How Much House is Enough?
I was driving through a new subdivision with a girlfriend when she pointed to a big house and said, “That’s our next house.”
“You’ve put in an offer?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “but we’ve looked at it five times.
“Holy crap,” said I, astonished that this woman in her early sixties would be looking to take on a new, bigger and more expensive house at this point in her life. I guess she’s one of the almost 60% of retirees who plan to hang on to their debt with both hands.
What is wrong with us? Why is new, fancy and bigger getting in the way of our common sense? Why is it that what we have pales against the allure of all the stuff we don’t have? Are my Formica counters really so horrible that I’d spend money I’ll need to eat later in my life on granite countertops? And when did we start taking the perfectly good (my old oak cupboards) and start tossing them away for the sake of a newer, fresher “style?”
I just don’t get it. You can’t whine about not having money for retirement – or even an emergency fund – if every time you turn around you’re letting the Gimmies get the better of you. Financial security is about balancing today’s needs and desires with tomorrow’s. If you push the future out of your mind while you’re scratching your consumer itch, you’re going to be old and poor. Old is bad enough, but poor too?
My Little House (yes, that’s it’s name) comes will all kinds of benefits today and in the future. I’ve paid that sucker off, so the albatross of a mortgage payment is gone! My smaller house comes with lower property taxes than the monster homes people seem so attracted to these days. That’s going to eat less of my fixed income when (if ever) I retire. And My Little House eats less energy. The average household in Ontario uses between 800-1000 kWhs; I’m down to about 550. Smaller also means less to go wrong, so my maintenance fund can be smaller too. And a less expensive house means lower insurance costs.
My Little House still costs me between $1,000 and $1,200 a month to carry. But I’d have to pay that to rent a comparable space in my area, and you have to live somewhere, right? So I’m focused on loving and caring for My Little House. And every time I see something that catches my eye and makes me think about what’s missing, I change my focus and remind myself how happy I am in My Little House.