How to Prioritize your Kitchen Budget

Several members of the ID8 team have recently started the process of major kitchen renovation projects. As team who helps people redesign their own kitchens or build new, we recognize that BUDGET is a word that is seldom discussed, but always eating at the back of everyone’s mind. (Ugh, why do things have to cost so much? Why can’t we have all the beautiful, functional, great things that we want?) I think it is important to recognize that 1. We, as interior designers/architects, are in the same boat as you and 2. contractors have to make a living, too.

Angie and I are knees deep in kitchen remodel projects in our own homes, and are also having to make the big, tough decisions for ourselves, so we created a helpful guide to help you prioritize your kitchen budget. We are using these same steps with our clients to help you prioritize your wants vs. need, and get the best "bang for your buck." Let's get started!

  • 1

    Plan your budget.

    Now honestly – How much do you want to spend on your kitchen renovation? This first point is critical to be honest and transparent about. Recognizing how much you can realistically afford and how much the project will cost is important. Remember, often we "low-ball" our budget, because we all want to save a s much as we can we. We suggest taking the absolute MAX that you are comfortable with, and reducing by 10%-15%. Save that 10%-15% as an "owner contingency" fund, just in case something unexpected comes up. 

    When planning your budget, also remember context. Make decisions that improve your functionality, storage, and aesthetics while still considering what is reasonable for your home and your neighborhood. Consider the ROI (return on investment) for your decisions and material selections. For example - is it worth it to spend an extra $1,000 to remove a wall knowing you'll like it better, but nobody else will care enough to add $1,000 onto the purchase price of your house? Now, what if that amount was $10,000 instead of $1,000? Would you still make the same choice?

    Your home is your oasis, yes, but it's also an investment, and needs to make good financial sense IN ADDITION to being a place that reflects your needs/style/priorities. Be sure to consider both factors together as you plan your budget and project.

    Pro Tip: Be smart and save. Your kitchen might not be exactly what you want as is, but is it worth incurring more debt for? Angie saved up for nearly a decade to facilitate her current kitchen renovation. Now that's smart planning!

  • 2

    Make a wish list of all the things you want for your kitchen.

    Here's my wish list:

    • I want new cabinets
    • I want cabinets accessories/extra features, pull-out pantry, spice rack, wine display 
    • I want painted wood cabinets 
    • I want quartz countertops
    • I want new appliances 
    • I want a big island with seating 
    • I want a farmhouse sink 
    • I want a marble mosaic backsplash 
    • I want a more functional layout - hire a designer ????

    Angie's Wishlist

    • New counter tops
    • New cabinets
    • Open concept and uniform flooring throughout the main floor
    • Cabinet accessories for smart storage
    • Beautiful plumbing and light fixtures
    • Tile backsplash
    • Wine storage
    • Big drawers
    • Big island with seating
    • "Drop Zone"
    • Create a mudroom or real entry
    • Beautiful cabinet hardware

    Ok we got our list started, because let's be real the list can go on and on. (My list continues to expand as I think about all the details and extras, for example, fancy light fixtures, beautiful cabinet hardware … my mouth starts salivating thinking of the beauty that could be my kitchen! Seriously guys, can you see the potential?)

Pro Tip: Paint is a great alternative to freshen up your kitchen cabinets if new cabinets aren't in your budget! Check out the difference a little paint made in Rachelle's kitchen.


Photo by Rachelle Doudna


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Photo by Rachelle Doudna
  • Sorry guys! I get a little side tracked, when I get to dream about the possibilities and opportunities for my kitchen. Now that our wish lists are done, let's move a long with step three.

  • 3

    Now choose 3 things that are your top priorities.

    If this is too difficult, take a few baby steps to get there. Start by choosing your top 10, narrow it down to 5, and then 3.

    Here are my top three: 

    • I want a better connection between my kitchen and dining room 
    • I want new cabinets
    • I want a more functional layout

    These are my own priorities for my kitchen, but yours may be different. Personally, my husband is an excellent cook and does a majority of the cooking, however, our kitchen is cut off from the rest of our house and I want better sight lines to the rest of the house. New cabinets made my top three, because mine are old enough that they are not adjustable and corner cabinets don’t exist (wasted space in a small kitchen is never good). My final top three priority is a better layout. I have an opportunity to expand my kitchen and make it bigger to include a more prep space. More space will allow me the opportunity to put dishes away without driving my husband crazy while he cooks. (Yes, I am the person who hears someone is going to go do something and I think, “Oh, I also need to be in that exact same spot to do something else making it impossible for you to do the thing." Yes, it is real, and yes, it upsets my husband every time, which is fair.) 

    Angie's top three:

    • To remove the kitchen/dining wall and create an open floor plan 
    • New cabinets/countertops
    • Updated flooring throughout her entire first level 

    Angie's top three priorities are similar to mine. She also wanted an open floor plan and removed a wall between her kitchen and dining room to achieve this.  New cabinets and countertops were also her priority. With this she'd address storage and layout issues, not to mention her 40 year old cabinets were falling apart! Her third priority is updated flooring throughout her entire first level to make her small house feel more cohesive.

  • 4

    Mentally prepare to make cuts.

