When someone engages me to help with their financial planning, we always start with their goals and vision. Many people dream of traveling and exploring the world. They often want to spend more time exploring, learning, growing, and having fun. They want more time with their children or grandchildren and friends. It makes me sad how often those dreams are put on a back burner because of housing costs and the time required to maintain a home.
“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” – Ben Franklin
In American culture, we have become convinced that progress and success are a gem to be found in some combination of a zip code and square footage. Yes, we all need a home and it is wonderful to have a home you feel safe in and proud of. But, the house itself—and the time and money you put into it—should fit into your overall life goals and needs. Otherwise, you’re in danger of having it consume all your time and money and overshadow your other goals.
The Trap of Homeownership
When I hear a house categorized as an investment, I shudder a little bit. Unless you are extremely strategic or with the purchase of your home, you'll likely only see inflationary growth from it, if you are lucky.
“Houses eat money and time.” – Carlo Sanfilippo
I’ve owned two houses and one condo. Both houses I had were older, and when I bought them they had years of deferred maintenance. I was in my 20s and 30s then, starting a new family and career, so I had more time than money. For years it felt like every time I had an extra dollar it went into the house. Every time I looked at a project, the cost of paying to have it done was 2–4 times more than it would cost to do it myself. Thus, it ate up a lot of my time.
One day, after spending an entire weekend raking leaves, I thought about the prior 10 years. It hit me that I could have earned a PhD in the amount of time I had spent tending to my yard and being a gardener of plants that weren’t even food. Had I hired someone to do it, I would have saved time, but I’d have spent a fortune and wouldn’t have been able to save for retirement or my sons’ college. I found myself in the trap of homeownership. That is where I was—and it’s where many Americans are now.
Breaking the Cycle
If you love taking care of a yard and fixing a house, then you are living your dream. If you have enough money to pay for this upkeep and still do all the other things you want in life, then you are fine. However, most Americans are not there. Most people’s homes own and consume all of their time and money. And because the perpetual upgrading of a home is seen as a sign of success and growth, many people never gain any more freedom—even as their income rises.
You can choose to break this cycle if you wish.
I did it by buying a condo that was less expensive than the house I owned. I pay a small HOA fee that covers all the exterior maintenance of the building. Which means no more yardwork, no more raking leaves. If there are no dust bunnies and the laundry is put away, my chores are done. I’ve freed up hundreds of hours of time and thousands of dollars that I can now put toward other goals.
Ways to Keep Your Housing Costs in Check
Here are some ideas on how to reduce the stress of homeownership and keep your housing costs at a reasonable level:
- If you own a home and are happy with it, but you find that it is consuming your time and money, you can explore ways to make it easier to maintain.
- If your income is rising, make a commitment to keep your housing costs constant so that they represent a shrinking portion of your budget.
- Be careful of serial renovation. A contractor once told me the four most expensive words one can utter are, “While we’re at it…” Many people who are thrifty day-to-day get into trouble once the purse strings open on a home improvement project.
- Look for ways to earn income from your home. Airbnb and VRBO have become hugely popular.
- Can you work from home part-time or full-time? Sometimes reducing your commuting costs can be a huge saver. You can use that money to pay off your mortgage faster and/or save money for your financial independence.
- Borrow or rent when you can. I bought so many random tools that I needed to do projects around my home. Some of them were used over and over again, but some I only used once.
For more ideas on how to free up cash flow and pursue your financial goals, see my post: 3 Potential Ways to Free Yourself from Unnecessary Monthly Expenses.
I know many people get a great sense of joy and pride from their homes, and that is wonderful. If that’s where you’re at, I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing this for anyone who feels trapped. Who can’t take a trip, can’t help their kids, can’t save for retirement…all because of the ongoing expense and maintenance of a house.
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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.