Build a better budget and stay on schedule with smart advice from our contractors.

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If you're considering any type of construction project, setting your budget is paramount. Without any parameters set, it's easy to fly off the handle, spending way more than you ever envisioned. Suddenly, that small powder room revamp will start to weigh on your wallet like a major renovation. But what if the budget is tight? Are you destined to live with your pale pink '70s-style bathroom or your teeny-tiny galley kitchen? Will you ever get to add the addition you always wanted to make? Good news: The experts say there are plenty of ways to save on all home renovations, both big and small. Here's how.

Create the overall plan.

Consider the big picture from the start, even if you may ultimately need to phase some portions for later, says Mindy O'Connor, architect and designer of Melinda Kelson O'Connor Design. Engage a trusted builder for pricing early and often. You may even want to consider entering a pre-construction services contract after initial builder interviews to help with pricing, rather than bidding out the project further down the road, she explains. "It's tempting to compare costs between builders to try to get the lowest prices, but more frequently it results in longer timeframes and no real savings."

But remember, not everything needs to be new.

Focus on your home's strengths and how you can use those to your advantage in building a renovation plan, says Eddie Maestri, architect for Maestri Studio. Not everything has to be new. So many things that may seem passe—old moldings, hardware, and lighting—have character and design detail strength that gets overlooked, he explains.

Leave walls and major fixtures alone.

"Moving walls, electrical, plumbing, and gas lines puts your project in a different category that typically comes with additional costs for permits and specialized labor," says Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten. Though these large types of remodels are truly transformative, they are grittier and more expensive, plus require more behind-the-scenes coordination, she explains.

Let the experts be the experts.

"Be prepared to believe an experienced architect or builder upfront who tells you that the project scope will cost more than you anticipated, or will push your budget limit," says O'Connor. "It's always better to opt for beautifully finished spaces crafted in high quality materials that fall within your budget, over checking off every single item on a wish list." If need be, reduce or phase the scope of work accordingly—and do so early on in the process. "Once you've started making changes on the fly," she adds, "it can become very hard to control costs."

couple planning home renovations
Credit: MoMo Productions / Getty Images

Prioritize your projects.

"I suggest that clients pick one or two big items that they truly care about from the beginning and let that drive the aesthetic direction," says O'Connor. "It might be a seamless marble countertop with mitered edges, or a particularly stunning tile." Whatever it is, those items are never considered for the chopping block—everything else can be negotiated.

Make sure everyone is on the same page.

Be sure you know which items are being "purchased by the owner" rather than "purchased by the builder," and make sure you are accounting for them in your budget, says O'Connor. This could be the decorative lighting fixtures, appliances, bath accessories, kitchen cabinet hardware, or tiles. And make sure that builder allowances (estimated buckets for those finishes that have not been selected yet) are realistic and adequate for the level of finish you are looking for, she adds.

Shop before you build.

One way to keep your renovation on time is to select all of your materials before a hammer ever swings, says Brownhill. "Projects go over budget and off schedule when decisions aren't made during the renovation in a timely manner and a domino effect can cause delays in other areas." You can do some advance prep on the materials side, because products like sinks and stoves generally have nationally set prices. "Start your research by looking at the major fixtures in the space and decide where you'd like to be in the cost range," she explains. "Do you want a $50 utility faucet or a $2,000 showpiece? Do you want a $400 electric stove or a $6,000 imported range?"

Track your spending.

Shipping and labor costs can add up quickly, so add them into your finish budgets for items like tile and other solid surfaces, says Maestri. "Little items add up quickly, and a running tally helps keep everyone in check," he adds. You don't need anything fancy—just a simple spreadsheet to keep all of your line items in one place.

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