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Diary of a Mad Renovator: The Benefits of a Budget Book

Written by Jaqui Lividini

One of the most important ingredients in a successful renovation project is the creation and implementation of a budget book. The budget book will function as a bible, the road map to success.

Any renovation project is filled with paperwork, so it’s essential to find a good system to manage it all, and a budget book gets the job done. In my current project I have nearly 100 AWOs (approved work orders), and the book provides me with the necessary context and order to get each task completed correctly. An AWO, for the uninitiated, is a piece of paper reflecting work that was not included in the original budget proposal, but had to be added sometime during the renovation process. A good example in our beach cottage project is the insulation for the ceiling of our garage. The ceiling of the garage doubles as the floor of the house, so it of course needs to be insulated, which was anticipated at the onset of the planning stage. So, AWO number one is born and goes in the budget book. There are also occasionally credits (though not as often as I’d like) for work we planned on doing but didn’t actually end up following through with. For instance, we planned on having tile in the downstairs bathroom, but it was eventually replaced with wainscoting, so we ended up with a credit and a new AWO. Both should be signed and entered into budget book. 

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with all this. Documentation is key! The budget book for the beach cottage is three years in the making and it is MAMMOTH in size and scope. But all of the records are necessary, because without them, I wouldn’t remember things that I will need to know down the line. The purpose of the budget book is to make an unwieldy and sometimes very complicated process a bit easier to manage.  

My budget books are broken down into three sections. The first section is the calendar where every week is organized by month. Each day we have a meeting is written down in the book like a diary and includes information such as who was at the meeting and what was discussed and decided upon. These entries can later be cross-referenced with pertinent project emails. I also include progress reports for each month with photos in the calendar section. This is of the utmost importance because when you later forget necessary details, everything you need is notated in your budget book, so you’re good to go! Next up is the budget section, which includes budget worksheets, paid checks, deposits, check numbers, and approved work orders (AWOs). Thank God I had this in place for my beach house project, because our contractor misplaced a check I had issued by coding it to another client account! But because I had all the necessary data in the budget book, the problem was quickly resolved. The third and final section is for credits, which as I mentioned earlier, is sadly much smaller than the AWOs. I originally had an additional section for supplies, fixtures, and kitchen appliances we needed to order, but it didn’t fit, so I created a separate book for these types of items.

The bottom line is that after eight renovations, I am certain that keeping a budget book is an essential part of every renovation project’s success. Think of it as a diary designed to keep you on course and help steer the ship when the waters get rough— because they always do. But with this important tool in your arsenal, you’ll soon be back to peaceful waters!

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