It’s My Money

by Geoffrey Butler, AIA

It isn’t normal. I’m not even sure it is healthy. None the less, I have always faced every decision and recommendation I make with the idea that “it’s my money.”

It usually isn’t. As an architect, we are out there spending OPM (other people’s money) constantly. If you look at your personal wealth and income and compare it to the amount of OPM you spend annually in this profession, you will see that we spend a multiple in the range of hundreds, thousands and even millions more that we earn or have any hope of earning.

I’ve always thought that if it made sense for me to spend my money in a certain fashion, it might make sense for others. I’m not always right. Our clients have every right to spend their money in any fashion they chose. They might spend more money than I on a particular item because they perceive more value in it than I. Maybe they simply want the “brand” attached to that decision even though the same thing could be accomplished with an unbranded item.

Some of our clients patiently listen to me, my recommendations and reasons and quietly say: “That is the way I want it, you will just have to change your thinking.” And I do. It is, after all their money.

Back to my point, when I spend my money, I usually look at the expenditure and test it with questions: What purpose will this expenditure serve? What is the value of that purpose to me? Why does it cost me anything? (This might be silly but, heck if you can get it free somehow, why pay?) If I have to pay, how can I get the highest quality for the least money?

Other factors weight in including: first cost versus long term cost, perceived value versus actual value, image, color (yes, I would pay more for a red Saab Turbo convertible over a purple one), desire (how bad do I really want it?), etc.

The same line of reasoning applies to our work for clients. If they perceive that we are truly concerned about their money and will only make recommendations which make good economic sense, they will be truly appreciative. This is a level of care that many people don’t think about.

Over the years, many architects and engineers (and other design professionals) have damaged their respective professions by designing projects which are really neat monuments, works of art that cost far in excess of what they should cost. Some are marble clad and gold plated designs that surely will win a design award and enhance the career of that particular design professional. So what if the roof would leak or the HVAC system didn’t work? Yes, the maintenance cost on that white carpet is a bit high but didn’t it look cool before they moved in?

It is our job to know our client’s expectations and budget correctly up front and to then discuss it with them. Make sure that we, and they, know exactly what they can get for their budget and what they should expect to pay for what they want. More often than not, there is a big gap between the two. Part of our job is to close that gap, raise the budget or lower their expectations. Somehow they both have to match. Then, as we go through the project, we must constantly search out the best design, using the best products for the most reasonable up front cost with the best long term life cycle costs. Test every choice with that list from above.

That is the sign of a good design professional. Your clients will build trust in you, they will be pleased with what they get (as they will be well informed as to what to expect for what they pay) and we might sleep better at night.

Because it isn’t my money.