Jul 5, 2013

(Almost) Down the Rabbit Hole

When we sold our house, I vowed to be a renter for a really long time. I was tired of spending my weekends on projects. I was stressed about the continuous financial investments we had to make for upkeep and maintenance. I hated—HATED—the fact that our mortgage came with such huge interest payments. I wanted some freedom.

But as I tend to do, I kept looking at real estate anyway. Not all the time, mind you. But every week or so I'd check the houses for sale on craigslist and on local realtor websites. See, in my dream world, we've got a beautiful, old (but still smallish), historic house, with enough room to build a wee guest house/mother-in-law suite. This would be nice for visitors, but also provide a space for parents and grandparents if ever they would like to live closer to us, and later, a caretaker for me and B (these are the things you think about when you are childless—how to plan for your inevitable elderly care needs).

And this week I found it. An ideal place. A 2 bed, 1 1/2 bath 1925 converted stable that once belonged the neighboring mansion (now apartments). It already has a second 400 ft structure, built very recently, that contains a small office and mother-in-law apartment. I did a drive-by. It's a quirky layout, for sure, but there is this gorgeous, magical little back porch nook where I envisioned drinking my morning coffee with the paper (we haven't gotten a newspaper delivered in about a decade, but whatever). The place needs some cosmetic work, and probably repairs as well as the main structure is so old, but it has so much character. It is substantially more than I ever thought we'd spend on a house, but significantly less than all the other houses in that neighborhood. What a deal. I was pretty much sold.

I began working the numbers: running the cost through a mortgage calculator, scheming rental plans for the mother-in-law apartment to help cover the mortgage, looking at what was supposed to be the savings column on our debt snowball as a way to pay the increased housing costs. Because they would definitely increase with this purchase, if we could even convince a bank to loan us the money in the first place. Likely our monthly housing payment would at least double, and that is before any maintenance and repair costs. This would mean no money going into savings, and probably not paying off our student loans early. But, no matter. In a cruel trick of nature, I inherited my dear mom's impressive ability to justify purchasing pretty much anything I want (she and I joke about this all the time; our motto is "I want it, and I want it now"). By the end of my decision-making process I've usually convinced myself that we would be better off buying in the long run than not, even though really that is almost never true for any of us, is it? Alas, within hours of finding the ad I was already well down the path to homeownership (a place I hadn't ever wanted to be again just a week ago).

And then it started to rain.

And it kept raining.

And raining.

And unlike most of the days here during this spring and summer, it wasn't short bursts of rain heartily buffered on either end by hours of glorious sun. Nope, it just kept raining, with small, cloudy breaks between torrential downpours.

Roads began to flood with the muddy water of the eroding mountains. The next county over saw an entire parking lot sucked into a sinkhole. And my trip to the local grocery store was foiled by the 3 inches of milky brown water (and rising) covering the floor of nearly the entire back half of the building.

Holy cannoli, what a rain it was. And maybe still is, as the forecast predicts a 30-60% chance of rain for the next ten days or so. And it was in the middle of these downpours that I remembered why I hadn't wanted to be a homeowner anymore. That mossy, 90 year old home I so lovingly dreamed about habitating was likely flooded right now. I would have had to address the water damage and mold issues last night and into the future had I been its owner yesterday. And all that not even to live for a cheaper monthly rate, but double. 

And just like that, I was completely over that old house. I like our financial plan (out of debt in three years), and spending more on housing just completely derails it. I like our new found free time, and homeownership doesn't lend itself to care-free evenings and weekends. And I love my desire to buy in cash from now on (housing included), because I am so over paying extra in interest later for the benefit of getting what I want right now

I think I'll always struggle with my desire to have something immediately rather than save up for it. It's why I've had—and had to get rid of—so much stuff over the years. It's why my credit card debt is so high, and why my mortgage payment was high too (with no savings to speak of, we put almost nothing down on the house). But as my true desires to be financially secure and clutter-free become more apparent, more concrete, and stronger, I find myself saying no more often than yes. Sometimes the conversation I have with myself takes a really long time, but I've been coming to the more responsible conclusion. I guess the first step to financial freedom is exerting personal control over your own tendencies. For me, that took learning to desire something more than stuff—undebtedness.

How do you tame your wants?


  1. How? With a partner who wants the same thing! It's the only way for me and it's awesome.

  2. The rain that was not so lucky for property owners in the area was a lucky rain for you, eh? Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. Pre-internet, I used to like to shop in catalogs. I'd browse, decide, fill out the order form ... and then I was done. In many cases I never submitted the order. I realized I didn't need to actually get the stuff to have enjoyed the process. If, of course, I kept coming back to something that was a reasonable choice anyway, sometimes I would get it in the end. But it was interesting and kind of funny how often I didn't need to do that.

  4. Penny, I've done something similar. Amazing how different our "needs" are when we give ourselves time to think on them rather than fulfill them immediately, isn't it?