Why Marriage Makes It So Hard to Control Remodeling Costs. (Well, Kinda Sorta.)

As I’ve previously mentioned, the Penzo household is in the middle of a long-awaited home renovation project with a reliable contractor.

Originally, it was supposed to be a fairly modest kitchen renovation that involved replacing our porcelain tile counter tops with granite and adding a new tumbled stone back splash. It also included some new appliances.

Then, one quiet evening not too long ago, while we were watching the six-thousandth episode of House Hunters, the Honeybee decided to see if she could push the budget boundaries just a tad.

The Proposition

“The contractor says we’ll have enough granite left over to do the powder room counter top too. What do you think?”

Maybe it was fatigue, or maybe I was simply distracted, much more interested in whether the happy couple on the television was going to choose the corner lot fixer-upper or the cul-de-sac cutie. Whatever it was, I really wasn’t thinking clearly and the bottom line is that before I could stop myself – and without the slightest bit of hesitation – I said, “Go ahead.”

After all, how much more could it really cost?

Besides, in that split second between the time that the Honeybee asked whether it was okay and the time that I gave my answer, I already did the money math in my head.

We already paid for the granite slabs ($2,107.03), and whatever material we didn’t end up using was probably going to go to waste anyway being that I didn’t feel like storing the excess in my garage. As for the additional labor cost, it couldn’t be, well, much more than a very small fraction of the price I was paying for the kitchen labor ($2675.00). So why not?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that simple.

I really should have known better. You see, in my line of work we are constantly on guard for something called “requirements creep” because, if it isn’t controlled, it can quickly send costs so far over the original budget that it can seriously derail a project.

Let me show you what I mean.

How Remodeling Costs Can Quickly Escalate

When I innocently told the Honeybee to “go ahead,” I figured I had signed up for nothing more than a new granite counter top in my powder room for little more than the price of a little additional labor ($300.00).

But that new powder room counter top begot a new sink ($127.03).

And the sink begot the new oil-rubbed bronze faucet hardware ($157.00).

Then the oil-rubbed bronze faucet hardware begot the new towel rack ($32.48).

Of course, the towel rack begot the new light fixture ($119.98).

Then the light fixture begot the new fancy-pancy toilet paper holder ($20.98).

The fancy-pancy toilet paper holder begot the new toilet handle ($20.41).

And the toilet handle begot the new hand towel holder ($32.48), the new napkin tray ($14.18), the new Kleenex box cover ($29.99 via special order), and the new trash can ($31.99), all in oil-rubbed bronze.

Hi-ho the derry-o, and the Cheese stands alone – not to mention $586.52 poorer than he originally thought he’d be. Plus tax.

Other Examples of Requirements Creep

Requirements creep tends to most often manifest itself in home remodeling projects, but it can also show up in other circumstances. I’m sure you can think of lots of examples, but here are just a few:

1. When buying a car. Requirements creep occurs after buyers decide to “go the extra mile” and buy options like satellite radio, heated seats, keyless entry, and leather-trimmed interiors.

2. When buying a new home. It is quite common for people to start out looking for a modest three-bed two-bath home, only to eventually convince themselves that they really need a much bigger home.

3. When ordering at a restaurant. How many times do we talk ourselves into “super sizing” our lunch or dinner, not because we’re really famished, but just because it’s “only” an extra 59 cents?

4. When buying a new television. I bet most of us know at least one person who threw caution to the wind, “going all out” and buying one of those monster man-cave televisions that is five sizes too big for the living room it sits in.

I have more examples but, sadly, I’m out of time; the Honeybee needs my services. Apparently it’s time for me to install our brand new fancy-pancy toilet paper holder.


  1. 1


    Yup, that is how it also worked in our house, when we remodeled our kitchen. But once the walls were down and we were in the midst of a major renovation, what were we going to do? Cut corners now and revisit the project later to do it right then? When you start on another room, you may as well finish the job even if it costs extra. Whether you start working on another room is an entirely different story. – I think this post also reminds me why I like being married to my wife. She is the major driver behind making our house our home. Without her (and the added expenses) our house would not have the same warm feeling. A big toast to your and my lady of the house!

  2. 2


    My line of work also has to fight requirements creep, what a pain!

    The goal is to set expectations at the beginning and stick to them! Whenever ‘just a little bit more won’t hurt’ creeps into your head, you know you’re in trouble!

  3. 3


    Yeah, that’s pretty much the same for any project you undertake anywhere. Don’t let scope creep kill you.

