We get this question a ton, and although it’s completely one of those varies-by-every-scenario things (we might splurge on one mirror because we love it and can’t find anything like it for less, but then save on another mirror because we fall in love with it for $5 at a yard sale), we thought we could attempt to answer it as simply as we could. With a junkload of words and bullets and lists. You know how we do.
Of course the words “splurge” and “save” can have wildly different definitions according to the individual. For example, one person might consider a splurge to be hiring out some custom built-ins to the tune of $5,000 or embarking on a 50K kitchen renovation while we might consider a splurge to be buying hardwoods for our entire upstairs while laying them ourselves to save money, or creating $360 built-ins with retrofitted wooden drawer bases instead of getting a $50 thrift store dresser and calling it a day.
On the flip side, someone might think that saving means using only what you have or buying only secondhand items while we might consider a wider range of big-box offerings to be in the save category, so it really is one of those open-to-interpretation subjects. But without further ado, please allow me to get listy…
So far in our new house, we’ve splurged on:
- Hardwood floors throughout the second floor
- Upgraded slate-like roof
- A pretty extensive sunroom renovation
- Hiring a professional to level the yard for us
- Upgraded doorknobs instead of spray painting the old pitted gold ones
- Adding two Nest thermostats (we have two heating/cooling systems, one on each floor)
- Choosing upgraded furnishings (like a Restoration Hardware table, a West Elm dresser, two $300 dressers-turned-built-ins for the nursery, etc)
- Hanging extra thick crown molding (which we still want to add to the guest room and the upstairs hallway after doing it in Clara’s room and the nursery)
- Buying upgraded light fixtures (in the kitchen and the foyer so far)
- Adding a Dash & Albert runner to the stairs
- Planting a few large privacy trees in the backyard
- Choosing upgraded laundry appliances with a few new features we thought we’d use/enjoy
Of course a few of these things fall on some sort of blurry line between saving and splurging. For example, we got our Restoration Hardware table for 70% off, so some people might put that in the “save column” along with the West Elm dresser that we bought using money we got from craigslisting other items instead of digging into our savings at all. Some projects also seem sort of hybrid, like the stair runner update (we splurged for a Dash & Albert runner, but installed it ourselves to save cash – and we hired someone to level our yard, but then we seeded all the grass ourselves, again to save in that arena). So it’s not all so cut and dry. And the same is true for the save list.
So far we’ve saved on:
- Painting countless walls, ceilings, and trim/baseboard/molding ourselves (in general everything on this list involves remedying simple cosmetic issues with sweat equity)
- Refreshing the grout in our foyer (best $12 I ever spent)
- Rejuvenating the existing wood floors downstairs (another huge bang for hardly any bucks)
- Finding four $15 kitchen chairs at a thrift store
- Painting our existing six-panel interior doors instead of replacing them
- Removing all the wallpaper in five rooms ourselves (this was free, but it sure wasn’t easy)
- Stripping and then resealing & staining our deck
- Phase one updates in the bedroom sink nook (like removing the old carpeting, stenciling the floor, getting a larger mirror, updating the existing vanity, etc)
- Phase one updates in the kitchen (like painting and staining the existing cabinets, hanging inexpensive Ikea shelves, moving the cabinet over the fridge forward, switching out the heavy over-the-stove microwave for a cheap craigslist vent hood, etc)
- Phase one updates in the downstairs powder room (like painting the existing vanity and hanging a new mirror, adding some art and a new thrift store light, etc)
- Closet and organizational updates that we could do ourselves with some time/effort but not too much money (like the toy closet, our in-progress pantry, etc)
- Playful kid room updates (like Clara’s raindrop wall & bright pink closet door, her lit canopy, and her wall o’ fun)
Some things helped us splurge in other areas, like a home warranty that made our new furnace free – or our upgraded roof, which we got with money that we got back at closing. In general our saving or splurging method can roughly be summarized as our way of playing the long game in certain areas, while opting just to make some affordable in-the-meantime updates to rooms that were formerly extremely frown-inducing that we knew we could improve for a small amount of loot and elbow grease instead of living with them for years as-is. Like our master bathroom, which we eventually plan to expand into a separate sink-nook area, to create one big space in a few years after we have enough cash saved up for a full renovation.
