Bathroom Renovation on a Budget Is a Myth

See the walls from the walk-in closet eating up valuable bathroom space?

Frugality is something I try to incorporate into my daily life. It’s not always easy, but if I can cut costs without sacrificing too much, I do it.

After three years and two bedroom renovations, we’re finally ready to tackle the barely-usable upstairs bathroom. I say “barely usable” because 1) it was L-shaped, with a walk-in closet built into it (think of a smaller square set into a larger square — what’s left outside the smaller square was our bathroom space!) and 2) the shower doors made it near impossible to turn on the water because of their proximity to the toilet.

While I was on maternity leave back in May, I decided to tear down the inner walls of the walk-in closet. In a prior renovation to the hallway, we’d sealed the door to this closet and sheetrocked over it. Now, almost a year later, we’re ready for the bathroom remodel — thank you, big tax refund. Nevermind the bathroom walls are knotty pine (and matching vanity!). Good for a basement bathroom or a shore house, bad for a modern bathroom.

I didn’t realize just how much it would cost to redo our bathroom until I sat down and worked out the costs. I don’t want to cheap out on something that adds value to our home, so we’re looking at mid-range fixtures and will be fixing appliances if and when something goes wrong with them, rather than going with low-cost items. And assuming we stay in our home for the rest of our lives, I don’t plan on redoing this bathroom for 30 years — if ever. If it were up to my husband, we would have never renovated this bathroom. Easy for him to say, since “his” bathroom is downstairs. This upstairs bathroom is a family bathroom, since it sits between two bedrooms.

We’re converting the shower into a tub for Baby (Toddler? Is it time for a new nickname?) Frugalista, and it’s possible I may use it for baths more than a handful of times…

Cost Breakdown

There are so many items that make up a bathroom. It takes more than “just” windows, sheetrock, paint and a light fixture. We’re only tiling the floor and the tub area, and painting the other walls. Here’s what we’ve spent so far and other costs we’ll incur:

Major Stuff

  • Vanity: $700 — this is a “splurge” — I wanted solid-wood construction)
  • Vanity top: $235 — white, integrated sink
  • Tub: $400 — 5-foot, cast-iron, white
  • Toilet: $250 — simple, white
  • Exhaust fan: $50
  • Electric baseboard heater: $75 — we have no heat in this bathroom
  • Sink faucet: $150
  • Tub/shower faucets — $150
  • Shower tile: $150
  • Floor tile: $150

Accessories & Lighting

  • Mirror for over the vanity: $150
  • Vanity light fixture: $100
  • Recessed lighting: $30
  • Towel bar: $30
  • Toilet paper holder (recessed): $20
  • Linen cabinet: $150-$250?
  • Paint: $50


  • Contractor: $3100 includes replacement window, labor, materials (except for tile), sheetrocking, spackling & tilework
  • Electrician: $600 (estimated labor + parts)
  • Plumber: $400 (estimated labor + parts)

TOTAL: $7040


Bathroom Renovations Have a High Return on Investment (ROI)

If my calculations are correct and I don’t choose less-expensive fixtures, nearly $7,000 is not out of the ordinary for a bathroom remodel, particularly in the Northeast. The electrician, contractor and plumber are all family friends, and I did a lot of the teardown myself. The good news is that the return on investment (ROI) on a bathroom renovation is thought to be 80-100% — bathroom and kitchen remodels are high on the list of priorities for home buyers and sellers.

Also, I haven’t just gone with the first fixtures I see. Once I decide on a fixture, I’ve been shopping around and purchasing them from the lowest-priced retailer or supply store. I really want this bathroom to look nice and be comfortable, since we plan to use it for years and years to come.

Have you remodeled a bathroom? Were your costs similar to ours?

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