can we do to get that down, because it’s waaaaaay over our budget.” Notice I was the one doing the talking stammering – John hates negotiating so it falls into the things-I-do category. Oh well, he does laundry so it’s all good. Anyway, we worked with this lady Jeri (she was great) for at least an hour to get costs down (we reduced the amount of gravel we were getting, which then allowed all of our cargo to come in one truckload- which reduced the delivery fees we were being charged and we even negotiated a discount on the stone and downgraded from the fancy top layer of sand to regular sand).

In the end we got our total down substantially, but nowhere beneath our 1K goal. We walked out of there paying $1,260 for all of the stone, gravel, sand, border edging, and stakes that we needed (well actually $1,340 but we’ll get an $80 deposit back when we return some of the bags that our shipment comes in). But that total still doesn’t include the tamping tools, landscaping fabric, and a few other supplies we still have to purchase/rent. And you might remember that we mentioned wanting to add a 6′ privacy fence along the back wall, so if you toss that expense in on top of everything else it’s fair to say that this might end up being a $1,500-2K undertaking when it’s all said and done. Which is definitely a far cry from that original stupid-me $500 budget that I tossed out in the beginning. Oops.

But there’s no use whining about it right? I mean don’t get me wrong, I whined the whole way home from that stone yard, even after we negotiated our total from nearly $1,600 to $1,260, but there’s no sense in blog-whining about it (although sometimes sew-crying can lead to blog-whining). But we did want to share our budget explosion with you guys to demonstrate that junk like this just tends to happen in the home improvement game. Not all the time, but definitely some of the time.

In the end we’re still psyched to save some major money by tackling it ourselves (hiring someone to whip up a 300 square foot patio with the same materials would run us around 5K+) and we’re sure we’ll get a ton of use out of it so it’s still well worth the time, loot, and effort. See there I go being all cheerful about something annoying that happened. Haha. More pluses: I get to see John get all dirty. Which is always my idea of a good time. And Clara can have some fun with chalk and a baby pool out there when it’s done, which is going to be priceless. We just try to keep plugging away, even when curve balls like broken budgets or broken spirits threaten to derail us. Such is the DIY way I think. You just gotta keep on keeping on or you lose momentum and might never pick up the ol’ hammer (or crowbar or shovel or paintbrush) again.

So all of this is to say, I know that I’m annoyingly enthusiastic most of the time, and John can be a pretty chipper guy too. But crap happens. We just try to make the best of it. And you’d be surprised how helpful it is to blog/blab about failures and shortcomings (the entire reason we started this blog was because John wanted to blow off some kitchen-planning steam and we thought it would be fun to keep our family in the loop about it). So I highly recommend publicly airing your dirty home improvement laundry to come to terms with it and maybe even find a few folks who can commiserate, offer some helpful advice, and encourage you along the way. Seriously, blog-venting = our Prozac. And you guys are our therapists. So thanks. You know we love a good deal, and free therapy is up there with paint sales and appliance close-outs.

Psst- Ahhh, Mother’s Day is coming. Check out this week’s BabyCenter post about how I spent the last one and how I’m guessing we’ll spend this one (aside from hopefully laying some pavers).


  1. says

    I love that Jessie Spano “I’m so excited!” episode! It’s so classic.

    As far as budgets go, I know exactly what you mean. I’m in the middle of wedding planning and everything is more expensive than I originally thought. We’ve been able to cut some corners and do other things to keep costs down, but we still went over budget. Woops!

    • says

      This was going to be my exact comment. Also an inside joke between me and my sister. I’m digging all the 90s tv love! :)

  2. Stephanie Phillips says

    Yup! We’re planning our patio now and have hit the exact road-block. Cement is expensive!!

  3. says

    My fiancé is a landscaper, thankfully! We do our landscape work for free and thankfully our land is filled with old stone walls that we use to make natural stone patios. It take a lot of effort to get those stones out of the woods, but it does save us $1,000s! I can’t wait to see your finished patio!

  4. says

    Congratulations for figuring that out while you’re still so young — took me quite a bit longer. In fact, the posts wherein you “mess up” are some of my favorites yet! But I love that you still choose to do it right, even when it’s harder. If I’d have found the concrete slab, I’d probably have just paved right over it… Can’t wait to see the end result!

    • Ana Silva says

      Totally agree with you. If I am going to spend the time and money to do something, I have to do it right. I have something OCD about it. Like I can’t cover something up because no one will see it. It just bothers me until I fix it. So thanks Sherry and John for “doing it right” like Mike Holmes! That’s why I love that man.

  5. Carol N. says

    Thanks for keeping it real! I always wondered if you were just the best shoppers ever since we tend to under-estimate all of the time. Right now we are waiting on an estimate for a detached garage build and we have taken our best guesses so it will be interesting to see just who is closer. Can’t wait to see the patio!

  6. says

    Oh man, I loved Saved by the Bell, overly dramatic and all. Thanks for the budget breakdown, too. We just might make a new patio for ourselves this year. Not in the plan until we started complaining about our current patio and Ben restacked our firewood pile. We have a brick paver walking path that is buried under dirt and grass because it is lower than the yard. Boo to that, but yay to a new patio. Can’t wait to see what yours looks like, even if it isn’t two days from now. ;)

  7. says

    Great story, thanks so much! You just described 80% of our home improvement projects. “oh, this will be easy, done in 3 days, only will cost this much” etc. then reality hits hard! I remember we once took 3 days to get our new screen door in!! (we figured an hour or two, tops!). Gotta love all those little snags that come up along the way.

    • Ana Silva says

      Yeah, my kitchen re-tile project took way longer than expected. Of course my husband was right about the timeline and we found ourselves up till 3am to get it done. I was like no way I am going to stop now and drag this on another day! Laying tile when you have no experience can be time consuming like you won’t believe. 3 day took weeks…we do both have full time jobs/school though.

  8. Meredith says

    I LOVE SBTB!!!! I had a bad day at work and totally watched the caffeine pills episode as a reminder that life is not perfect. :) I may be able to quote entire sections of the whole thing. And dance along to the music video. Um….Anywho, thanks for the full-patio disclosure and reminding us that even the Petersiks face obstacles!

  9. Shannon says

    It’s funny. I do the negotiating (no one is going to OFFER you a discount, you have to ASK for it) and my hubby does the laundry, too! :-) Can’t wait to see the patio.

  10. Bob says

    Just a quick correction:

    “for just $2 a square foot (40 cents cheaper than Orange and a dollar cheaper than Blue – which really adds up)”

    Shouldn’t that be 67 cents instead of 40 cents?

    Good luck with your project!

  11. Tracey Bartula says

    Just started reading your blog a couple weeks ago as I TRUCK through home improvements and redecorating our OLD house! I pretty much don’t start my day without some Young House Love anymore! Thanks so much for sharing your story! I know I have been encouraged, inspired, blessed!

  12. says

    My brother and I were just quoting that episode the other day. It comes up a lot, actually LOL. Bummer about the over-budget-ness, but it will be totally worth it. Hope things go smoothly from here on out! We’re about to start a patio with hopefully enough free bricks from a friend. If we didn’t have access to those, it would have been those $1 gray ones also. I’m glad you guys were able to get a higher quality stone, even if it was over budget-you’ll be way happier with it in the end!

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