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?

Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) Can Be a Drain on Your Wallet

Consumerism Commentary had a timely blog post on friends who are Multi-Level Marketers and sell their Tastefully Simple, Pampered Chef, and Mary Kay wares in social situations. Just a few days prior, I attended a small Mary Kay “party” at a good friend’s house — she was the host, and an acquaintance of hers conducted the evening. In order to protect the contents of my wallet, I usually avoid these things like the plague. That does say something about my willpower, but also speaks to the sales skills of the multi-level marketer.

It was three of us and the marketer, and we snacked on puff pastry appetizers, chips and salsa, and some wine. I and my two other friends are all mothers of 1-year-old children, so having some “mommy time” is always a good idea.

There was no hard sell, but the MLM salesperson was very proud of her line and explained a lot about each product as we were led through a skincare regimen. Afterward, we were encouraged to provide her with contact information for 5 other people in order to “win” a makeup-application brush, which we did (sorry, IRL friends).

In the end, I walked away with $80 in Mary Kay products — cleanser, moisturizer, primer and foundation. Does it make it any better than I paid by check rather than credit card? Slightly. Did I spend the least money of the three of us? Absolutely.

At least I demonstrated minimal restraint — right?

Appropriate Pitches and Inappropriate Tactics

While I try to avoid the all-out “parties,” I always fail when it comes to the food-related sales in the office, which are generally school fundraisers for co-workers’ children.

First of all, there’s the Girl Scout cookie sales. While most troops sell around the same time in my area, they tend to overlap. And if I buy from one person, I feel morally obligated to buy from everyone (but honestly, I just love my Samoas). This happens twice a year, I believe.

Then there are Easter candy sales, specialty foods sales (think cheese, crackers and smoked meats), and holiday gift-wrap sales. These I don’t mind so much, either, because a portion of the money goes toward the schools. And Mr. Not-So-Frugal just loves him some sticks of pepperoni.

One of the commenters on Consumerism Commentary mentioned she was forced to endure a sales pitch in the middle of a bachelorette party — it was worked in, supposedly with the blessing of the bride-to-be. Now that’s sneaky — and inappropriate, in my book.

I’ll continue to minimize the number of MLM pitches I attend, because I almost always wind up buying something. But there was that one time I walked away from a PartyLite even with nothing but freebies…

READERS: Do you feel pressured to buy something when you attend these parties? Or do you leave empty-handed and guilt-free?

The Best Credit Card Deals For You

Is there such a thing as a good credit card? It can be good if you benefit financially from being the proud owner of one.

Money Beagle wonders if the Costco American Express True Rewards credit card will be a good fit for him and his wife. This card offers a rewards program that gives a yearly certificate toward an in-store Costco purchase after you earn 3% on gas purchases (4% if it’s the business version of the Costco Card), 2% on other categories (such as restaurants) and 1% on everything else. If you’re a Costco member, there’s no annual fee on the card.

This sounds like a good card for his family, since they are already Costco members and do a bunch of shopping there. Obviously, if you choose to go with a card where most of the perks revolve around a certain store or restaurant, you’d best be a good customer to make the most out of your perks.

I’m a fan of my Chase Sapphire card, which is one of the best credit card dealsI’ve found that benefits me and the way I spend money (you can find the credit card deal that suits you best via comparison sites like Since I don’t use my credit cards for the typical gas purchases and restaurant tabs, this card is a one-size-fits-all for me, as I earn 1 point for every dollar spent on purchases. Sometimes, there are bonus points for viewing a Chase promotional video or other customer-driven interaction.

Instead of using my points on gift cards or baubles, I’m able to use them to reduce my credit card balance, which is exactly what I did this week — $60 came right off. My Capital One Rewards credit card points can also be used in the same manner, but only after I meet a certain threshold of 5,000 points. The Chase Sapphire threshold is 2,000, I believe.

But the best credit card deal I’ve got going is definitely my FIA credit card, with a paltry 6.24% interest rate — that’s half of what my other two major credit cards are charging in interest. And I’ve got a stellar, near-800 credit score (or above, depending on the credit reporting bureau). So if I’m going to carry a large balance for more than a month or two (think new furniture or the medical bills from Baby Frugalista’s birth), I’ll put it on the FIA card.

