Oh, the excitement of starting a new decorating project! You’ve got your style nailed down (hello pinning spree!), decided what you want your room to look like, and done your space planning to know what furniture and decor you need. Now it’s time to crunch the numbers and come up with your budget. I know, I know - this isn’t the most fun part, but it’s important! Determining your budget ahead of time will help keep your spending in check as you do the fun part - finding those perfect pieces of furniture and decor.
So how do you go about budgeting for these projects? Having designed hundreds of rooms for clients, I’ve got a go-to system that works really well and I’m going to share it with you today! You can use this strategy when you’re in the planning process - it will help you stay on track and keep your wallet happy.
My budgeting strategy for decorating projects
You can go at budgeting from one of two directions: top-down or bottom-up. They’ll both give you a total overall budget, but the approaches are different. Let me explain what I mean…
Top-down budgeting is where you choose a total number that you want to stay at or near to complete the project. Let’s say you know you’d like to spend $8,000 redecorating your bedroom. That’s an amount you feel comfortable allocating to that space and you think it will allow you to get everything you need.
With your $8,000 budget in hand, you’ll be able to spend “against it” as you find your bed, rug, dresser, etc. It gives you flexibility with what you spend on each piece individually, but gives you an overall “ceiling.” I suggest tracking what you’ve spent in a spreadsheet so you know where you are and how much you have left. Accountability is key here so you don’t go over budget! (P.S. I’ve got a free budgeting worksheet for you to grab at the bottom of the post if you need one!)
Bottom-up budgeting goes at it from a piece-by-piece method from the get-go. Instead of picking an overall budget and working within it, you’re going to decide what you’d like to spend on each piece individually then add it all up in order to come up with your total. The reason you might want to consider bottom-up budgeting is because it helps you prioritize where you want to spend vs. save from the outset so you make good buying decisions as you go along.
Let’s keep using our bedroom project as an example: let’s say you know you want to invest in a bed and dresser, but think you can spend less on a rug, bedside tables, and lamps to achieve that look and style you have in your mind.
In this case, your budget might look like this:
Bedside Tables: $250 each
Lamps: $150 each
That would make your total budget $3,300 for the room. (Now, of course this isn’t everything a bedroom needs - don’t forget to factor in other items like bedding, art, and a mirror, but this gives you a general sense of how bottom-up budgeting might work!).
Again, best practice for budgeting is to track it! List out all the items, your budget for each, and what you actually spent on that item.
So which method is best?
They’re both good! It’s more about personal preference and how your brain works. Some folks like to have flexibility in their budgets and would rather “spend against” their overall budget as they find those perfect pieces of furniture and decor while others like to have tighter parameters from the get-go so they can narrow their search and stay disciplined about where their money goes. I bet you know which camp you fall into without thinking too hard about it!
In the e-design world, I ask folks what their overall budget is in my initial questionnaire and then I allocate that money accordingly according to the client’s priorities and preferences, so I’m usually going the top-down route. I typically set a ballpark range for each piece so when I’m on the hunt, I know what I generally have to spend on it.
Occasionally I have a client that isn’t sure what she should spend on her room, so in that case, I’ll help her think through it by putting together a bottom-up budget using an itemized list of what we’ll need. That way, she’ll be able to see all the items we’ll need for the design and what they might cost. I’ll include ranges for those pieces and give her a “high/low” overall budget and then she can decide what she’s comfortable spending.
Where to splurge vs. save
This can be a tough topic because everyone prioritizes things differently and places value on certain items more than others. For example, you may LOVE original art, so you’re willing to spend a bigger chunk of change on that while others may be excited about the affordable art they find at Target. Or, perhaps a high quality, comfortable sofa is the most important thing to you, so you’re happy to allocate more to that and spend less on a rug. It all depends!
In general though, I’d encourage you to invest in two areas:
Pieces you use ALL the time that need to be durable or comfortable. I’d say upholstered items like sofas, or pieces you open and close everyday like dressers fall into that category.
A few special or unique items that stop you in your tracks - those could fall into any category, but allow yourself to buy that higher priced item if you can’t stop thinking about it and know it’ll make a big difference in your room/space. These can be items that really make your home a place you love!
Once you know a few places where you’d like to invest, you can work in some more affordable pieces to balance it out and stick to your budget. I mix high and low all the time and it works beautifully!
Budgeting doesn’t have to be scary or hard - it should be methodical though. No matter which way you approach it you’ll want to track your budget and spending in an organized and thoughtful way. I find using a simple spreadsheet is an easy way to do that.
Here’s how I organize mine:
In column A, list out all of the furniture and decor you’re going to need (from the big pieces all the way down to the details like pillow inserts!).
In column B, put the amount you spent on that piece, and at the bottom, use a SUM function to add up the total. I like using a SUM function because it automatically does the math for you on what you’ve spent so you can keep track of where you are.
In column C, if you’re doing bottom-up budgeting, put the amount you’ve budgeted for that piece. This column will be your quick reference guide so you know what you can spend on that particular item.
In column D, put the link to the item if you’re shopping online. I like to do this so I can easily refer to it later on and I don’t have to rely on my brain to remember!
In column E, make any notes you need about the piece. This could be anything you want - it’s a good spot for purchasing notes like size or color, or the dimensions of a piece so that you can quickly reference them.
This spreadsheet and I become close companions as I shop for clients (or myself!) and I find it to be really helpful. I hope it’ll be a helpful tool for you too as you go about decorating your home!
As I mentioned earlier, I created a working spreadsheet based on the model I shared above for you to download that’s all ready for you to use. It looks like what you see below! You can grab a copy by filling out the form below.
Grab your project budget spreadsheet!
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