    What are you willing to compromise on? Can you pick 3 things? Can you pick 5? OK, let’s just stick with 3 for now, even though it’s hard! Make your list and I'll go over some ways Angie and I have thought about those cuts for our kitchens. 

    My cuts and compromises:

    • New appliances 
    • Fancy Backsplash
    • Big Island

    Angie's cuts and compromises:

    • Ready to assemble cabinets
    • Formica laminate countertops vs. Cambria
    • Vinyl flooring vs. wood floors

    Like we mentioned earlier, home resale and return can help assist you with choosing where to make compromises and cuts. For example, Angie's dream is to have beautiful Cambria counter tops, but knows in her neighborhood she'd never be able to sell her home for a price that would justify spending that much money. Instead she is installing Formica laminate countertops, which are still beautiful, but more cost effective. Another compromise Angie is making is installing a vinyl flooring instead of wood floors. Her home is in the perfect starter-home neighborhood and wood floors aren't the most practical choice for families with pets and young kids. And again, the cost didn't make sense for the return.

    Make cuts and recognize that everything comes at a cost. Going to local vendors and showrooms is always helpful when you start to think about the cost of everything. Yes, looking online is great for ideas and estimated pricing, but to be able to see, touch, feel, and have the help of an associate is always good.

    Pro Tip: Are you handy and willing to dig in and do some work yourself? Angie saved nearly $8,000 - $10,000 on her total project by purchasing RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinets.

  • 5

    What did you forget to think about with your kitchen renovation?

    • Are you moving any electrical? Lighting? Outlets? Adding more outlets? Under cabinet lighting? 
    • Are you removing any walls? If yes, are they load bearing? 
    • Are you moving any plumbing? 
    • Are you replacing the flooring? Do you have to if you are planning on moving cabinets? 
    • Are you hiring someone to do your kitchen renovation? Are you doing it yourself? 

    Let's talk about "scope creep". This is where the project inadvertently grows because of certain items that have to change as a result of something else. For example – changing the cabinet layout means fixing/patching or replacing flooring, in many cases, because often flooring is installed around not under, cabinets. The total "scope" of your project just crept into additional items you may not have originally planned for.

    This is where it can become difficult. Costs for these different things range depending on the location, the person hired, and the amount of work needing to be done. These costs add up really quick too! Let's say you want to take a load bearing wall down, then there has to be thought put into how weight is going to be redistributed from the base of your house up to ensure structural stability is maintained. These things are not to scare you, but prepare you. (It is nice to have someone walk through and say, "We will need to support this, or move that," and you get to nod, because you have taken the time to acknowledge that is part of getting your dream kitchen. Granted, my eyeballs still go wide at prices, and then I remember I cannot do what other professionals do, and I want a professional moving my plumbing ????. ) Hiring someone to do the work and heavy lifting comes at a price too, so remember to think about labor costs when you are adding up the cost for your kitchen.  

    Pro Tip: Know your limitations. It will cost you more to have a professional fix your mistakes than to have them do the work in the first place.

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  • 6

    Repeat step 3 because step 4 just threw a curve ball into your already dwindling list.

    Are there other things that you can live without? Or put in at a later date? 

    My save it for later list: 

    • Farmhouse sink 
    • Cabinet accessories 
    • Quartz countertops 
    • Fancy cabinet hardware 

     Angie's save it for later list:

    • New appliances
    • Fancy Lighting
    • Fancy Hardware

    I fully recognize my list of things that I can live without aren’t going to cover the cost of my #4 list of forgotten things, however part of what we do when we help design for a client is work through these things. We help you figure out what you can live without, or what “wants” we can add in at a future date.

    Giving up certain cabinet accessories can be much easier if you know it can be easily added in the future. Maybe you narrow it down to two accessories you would love to have. My personal two for my kitchen are soft-close doors and drawers + a corner lazy-susan cabinet. Quartz countertops are also on my save-it-for-later list. Oh, I would love to have those maintenance free, high-tops with all the beauty, the shine, and oh, the sparkle! But honestly, I can choose a less expensive alternative and do a laminate or butcher block that will still look beautiful, and in a couple of years if I want to upgrade, I can. Also on my save it for later list are fancy cabinet hardware. They can get expensive and an easy way to save a couple bucks is by picking something you can buy in bulk. Angie plans on putting new appliances on hold and ordering new down the road when she has the extra cash. Those are just a few things that we've compromised to cut costs on and save money. I think that it is also so IMPORTANT to point out, I am talking about finding cost cuts, not design cuts, and thinking in phases if you don't currently have the budget to do everything at once.

  • 7

    Great design can happen on a budget!

    Remember this is just the start of thinking about a renovation. You can still change your mind, (I always do). You can still dream big. Maybe your kitchen renovation is further away. Maybe you were spot on! If so, kudos! 

    Going through these steps is really easy and really hard. Equipping yourself with the ways you are willing to make compromises and things you are determined to have better prepares you and the professionals you choose to work with. Thinking about these things early can help you figure out how to budget or re-budget for your dream kitchen.  


What exactly is a realistic budget, anyway?

Kitchen Renovationchart

Angie's kitchen renovation project. Keep your eye on our blog for the finished space!

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