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 know that sticker-shock feeling! We were drooling over a beautiful dark wire scraped hardwood until we discovered it would cost $3000 for our 600 square feet, well over what we were comfortable spending on our floors.

    I hope you didn’t have to compromise too much in terms of the finished product. I can’t wait to see your the finished results. We’ll be doing a little work on our backyard (mud pit) soon, so I could really use some inspiration!

  2. says

    Loved your post! It’s so true that crap happens to everyone – it’s how you respond to it that determines the outcome. Tenaciousness is definitely a good quality for the DIYer to have. Kudos to John for busting up that slab with a sledgehammer and to you for the tough negotiating at the building supply place! Good luck with the rest of the patio project!

  3. Colleen says

    Totally get that. We just want to replace our front walkway’s big cracked cement slabs with some bricks. First we can’t find ones to match like we would like, second- it’s likely going to cost us near $500 for a tiny walkway that we DIY. Really hard to stomach! Actually this thinks maybe I’ll use your FB page for suggestions on what to do!

  4. says

    So have you come to like the carport, or are you still planning to close it in? It would be funny (and very imperfectly human!) if your original “dealbreaker” turned into something you like. :)

    • says

      We don’t hate it but we’re still thinking that down the line we’ll enclose it (we think the right garage door and some other finished looking details would just bring our curb appeal to the next level). It probably won’t be done anytime soon though, haha. Big decisions like that freak us out, so we wait a looooong time so we don’t do anything rash. Haha.


  5. laura says

    oh lord…jessie spano. my brother and I used to record all the saved by the bells on VHS…I miss those days!

    Anyway, even though you are well over your first budget, I think a patio that like you said, you will get tons of use out of, not to mention it is going to add tons of value to your home…is a good investment. So, don’t fret, this too shall pass…right!? Excited to see it all done, you guys do such awesome work!

  6. says

    I know your pain all too well. My husband wanted to build a paver patio at the bottom or our screened in porch. He researched the process for about six months (i.e. watched videos, researched pricing, etc.) Keep in mind, I’m the DIY person in our family. We started digging, because we knew once we started digging there was no turning back. There was a VERY deceiving slope in our backyard. SO, six months later, a retaining wall later, my hubby finished that patio, and he is SO proud of it. We saved cash by finding lots of 10% off coupons at Lowes and negotiating some lower prices too, but the project definitely did go a bit over budget, but like you said, it’s going to provide great entertainment. We even ended up adding a a fire pit with the bricks around it which finished off the patio perfectly!

  7. says

    We just bought our house, and we’ve definitely had a couple instances of “Wait, wasn’t this supposed to cost 1/3 of what we’re paying now?”

    Also, it’s good to see how patio project costs can grow, since we’re considering ripping out a concrete walkway and replacing it with pavers ourselves.

    ps–laying a patio yourself is surprisingly easy once you get the ground leveled, so at least there’s that to look forward to!

  8. says

    haha, your patio building experience sounds like ours.. Isn’t fun to find concrete/bricks hidden where you are trying to did up your yard?

  9. Mary S. says

    If it makes you feel any better, I recently calculated that we’ve spent $42k on our current home…and we haven’t even been in it a full year yet. THAT was depressing. Yes, sometimes budgets do fly out the window. But I’m sure the patio will be so worth it!

  10. Ted says

    Yes…*sigh*…I completely understand. And unfortunately, when you are pricing things that you are going to have someone come out to do, it’s amazing how much the costs skyrocket beyond that. While we do a lot of DIY projects, we both have black thumbs, so decide that we needed help with the landscaping and hardscaping outside. And we know that this will take some time as we are not doing this all at once. So we hired a landscaping architect to come up with a master plan for us to help us design our outdoors. While the master plan came in exactly as budgeted (we did our negotiations before we had our first meeting), the plan costs a lot more than we had hoped (expected). Well, it will be expensive and we’ll break it down into several installments that can be done at a time, but as bad as your underestimates were…when having someone else do the work for you…it’s even worse.

    Love the blog and all you tell us about the “behind the scenes” stuff. Thanks.

  11. Melissa says

    My rule of thumb for any home-related project: Take the highest possible amount you think it might possibly cost. Triple that. Add 20% for contingency. You might be in the ballpark.

    Sadly, this formula has proven all too accurate over the years. Sigh.

  12. Marsha says

    Thank you for sharing your imperfections!
    I always forget that when my husband comes up with a price estimate for a project I usually need to double or triple it for the final cost. We are considering replacing our old deck with a smaller concrete or paver patio but I think it will have to wait at least another year. But I am very excited to see how yours turns out. Might even make me reconsider waiting.

  13. Nik says

    I love that you guys are fiercly real. Are your drawings to scale? How do you manage that? I know it is a rough sketch, but I am in the planning process for a backyard overhaul and can’t ever seem to put something on paper for my not-the-visualizing-type husband.

    • says

      That drawing is just a guestimate (not fully to scale) but you can use graph paper for scale drawings (one square = ____ feet) or even free sites like or’s garden planning tool to do things to scale.


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