Why Marriage Makes It Hard to Control Remodeling Costs

No, "requirements creep" isn't a person you don't want to be around. It's a philosophy you don't want to adopt. But we all do at some point.

Why Marriage Makes It Hard to Control Remodeling Costs Photo (cc) by KellyK

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 countertops with granite and adding a new tumbled stone backsplash. It also included some new appliances.

Then, one quiet evening not too long ago, while we were watching the 6,000th episode of House Hunters, the wife 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 countertop too. What do you think?”

Maybe it was fatigue, or maybe I was 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. 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 wife asked whether it was OK 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, 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 ($2,675.00). So why not?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that simple.

I really should have known better. You see, in my line of work – I’m an electrical engineer in the aerospace industry – we’re 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 wife to “go ahead,” I figured I had signed up for nothing more than a new granite countertop in my powder room for little more than the price of a little additional labor ($300.00).

But that new powder room countertop 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’s common for people to start out looking for a modest three-bed two-bath home, only to eventually convince themselves that they 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’s five sizes too big for the living room it sits in.

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

Len Penzo
Len Penzo

Len Penzo's irreverent, eponymous personal-finance blog, Len Penzo dot Com, covers money with a strong emphasis on personal responsibility. It was honored by Kiplinger as a Best Money Blog in 2010.


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