Sunday, September 30, 2007

Stages of Spending

Well, apparently my laptop didn’t appreciate the recent poem I wrote, because on Friday the screen stopped working altogether. So I’ve sent it back to MacDocs and told them not to give it back until it has learned its lesson. Giving it some tough love, you know. It has to be done sometimes.

In the meantime, Ryan brought home from work his old computer, which has been relegated to basically the status of gigantic external hard drive. Gigantic space-wise, not storage amount, though. The computer is probably five years old, which makes it almost ready for Antiques Roadshow. It works great, though, if any computer which still needs a cord to connect it to the internet can be considered great. For now it is going to sit on my desk in the craft room and be used for writing and hopefully doing digital scrapbooking. I brought the router upstairs so I could plug this bad boy in. Can’t be without the internet, after all, it might hamper my productivity. Ha ha.

There’s an old saying that goes “The only sure things in life are death and spending too much money on something.” That’s just a paraphrase, of course, but it couldn’t be more true. Ryan and I are gearing up to spend an obscene amount of money in the next few weeks, and Ryan, in his observational wisdom, is watching me go through what he calls my “Stages of Spending.” These would be similar in concept to the Stages of Grief and while there have been books and studies written about the Stages of Grief, I think I am blazing new ground with this theory. If anyone wants to use my theory in their dissertation, just let me know.

When we bought our house in January 2004, it had a recently finished basement, all updated bathrooms, and new hardwood and tile floor in the whole house. It was beautifully done, but the only room that hadn’t been touched was the kitchen. It was an eyesore. The cabinets had been restained, basically just some stain slopped over the existing stain. The hinges were even stained, which I learned when I attempted to take the cabinet doors off to repaint them. The countertops were covered in a layer of grunge, making the entire counter a slightly darker shade than it would normally be. I learned this when I took a Magic Eraser to the counter and large swathes of the real color appeared. But not even Magic could clean the entire counter, which is just such a gross concept I can barely think about it.

So we knew going in that we wanted to remodel the kitchen, but we chose to use all of our money as a down payment instead doing it right away. Now that we’ve lived with the crappy kitchen for 3 years and 9 months, we’re done, we can’t take another minute of it.

The nice thing about waiting so long to remodel the kitchen is that we know what we want, what we like and don’t like and how we think we can make the best use of our limited space. The bad thing is that everything we want is so incredibly expensive I can barely function.

Let me take you through my Stages of Spending.

The first stage is Excitement and Research. We decided that at the beginning of the school year, we’d start looking into new kitchens. It had come down to remodeling the kitchen or buying a second car, and Ryan wanted the kitchen badly enough that he swore he’d walk to and from work all winter and not make me pick him up if we could do the kitchen instead of the car. So I looked at magazines and remodeling websites. I let my brain start dreaming of the most incredible things, like an island with a built-in sink, a microwave drawer instead of a traditional microwave that takes up counter space, pop-up shelves for my KitchenAid mixer and my food processor, a variety of specialized cabinets and sliding shelves and organizers. Built-in spice organizer. Pull-down cookbook holder. A desk in the kitchen. Fancy cabinets with glass doors and lighting for china. A wall oven, or better yet, a double wall oven. A special place for all of my cookbooks and also my laptop. A place for everything and everything in it’s place. I wanted nothing left on the counters. We were starting from scratch, and I could have anything I wanted. Ryan left all functionality-related decisions to me, while appearance was his domain. It was a heady, thrilling time.

It lasted about a week. Then I moved into Stage Two – Reality.

The Reality of the situation is that we have a relatively small kitchen, and the majority of what I wanted just wouldn’t fit. Yes, I could have the pop-up shelf for my mixer, but it would take up an entire cabinet, and since I only have three base cabinets, I can’t sacrifice the space. The spice rack I was imagining pretty much doesn’t exist. We don’t have room for a shrine to my cookbooks or laptop, no matter how much I love either thing. A desk would just be a huge pile of papers and junk. A thousand, million reasons that things wouldn’t work – but mostly, there just was not enough space for it all. It’s quite deflating.

Incidentally, about every six weeks I decide that we need to go on a vacation, and I’ll happen across a deal on the internet that strikes my fancy. I’ll get all excited, start thinking about dates, looking up plane ticket prices and try to figure out what to do with the kids (bring them? Ditch them?) And then I get to Stage Two, and that’s where it all ends. My vacation fantasies never survive the Reality of Stage Two.