Of course, there’s always something: I just received a notice that Bank of America (gasp!) is taking over my FIA card. I’m not thrilled about this development, but we’ll see how it shakes out. Hopefully, it will still be the best credit card deal in my wallet.

Do you have a go-to credit card? What makes it stand out for you?

Confession: We’re Overspending

Our credit card balance is still much higher than it should be, even with us making major payments toward it. We went overboard at Christmas, with a laptop for my husband and a new desk for my home office for me, gifts for Baby Frugalista’s first Christmas, and also had bought a new TV stand with a hutch for our living room to replace the old unsafe stand meant for an old-school TV. While we have been upgrading our furniture in the past year, it’s the first time I’ve done so in 8 years. These new items are sturdy and well-made, and I hope they’ll last us 10-20 years. So they’re not everyday expenses. That being said, it’s time to put the credit cards on “freeze” and stop using them until our balance is paid off.

The good news is that about 2/3 of our credit card debt is at 0% interest through the summer. I’d originally wanted to pay it all off by March, but now I see that won’t happen. I could use some of our savings to pay it off, but I’d rather keep that account untouched because it’s our emergency and house-repair fund. Instead, I’ve been freelancing and selling a few of our old things, such as furniture pieces, and using that money to pay down the debt. I will have the one credit card that is charging us interest paid off by March, at least.

Little Bites

— Baby Frugalista is almost 1 year old! I can’t believe how quickly time flies. We’ll celebrate her Groundhog Day birthday with a little cake and thankfulness that our preemie is thriving — you’d never know she was only 4 pounds when she came home from the hospital.

— Also one year later, I’m finally getting closer to my pre-pregnancy weight. 14 pounds down, 10 to go. Not too shabby for doing it through the December holidays and all the food that comes with that time of year. I’ve also been jogging on the treadmill at the gym a few times a week, and I can do about a mile in one shot. Which is absolutely amazing, considering my previous record was 1/4 mile… at the age of 19. If I ever get pregnant again, I will NOT gain 45-50 pounds. And remember, I only had a 4.5-pound preemie!

— New year, new health insurance. And higher co-pays for my birth control pills. My husband’s employer claimed everything would stay the same, but I guess the prescription drug list is different for this company.


Little Bites: Christmas Shopping, Credit Cards & Cleaning

So far, December has been a busy month, financially. We did our Christmas shopping for Baby Frugalista (and, as first-time parents, I can say with confidence that I think we went overboard). We know she’s going to get a bunch of stuff from others, and we should have taken into account that her 1st birthday is just 5 weeks after Christmas, but we just couldn’t help ourselves.

Then Mr. Not-So-Frugal and I got each other fairly expensive, combination Christmas/birthday gifts — yes, we already know about them. Buzzkill, but he wanted his first-ever non-work-issue laptop NOW and I had to order myself a new desk for my home office. I suppose we’re making up for last year, when we barely did gifts because I was pregnant and we were trying to save money. This year, we decided we had the means to spend a bit more than usual, and they are things that we actually needed. Plus, we both have birthdays that are just weeks away from Christmas, so we almost always do one bigger gift to cover both events.

Because the new purchases were put on a credit card, I decided to completely pay off the balance on our one interest-charging credit card in anticipation of doing it all over again when the January statement arrives. Our other two major credit cards have balances at 0% interest that will last until mid-2012, so we still have time to pay those off, too. It’s not an ideal situation, and as a personal finance blogger, I’m a bit embarrassed to even admit we have a credit card balance of a few thousand dollars. Much of it was from Baby Frugalista’s birth and our hospital stay, but I deferred payment while I was out on maternity leave and wanted to rebuild our savings before tackling those balances. That’s why we’re just getting to it now, and why I’d transferred those balances to cards with 0% interest offers.

In anticipation of the desk shipping from Amazon (hurry up!), I’ve been cleaning out my two 5-shelf bookcases. They won’t match the new desk, and I may put them up for sale and get a new, shorter and baby-safe bookshelf instead. I have numerous copies of dictionaries and thesauri, but I can’t bring myself to part with them… yet. Old papers have been shredded, and little knickknacks either thrown away or put in a box for storage. There is just too much paper in my office, and I’ve got the cleaning bug.

In between all of this, I’ve been decorating the house for Christmas. The tree is up, and today, I start decorating it while my little elf helps. I’ve always loved this time of year.