It would probably make for more blog fodder if we went room to room doing Phase One and then redid each space with a Phase Two makeover, but we’re trying to invest time and money into more permanent solutions from the get-go in as many spaces as we can afford to do so, since we plan to be here long-term. So while we love easy & inexpensive Phase 1 updates for areas that are extra pricey to renovate (like kitchens and bathrooms, especially when we’re not sure what we want to do with their layouts just yet), if we know what we want and have the money on hand for a space like a nursery that we hope will grow into accommodating a much older child (or like our recently renovated sunroom) it’s exciting to work towards that end-vision from the start. Psst – Here’s a post with a bunch of info about how we approach Phase 1 changes so they’re not a waste of money and time.
And just because I like lists a little too much, I thought I’d pepper in a few possible future splurges and saves that are on our minds.
Possible future splurges:
- New kitchen appliances (we’d also like to upgrade to a gas stove down the line)
- Adding a gas insert to the living room fireplace
- More exterior updates like privacy plantings
- More upgraded furnishings, light fixtures, and window treatments as we go
- Eventual bathroom and kitchen renovations, full of thoughtful choices that we hope to love long-term
- Adding cabinetry/built-ins to spaces like our office, the closet niche in our upstairs hallway, etc
- Converting our kitchen windows into french doors that lead out to our deck
- Eventually finishing off the unfinished storage room to make a bunk-room/media room for older kiddos
Possible future saves:
- Doing as much wall removal ourselves as we can (both the bathroom wall and the kitchen wall we want to take down aren’t load bearing)
- Doing other major projects like installing heated tile ourselves
- Creating custom cabinetry in spaces like our office and upstairs hallway niche
- Tackling a bunch of transplanting, mulching, and landscaping projects that we can DIY
- Other cosmetic updates like painting the rest of the house’s trim/walls/ceilings
- Making more energy efficient updates to save us money as we go (more LEDs, adding insulation, etc)
- Reusing our old kitchen cabinets in the garage to create free storage and a workshop space
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the things we’d like to do (you can check out one of those here), but we hope it sort of shows the balance going on in our minds. In other words, although we plan to be in this house for decades, we’re not splurging on everything. There are still a bunch of ways to make affordable choices that we’ll hopefully be really happy with for the long run. But when it comes to things that we might regret (or might have to buy twice if we’re not happy with the first purchase), we’re trying to relegate those to extremely small, low-risk things (like a $30 faucet or range hood that we can later craigslist for the same amount that we bought it for).
If you’re stuck wondering if you should splurge or save on something, asking yourself these four questions might help:
#1. How long will you live with it? We try to make what we spend relate to how long we’ll live with something. So for example, if we’re choosing something like hardwoods or tile, we’re a lot more likely to spend over a thousand dollars for that material. Meanwhile if we’re planning to renovate a bathroom or kitchen in a few years after we have more money saved up, we’d never sink 1K into that interim update, and we’re much more likely to save with simple inexpensive updates like paint, wallpaper removal, and a few new accessories. On the flip side, our sunroom update wasn’t interim – we were spending money in there and making big changes that we hope to enjoy for decades (tiling, lofting the ceiling, adding tongue and groove planks overhead, getting two fans installed to cool it more efficiently), so for the sake of that room we wanted to do it once and do it right. Same for the roof, and with our hardwoods, for example.
#2. How much will it affect my day and how I live? This is an example of how you might want to upgrade to a deep soaker tub if you’re a bath person but skip that splurge if you’re not. For us getting a Nest was a big indulgence, because we love the energy-saving aspect of it (which truly does save us money) but most of all we love that we can turn it up or down from bed on our phones if we’re hot or cold. It feels luxurious to us, and we use those extra features like auto-away and phone-adjustment very regularly. So it feels like a worthy splurge.
#3. How much wear will this take? If it will take a lot, a splurge, or at least a very well researched buy is important. You wouldn’t want a cheap rickety table in your kitchen if you have a busy family who eats three meals a day there, so you’d probably want to save for something more solid, reliable, and well constructed. Other examples of a splurge for something that gets a lot of daily wear might be a good toilet (we hear people rave about how their Toto changed their life) or an awesome oven if you bake every day. There can definitely be exceptions to this rule though. For example, we have loved our Karlstad sofa, and was a great deal (a lot cheaper than many of the splurge sofas that we compared it to). Doing research, like reading about others who had it, sitting on it multiple times, and picking their most durable cover, definitely helped to make it a purchase that had the best chance of sticking around.
