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The True Cost of a Deck

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Thanks for all the comments on my latest post about motivation. I’ve taken the comments to heart and am really doing some serious pondering and life planning for moving forward. I’m trying to minimize the financial bleeding this summer, and then jump back full-force in August with some renewed energy. I wanted to try to go gung-ho this month, but with my lower pay and some unexpected expenses (see below) I just don’t think I can even reasonably expect to try to create a $3,000/month budget for the month of July. We’re going to take on more debt. Sigh. But in August I’ll have my first full month of new salary and our bills will have hopefully stabilized enough for us to create a new budget. From what I’ve figured, I think my take-home pay will be around $6,000/month when my new raise goes into effect. So far the budgets I’ve been playing with are still around the $7,000ish range, so I’ve got to figure out how to come up with an extra $1,000 month (or, alternatively, how to cut an extra $1,000/month from the budget). I’ll write up a post soliciting advice soon.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my latest unexpected expense in a story I call “The True Cost of a Deck.”

My mom and stepdad still live in the same home that I was raised in from the time I was 10-years-old. The house is in a highly sought-after area in Austin, TX and has appreciated well during the time they’ve owned it. It’s beautiful and I love it, but it no longer serves my mom and stepdad’s needs. It’s too large, taxes are too high, and it’s too-tall (two story, when they’d prefer a single story).

The plan has been to put the house on the market this coming spring. My mom, a real estate broker, has tried to dedicate much of the last year to putting in updates that were needed to bring the house up to modern-day and to maximize the amount they can list it for when it goes on the market. They’ve done updates in the bathrooms, the kitchen, and with the floors. The last remaining big thing has been the deck.

My mom’s house is built on the side of a hill. When you walk in the front door it’s at ground level, but then the ground slopes steeply so when you walk to the back door of the house (still on the first floor), all the sudden you’re an entire story above ground. They’ve had a back deck that you could walk out on with stairs leading down to the backyard grass below.

The deck is entirely made of wood and it has been heavily used and abused across time. At this point, parts of the deck are warped and rotted and it is unsafe to be on. Many of the surrounding homes had similar problems and all have had their decks redone at some point in the past 5-10 years. My mom, the last hold-out on the street, felt the time was finally right to replace their deck as it could raise safety concerns for potential homebuyers.

My stepdad, a very intelligent academic-type who likes to think himself a DIY-er, spent months thinking up plans for the deck. Finally, they decided to shell out the money to have a professional draft the plans and provide a list of materials needed to complete the project. The plan was for my stepdad to do the work himself. Once plans were procured, my stepdad went to work. Literally on Day #1, before anything else had been done, he got up on a ladder to cut down the limbs of an overhanging tree. When the large branch fell, it took out the ladder my stepdad had been standing on. Chainsaw in hand, all 3 (stepdad, ladder, and limb) fell to the ground. What could have ended in serious disaster (I shutter to even consider the possibilities), ended up not too terrible. My stepdad sustained a severe tear of his rotator cuff that would require surgery. After meeting with multiple specialists (he didn’t want to accept the truth), he begrudgingly agreed to hire out the rest of the work, given that he required immediate surgery and a lengthy recovery. Any plans for future deck-building were gone. In fact, he was told, the muscles in his arm/shoulder would likely never be the same again.

My Stepdad’s surgery was this past Friday afternoon. Early Saturday morning, my sister (an RN) went to visit and check on my stepdad’s bandages/dressing. While there, my Mom encouraged everyone to go outside to see the progress being made on the back deck – now being completed by a hired contractor. Outside, everyone admired the deck. It’s costing an arm-and-a-leg ($20k compared to the $5-7k DIY estimate), but it’s going up quickly and looks beautiful!

Everyone started walking back around the big hill toward the front of the house when my mom tripped on a piece of debris from the construction, fell, and landed hard on her arm. My sister said the “pop” was audible and unmistakable. My mom’s arm was bent backward and sideways, an unnatural direction that can not occur with healthy, intact bones. An x-ray at the ER later verified the extent of the break. My mom was in so much pain that she almost passed out a couple of times: during examination and immobilization.

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My mom had surgery today. Now both people (Mom & Stepdad) have an arm immobilized, recovering from very recent surgery. Neither can drive due to high dosage pain medicine, nor can they do much of anything on their own. In the time between my Mom’s break (on Saturday) and her surgery (today), my Mom has been in such excruciating pain that she’ been nearly helpless, even with her good arm. Meanwhile, my stepdad’s surgery went well but he’s been battling nausea and vomiting due to the pain medicine he’s on (even after having the doctor call in a lower dosage pain medicine). It’s just a mess.