Reality really hit for us as we started talking to kitchen designers at a few different places. We went to a custom cabinet place which taught us about the different kinds of wood, quality of drawers, and the difference between custom and modular cabinets. We went back to the Research phase and tweaked our plans, came up with our list of absolutely must-haves, and went to a second place, called Kitchens Direct, which specialized in modular cabinets. This was an interesting foray into Reality, because the guy we talked to there tried to talk us out of everything we wanted. Fancy glass-fronted cabinets? A useless waste of money. Moving the sink so I’d have more uninterrupted counterspace? Water’s going to get everywhere. Higher-end drawers that hold 120 lbs. (or roughly one pre-schooler) and dovetail joints? Completely unnecessary, the cheap ones work just fine. We want solid surface countertops – the custom guy had tried to upsell us to quartz, this guy said “Have you seen the new laminates?” I was so irritated that I wanted to just walk right out of there. No one wants to be upsold by a pushy salesperson, but I certainly didn’t want to be downsold by some idiot who assumes that we can’t afford anything nice and if he’s going to make a sale he needs to get the bottom line as low as possible. Or whatever he was thinking. I’ve never experienced anything like it at all.

Back to Research one more time, and went to Lowe’s. Here’s where we struck gold. There is a display kitchen in their showroom that Ryan and I both looked at and instantly fell in love with. That was the one, it was perfect, and we both loved it. We made an appointment to talk to Jerry, a kitchen designer, who spent a few minutes telling us about the different companies Lowe’s offers, telling us which brands are more or less expensive, which offer more or fewer options for customization, which have faster delivery dates.

Reality was good to us this time. Jerry listened to everything we wanted and made no judgments. We asked him a million questions and he was knowledgeable and gave advice without making us feel stupid or like we had poor taste. When we’d throw an idea at him, he’d work it into the plans, and when we’d say, Nah, forget it, it was no big deal to him.

This is such a big project that the lines between the stages are kind of nebulous, but we are moving from Reality to Stage Three, Decision. We know what we want, we’ve gone back to Jerry a second time to refine the details, add some things and take some out, and he’s coming over Monday morning to take final measurements and then I think we’ll be ready to place the order.

Which means that I have hit Stage Four, and hit it hard – Stage Four, Terror. Some decisions, like buying our minivan, were expensive but cut-and-dry. Every minivan costs $25,000ish, it was just a matter of picking the one we wanted. There was no terror involved. But this is huge. The decisions we’re making we’ll have to live with for 20 years or more. What if we spend all this money, and I hate it? What if the color of the cabinets looks horrible with the color of the floor? Or the countertop? What if I have too many drawers, and too few cabinets? Or vice versa? What if moving the sink was a bad idea after all? I haven’t bought anything yet, and I’ve got pre-buyer’s remorse.

Terror is a painful stage. It is the Stage that comes when I’ve made the decision but have time to wait and ponder and dwell before the actual purchase is delivered. When there is no time after the decision, I skip Terror and move directly to regret. I regret not getting the automatic closing doors on our van, even though it would have increased the price to the tune of $5,000. Every time I have to walk around the van to close a door for a kid I wish I had made a different choice. Or when I’m slamming the rear hatch with one hand that is also holding a gallon of milk (and a baby or six grocery bags or both in the other). I can even summon up regret for small purchases, like the blouse I impulse bought at the Gap on Saturday night, which I couldn’t bring myself to wear because I decided it was just too expensive.

I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll reach Stage Five, Acceptance. Hopefully, I will love my kitchen and not start coming up with a list of “What I’d do differently next time” too soon after it’s done. (Like I did with my wedding dress, yikes. No “next time” there!) I’m still trying to make some decisions that will make the whole thing easier to swallow, like yesterday’s realization that I don’t need to spend money on roll out shelves in my pantry – it’s only 16 inches deep! And we’re going to look at a sample kitchen at Home Depot that had a darker crown molding than the color of the cabinets, to remind myself that it will look good.

I may not be able to turn this into my Dream Kitchen, after all, I’m limited by the amount of space available in this floor plan. But there’s a very good chance that this will be the best kitchen possible, and that is something to be really excited about. Maybe I can just live in Excitement and somehow avoid Reality. That would make this a Dream Kitchen.

Or maybe just a Dream.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can sure identify with the stages of spending. Like you, many plans hit the reality stage all too quickly. Even now, I am looking at airline flights at Christmas (excitement) but the cost is too outrageous and I can't do it (reality).

I'll just have to live vicariously through your spending experience. Enjoy. Mom