#4. Does a certain visual effect rest heavily on this choice? Say you have an inspiration image of the dream master bedroom you’ve always wanted and two things that define that room are full gorgeous curtain panels and thick chunky curtain rods. In this case you could save on wall paint and inexpensive accessories like pillows and decorative objects but if you cheap out and get thin curtain rods and wimpy looking curtains you’ll probably never be happy with your “take” on the space. So in the case of coveting a room with very specific features, like an amazing rough-hewn coffee table, I would save on other less specific items in the room, and splurge on whatever makes (or could break) that space.
So there you have it. One big splurge vs. save brain-dump on a Wednesday morning. Have you guys noticed any pattern when it comes to what you save up for and where you try to cut corners in the name of DIY? Have you splurged and saved on the same item (bought one pricey dresser after finding a steal of a deal on craigslist for another room?). That can make for a nice balance, so we like to keep an open mind whenever we can.
We hoped to have all of the nursery’s extra chunky crown molding painted, cut, hung, caulked, and touched up by the end of the weekend, and we just made it by the skin of our teeth (where did that gross expression come from anyway?).
Crown is always one of the those “it’ll be nice” things on a to-do list, and then whenever we add it we’re blown away by how much of a difference it makes. Even the most basic and boxy rooms suddenly look taller and just generally upgraded in a surprisingly significant way. Which we always appreciate since a lot of the rooms in our homes have been devoid of amazing architecture (no extra high ceilings, arched doorways, cool columns, etc). So between the addition of our little corner built-ins, and the new extra chunky crown, this 11 x 13.5′ rectangle of a room is really coming along.
You know, after eight months of looking like this.
Don’t get me wrong – we still have a long way to go (there are three completely unaddressed walls, and not nearly enough color/fun/personality yet), but this chunky crown molding is a pretty glorious sight. It erased all of those unfinished cracks and crevices and made the room feel so much more polished in a few short days.
As for how we installed it, we followed the same method that we tried out in Clara’s room, which is to use 3 1/4″ baseboard as the first “layer” – and run that around the room first. We used a spacer to drop it an inch and a half down from the ceiling for more of a chunky look, a level to make sure it stayed straight, and we marked our studs with painters tape so we knew just where to fire the nail gun into the wall to hold them up.
The second “layer” involved hanging actual crown molding (we got nice beefy 4 5/8″ stuff from Home Depot) right over the baseboard, for that extra chunky look. You can see how the left piece has been “crowned” and on the right there’s just baseboard waiting for us to hang crown over it to complete the look. This is how all the crown on the first floor of our house was done, along with the stuff in our master bedroom, so we wanted to keep any new crown that we added looking cohesive.
We went with pre-primed baseboard and crown to save ourselves a step, so we just had to lay it out on the floor with a drop cloth and paint it before we hung it. We prefer that to painting it in place because it’s a lot faster, and then we only need touch-ups after hanging it and caulking it. It was funny to paint just a tiny bit of it with the built-in color, and the rest of it white, but we’re really happy with how it all turned out.
Here’s the crown between the built-ins after it was hung but before we caulked it or did any paint touch ups. See the slightly imperfect wavers of the ceiling above it? Those are nice and finished looking when you squeeze a line of caulk up along that crevice and just drag your finger across it to force it into those small gaps. And if you wipe it fast enough (we apply it about a foot at a time) you can usually get it off the pre-painted ceiling and crown so it’s just in those cracks and there’s no need to touch up the ceiling or crown again for the most part, which is nice.
After some final paint touch ups (mostly along the nail marks that we filled with caulk), and removing all of those tape marks for the studs, it gets a lot better looking. Like so:
For anyone looking for additional details and photos of this chunkier crown effect using baseboards + molding, you can click here to read about how we installed it in Clara’s room. The cost of hers rung in at $137, and that’s a significantly larger room, so although we can’t find the receipt for this latest trip to Home Depot, we’re guessing it was around $115 to do the nursery. And you’ll want to add a tube or two of caulk and a can of paint to the project cost if you don’t have those on hand already.
I also finally got to dive into the crib bedding arena, which you all know I’ve been excited about thanks to John’s revelation that I wander around the house impersonating Golum and whispering “CRIIIB SKIRT.” Here’s a close up of the sweet little organic crib sheet that I found on sale from Pottery Barn for $9.99 (I think we paid something like $25+ for organic crib sheets before Clara was born, so I’m psyched to see that these have become a lot easier to find & more affordable in the last four years).
The green rectangle behind that parade of adorable elephants is just 1.5 yards of fabric that I grabbed from JoAnn during one of their 50% off sales. So the grand total for the 1.5 yards of fabric that I needed to make the crib skirt was a wallet-busing $3.73. You know I did The Mom Victory Dance at the checkout, right? For those not in the know, that involves all sorts of ridiculous movements like high fiving your embarrassed husband and waving your hands around like you’ve won the lottery when in fact you have just saved something like $3.50.
