Jun 13 2013

Why we hired a kitchen designer

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After a few months of browsing Pinterest, Houzz and the internet at large looking for kitchen inspiration, we started investigating kitchen reno companies in our area.

I had two companies give me estimates. I was surprised at how high their quotes were, and realized that the best way for me to approach the project was to find individual sources for each element.

Using Angie’s List, I found a well-rated fabricator of solid surface countertops (which is the type of counter we wanted). Their price was more than $1k lower than the all-inclusive kitchen companies I had previously contacted. What. The price included delivery, installation, and an under-mount or integrated sink.

I asked someone at the countertop company if they knew of any good local cabinet companies, and they did. The company checked out on Angie’s List, so I paid them a visit.

I was impressed with their family-run business, and how they strive to get the demo and installation done in just one day. One company said I could be without a full-service kitchen for up to 4 weeks. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

The man who took the specs of my order in the showroom is also an installer, and he and another employee (his dad!) will be the ones in my house in a few weeks doing the demo and cabinet installation. We will be without countertops for a week or so, since they need a template before fabrication.

Their price for a high-quality all wood cabinet was far less than the other companies — and it was less or comparable to the big box stores and internet retailers. They offered free cabinet hardware (that can be a few hundred bucks) and a 5% Angie’s List discount. Their labor charges were also very reasonable. Sold.

So, I found sources for the two big, expensive components…but how do I make the room come together?

It was just too overwhelming.

We figured that we’re spending so much money on big permanent things that we did NOT have room to make a mistake. These choices will affect our house’s resale later.

So, we checked Angie’s List (love it, can you tell?) and found a design company in our area.

For a flat fee, our designer is working with us to select every choice we’ve had to make.

I know we would have made some wrong choices along the way without him. Sure, we might have made it look ok — but I don’t want ok; I want awesome!

Case in point: we made a horrible decision with the Giani Granite countertop paint. Nevermind the fact that it chipped beyond belief — the color I chose was far too dark. Aesthetically, it would have been better if we chose an entirely different, lighter shade.

I’m just not very good at looking at color swatches or even computer renderings (which we made!) and seeing an end result that looked good.

It’s not that big of a deal to make a $100 mistake on countertop paint, since we figured if it didn’t work out we’d replace the counters anyway. But I do not want to spend several thousand on cabinets and countertops and end up regretting the choices we made.

Our designer has been great. He met with us at our house, and then at each store to guide us in door styles, stain choices, door layout, glass door selection for two cabinets, how to arrange the undermount lights for the best effect (and the exact light fixture for that). Then he helped with the countertop style and edge finish, wall paint color, sink faucet, light fixtures…yeah. Every little thing. Last on the list is backsplash tile.

The kitchen isn’t finished yet — we’ve only primed the walls and installed one light fixture so far.

But at this stage, I’m confident that paying the fee that amounted to something like 3% of the total overall project’s cost was money well spent.

How about you? Have you worked with a designer? Or do you naturally have that designer’s eye?


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Jun 10 2013

Living on last month’s income

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last month's income

When we lived in Pittsburgh, Shane got paid once per month. It was simple to pay bills, because bills were due once per month as well. When we moved to Indiana, Shane went on the biweekly pay cycle. I never could get a handle on how to divvy out the money to pay the bills.

Do I divide the bills in half? Pay the mortgage with one check, and the rest with the other? And what about those two months out of the year with three paychecks? Bah! Too much thinking involved.

Here’s how I tried to automate the process awhile back. And here’s a post from my archives in 2008 where some readers shared this month-ahead system…wish I remembered this!

The solution: Live on last month’s income. See more about this brilliant tip on Jacob’s blog (of I Heart Budgets).

So, the money Shane received in May is going toward June expenses. The money he receives in June will go toward July’s. Let me break it down further:

  • I added up the total monthly fixed expenses: mortgage; gas & electric (fixed because we do budget billing and love it); internet; cell phones; health insurances; insurances…you get the idea.
  • Next, I added in a good amount to cover a month’s worth of groceries, gasoline and entertainment.
  • I added some extra for wiggle room

That’s it. That’s my monthly total.

So when a paycheck shows up, I immediately take out 10% gross and write a check for church and charity. The rest of it goes in an earmarked savings account for next month. When the second paycheck of the month arrives, I do the same, but I stop once I hit that monthly total amount. The surplus goes toward our current savings goal.

On the last day of the month, I look to see how much is left in checking. I transfer enough from the earmarked savings account to get me through the next month. So, if there’s leftover money in checking at the end of the month, it goes to the savings goal.

I have automated deposits going to our IRAs and 529s throughout the month.

This whole process has really taken the headache out of budgeting for me. It especially helps when Shane’s paycheck is a little late (it happens sometimes!). Also, it serves as an extra month’s worth of expenses for our emergency fund. If you are paid erratically, I think getting a month ahead could be a great move. No living paycheck-to-paycheck!

If you want to live on last month’s income and already have an emergency fund, you can take a month’s worth of expenses out of that e-fund and start that way.

Or, you could gradually save up a month’s worth of expenses — and if you’re paid bi-weekly you can use months with those third checks to make a lot of progress. Or, your tax refund or another windfall.

Does this process make sense? Do you implement something similar?

This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance #418 hosted by Financial Coach Adam Hagerman.



Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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