By Eric on November 18, 2013 16

Real Money Talk: Finishing Our Basement


This past spring (I think it was April), we decided to get serious about saving/earning money to fund a big project: finishing our basement. I say big, because when it’s all said and done, it will nearly double our living square footage (the benefits of owning a Midwest ranch).

We didn’t necessarily cut a bunch of expenses or get big raises or bonuses, but rather we simply started focusing our budgeting efforts toward a goal. The goal for the total project, furnishings and all, is $10,000. Last time we blogged about this project, a commenter asked why we set such an arbitrary number.

It’s a great question that I don’t have a great answer for. It’s a nice round number that sounds both attainable and realistic to stick to. The hardest part about the project of this size is not knowing how much everything costs.

I know, I know, we should price it all out and then set a budget. The truth is, we’re approaching the project in chunks (office first, then playroom, etc.), and will be doing most of the work ourselves. We have a great head-start on the funding of the project, and we can always save up more as we go if needed (hopefully not).

Oh, yeah, this is a real money talk, so we want to be as real as possible. Not from a posture of bragging, but from a posture of openness so you can see how something like this might be possible for you and your financial goals. (Read our debt-free story to see more of how we paid off our debt and got to where we are now, or pick up a copy of my book.)

We got busy trying to make extra cash!

  • Ebates rewards: $97.84
  • Bank account interest: $268.54
  • Selling clothing and camera lenses on eBay: $182.40
  • Selling Kelsey’s old bike: $20
  • Babble ebook payments (more to come on this later!): $300
  • Hauling tile for Kelsey’s dad: $410
  • Cash gift: $500
  • Blog sponsorships: $230.44
  • Amazon Associates: $66.74
  • rewardStyle earnings: $107.66
  • Diamond class action settlement check: $133.44 (a nice little surprise check that came in the mail)
  • The Family Playbook sales: $111.19
  • It’s Your Money book royalties: $185.40
  • You Need a Budget referrals: $258
  • Freelance editing (Kelsey): $78

TOTAL: $2,907.65

I am honestly amazed that by putting our heads down and hustling, we were able to earn this much in just a few months. We sold stuff, we took on extra opportunities and we got lucky. We also have to withhold taxes on all the money we’ve earned, so the actual number of dollars that have been made vs. what we get to move to the Finish Basement category on our budget is quite a bit lower.

However, we’ve also been able to squeeze out a lot of extra money from our budget. Specifically from extra paychecks. We each get paid 26 times a year, which means we get four extra paychecks a year. The last two that have come up, we’ve put those entire paychecks toward our basement goal.

As a result, we’re currently sitting on a total amount saved of $4,512.22. We’re nearly halfway there! The feeling is amazing to know that we can start working on the project (this weekend!) and not have to stress about the money or having to pay it off later. Of course, we’ll shop for the best deals along the way, too.

We’ll be sure to keep updating as the project progresses. My dad is coming down this weekend to help me get started framing the walls…



Husband to Kelsey. Father to Rooney. Follower of Jesus. Born and raised in Iowa. I like blogging. Bulleted lists excite me. Thanks for stopping by.

  1. Awesome job. It feels so great to set and attain a goal. Keep up the great work!

    We have been doing a lot of side hustling, too. (reffing, selling things, teaching a night class, etc). We are saving to build a ranch style house so, like you, we have some sweet square footage to live in.

  2. We have started working on developing our basement too and have so far been able to complete the framing and electrical rough ins for only $24.00 (cost of nails). I am lucky to work for a home builder so we always have some extra lumber after framing our houses. It took us about a month to save up enough lumber to complete the framing but it was all free. My husband is an electrician so we were able to complete all the electrical rough ins with what would be waste at his jobs. If you haven’t already bought the lumber I would call up a bunch of home builders in your area and see if they have any extra that you could have or get for cheap off of them. I know for us if no one takes it or if we cant find a spot to re-use it we end up just throwing it out. We are also lucky that we have some friends and contacts in construction so whenever they are doing a renovation job and there are left overs of stuff that they are told to get rid of they ask us first if we want it. We managed to get $3000 worth of ceiling tiles that they needed to get rid of for the cost of a bottle of scotch. Cant beat that savings! I guess what i’m trying to say is think outside of the box when it comes to your basement. Ask around for deals talk to some home builders etc. you never know what kind of savings might be hidden where you least expect it.

