• DH = Dear husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter

See that floor up there? I wondered at first what the square thing in the middle was. It’s the reflection of the room’s window. The floor is so shiny, it reflects things! Isn’t that a whole lot better than what we had before?


(I have to say it again because it’s so embarrassing: we didn’t realize how disgusting DH’s office carpet had become until after we had moved out all of his business furniture and equipment.)

Renovations while trying to become debt-free?

“Aren’t you trying to get out of debt?” asked a friend’s daughter when she overheard me talking with her mom about our renovations. It’s a good question, and here’s a recap of why we’re doing it now:

  • The room above had become too small to hold the paraphernalia of DH’s business.
  • Our combined living room and dining room area – more than twice the size of his old office – had become a storage area for his business.
  • We decided to let this larger space become his office.
  • His old office would become our new living room.
  • Our old family room would become our new combined dining room/sitting room.
  • In June, after the first three years of our journey out of debt, we finished paying off all $102,000 of our non-mortgage debt, so we have allowed ourselves a few “extravagances.” This renovation project is one of them.

The theory of relativity (of frugality)

I’ve come to the conclusion that frugality is relative. Are we being frugal with our renovations? Relative to early-financial-freedom badasses like Mr. Money Mustache (who retired at 30) and The Frugalwoods (who will be retiring at 33)? No. Relative to other people on our street? Yes. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that the answer to questions like these don’t matter. The question that matters is this one: Are we being frugal with our renovations relative to ourselves? How are we doing with our spending now in comparison with how we would have done things in our pre-money-smart days of growing debt?

Spending money saved vs. spending on credit

In the old days? We would not have set money aside in advance. We would have bought with our Visa, and if we hadn’t been able to pay off our card at the end of the month (and for October, we wouldn’t have), we’d have extended our line of credit.

As it is, we are not financing these renovations with debt. Any flooring we install, any furniture we buy, any electrical work we do is being purchased with money on hand. I taught summer school through both July and August of this year, and every cent of my pay went into our renovation account. All money earned from our garage sale and Kijiji sales went into that account. We’ve added different “slush” amounts to it each month since June too. We’re spending money we’ve earmarked for this project. Pass!

Taking our time vs. buying on impulse

We first decided upon this plan of action for our house over a year ago. In the old days, we would have followed through within several months of making the decision.

For flooring,

  • We would have gone with our first thought of hiring a contractor to install it.

For our new living room,

  • We would have ordered the cool hardwood-and-industrial-metal end-table on the spot.
  • We would have bought the small leather sectional sofa within days of seeing it.
  • We would have ordered the rugged cube ottomans, that with a flip of the top turn into mini-tables, on the spot.

For our new combined dining room/sitting room,

  • We would have ordered the gorgeous red Italian leather love-seat within days of seeing it.

As it is,

  • DH is installing the hardwood himself. Using a nail-gun borrowed from one friend and a table-saw borrowed from another, he spent last week-end putting in the floor you see above. Over the next few weekends, he’ll be installing the much larger floor space of what will be our dining room/sitting room.
  • Instead of ordering that amazing end-table on the spot, we kept looking. Our living room, we considered, was going to be a casual hang-out place – one that would be heavily used by the teenagers in our lives. Did our living room end-table have to be that spectacular? No. We bought one for a quarter of the price at a less expensive store.
  • We decided, for the same reason, that there was no call for leather furniture in the new living room. We bought fabric sectional sofa/pull-out bed for half the price.

These decisions taken together add up to $2,800 not spent. Pass!

Mindful splurges

I didn’t cover everything in that last bit. What about those rugged ottomans that turn into mini-tables? They were well over twice the price of the Wal-Mart version. We didn’t order them on the spot – as we would have in our debt-ridden days. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to. Again, our new living room is going to get heavy use – by teens. Rugged will be good. After thinking about it, we’re going to order them.

And the red leather love-seat? We saw it when we first started to look around in May, and it sang angel music to us. It was the right small size we needed. It was the right red accent. It was perfect to sit in. And SO expensive. We’ve seen many love-seats since then, but when we saw this red one again yesterday, it sang the same song it had five months ago. It is the one. And it was on sale. Still expensive, but $500 less than it would have been in May. We ordered it.

Is this another Pass! – or is it a Fail? On the one hand, our combined dining room/sitting room is going to be our “nice” room, so we really do want it to look good. Also, we might move out of our house and get a smaller one once DH retires from his business in the next five to ten years. This love-seat is one we’d be able to keep through that transition for the long term. And we’re paying with money we’ve saved. So Pass! right?

On the other hand, in no way are these purchases – especially the love-seat – frugal. Despite the “savings” of $500, we could easily have found another one for half the price. But not one that sang to us. Hmmmm…? Is this a case of endorphins taking over? I don’t think so. We definitely got that brain rush in May when we first saw it, but five months later, it was more a case of – “OK, this is just a GREAT piece of furniture, and we haven’t found another one that comes close.” Is this a case of shallow materialism? Again, I don’t think so.  It would be a lie to say we ordered the love-seat just because it’s functional and comfortable. Aesthetics came into play big time. But I think that’s OK. I think it’s OK to get pleasure out of beautiful things. And I think it’s OK to allow spending to reflect taste – within the boundaries of budget and savings.