Once at home, I laid out my fabric and cut out three pieces (two sides and a front) which will make up the crib skirt. To get the measurements of those three pieces, I just measured the crib skirt area’s height and width in that section, and then added 3″ to each measurement (to account for 1.5″ hems on each side). So for example, if the measured height for the side panel of the crib was 10 inches, I added three more to make it 13 inches. And if the measured length of that side panel was 28 inches, I added another three inches to make it 31.
Oh and it would be a nice moment for me to mention that if you’re using any fabric with a pattern on it, make sure your three panels all go in the same direction and have the pattern level or centered (so you don’t end up with wonky stripes or something from cutting things in the wrong direction). You might need more yardage for certain patterns or longer crib skirts.
I debated sewing these panels together or just using Heat N’ Bond hem tape, but since the crib skirt that I made for Clara was with Heat N’ Bond, and it held up really well, I figured that was a good choice again – especially since this is more of a tucked away element in the room (for example, I sewed Clara a quilt, but I used hem tape for her crib skirt, since it’s less of a hands-on item).
As far as what materials you’ll need if you’re attempting to make a crib skirt using this method, you’re all set with fabric, hem tape, scissors, and an iron. Oh and some velcro tabs, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First you just need to use hem tape on all four backsides of each of your three panels to hem them for a nice finished look in the front.
It’s really easy stuff to use, just iron it on, peel off the backing, fold the fabric over, and iron it again to make a hem. The fabric panel on the left of this picture was hemmed on all sides, and the panel on the right was also hemmed all the way around, and then I laid one more strip of hem tape down the side (along the back edge) so that I could join these two panels by ironing it on, peeling the backing, moving the second panel over the first one to overlap them, and then ironing that edge so they were fused together.
Once you turn it over, you’re left with a nice clean seam in the front of the fabric. And that seam will fall on a corner of our crib (behind one of the legs) so it won’t be seen.
I joined the middle panel to the two end panels this way on both sides and then it was ready to be attached to the crib. I used small velcro tabs around the metal frame of the crib to hold our skirt in place (you can get them at JoAnn or Michael’s which is also where they sell Heat N’ Bond).
Velcro is a nice option because it makes it easy to remove and wash it if you ever need to (hem tape is washable if you follow the directions and avoid high heat).
Our crib mattress will be lowered once the little guy is more mobile, so we won’t always need this skirt to bridge the gap between the bottom of the mattress and the drawer, but it’s such a fun little addition. Especially for $3.73.
We also used two coats of satin PolyShades gel stain (in Tudor) to make the bottom drawer of the crib a little darker, since it was looking kind of reddish-orange in comparison to the floors and the wood dresser-tops. We thought a hit of darker color would be nice to ground our light-colored crib, and it would also tie into things like the dark hardware on the built-ins, the chocolate elephant crib sheet, and even the oil-rubbed bronze doorknob that leads to his room.
We sealed the PolyShades with two satin coats of Safecoat Acrylacq, which is an awesome non-toxic sealer that keeps things from off-gasing, since Polyshades is low-VOC but not no-VOC.
It’s probably obvious that I just tossed like eight things on the built-in bookcases so they weren’t painfully bare, but I literally gave them four minutes of my time, so I can’t wait to gather some baskets and frames and books and toys and other fun nursery items to fill them in for real. (Shout out to the lone giraffe on the top right shelf). I think they’ll end up being super functional and a nice way to add a lot more fun/color/personality to the room, so I can’t wait to get cracking.
For the space above the crib, we’ve been debating everything from large scale art to some sort of accent like a slatted wall or a giant mobile. We even tried leaning the bike prints up there just to see what they’d look like, but we think they’re better suited for the opposite wall since they look a little busy with the built-ins.
So we’re planning to fill those built-ins “for real” and then see where we end up with that wall. I think we’re leaning towards a really fun large scale mobile – maybe like this but with hits of bold green, black, and white? And maybe another animal instead of birds (Burgers? Or whales since he’s The Barnacle?)…
What did you guys work on this weekend? Do you have any mostly-empty bookcases that you’re ready to go nuts on? Or some bare walls that are begging for some action?
Psst- To see our nursery progress from the very beginning, here’s the planning and rug-buying post, the dresser-sourcing post, the wall and ceiling painting rundown, the first half of built-in building, and the second half of the built-in project.