    On one note, though, I have to question the cost of the faucet. Did you shop around and look for items that maybe were on clearance? I’ve found faucet sets for as low as $20 that used to be over $100 simply because they were replacing the model with a newer one and wanted to get rid of the one/two that they had left.

    I think that while this turned into something more expensive, you may have been able to trim that cost a bit with some shopping around.

  4. 5

    Olivia says

    It’s the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” syndrome. Perhaps you can write a kiddie book to offset costs…..

  5. 7


    My wife is all over me to remodel our kitchen and it really needs it. We have some hideous gold counter tile from the ’70s. But, if replace the cabinets, then we have to redo the flooring, the sink, the appliances and on and on.

    I don’t want to drop $50K right now, just to have pretty counter tops. I’d much rather pay off the house first. So, like our other remodel projects, we will probably end up doing most of the work ourselves.

    How did you get your granite so cheap?

  6. 8


    Oh man! That is brutal! My mom recently remodeled a four-plex and traded all the old light fixtures in and redid the entire complex for less than $500. Bargain hunting, trade ins, and spray paint my friend :)

  7. 10


    Always know the facts, before you commit! It’s those moments of weakness that can gouge us.

    I have a friend who has been putting off his wife for the last 3 years on remodeling their kitchen. It’s a 30 year old kitchen, and she wants it remodeled. He would rather save the money and keep the kitchen exactly as it is. They both work full-time, and don’t really entertain much. Additionally, he has no plans to move, to make the kitchen look good for resale. I’m with him on this one, and respect how he’s been able to hold off for so long!

  8. 11


    @MoneyO: You make a great point about the importance of having a “woman’s touch” in the house. It really does wonders in making a house a home. :-)
    @Daniel: …and it often hits us when we are very vulnerable – like when we’re watching a favorite TV show!
    @MoneyB: You’re forcing me into dangerous and uncomfortable territory here. I’ll try to be diplomatic in an attempt to keep harmony in the house… This was definitely a case of la Honeybee-O knowing EXACTLY what type of faucet she wanted and, apparently, they weren’t on clearance.
    @Sal: Glad you enjoyed it. Can I borrow $586.52?
    @Olivia: Good point.
    @WorkingPoor: Oh, I intend to. I have no choice.
    @Bret: You consider my granite cost to be *cheap* ??? LOL Seriously, though, we just comparison shopped and found a local granite supplier. I’ll email you the name of the company.
    @Jenna: Do you see that gleam in my eye? If I wasn’t already married… 😉
    @Everyday: I love House Hunters Int’l too, Kris!
    @Wise Squirrel: My God, the pressure on that guy must be truly enormous! Amazing.

  9. 12


    At our house, we call it Pandora’s Box. Or “can open, worms everywhere.”

    This is why we haven’t started our bathroom reno. I want to have the money ready to go for all we want….not realize if we do THIS, then we are committed to THAT.

  10. 16


    Did you write this post for me. This is my area!!! (My TV is set to HGTV!) Although I believe in watching costs, the pleasure you and the spouse will get from the remodel will be enormous. And down the road when you are in a beautiful home, you won’t be thinking about the price!

  11. 17

    Honeybee says

    Great article Honey but you forgot to mention the other items that still need to be purchased…a mirror, towels and some chotchkie’s. Oh and we need to buy a new toilet seat so what do you say we get a new toilet? 😉

  12. 18


    I want to remodel our kitchen as it’s dated. Plus I hate cleaning the grout in the tiled counters. But that job is waiting until I get debt free and save up.

    I can see it expanding to the bathrooms as well as they haven’t been updated either.

    I might replace light fixtures and add borders to the mirrors before too long.

  13. 19


    @Mysti: Smart girl. We’ve got worms everywhere now.
    @Everyday: Glad I could be your muse, Kris! 😉
    @BIFS: Shhhh! The Honeybee might hear you.
    @Jenna: No surprise there. :-)
    @Barb: You’re absolutely right, Barb. And I take solace in the fact that I am putting the money into something useful like our home. But I enjoy poking fun at the Honeybee.
    @Honeybee: Thanks for chiming in. No to the toilet. (How much is this comment costing me?) 😉
    @Kay Lynn: Patience is a virtue to be sure. One thing I’ve noticed is that remodel costs escalate quickly. So folks need to really make sure they have enough cushion in their savings before undertaking the expense.

  14. 20


    The major factor why folks go overboard is when they charge it on their credit card. I was born and raised in a third-world country and moved to the States in the 1970s. Most people back there (more than 98%) buy with cash. If the price is in millions, for example buying a house, the buyer must damn sure that he (it’s almost always a he) has the money in the bank. Buyer and seller go to the same bank where they both have accounts, and the manager transfer the money. No credit, no interest, no leftovers, no nothing.

