We just wrote the last check to pay for the heating and cooling system in our house.
It was a big check, which is anxiety-inducing. But, with that check, we don’t owe anything on this home we built. (Note: we do have a loan we are paying on the land, so we aren’t 100 percent debt-free, but we paid for the house as we went).
Paying cash for a new home is pretty unusual today. But it wasn’t always unusual. It also wasn’t always unusual to build your own house.
But things have changed.
Houses cost more to build. Americans save a lot less. Other things cost more.
And I also think that we have bigger wants today. Bigger houses. More stuff. Greater degrees of fancy.
I know this, because I experienced it. It’s just plain easy to get sucked up in a black hole of “what we could do.” You visit a friend’s home with a $50,000 custom kitchen and can’t get it out of your head. You see marble floors on Pinterest and nothing else compares. You need it all.
But, hold up, my friends.
We need a roof over our heads. But we want the finer things.
Home improvement projects and building are a delicate balance of wants and needs. And the process must come with some prudence – especially if you want to complete the project without becoming “house poor.” And if you want to come out the other end without massive amounts of debt, it will take compromise.
This means thinking about your family’s future and not worrying about what finishes your neighbors and friends can (or can’t) afford.
I’m not saying this as though I am not tempted by all the fancy. I want the fancy, too. But as we went through the process, I learned to discern between wants and needs. And we made it out the other side. (Holla!)
Do you struggle with this, too? Here are four questions I asked myself that can help get to the root of my motives – because I could really care less about the Joneses.
1. Why do I love this?
I truly believe you should love your home. But you loving your home has nothing to do with anyone else.
If the reason you want something is more about living up to others’ standards than your own, you can ditch it. Be honest with yourself. You are trying to create your home – not recreating the homes of others.
2. Is it in the budget?
We were over our initial budget building our home. (I promise I’ll share more about our final budget soon – now that almost all the big bills are done.) Some of that overage was just missing some of the elements in our initial budget, and some had to do with going over in areas.
But, we didn’t buy anything if we couldn’t afford it. And we made sure to have a contingency fund to pay for items when it was clear we were going to be over budget. None of this was a surprise. We were tracking it closely.
And as we got closer to “the end,” we had to press the pause button. That meant that some things we’d like to finish will have to wait until next year – especially some larger outdoor projects that cost all the money.
If you are choosing items for your home that are really far outside your budget parameters, are you willing to wait to save for it? If it’s not worth that, it is probably worth a pass.
3. Is there a less expensive option?
Are you obsessed with something that’s outside your budget?
Try to step outside that option for a moment. Just a moment.
If you love marble countertops but truly can’t afford it, there really are less expensive alternatives you may be able to live with. If you love hex floors but not the price tag (or volume of labor), maybe you can live with sheet vinyl. (We did. And even the flooring guy was tricked when he came over to measure for carpet.)
It can be hard to think beyond your dream item, but it can be worth it. Another strategy is to make a list of pros and cons. If the only “pro” of an item is the looks, it may be worth looking at other options. And that savings can be put toward those bigger wants.
4. Will it really matter?
Our mantra in our home build became, “It’s about the big picture.”
When you are shopping for details in a room (think light fixtures, faucets, or even woodwork), it can be easy to think it’s important to find the very best item in the history of ever. But it will drive you crazy to try to get the best of everything. And it will also destroy your budget.
You have to think about the big picture and try to keep yourself from upgrading everything.
In our experience, once a full room or home is done, the details should recede. It’s about the sum of the parts – and if you can find a less expensive option that jives with the overall look, you will probably never notice the difference.
For example, we went with vanities that were around $100 with the countertop. They were dirt cheap, but they look great in the space. I had been planning on spending around $700 for each of the vanities, so this savings was incredible for the budget.
Yes. You should choose things that you love and feel special to you. But that doesn’t mean you have to upgrade every single thing because you think “everyone does it.”
Can we all just agree that there isn’t time (or money) to really keep up with the Joneses?
If you want to create your own dream home without being owned by your home, it’s important to be honest with yourself. These questions could help.
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