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The Cost of DIY: Lessons From My Basement Remodel Thumbnail

The Cost of DIY: Lessons From My Basement Remodel

Many years ago, Jeanne and I moved into a split-level home. That’s one of those homes where, after entering, you either go upstairs to the main living area or downstairs to the basement. When we moved in, our oldest, Debbie, was about three, and Dana was born about a month after our move in. It was a great home for us, filled with possibilities and dreams for the future. The basement had not been finished, but we had plans to finish it to make it truly ours.  

As with most young couples with small children, money was at a premium. I thought about how much money we could save if I did the work on the basement myself. I had seen people put up walls and cover them with sheetrock. It seemed like physically taxing work, but not complicated. Please remember that this was well before the home computer, much less YouTube. 

Like any growing family, we had decided to trade in Jeanne’s two-door Honda sedan for a Chrysler minivan. To me, this minivan was the Swiss Army knife of vehicles. I decided it would be my building materials hauler for transporting lumberyard to our home (I believe this is where I initially hurt my back, not from loading and unloading supplies but from taking out and putting those seats in and out of the van).   

One of the first things I learned was that building materials are very heavy. I also discovered the minivan could only hold so much weight in sheetrock and lumber. Apparently, it's not good when the van is overloaded; the tires will tend to rub against the wheel wells of the vehicle.  

What seemed like a straightforward project was teaching me how little I knew about doing my project correctly. I quickly discovered that a construction project requires more than just materials, a strong back, and a willingness to do the work.  

Nonetheless, I began gluing and pounding the basement framework together. I came to understand that the saying “measure twice and cut once” is more than just a suggestion. I also realized that pounding nails in the basement when two little girls are trying to nap does not contribute to family harmony.  

My road to self-discovery continues with an appreciation of how difficult it is to hang sheetrock. I should also emphasize the importance of doing things in the right order. I had neglected to install the electrical boxes before the sheetrock went up —another lesson I paid for with time, money, and frustration. 

After three months of working during the day and coming home to work on the basement in the evenings and on weekends, I finally had the basement framed and sheet rocked. By the end of the three months, I understood the need to bring a professional in to finish my project. 

I found a contractor who agreed to look at my project. He would provide me with a proposal to complete the work, and if I agreed, he could begin working right away (those were the days).

The contractor and I walked through the project. He took notes and measurements, and then asked for a moment to put together his proposal.  

Within a few minutes, we got back together. He showed me his proposal, which I thought was fair, especially after three months of trying to do the work myself. After thanking him for the estimate, I said I was ready for him to begin. I also promised him I would never pick up a hammer with thoughts of doing construction from that date forward. What surprised me was what he said next.  

He said he had a second proposal he would like me to consider. I asked why the second proposal.  

He answered that the second proposal would be for him to take down my work and start over. By accepting the second proposal, it would allow the basement to be completed more quickly, and it would be done right. OUCH. 

So why am I sharing this humbling learning experience with you?  

  • The first reason is that learning from other people's mistakes and successes can save you time, money, and heartache.  
    • Time is one of your and my most valuable assets. Spending our time doing things we enjoy brings us happiness. Spending our time on things we are not good at tends to make us miserable. 
  • The second reason is that each of us is good at some things but not others.  
    • Focus on what you are best at. I have borrowed a saying I received from a business coach many years ago. “You can work on your strengths, or you can work on your weaknesses, but if you work on your weaknesses, you will only end up with a lot of strong weaknesses.” 
  • The third item requires us to admit we cannot do it all.  
    • Attempting to do it all sets us up to accomplish less, and usually, if we do those things, they are not done well. 

My story, though maybe funny today, was nothing more than me being blinded by the cost of the project and not factoring in the value I would receive by having someone else do the work. I believed then that the most important part of this project was how much it cost. I completely neglected the impact the project would have on my time, the skills needed to do the job, the impact a project like this would have on my family, what the end product, my basement, would look like, and the enjoyment it would provide us.  

So, how does this relate to your financial life? Those who work with us realize the importance of managing their money, and they recognize the value of having someone other than themselves do the management.  They value the peace of mind of knowing they have that person they can call when they have a question about a purchase or an opportunity presents itself—that they have someone who acts as their professional Rolodex and will provide them with a referral to a professional we have worked with and have confidence in. They have someone who is tracking their long-term progress, and they know they have someone who has created a tailor-made financial solution that will help them achieve their goals.  

Reflecting on my basement project and the lessons learned, I hope my story inspires you to prioritize what truly brings value and joy to your life. Embrace your strengths and seek out professionals for tasks outside your expertise. This approach not only enhances your personal happiness but also ensures quality outcomes, be it in home projects or financial planning. Remember, our time is precious and best spent on what we excel at and love. Let’s all strive to focus on what makes us happy and find peace of mind by entrusting the rest to those who can do it best. Here’s to a future filled with value, joy, and well-managed finances. 

Helping us all live the Good Life,