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 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 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.
Elisa Simpson says
Thanks so much for your list guys, we’re currently planning a whole second storey addition (3 bedrooms, WIR, 2 bathrooms & a living room) so planning all those fittings & furnishings can be a little daunting, its articles like these that help me work out how to pin point exactly what I like from all my inspiration images and not get carried away trying to re-create a space in a more costly way
That sounds so exciting Elisa! Best of luck!
I have a quick question about Karl, you just reminded me! Is it easy to remove/wash/replace the covers?
I have an Ikea Poang chair and have been warned by a family member with the same one to NEVER attempt to take off the cover and wash it myself because it’s hell trying to get the thing back on (but it does that it’s say machine washable, so I totally would have been caught out had they not mentioned it).
I’m thinking about buying a Karl when we move later in the year so just want to know where we stand with washing it when we have to!
I don’t wash Karl all the time (maybe once a season?) and it’s not too bad. I mean, there are a bunch of them so it takes a while to get them all on, but I don’t feel like I’m losing a battle or sweating like I did a 10K or anything. One tip I learned was to take the covers out of the dryer when they’re a tiny bit damp because when they dry on the cushions they snap nice and tight and fit like a glove. Hope it helps!
Great post and examples; lots of food for thought. Each family’s combination/judgment calls on splurge and save are different!
Since our garden is even more important than our house, a big splurge for me is Japanese maples. We’ve spent several thousand dollars on them over the past dozen years. And I will splurge on various unique plants that I find. OTOH, many plants come from Walmart, Lowes, HD, etc., and we divide, propogate, move things around etc. And we save on hardscape materials by buying used slate from others :-) and recycling the many bricks in our yard — plus install features ourselves. Having a fairly large water garden built by a professional was a splurge some years back, but my husband saved a lot by doing all of the extensive electrical and plumbing work. We splurged on expensive wood lattice (from the fancy lumberyard, not home center type) but saved thousands by my husband building the fence and our painting it.
Sometimes something is a splurge but necessary. We replaced our asphalt shingle roof with standing seam metal — obviously it was more expensive; however, shingles have not held up and now we have a lifetime roof.
Oh man, I covet those amazing metal roofs! So lucky to have one. And your garden sounds GORGEOUS!
I’m a thrifty (ok, cheap) person at heart, but our recent splurges have made me rethink my mindset of being cheap always wins out. We are on our 4th home in 7ish years and just bought our very first couch. We were very lucky to get hand me downs several times and it helped us decide what we really wanted in our furniture before making the purchases. Not having to buy a couch until now allowed us to save up for our dream sectional and we were able to go purchase it as soon as we discovered a family of mice had moved into it while we were on vacation (so gross!). On the flip side- we ended up with these great vintage dining chairs that we got for $5 each from a local winery. The seats are torn, but we’ve taped them up and are getting them recovered by a local shop as soon as our daughter is a cleaner eater :). This will still be cheaper than a set of chairs in any store and are great quality. Had we not been living with free chairs, we wouldn’t have been able to figure out what style was “us” as these are not commonly found at a furniture store anymore. Splurging on higher quality items has definitely lowered our stress, too, as I’m not constantly on the search for something. If we hadn’t had those cheap/free items in the beginning though, we wouldn’t be with pieces that are truly what works for our family. So I guess I think it’s ok to be cheap or splurge if it’s for a high quality item :)
These are all great ideas when it comes to the things you splurged on and the things you decided to save on. Great choices. Thank you for sharing from 3girls1apple.com
Kate Gotch says
Flooring and furnishing are the areas where I spend generously as I like them in wood.
Tip #4 made this entire entry worth it to me. I don’t know why it hadn’t dawned on me before, but it makes so much sense! I’m definitely going to have to start looking through my Pins to see the common denominators in spaces I love to make sure I get the look that makes my heart sing and not settling for something just because it’s cheap! (Although if it happens to be on sale or I find something perfect at the ReStore…all the better!)
I think that the main thing that we do differently is that we don’t consider spending money as saving money. So, for example, if I found a $5 mirror at a yard sale, I would say, “I spent $5 on a mirror.” I would not say, “I saved $95 on this mirror because I found this one for $5 and a similar mirror at Westelm would cost me $100.”
That is not to say that we wouldn’t buy a $5 mirror at a yardsale. Just that we wouldn’t count it as saving money, because if I spend any money on any mirror, I am spending money.
