Thursday, October 2, 2008

bigger and better

I ran into a friend yesterday and when I told her our news--that I am four months pregnant--one of her very first questions was whether we would now be getting a bigger house. It seemed an odd, rather personal and presumptuous question to me.

I find it interesting that having a bigger, nicer, newer house is on so many people's minds. Our house is definitely what I would call modest. We live in the older part of town and have an older house. It is not huge; we have no basement or garage, which I regret, but we do have a really large lot (about a third of an acre). Also, though the house is not enormous, I really like the way it has been laid out. Lack of storage space notwithstanding, the builders of this house knew where to put the square footage: in the kitchen and the family room, which is perfect since these are the two most used rooms in the house. But the best aspect of our house? By far, it is the really low mortgage payment we have each month. We pay $150 less than our rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago.

Technically, I suppose we could actually afford a bigger, newer home. Since moving here, Bil has gotten a raise or two, so based on income we could upsize, theoretically. When I look at our budget on paper, we should definitely be able to afford a bigger mortgage, but then when I see how much of our money actually makes it to our savings account each month, I see an entirely different story. It is especially apparent this year with higher prices on gas, groceries and just about everything. So, while we should be able to swing a larger mortgage, I am not sure we could do that and still save any money, which is one major reason we have decided to be happy where we are. Instead of a bigger house, we plan to pay down our debt (student loan and mortgage) so that if and when we decide to relocate, we will have the means to do so.

It doesn't mean I am not tempted sometimes to look for our dream home. Occasionally, when I visit friends' homes I get a bit envious of their bright, shiny houses in the more fashionable side of town. But, it just doesn't seem worth it to me to trade in my sense of financial well-being. Right now, we do not struggle to pay our bills. We sometimes struggle to pay for the extras, but not so much that I stay up nights worrying. We are able to stay within our budget with some sacrifice and frugality, but we can still afford to eat out once in a while, and never once have I had to resort to some of my money-saving tactics from college (like living on Ramen noodles or eggs until payday).

I grew up in a small house in Chicago equipped with only one bathroom. I have 2 brothers and 1 sister, so none of us had our own room. We managed ok. Yes, it would have been really nice to have an extra bathroom or a bit more space in our bedrooms, but we came out of the experience relatively unscathed--and with some pretty funny stories to tell our kids. And come to think of it, most of my friends were in the same situation. When did that tide turn? Why has our generation decided that we need much bigger, nicer homes than our parents had? What has caused this obsession?

It is really sad to me how obsessed Americans are, how entitled we think we are to more stuff. I don't have statistics, but I would say that we are definitely in the minority world-wide when it comes to how much we have. Most people in other countries don't have multiple cars, huge houses, etc. When I lived in Hong Kong, I don't remember ever visiting a house or apartment--no matter how wealthy the residents--that had a kitchen in which more than 2 people could fit. That was just how it was. When I remember that, it makes it much easier to be content with what I have, even grateful.


Stonefox (otherwise known as Heidi) said...

Patty, I think you are wise to pay down debt instead of upsizing the house. It seems like the American mindset on materialism is just out of control.

You are right about the rest of the world too. People over here wouldn't dream of having large kitchens and leisure space, much less having more space than they could use! We could learn a few things from them (like recycling, too, but I won't go there!)

Anonymous said...

We actually upsized last year. It wasn't because we wanted a bigger house, it's because we wanted out of our school district and off of a busy main road.

The bigger house was just a perk. Or maybe not - it's true what they say, "More house = more to clean." LOL

We moved before we even knew the concept of "special needs preschool" even existed - and we lucked out and are in the district with the best reputation for special needs preschool.

Sometimes that bigger mortgage hurts, and I miss all the disposable income we used to have, but it's all worth it because I know Chee is in the best place she should be. I know I wouldn't feel that way were she in our old district.

mrsbear said...

For a while we were debating moving in to a bigger house, but the current market kind of made the decision for us. Our house was built in 1968, only one owner before us. 3 bed, 2 bath, 2 car garage. About 1200 sq. ft. living space. We've got 2 kids to a room now, but we wanted to give our oldest her own space. I also wanted a family room, but truly it's not necessary. Growing up my sister and I didn't just share a room, but a bed, clothes, shoes, everything. I do think we always fool ourselves in to thinking we need more. More room, more stuff. Sometimes I look around and I think the answer is down sizing and simplifying. We have a yard the kids can run around in, we have a roof over our heads, they're fed and clothed and we can occasionally treat ourselves to stuff. Enough. We have enough.

Amy Jane said...


Hey! I totally agree that you guys are doing the very smart thing. I actually don't want a very big house - I'll admit that I need lots of storage, because I am definitely in the category of people who have too much stuff, but I don't want or need that much living space. After all, the family just ends up hanging out in the same two places anyway, plus a larger house means more to clean and maintain. When we buy a house, my main concern is going to be storage space - not the size or number of rooms. It's funny - I always had my own room growing up, but if we were to have another boy, Nick and that boy would definitely share a room at least up to a certain age - I just think that's better for kids.

Thanks for your recent comments on my blog! BTW, can I just tell you how seethingly jealous I am of you? It kills me that your posts regularly get 7 or more comments - that's only a dream for me. I just don't get comments like you do, much to my chagrin. Maybe all of these people who read your blog could come over to mine and comment! :) (Just kidding!)

I'm really excited about our visit. We're probably going to arrive mid-afternoon on Friday. I have to see what Carrie is doing, because I think that Friday might be the ONLY day that she could spend time with us. So, I can't guarantee that we will see you Friday, but then again, everything's up in the air. Saturday, we can caravan to the pumpkin patch, and then maybe we can hang out at your house and do pizza. It will be so much fun! I just can't wait to get our kids together, and for you to see Nick again.

Could this comment BE any longer? Whew!

hellokittiemama said...

Wow, you articulated so much in here that I've been thinking recently. I'm right now watching a few of my friends at different points but 1) is caught up with WATERFRONT WATERFRONT WATERFRONT and is basically going to be housepour to RENT offseason waterfront (with an autistic child, mind you...I don't think it is a really wise idea for that alone). 2) another friend lives in a house that is GINORMOUS and is losing it because of mortgage rates and ARM mortgage issues - now credit is trashed and she is forced to go from living in luxurious brand new mansion to renting a 'modest' home. When I look around, I realize - hey it is OK to live in our 'everyday' home and still be above water (most of the time). Because, even though it is small - it is still our HOME :)

bernthis said...

I could not agree with you more. Since my divorce I have really taken stock and ask myself all the time, 'How much stuff do you need?" and the answer is "not much'. I'm sad to say I wasn't always this way but at least I can show my daughter what it means to save and to prioritize. Good for you. People can be very tacky. You are such a down to earth gal and I think that's an amazing quality.

beckbot said...

Right on, Patty! I would give anything for your big, beautiful yard. Sometimes I think about a larger bedroom for the boys or something but they never actually play in their room. They play outside or near where I am. You've got such an amazing set-up for Danny and a nice neighborhood.