    The first time I encounter a loan in the U.S. was when I wanted to buy a car back in the quite old days. The salesman kept adding options and would calculate the monthly and with each option the monthly installment would increase by a few dollars. He would keep saying if you can pay, let’s say $100 a month, you should be able to pay $102 a month. Only $2 more. Eventually, with adding more options, he added $15 extra. I liked the car. Negotiated the price, paid him cash and drove the car for the next 11 years.

    The U.S. and Western economy is built on credit and credit alone. How many people can pay the full amount on their bill by the due date? As long as credit is available, people would buy extra. How many people think they are renting money from the lenders and it’s not their money? Borrowing is renting. When you rent, you must pay it back, the whole intact.

    • 21


      Thanks for sharing that! I think credit is essential to ensure a growing economy. Credit is the oil that lubricates the economic engine and keeps it running smoothly. Without it, the economic engine would seize up. :-)

      The problems crop up when it is used irresponsibly – that is, people buy things on credit to satisfy impulsive spending for consumable items and end up over-extended. For example, if people waited to buy a home with 100% cash, very few people would be able to buy a home. Nobody would build new homes because there would be few buyers for them!

  15. 22

    Jan says

    We need some remodeling- but I hold the purse strings :>)
    Unless we can come up with a magic fund- it isn’t going to happen.
    At this point our house is worth less than we paid for it. We are going to be here a LONG time unless one of us dies—so that means why bother until we are ready to sell? When we do sell- we will remodel in whatever is the fashion at the time. Who knows when concrete counter tops will completely take over.
    I DO hate the pink bathroom fixtures though. I just heard of a company who resurfaces tubs and sinks.
    We can live with it. It is a solid house and the milk gets just as cold in white appliances with tile counters as it does in stainless steel and granite!
    Don’t worry- we stimulate the economy by visiting our kids!

    • 23


      I love white appliances, Jan. By the way, the Honeybee’s mom just completed a minor bathroom remodel that included resurfacing the tub. It came out absolutely gorgeous – and for a fraction of the cost of replacing it.

      • 24

        Carly says

        Me, too. I used the company “REBATH” at my old condo, simply covering the tub up. It was like Elfin Magic, and beautiful. The only this was, walking on it during a shower felt the littlest bit funky and spongy. 😀 ps/my house’s kitchen is “50’s” style countertops. (Yep, with that metal edging.) I’m hangin’ in there before I blow any money on that.

        • 25

          Len Penzo says

          If you wait long enough, Carly, those 50s style counter tops will eventually come back into style!

  16. 26

    Kimber says

    I can sympathize with you. We painted our bedroom and unintentionally ended up with a whole new bedroom set. I have to admit that I was mainly to blame for pushing it on my hubby. We had the money in savings to cover it. I promise I wouldn’t have pushed for it if we didn’t!

  17. 27

    Kathryn Fenner says

    My 80-year-old parents have lived in their modest house since 1954, and added a family room with powder room in 1967. They lived so frugally (but not cheapskate-ly) that they have plenty of money on hand now. I talked my mom into upgrading the powder room–I wanted her to make a whole second bath (a walk-in shower would perhaps come in handy as they age, and a second bath is getting to be a must), but she didn’t want to deal with workmen for a long time. I want them to live in and enjoy the upgraded house, and not be like the sellers on “Designed to Sell” who finally make their house lovely for $2000 (not counting labor) only to move!

    However, my very frugal dad is having to goose her along to choose what she wants and not just the cheapest option!

  18. 28

    Reader says

    DH gets remodel fever. Right now we have three major projects that are only partially finished (two were due to leaks, so to be fair the projects had to be started to prevent damage). And the rule is he gets $300/month for all home maintenance and upgrades. We work together to find the best solutions, but we don’t argue over price. Either it’s in his budget or it’s not. If he lets the scope creep on this project then he will have fewer resources for his next project. I cringe when I see some of the bills come in, but I don’t try to argue him to cheaper options and then he doesn’t complain that he needs more money.

  19. 29


    @Kimber: Okay, I believe you! :-)
    @Kathryn: Well said. One of the biggest mistakes I think a lot of us make is to not enjoy some of the money we save up because we are waiting for, well, something down the road… My dad always said he has never seen a Brink’s truck follow a hearse. (There’s a message in there somewhere. LOL)
    @Reader: I love it! The fact that you allocate a budget and get agreement to stick to it eliminates a lot of headaches. Well done!


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