    • What?! That’s amazing. I had no idea. Unfortunately, (here comes the excuse) I don’t really know many contractors in the area, and we’re going to be working on this in 5 days (my dad is traveling a few hours to help).

  3. We too are working towards finishing our basement. We have a smaller basement footprint (we have a two story home) and we are really struggling with a realistic amount. We recently have had a few people in to give us quotes…and are still waiting on those numbers. We are planning to do a lot of the work ourselves and have an idea what we want to spend. We thought that getting a quote would help us make sure we are realistic and make us aware of things we may not have considered in the costs. It is very exciting to think about increasing the finished space in our house!! Ours will mainly be a play room space with an area for tv/movie watching… really a kids zone:)

    • That’s awesome Molly! I’m afraid we severely under-budgeted for this project. The more we plan and price things out, the more I’m realizing how expensive this is going to be. Albeit very good and fun, the price tag will be high…

  4. We finished about 400 square feet of our basement – a closet, a living space, and a wet bar and when we started we drastically under-budgeted – even after trying to price everything out down to the buckets of nails and screws. We started from the bare bones – cement foundation and floor – and had to frame, insulate, and drywall everything – and run all the electrical. We covered all the costs for the major work with what we had saved (doing all the work ourselves except for a very small fee to an electrician friend to check our work). We did do some overkill – for example, most people don’t insulate their basement ceiling, but we chose to do so to reduce noise – we noticed this issue between our second floor bedrooms and our main floor living room – even when the tv volume is way down, we can hear it through the ceiling slightly if our upstairs is quiet. We wanted to avoid that between our basement and main floor. The finishing work is what shocked us – we felt like we were “almost done” with the “big expenses” since we had walls and electricity and lights – but then we went to look at trim, carpet, tile, paint, a sink for the bar, etc. and realized it would be more than anticipated – especially if you don’t plan to use the cheapest, low-quality products. We were overwhelmed with how quickly that added up and had to slowly progress on those projects as we “saved along the way”. In the end it was a great learning experience, but I feel like our eyes are WIDE open if we ever plan to tackle something like this again. :-) I wish you guys patience and good luck!! :-)

    • Thanks for the story. We haven’t even started yet, and I’ve been praying for patience. Especially as I’m realizing how much everything is going to cost. Then it’s not even physical work that will take the time, but rather just saving enough money to complete the work.

    • Yikes. I feel like this project is going to test our relationship ;)

  5. Hi guys! Just curious if you have a radon mitigation system or are putting one in during the renovation (or maybe your house doesn’t need one at all!) We plan to leave our basement unfinished for a while, but know that we need to put one in sooner rather than later since our house tested for very high levels of radon during inspection when we bought it. Just something this post made me think of! Good luck with everything. We’re currently saving for a complete kitchen remodel & we’ve had a few estimates that opened our eyes to how much we had underbudgeted :/

  6. We just finished a 680 sq ft basement with a 3/4 bath ourselves in Johnston and spent $6,000 on materials….$2,100 of that was carpet. So it may be doable on that budget.

    Good luck and can’t wait to see the progression!

    • Fun! My dad owns a floor covering business, so lucky for us, our flooring (and walk-in tiled shower) will not cost us a dime, which will certainly help us in our attempt to stay under budget!

  7. We finished 1100sf of basement, a very large great room, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. The total cost was right about $10,000. We did everything ourselves. Our biggest savings was going with stained concrete floors and adding rugs rather than carpet. It definitely was a relationship tester, but we are stronger because of it.

    Good luck!

    • Awesome! We are choosing to add some slightly-more-expensive things to our basement like faux brick, glass, deep sink, built-in cabinets, mini kitchenette, walk-in shower, etc., and maybe a paneled ceiling/wall, stone and fireplace…so we’ll have to see which of those items get the boot when it comes down to money!

  8. do you have a ReStore or a building salvage yard? might be too late to get studs and such for this weekend, but you can save some serious cash and get really unique figures – lights, faucets, door knobs, etc. it’s hit and miss, but those treasure hunts can be so fun!

    we’re just starting to finish what is currently a storage room into a den in our apartment. let’s just say… i’m really happy our landlord is footing the bill :-) it’s a great learning experience for us as we get to experience the hands on/diy aspect and get a great perspective on the cost without having to spend our own money.

    • Hey Kaylan, We do have a ReStore and went and checked it out a few weeks ago. I might have missed the fact that they had lumber there (didn’t see any), but we’ve got it in mind to keep checking as the project moves along. There are pretty good deals there.

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