I think this helps us save money because we do not feel compelled to snap up amazing deals on unnecessary purchases. Since we are not looking for deals, we stay out of places like Homegoods, etc. So I think we save a lot of money by not looking for deals, oddly enough.
Of course, I do not write a successful home decorating blog, so what saves me money wouldn’t work for you. Do you think you would live in the same way (continually finding and then discarding and then finding more home decor items) if you didn’t have this blog?
Such a smart distinction! I definitely think we shop for food and clothing in exactly the same way that you do (I never see a deal as saving money, since I’d still be buying those cans of beans we might not need or that shirt that looks like one I already have). For home stuff I also think we do our best to craigslist anything we don’t need and buy only things that we have a place for/use for (I see lots of gorgeous items/deals but if we don’t have a place or a need for them I keep walking). We’ve been DIY obsessed since before we even started blogging (we painted our first house’s kitchen cabinets and laid new peel & stick tiles in there before this blog, knowing we’d replace them down the line, but just wanting to live with something we liked more in the interim) so I think we’re just naturally happy to spend some money on our surroundings, and in return we might go to fewer nice dinners or movies and just drive one car since we like spending our money on house stuff/projects.
cheri s in iowa says
What a fun and timely topic! We just finished installing a wood burning fireplace. We splurged and went for a completely sealed off and highly efficient model. We saved on putting it in ourselves, and even making our own concrete hearth stone! It has been an extremely cold winter for much of the midwest, and LP prices are sky high…so we’re definitely saving on the heat bill!
That sounds so cozy!
I do not know if someone else mentioned it, but I wanted to stand up for your wood burning fireplace if that is what you have! We live in PA in an older home and lose electricity any time God sneezes. We have been so thankful for our woodburning fireplace for all the times we have lost electricity in the winter! A gas insert is neater and easier to turn on than the wood, but there is something manly about chopping wood and burning it! :). I know you will pick what works best for your family, but I had to give a shout out to the old school fireplace!
Thanks Phuong! Ours is inoperable at the moment (something about the flu is unsafe) so a gas insert is appealing since it would be more easy to implement in our case.
Charlotte @ Charlotte's Chair says
I love, love, love the gray and white flooring in one of you bathrooms, the one with the 2 blue bottles sitting on the vanity. Can you tell me what flooring this is? Love your blog!!
Thanks Charlotte! That’s a stenciled floor that we DIYed! There’s a link in this post to it if you click on “stenciled the floor” in the list of things we did to save money in this house.
This was so helpful as my husband and I are about to put in an offer on our first home! It needs some work but thankfully some big things like flooring, roof and landscaping have already been done for us. We will most definitely be buying a Karlstad per your recommendation!
Emily @ Life on Food says
Your list at the end is a great way of thinking about it. Many of my splurges only happen on sales for from selling/getting rid of what the new thing is replacing. Then it doesn’t seem like such an indulgence. My favorite things in the house are the splurges so it is well worth the investment.
Love your website and all that you two do! One quick observation: You use the word ‘chunky’ a LOT. :)
You’re right! We definitely have a bunch of words that get thrown around more than others (sweet, psyched, woot, etc). I think when you sling 5,000-ish words a week, there are bound to be some subconscious reoccurring favorites ;)
Likes for Kimberly — I too have noticed that the word “chunky” is a favorite of both John’s and Sherry’s. Sometimes you guys change it up with “beefy”. These terms really get a workout when you’re talking about trim, crown moulding, columns, etc. I guess these words have kind of a negative connotation to me because they’re sometimes used (in an unflattering way) to describe someone’s physique. How about “substantial” or the like, to change it up sometimes?
I say this with love because you are both excellent writers!
Thanks Bfish! Substantial is an awesome suggestion to mix it up!
Wow I love this post. Your rug is STUNNING and so big. It really adds incredible life to the room — it has a personality!
Teresa W says
When we added on the large room for my father-in-law last year, our splurge was to go ahead and have a concrete patio poured near the small deck off his room. We knew that eventually his room would become a living area for us and this was the best time to do it. We also waited a few months to finish the backyard (living with tons of red mud) so we could splurge on having sod put down. It was well worth it. The rest of the landscaping we are doing ourselves. I can’t wait for some warm weather days to get started!
That sounds awesome Teresa!
I just saw a stock photo just like your money-in-the-pocket photo up there.
