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The importance of budgeting and 7 tricks to ace your budget

Financial literacy and discipline is a necessary virtue of the designer, and we’ve made it a simple process

computer showing a budget and balance sheet
The importance of budgeting and 7 tricks to ace your budget
Clara Carlino de Paz
August 3, 2022

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It’s time to talk about budgeting. We know, we know, it’s not the sexiest topic around. However, it is the bread and butter of every designer, and it’s not an easy science to dominate. While it may seem like a lost cause to create a budget you can stick to, there are certain tips you can incorporate into your practice to improve.

Why is budgeting important? 

A budget can be defined as an estimate of expenses throughout a specific time period. In the context of interior design, it is the amount of money clients are willing to spend on a design. This can include architectural drawings, furniture, contractors, paint and all other services required to complete a project. Budgets can be done per room or per house, depending on the flexibility of the clients and the scope of the project.

A solid budget is the foundation to any great design that meets the needs and wants of a client. The budget will determine the breadth, length and complexity of a project, and will shift the elements, ornaments and furniture chosen in it. Depending on the budget chosen between you and the client, the project will change in its outcome and process. 

To clients, budget matters because it allows them some foresight into the future of the project and their own financial lives. Knowing how much a project is expected to cost allows clients to decide how much can be allocated for unforeseen expenses or last minute upgrades at the end of a project. It also enables them to make choices outside of a project to enable the design to happen in the first place. While going over budget dramatically can be a simple mishap for a designer, it can be a true tragedy for a client, so as a designer it is a duty to create a budget that is resilient and flexible.

Of course, designers are some of the most important beneficiaries of having a budget that reflects the realities of a client. Knowing how much money is available will set clear boundaries and opportunities for the designer, and will determine how a project can look and how creative the designer/client pair will have to be.

Now that you know why budgeting is key to every design, it is time to get to the meat of it all – how do you go about estimating the cost of such complex projects accurately and as stress-free as possible? 

1. Don’t skirt around the issue of money

Mum’s around the world have told us: “Don’t talk about politics, religion or money”. However, in this case it is important to speak about money without stigma or hesitation. For many of us, it can be difficult and even uncomfortable to be transparent about the subject. The easiest way to lean into it is to start talking about money early on in the relationship with a client, and to speak based on facts. If you still don’t feel comfortable giving certain estimates, feel free to call an expert or ask for quotes when you need them. Obviously, as much as truth is the best policy, some clients may be sensitive around the subject of money, so make sure you’re being empathetic and delicate when asking questions and writing numbers down. Projects come in all shapes and sizes and none should be talked down if both parties want to collaborate.

2. Give your client options

A problem (or a dream) can have more than one journey – and more than one budget. Same goes with different styles, aesthetics and preferences. Before setting a clear budget, talk through different budget options and the limitations and opportunities in each. This will help clients visualise what they’re spending their money on, allowing them to make better decisions.

3. Include a buffer in all estimates

For many, adding a buffer in a budget is an automatic formality, but many forget to do this for the sake of positivity and cramming in as much as possible in a tight budget. Whoever the client is or whatever the project looks like, add a little extra on the sides. Chances are that will be eaten up, even if everything goes as planned.

4. Budget for unforeseen circumstances from the outset

If architecture, construction and design have shown us anything, it’s that the Yiddish proverb “Man plan and God laughs” is accurate to a T. When setting out your budget per project or per room, also include an aside for emergencies or last-minute needs. Talk to your client about what this could be used for if not needed, so that nothing goes to waste. 

5. Take your time with your client prioritising expenses

Not all clients care about the same things, so make sure you’re creating a budget that reflects clients’ needs. Ask questions about their desires, and where they’re willing to invest more or less. This will make it easier for them to make decisions off the cuff, and for you to propose project solutions that make sense to them. With that being said, guide your clients appropriately if their priorities don’t align with the realities and requirements of a design. Even if they don’t care about piping all that much, safety and pragmatism always come first.

6. If big issues come up, give different options and budgets

A leak, termites, an old destructive fire, rats, asbestos – some issues can turn a project upside down. When these arise, offer your clients as many differently-priced solutions as possible. This will help you both gain a sense of control, track how much the budget has had to increase and decide what elements can be sacrificed. 

7. Reconvene on a regular basis to track project creep

Budgets get surpassed when they’re left unattended. Meet up with your clients regularly to track your spending and progress – and avoid project creep.

We hope you enjoyed this breakdown of budgeting – and how to ace it from the get-go. You can subscribe to our newsletter for more design content.