How to stay sane and solvent during building work

We’re having some more building work done on our little money-sucking black hole, sorry, house. Hurrah! It’s shit, obviously. Shit, but entirely necessary.

trashed house building work

Building work and materials pricing aside, the duration and nature of the work itself leads to various budget-murdering expenses so I thought it might be timely to have a money-saving article about that side of things.

As a quick intro, the project itself is as under control as these things can be, because of the following factors:

  • Reliable building firm
  • Very, very specific work remit
  • Agreement in advance of fixed budget (having previously researched how much this level of work should cost)
  • Reminding people regularly about said fixed budget
  • Secret small contingency fund

The contingency fund exists because last time we had work done, peeling back the wallpaper showed up more than one structural emergency. Prior ‘renovations’ of the house had been carried out illegally and dangerously, and the council’s safety officer had to come in a few times so we knew the exact requirements for fixing everything to the correct safe standard. It happened before, so it’s best to assume it could happen again, given what can only be described as the total effing idiocy of the previous owner.

Also, the contingency fund is secret so that there’s no temptation to up-sell us on anything – best not to put all your cards on the table, even if you’re happy with the company you’re working with.

And now, on to the other expenses….

Expenses you can easily forget to factor in

Even with efficient builders who clean up after themselves, it’s sensible to expect the following:

  • A house full of dust, and things that temporarily don’t work
  • Stress and disruption – however zen you might be
  • Moderately, severely or completely compromised home office

If you can, create small, easily-cleaned temporary areas for living, sleeping and food prep. Then ruthlessly keep them clutter-free and wiped down, if at all possible. It will increase your comfort levels and help to avoid the worst of any stress-related spending, particularly those expenses related to paying for convenience.

Planning ahead helps a lot. The last building work we had done involved replacing the kitchen in addition to the structural repairs, so we created a ‘field kitchen’ in the living room with a fridge-freezer, kettle and microwave. Once I knew the work was scheduled in, I created some home made ‘take aways’ and one-pot dishes such as fish pies, sausage casserole, stew and dumplings etc, and filled the freezer to the brim. Total comfort food, and reasonably healthy too.

It saved a fortune on the related temptations: fancy ready meals, takeaways and pub or restaurant meals. Trust me, however naturally thrifty you might be, there comes a point during protracted renovations where everyone has their breaking point – you will crack and want to order a massive takeout, or hole up in the local pub and give them all your money so you don’t have to be in the hellhole that is technically your home.

Comfort eating and turning to drink are other temptations that may beset you. Again, planning ahead can help. Have a few treats hidden away, such as a multi-pack of snacks, a choc bar, or bottle of wine, but also go to the market or cheap supermarket and get some easy-to-prepare fruit and veggies that don’t need cooking or slicing. A bunch of bananas, or an economy pack of apples or pears are handy, for example.

Staying in in the evenings is the cheapest option all round, so don’t beat yourself up if you have a few nights flaked out just watching telly while all the chaos is going on. It’s also a good idea to find vouchers and meal deals so that you can get out at some point and linger over a cheap meal, away from the plaster dust. Might not be a fancy slap-up dinner, but from a psychological point of view, it’s something nice(ish) to look forward to, and a change is often as good as a rest, given the circumstances.

Another temptation I’ve noticed is ‘comfort shopping’ and the temptation of impulse purchases. Window shopping is technically free, yes, and it gets you out of the house or is a break from telly-and-sofa, but it’s a slippery slope isn’t it? I’ve been diverting my attention from these distractions by having a cup of tea and spending ages making prioritised shopping lists instead – it helps to remind myself of what needs to be bought first, rather than what looks pretty.

My home office is completely out of action at the moment, but I think I’ll write about that separately in an article for freelancers. I’ll never take that home office for granted again though, promise.

Do you have any tips of your own for preventing overspending during home renovations? Would love to hear all about them!

Similar Posts


  1. I totally agree, during building work it’s the takeaway tendencies that cost a fortune so we try and have meals prepared. The last big job we had on we got invites from family and friends most days which was better as it was free x

  2. Hi Paidinchickens – fortunately we have a working kitchen this time around, otherwise we’d be dropping lots of hints to everyone we know 😉 Glad your friends and family rallied around to help.

Comments are closed.