My sister, now 7 months pregnant, is the true hero of the story. She took off almost a full week last month to help move my dad to his new facility. And she’s taken off almost a full week this month to help with my Mom and Stepdad. She’s gone over daily to make meals, take out trash, clean dishes, etc. etc. She had taken over a case of waters and literally had to pre-open all of the bottles because neither parent could seem to do it one-handed. I mean, it’d be comical if it weren’t my parents!

So this deck that was only going to cost about $5,000 to replace will now likely end up costing over $30,000. It’s about $20,000 for the deck itself, then the out-of-pocket max will be hit for both parents due to their ER visits and surgeries, not to mention loss of work (for them and for my sister). I booked a flight and will be arriving on Friday afternoon. I don’t have the money to go and I really don’t have the time, either. But I have to be there for my family. I just have to.

I’ll be in Austin from Friday-Monday. I’ll be back in Tucson in the office on Tuesday, and then I immediately leave for a work conference trip from Wednesday through Saturday. Then the plan is to round the family up and hit Disney later that week.

So the month of July is turning out to be totally nuts. And it’s costing an arm and a leg two arms! (groan, har har).

At least we have our health freedom, right?

Stay safe out there, DIY-ers! I’ll catch you from Austin on the flipside!

Ashley

Texan at heart; Arizonan on paper. Lover of running, cheese, camping, and family (fur-family included!). Blogger, motivated to get out of debt YESTERDAY! Follow along with my journey!

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7 Comments

  • Reply dh |

    I’m so sorry Ashley, what a mess!

    It’s probably too late to suggest this at this point, but my sister (in NY) got a great deal on her new deck by accepting to have it done in late fall/winter when the workers were freer than in spring/summer.

    I hope everything goes as smoothly as it can from this point on.

    Last thought … is there any way you can put off the Disney trip for now?

  • Reply Kathryn |

    So sorry to hear this. Our home has been under construction for the past 22 months (not continuous as work stopped over winter), and in that time I have broken my ankle twice. The first due to construction debris and the 2nd this past January when I had to take my dog out to potty since our back yard is still not fenced due to construction and I slipped on ice. I am currently in a boot again after a third surgery to remove some hardware. I can imagine how difficult it is for your mom and step-dad. In the past we were die-hard DIYers, in part to save money. We did hire out this last project due to the complexity – short answer we added an attached garage and are regrading the backyard to divert water from the house/basement. It does bring piece of mind knowing if something goes wrong it is on someone else to make it right and bear those costs.

  • Reply TPol |

    What a nightmare! So sorry for your folks.Hope, they recuperate faster than expected. And yes, you have to be there whether you have the money or not. While you are there, give your sister a big bear hug and tell her you love her.

  • Reply Jen From Boston |

    OY!!! I’m glad your mom and step-dad are recovering ok, but what a mess! At least it isn’t worse.

    (And this makes me glad I live in a condo…)

  • Reply Jean |

    Your poor parents – and your poor sister! I totally get your feeling the need to go and help out.

    It sounds like your parents have lived in the neighborhood/area for a long time. Could you set up a meal train to help with meals, and see if someone would be willing to come & help with housework? If your parents’ friends/neighbors can’t help, do you or your sister have friends that would be willing? I think we all have those friends that practically lived at our houses growing up (or vice versa). Don’t be afraid to ask for help and let people step in to take your spot. If they are true friends, they will understand the situation and not think twice about it.

    Hang in there!

  • Reply Sarah |

    I am so sorry!

    But can I say I find this comical – I am so sorry they got hurt but oh my gosh, that would make a good comedy sketch.

    One thing to know – if your mom’s cast starts to itch (she may not have one yet depending on swelling), she can easily get a new one (I didn’t know how easy it is but maybe it is easier now than when I was young). Our son had a similar break in his lower arm (both bones) and had to have surgery. We got three new casts during the eight weeks of recovery as they started itching and smelling!

    It might be good to hire someone from a home healthcare company to come in and help them out.

    Also, this is not what I thought the post was going to be about at all…I thought you were getting a new deck and adding it to your debt! I enjoy reading your posts!

  • Reply debtor |

    jeez louise.

    Comedy of errors indeed. Nothing super helpful to add except try not to run mad. That’s a lot right before you have a big change coming up! Keep your head up

So, what do you think ?