Crest 3D White Advanced Vivid Whitestrips and a Box of Hair Dye

“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.”

— Carly Simon

It doesn’t take much to make me feel a bit better about myself and how I look. I’ve never been too into looks — back in high school, some of you may remember my uniform of jeans, boots and a flannel shirt with my wallet in my back pocket — but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken more interest in the way I look. Call it vanity or self-esteem, but I’ve learned to put on makeup without looking like a clown and expanded my wardrobe (although the jeans and boots have yet to be kicked to the curb). I get pedicures, and once in a while, when my nails are long enough, I’ll let the one of the Korean ladies at the nail salon give me a manicure, too.

I’ve even been going to the gym on my lunch hour. While I can’t spend a ton of time there, every minute on the treadmill or elliptical is a minute more than what I’d been doing: nothing. Between the gym and a modified diet, I’m starting to see results, finally. Baby weight, be gone!

So tonight, I decided it was time for a little pampering. My grays are making themselves known again, and I don’t like it. Before the baby, I never cared, but now that I’m a mom, it suddenly matters to me that I not look old. So I whipped out my $7.99 box of dark brown hair dye (mimicking my natural hair color) and went to town. And while the color sat on my hair, I slapped a pair of Crest 3D White Advanced Vivid Whitestrips on my teeth.

Why the teeth whitening strips? Well, all the coffee I’ve inhaled since Baby Frugalista’s arrival has done a number on my pearly whites. Well, “pearly” is a stretch, because I have a can of Coke Zero every day, but the coffee compounded the issue. And the coffee stains a lot more than the tea I used to have in the morning. So I blew $30 on a medium-strength-peroxide version of the Crest Whitestrips. We’ll see if it’s worth it in the end. I haven’t used them in years, but the original Crest Whitestrips actually did a good job 5 years ago for the “low” price of $20.

Now all I have to do is follow through with the whitening strips, and maybe get that pedicure I’ve been dreaming about for 3 months. Yeah. Right. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Enter to Win!

I’d ordered the Crest Whitestrips long before I saw that Shannyn at Frugal Beautiful is giving away a similar Crest Whitestrips product. To get your own box of Crest 3D White Professional Effects Whitestrips (these have a higher strength of peroxide and work even faster), head over to Frugal Beautiful to learn how to enter her giveaway!

Stores I’m Not Allowed to Go to Anymore

No, I’m not talking about stores that no longer let me through their doors — I’m talking about stores that I really need to avoid, because my wallet has taken a beating lately. Actually, it all started right before Baby Frugalista was born back in February: I “needed” a bunch of things to make this house “baby-ready.” Can you smell the sarcasm coming through my air quotes?

We had to paint the upstairs room that had been renovated — well, that’s a no-brainer. Then I needed a matching comforter & sheet set. Curtains for the living room, because I’d just ordered new couches. Then there was all the baby stuff that hadn’t been lovingly gifted to me by family and friends.

Now, I can’t step foot in a major retail store without dropping $100 or more.

Where It All Goes Wrong

Target: This is where I get baby formula and food. And snacks. And cat food and litter. And that super-cute-just-gotta-have-it sleeper for Baby Frugalista.

Bed, Bath & Beyond: Even pre-baby, this place was death to our bank account. If I have a weakness for spending on anything, it’s spending on stuff for the home. Decor, bedding, kitchen gadgets. Then they started carrying coffee K-cups! I was just set up to fail in this store.

Babies R Us: Pretty self-explanatory. Baby clothes! Baby shoes! Baby food! Diapers! Sippy cups! Empty wallet!

Kohl’s: I tend to go here when I need a specific item of clothing, or a new pair of shoes. I usually have some combination of a 30% off coupon, a gift card, and/or Kohl’s Cash. And then I drop $150 on stuff for the whole family. And the house (again). And I just HAD to get that new shirt for the baby (even though she has 1098434 other ones).

Most of my spending revolves around the baby, whether it’s for her or for me as a result of birthing her (like the new wardrobe I needed post-pregnancy — grr). While I can easily deny myself a new pair of shoes, that doesn’t stop me from buying the baby two pairs of booties if I see them. Do other parents have this same problem? My only solution is to avoid these stores as often as possible.