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. Laura says

    Thanks for breaking down the numbers. I’m eagerly awaiting the post where you guys start dealing with the gravel and sand and all the other stuff that goes under the actual pavers.

  2. Jenny B says

    I’m so glad you were able to BUY LOCALLY when purchasing your cobblestone pavers. Don’t get me wrong..I LURVE Target, IKEA, etc. but it’s nice to support those local businesses as much as we can:)

    • says

      Amen. We were psyched to learn that not only was the stone yard local but the actual pavers were made right here in Richmond (we wondered if they were the same ones brought in on a truck for HD and Lowe’s but they’re homegrown).


  3. Beatrice says

    I like that you share failures, but you really rarely blog-whine. So many blogs are just filled with woe-is-me *&$*.
    Even your failures are fun and interesting to read about!

  4. says

    That episode is the best. I was pretty young the first time I saw it and I was all, “OMG DRUGS ARE SO SCARY.”

    Anyway, I feel ya about the budget thing. I recently re-did my home studio and I don’t know why I thought I could do it all for $200, but I definitely spent closer to $400. Oops. But it looks SO much better and the room is infinately more functional, so it was worth it.

  5. F.D. says

    Oh Jessie Spano. Classic Saved by the Bell reference.
    In our household, every time we eat cantaloupe there is a “Screech, you can’t elope. Who are you calling a cantaloupe you melonhead?” reference.

    And as far as projects not going as planned. We had our own outdoor mess of a project this weekend. FYI, when someone tells you that its no big deal to rent a belt sander, sand your deck down, and then re-finish it, run the other way!

    • says

      THAT’S JOHN’S FAVORITE QUOTE EVER. He thinks it’s a lesser remembered Save By The Bell-ism, which makes it even more amazing than the Jesse Spano freakout in his mind. Haha.


    • Meredith says

      I am always wanting to use that line and then needing to explain the background for non-Saved by the Bell aficionados. (The episode with Mr. Belding’s brother and the senior trip…)

    • Sara says

      I thought it was the episode where Screech is tutoring Kelly and Zach and Slater spread the rumor that Kelly and Screech are getting married in order to keep them from being a couple. Then Mr. Belding is telling Screech that he can’t elope(as in run away and get married) and Screech replies with that melonhead comment.

      Ok, now I really feel weird because I obviously watched too much Saved by the Bell. It was a classic!

    • Meredith says

      Wow, you’re right! I was remembering the confrontation in front of the lockers and misplacing it in the trip episode…Clearly, I must now rewatch all 5 seasons to refresh.

  6. says

    holy. crap. i’m sure a million people have said it (i didn’t have time to read all of the comments) but that Saved by the Bell video is so freaking funny. no joke, it surfaces on facebook between me and a few of my friends annually.

    thanks for the reality check as well. my husband and i are starting some projects and things keep “falling apart”…no seriously, last night his closet system (put up my previous owners) came out of the wall & fell to the ground…add that to the project list…the same thing happened with our coat closet. WHAT?! why haven’t these people heard of wall anchors?!

    anyway, it’s encouraging…especially on a low budget. he’s having a hard time with our paint-test-squares on the living room wall but i refuse to buy paint until i’m 100% sure it’s what i want! so thanks, for letting us know that kind of thing happens in the altered-magical-reality that is YHL. :) kidding.

  7. Debbie says

    I paid $8,000 to have my paver patio installed at my home & $19,000 to have an existing paver patio torn up & re-laid at my lake home. So obviously I am very jealous of your DYI skills (my boyfriend could easily do it, but he just doesnt have the time) & ability to get things done as cheaply as you did.

  8. Sarah says

    It’s posts like these that keep me reading YHL.
    Love your home improvement ideas but also love to hear that you fight and have bad days and dust bunnies. It’s what sets your blog apart from the other home blogs that I read. I walk away from reading it feeling happy and normal and inspired. You guys are doing a great job. Keep it up!

  9. says

    I love that you guys keep it real. I think blogging is pretty much about real life and our feelings about things, so thanks for keeping it real for us. I love the fact that you have dust bunnies under the TV stand but we just can’t see them from the pictures. LOL!

    Believe me I completely understand your whining. Every time we do work on our house, it always goes over budget. It’s so hard sometimes not to. We are not in debt over the improvements so that is always a good sign. ;) About 2.5 yrs ago we wanted a paver patio off of our wood deck, because it was just a mud pile anyway, so we hired someone to install a 16×16 patio. That cost us about $2400 with all materials & labor. So about $8 a square foot (on Long Island). Then about a 1.5 later we had to take down the pool and all the wood decking (all rotted, previous owners never took care of it and it was going to cost $20k just to replace all of that. And we needed our driveway and walkways, etc. done, so that would have been another $10-$15k. So we hired the same company, and they reused the pavers we already had from the small patio, so we saved a little money there. We were able to get our whole property done for $20k (driveway, stoop, a paver patio that wrapped around the whole house basically, walkways, & sidewalks). No worries, we had the money saved up or otherwise we would have not done it. So I completely whined for awhile, but now we have our own backyard, not the previous owners backyard. We love it. :)

    So what kind of fencing are you guys thinking about?

    • says

      Just some basic wood fencing (6′ tall, full privacy to block the view of the neighbor’s car, etc). Should make a huge difference when that area is a more private little secret garden/patio.


  10. jessica says

    When this patio is all said and done, its crying out for a time lapse video set to Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer =)

  11. Kristin says

    Thanks for another great post!

    I realized in the last year that the most important thing about DIY projects is that you have fun during making them. We did lots of things that turned out great, but we argued a lot during the process. The one project I like best is the one we didn’t argue about and just had lots of fun with – although it may not look as perfect as other ones. It’s our bedroom that we painted after I asked for a color inspiration on YHL and you just gave us the perfect advice (thanks for that!). We waited quite a long time but finally painted a room for the first time ourselves – from crimson red and yellow (what were we thinking?) to a soft celery green.

  12. says

    I had forgotten about that episode!!! It was awesome, and when I mean awesome, I mean I almost had to turn off the tv because all the emnbarrasment I felt!!! Yeah!

    • says

      BTW, we are in the middle of garden big project and it totally sucks. I admire your aproach and actitude to every project, even though sh*t happens sometimes. It’s just great and you defenetly motivates us to do our own projects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *