Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Keeping Up With The Joneses - No Thanks!

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday afternoon on my way home from work. She was in a financial challenge group I had on Facebook and had a few questions she wanted to ask about budgeting. As we got to talking a bit more, we got on the topic of "keeping up with the Joneses", and at what point do we just try to be happy with enough.

I remember when we were going to buy our first house in a little town north of Winnipeg. We had sold my husband's condo and we're looking to build our first home together. My husband had a lot of equity poured into his condo - it was basically paid for and he made a lot of money when we sold it. The realtor could not fathom why we didn't want to buy a $300,000 home! The bank would easily lend us the money to build a mansion if we wanted to so why would we "settle" for a $130,000 home? She looked at us like we had monkey's flying out of our ears. Seriously.

It was simple. We were two people with no kids. Although we knew we wanted kids eventually, this new little bi-level would still accommodate our family even if it wasn't huge with an extra bedroom, outdoor kitchen and butler's quarters. (ha....) We were pretty firm that we did not want to be house poor. The two of us had pretty decent jobs at the time and we knew that this home would be a good fit for us. We didn't need more rooms than people. It's not just the financial aspect of it but from an environmental stand point, I really do care about my carbon footprint and I don't need to use more resources to have a fancy house I can brag about to my friends. Arrogance.... That's another topic for another day.

Eventually we did move to a "bigger" house. We went from 900 square feet to 1500 square feet but this house was a two-storey so the space on each level is only about 700 square feet. The reason for the move was more about being closer to family and moving back to the area where I grew up. I love my "little birdhouse" - that's what the people in the big expensive houses in our town call ours. I'm sure most of them look at us and think, "one day they'll move up in the world, those poor people." Truth of the matter is that because our mortgage wasn't outrageous, and we didn't have a ton of bills, I was able to stay home part-time with both my kids, and I still work part-time to this day. Our house isn't massive but it's just the right size for the four of us, our two cats and our one dog. And by working part-time, I've been able to find the right balance to take the stress off our family by taking care of most of the household duties during my days off, leaving more down time on the weekends for us to just BE.

Our birdhouse

The other reason I like my modest house is that we don't have a lot of room for "stuff". I hate clutter, I hate extra things hanging around that I don't use so, for me, a house with a finite amount of storage is good for my soul. I have a real problem with people's obsessions with new, shiny, expensive things. Or the "if it's broken, throw it out and buy a new one" mentality. I am a big fan of buying used for two obvious reasons: 1. It's economical 2. It cuts down on my carbon footprint. Why would I buy a brand new shirt for $40 when I can buy my kids brand name, secondhand clothes for $2 at our local thrift store? Do they care? Not yet but I'm sure they will be a bit more resistant to it as they get older. I'd like to think I'm grooming them from a young age to be mindful of the legacy they leave behind for their kids and grandkids. We'll see if that pans out! By teaching them about being responsible with money and learning budgeting skills, I feel like we are setting them up for to be successful adults. Again, I hope this pans out.

I also buy secondhand furniture, yes, I even bought a secondhand couch. Read this post to see how I decorated our newly-finished basement with mostly gently used items I bought off Kijiji, thrift stores and garage sales. I'm pretty proud of it actually :)

When I look at some of the big houses in our town with their $450,000 price tags, I think - how many CEOs live here? The truth is, most of these people aren't CEOs. I know this because I know some of these families. They have similar incomes to ours yet I keep seeing shiny boats, new cars and expensive toys in their driveways. I really don't get what I'm missing here. How can people afford all this stuff? I guess for some people, that's what makes them happy. No matter the cost.

I'm kind of excited to think I'm going to have my mortgage paid off soon and that I'll have no debt, living in my little birdhouse. I'm also excited to think about the comfortable retirement I'll have, and the great education my kids will get for free because I didn't sink every penny I had into paying for a house that was unnecessarily large for our family. My goal is to stay in this house until my kids decide to move out. At that point maybe we'll downsize, or maybe we'll stay where we are and wait for our grandkids to fill our house with love and laughter. It's not a mansion to most, but what's within the walls of this home is what is more important than the walls that surround it.

What are your thoughts? Big fancy house or a modest, cozy home?

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