I love that you guys recreated it! You should sell stock photos!
No way! That’s so funny! That photo is from this post back in 2009 about living with a pay cut. John just shot it at home since we needed a money-ish visual ;)
Wow Sherry, this was a well-thought out and full of beneficial information for us! Great post!
You know, it is kind of interesting that since I’ve read your blog so long, when I moved into my first apartment, I’ve found myself following your exact rules on this. I’m still a poor college student, so my ‘renovations’ are much much less major. But I’ve found myself getting a cheap set of coasters from Wal-Mart until I find a nicer bamboo set later, or I get a simple cheap pot for my plants until I find a stinking awesome $8 one at anthropologie.
Love your lists. Same at our house- we splurge on stuff we feel like we’ll own or love forever and try to balance it by saving on other things we can diy or live with a more inexpensive version of.
I noticed on your list that you mentioned a gas stove. I’m sure you research the heck out of everything you purchase, so you probably have considered or will in the future an induction cooktop. We made the switch to induction during our kitchen renovation last year. It was the best money spent, I swear. There are tons of sites that can better explain and rave about the pros of having induction, but as a household with small kids ourselves, I will just reiterate every positive about induction. From having virtually no mess to ever clean up, no burning hot surface that can accidentally catch something on fire, the efficiency of heat loss, no knobs for little people to turn on, the list went on and on for us about why it was a great fit for our new kitchen. The fact that we wouldn’t have to add a gas line started as a tiny thing that made us think about induction but after visiting a dozen appliance showrooms and comparing it to even the fancy giant gas ranges- we were sold. Now that we’ve had induction I would never cook with anything else (we bought a 36 inch Jenn Air by the way) and cooking for the 5 of us is awesome. Incidentally, along the way we crossed radiant heat floors off our must-have list even though our old house had them and we loved them. We have never missed them though in our new house though, despite living in Wisconsin and having porcelain tile in the kitchen. Heated floors made a HUGE difference in our drafty old farmhouse kitchen with no basement below- but in our relatively new, better insulated house with basement below, our contractors pointed out that heated floors really didn’t seem necessary and we’re glad now we skipped it. (I would like them in our tiny master bath on the cold side of our second floor- but that’s another project!)
Just wanted to throw out those things about our kitchen reno. It was fun to see how our list of must haves and splurges changed, and the things we almost decided against have become our favorite parts of our house! It was a huge project though and felt like the research and actual work took almost a year start to finish. I basically obsessed over every phase of the process but this room is the best part of our house now (we even were featured in the southern Wisconsin Parade of Homes for our remodel- basically one of the best things that ever happened in my decorating life and something I’ve never told anyone except our family about :)
I always look forward to seeing what you guys do next and am really excited to see how the very final version of your house turns out.
That’s amazing Erin! Congrats!
Thank you for this post! As a penny-pincher, I love these financial posts, especially since you seem to view a “splurge” the same way I would.
I have a somewhat odd question, but I have always wondered your take on it. (I apologize if you have answered this before, feel free to link to it!) When buying a house, how did you decide how much money you would need for updates compared to the price of the house? For example, if you had a budget of 200k, and found a house in need of updating for 180k, how do you predict whether or not you will be able to afford the updates? I realize that this can greatly vary based on the condition of the house and what needs to be changed, but is there a method that you have used in the past to get a good idea of how much you would need to spend to get it to where you want it to be?
I would just look at other already fixed up homes in the neighborhood and what they’re selling for. For example, if you buy a fixer upper for 150,000 and nice turn-key homes are selling for 200,000, you don’t want to sink any more than 50K into changes because it might not be the neighborhood/market to support that. Hope it helps!
Thanks for this post! I’ve been reading your blog for years and really value your expertise on all things home. We actually bought our Karl based on your experience with it. Our is smaller – love seat with chaise – and we love it, especially the slipcover since we have a large dog who sees Karl as his bed. We even got the same fabric which leads to my question. Do you have any advice for washing the slipcover? Also, do you find that the chaise cushion gets a “dent”? Any fluffing suggestions?
We just wash the cushions cold and tumble dry low and pull them out of the dryer a little before they’re fully dry and wrestle them onto the pillows so they dry fully in place (makes them look crisper/tighter that way). We don’t have any chaise dents, but we do have to periodically fluff/rotate the back cushions if they get pressed down (Burger sits on them) so that might help?