I feel like I’m confessing!  

Well, you can decide upon the Pass! or Fail of our mindful splurges in this renovation project, but I wouldn’t reverse any of our decisions to date. We’ve saved up; we’ve taken our time, reconsidering initial thoughts about everything; we’ve been mindful of each step. DH’s new office is so much more functional than the former space he used, and it looks like a techie’s space-aged dream. Our new living room is a warm, casual space that is rugged enough to withstand the heavy use it is already getting. (DD3 had two friends over to sleep in it Friday night, and she says it’s the first sleep-over of many in that room.) Our new dining room/sitting room will be inviting. With the TV out of the way, it will be a place for people to read, to visit, to eat. It will be set up so that whoever is working in the kitchen (usually me), will be able join the conversation easily. And it will be flexible enough so that when the big dinners happen, the table can be extended and the small sitting furniture rearranged to make way for it. And in the quieter times, it will just beckon. And if you listen closely enough, you’ll hear that song.

 Did we Pass! or Fail on that love-seat? Have you ever made what you might call a “mindful splurge”? Your comments are welcome.



Join the Conversation


  1. Oh my, that floor is GORGEOUS! I’m so glad you didn’t cheap out there. As for the other things, I don’t believe in comparing to what other people would do or what they have. We do what makes us happy and comfortable. If someone else wants to make their furniture out of FedEx boxes, well, YAY for them. Someone else making theirs out of gold bars? Hey, more power to ’em! I doubt they care what I’m doing, so why should I care what they’re doing? Enjoy Ruth! You guys have worked hard for it. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you like the floor. We are very happy with it. I’m with you on the “don’t compare yourself to other people thing” – but this IS a blog about getting out of debt, and I’m going for disclosure here. We spent more on those ottomans and than love-seat than any die-hard frugal type would – and that did give me some self-doubt. But given everything else (ie. the fact that we saved up for it all and gave it lots of consideration), I do believe we’ve made the right decisions. I will take your advice and enjoy it! We’re enjoying it already, and it’s not nearly done : )

  2. Like you said, frugality is relative. With each purchase, even if it’s not frugal in someone else’s eyes, was well thought out by you and planned, and that’s the most important thing. It’s when anyone spends mindlessly that it becomes a problem, unless they have so much disposable income it doesn’t even matter.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Tonya. I think I’m transitioning from a “frugal” outlook to a “mindful” outlook when it comes to money management. I used to be very mindless in my spending – and I’m so glad I got over that way of being!

    1. Thank you, Brian! “No budget broken or new debt added…” That’s exactly it. (So I’ll stop second guessing myself : )

  3. We admire people like the Frugalwoods or Mr Money Mustache who seem to live at an extreme level of frugality with ease — but that is not most of us. Regardless of what others do, you have to decide what’s important to you. What is money for if not to manifest joy in your life? So if having a more comfortable office/living room situation brings joy to your family, then great! As you said, you didn’t go into debt for it, so it’s not causing problems. And as for the loveseat singing to you — that’s a legit reason, too. We’re allowed to want to enjoy the aesthetics of our surroundings! And we think it’s not worth buying cheaply made things you sit or sleep on — mattress, sofas, chairs, etc. So no need to justify any of this to us. Hope you’ve had a nice weekend in your new rooms!

    1. Thank you! “What is money for if not to manifest joy in your life?” I love that! I value all things home, and it does give me a lot of joy to make our home beautiful. We had a great weekend in our new rooms : ) And we’re looking forward to tackling stage 3 of this renovation project. Thanks again!

  4. If you need to feel good about your home spending, you can just look at ours for the year ($15K). We spend money on our house, because we want to live in a pretty place. Its one choice of thousands we have to make.

    This is actually the exact reason we budget. If we want to spend money on something, then we don’t want to feel guilty about it. We don’t feel guilty if our decision has been weighed with all our other priorities in mind too.

    1. Hannah, that DOES make me feel good about our home spending. It’s way less than yours! Of course, as Kay says, I’m not supposed to compare – but it’s worthwhile in this case : ) And I like the simple wisdom of your philosophy: “This is actually the exact reason we budget.” We want to live in a pretty place too : )

  5. I think you passed. It will probably last longer than the others you looked at, and it all comes back to that value based spending we’ve talked about. You’re not going into debt over it, and have thought the trade offs through thoroughly. Pass.

  6. I call it a PASS! You carefully thought through the purchase, and you happened to wait for a sale, even if it was unintentionally.

    Price has to be weighed against value. If you’d gotten something you liked less, wouldn’t you have been more likely to replace it sooner? Or if you’d gotten something of lower quality, you might have to replace it sooner.

    I had a horrible time paying as much as we did for a friggin’ bed when it came time to replace ours. It took me at least a month to accept that we’d be spending so much. But it *is* better than our old one. We don’t get the sweat pockets we did with the memory foam. And that’s huge for Tim, since sweat pockets lead to rashing.

    1. Thanks Abigail. I’m kind of glad that you “had a horrible time” in paying for your new bed. Obviously, it was a worthwhile purchase, but like me, you struggled to accept it. I always find comfort in knowing that others go through the same types of mind-challenges that I continue to encounter on this journey out of debt. Thanks again : )

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