Advice, How-To, Plan

Plan and Budget your Outdoor space in 5 steps

Where to start

You want to improve your home with a great outdoor space. You have searched online and made pins on Pinterest of some ideas. So many places look so great, yet they are all completely different. How do you plan your outdoor living space? One way is to hire a landscape design professional. They have the expertise to help you. Professionals also know other professionals with different specialties if needed. They are versed in plants, landscaping, and hardscapes. Naturally, they will help steer your vision to what fits your space and budget. Never be afraid to call a professional to help plan and design your landscape – even if you plan on executing the work yourself. The money you spend on their planning will probably be saved in wasted time and effort or unsuccessful projects.

Fremont II outdoor fireplace kit by Romanstone

This amazing courtyard was designed, built, and landscaped by an amatuer DIYer. Hear his wisdom here.

Professionals are great. But finding the right professional may be difficult. Furthermore, It may be hard to get people to call you back in your market, much less to stop by in person. Maybe you are having difficulty finding someone that understands your vision. Perhaps it is out of your budget. Or, you could be like me, and you want to do it yourself, or at least formulate a solid idea to pass on to a pro. Great news. This is your space. You should be involved. It’s just advisable to have a plan whether you will enlist a professional for help or not. Here is the process I recommend:

1. Craft a mission statement

State your goals and intended use for your outdoor living space. Do you want a small cozy space to drink coffee and read the paper while watching the dogs play in the yard? Perhaps you want a meeting and eating area for the family that has access to the pool. Maybe you want to entertain large parties and need space for 30+ people. Perhaps you love cornhole and need a place to play and hang out and socialize. Whatever your specific goals are, write them down. These goals will help guide your decisions and keep your project on track while you plan your outdoor space. Plus. It gives you a finishing point. You won’t know when you’re finished if you don’t plan what you want to achieve.

Know that you can quickly get in the weeds once you start shopping and browsing backyard options. There are tons of trendy ideas and projects that may look appealing but won’t fulfill your goals or fit in your backyard. If there is a feature you like, weigh the feature against your mission statement to ensure it belongs in your project. Your mission statement is your road map. Use it to stay on course.

2. Create your list of wants

This is the fun part. Try not to go overboard here. Think of this as a wish list. You get to throw in everything you want in your backyard patio. These can be general or specific. Maybe you want a horseshoe pit. Perhaps you want a killer grill station. Maybe you want a fire pit for burning yard waste and roasting marshmallows. Possibly you want a grill and a bar. Pergolas, swings, fireplaces… This is where you choose the features that you want to be incorporated into your outdoor living space. It is easy to go overboard here. Try to eliminate cool outdoor features that won’t help achieve the goals in your mission statement. Stick to your road map. After you complete your list, weigh the features against your mission statement. Omit any wants that don’t achieve your goal or can’t possibly fit into your space. You still want to keep options at this point.

3. Identify any issues or needs for your yard,

Now that you have had fun writing down your wants, it time to dig in and figure out your needs. Many times these are solutions to problems such as drainage. Unfortunately, needs tend to be more practical and less fun. Needs are almost always separate from the features that you want. These are usually things such as. You need to raise the elevation on the west side of the house to ensure the water drains to the creek. A fenced-in area is necessary for insurance purposes. You have to leave enough room to park the RV. There has to be a walkway and ramp to the side door for access to the garage. 

Your needs may vary from significant concerns such as shaping the land for drainage or getting outdoor areas under a roof. On the other hand, your needs can be as small as a walkway or even a place for firewood storage. Every home has needs that the yard must fulfill. This is usually not where fireplaces and pergolas go – despite what we may want.

4. Set aside a realistic budget

You need a realistic budget. Maybe you have a grand vision with many needs and wants. Perhaps you had no idea what these projects cost, and you don’t have enough to create your outdoor dream space. That is fine. You can take advantage of multiple years when you plan your outdoor space. My landscape plan is a multi-year plan. But at least I have a plan to follow. I started by fulfilling my needs. Now I am almost finished with all my wants. But I am sticking to my plan. Whatever your plans, You need to determine this year’s budget. What are you willing to spend to make this happen. Be honest. Don’t be embarrassed when stating your budget. Your budget doesn’t reflect your worth as a person. It doesn’t even reflect what you could afford to spend. It only indicates what you are willing to spend on this project at this time. Don’t worry, no matter how small or large your budget, someone will always outspend you or out-thrift you. 

People get testy when it comes to their budgets. But you need to have one and state it. There is no use wasting designers and your own time working on something that is over budget or under budget and won’t meet your needs or expectations. Be upfront. It saves everyone time and headaches in the long run. It also will help guide you in which features and options you can include by creating a budget. You’ll know whether you have $300 for a grill, or $3000. Maybe you find one for less than expected. You can pocket that money or put it to other areas in your budget. 

5. Fit your plan to your budget

There you have it: a goal, A list of needs, a pile of wants, and a budget. Congratulations. That is the best start you can have. You are two miles ahead of most people that start a backyard project. Now, you need to work those lists to come up with an actionable plan.

Determine the cost of meeting your needs first. Sorry. Those have to be addressed first. You aren’t 21 anymore. There is no partying with the rent money. You need to fix any problems and address any needs before proceeding to your wants.  This isn’t always a bad thing. Many times a paving area will help assist a drainage problem: a patio space and drainage away from the house. It’s a win-win!

Take the cost of the needs from your list. This is what you have leftover for your wants. You remember the wishlist – it is probably the longest most expensive list you have. Look at the list and compare it to your remaining budget. Adjust as needed by eliminating features, or adjusting the amount allocated for each feature. Usually, this becomes a further paring down of your wishlist. But don’t think of this as getting rid of the things you want. You are prioritizing the items to achieve your goal. Refer back to your mission statement to help determine what stay and what goes.  

Like in gardening, pruning is needed and healthy. The most successful backyards often revolve around a central theme or feature. You only want one centerpiece. The use of your outdoor living space should be obvious and natural to do when you enter it. Prune your list. You will find it will help you when you go through the next step of actually planning the layout of your outdoor living space.

Patrick Vu

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