House Money

Last night my husband came home after visiting with a close family member. “Their house is better than ours,” he said quite matter-of-factly, “They’ve made it feel so much more like a home.” I was surprised by his comment and asked for clarification. “It smells good,” he said. “Their house is filled with candles and potpourri. They have fancy coasters on their side tables and a wall of DVDs. They moved into that house five years after we bought ours and in half the time they made it feel homier.”

I couldn’t disagree with his reasoning. In fact he was absolutely right. Every time I visit their house I notice some new trinket I’ve never seen before. The table and hutch gleam with seasonal placements and decorations.  Beside their sofa are tall wooden candle holders holding warm, colorful, scented candles. They hang new pictures and artwork on the walls. The house has been filled with lots of new furniture; large couches, tables and chairs. It isn’t quite the cover of a home and garden magazine, but it’s a lot better than the hodgepodge of random furniture and accessories that fill our place.

The difference between our houses comes down to options and choices. Unlike our friends we have NEVER prioritized purchases for our house. In fact, we have done quite the opposite; for years we purposely chose not to spend money on it.

We held on to the most hideous couch you could imagine for over ten years. Most of our furniture was and still is mismatched and fraying. Part of the reason is our thirteen year old cat. After all, what is the point of purchasing new furniture when the cat will most likely destroy it. Cheap IKEA chairs and old couches make sense when the arm rests are ripped to shreds every time we leave.

But the cat cannot be blamed entirely. There are other aspects of our home we could have fixed much sooner. For over ten years we delayed remodeling our bathrooms. Those bathrooms included 60 years of ground in dirt that would not budge. For a long time half our windows couldn’t be opened and bugs flew in through the rest. Our doors were drafty, our paint faded and our hand-me-down furniture old and creaky. We use a kitchen table that was owned by my grandmother and a dining room set inherited from my mother-in-law.

I don’t always love this situation. I am aware of the problems in our house, but firmly grounded in the decision not to do anything about them. After many years we did remodel, replace our windows and paint, but many of the other less-than-perfect aspects of our home remain as is.

Simply put, we used our money for other things. A few years after we purchased our primary home we plunked down a chunk of change on a beach house. Every year for the past ten years we also maxed out our 401ks and Roth IRAs. We spent many weekends at the beach fixing things or working on new projects. We focused our time and energy on our home away from home. A magical place that still makes us happier on rainy days then any sunny day at home.

This particular family member’s home is not the only thing that is better than ours. You could argue that their cars are nicer or at the very least newer than the 1999 jalopies we own.

This may bother my husband. I’m not so sure by the tone of our conversation last night, but it doesn’t bother me one bit. We all tend to spend money on the things that matter most to us. It is very clear that we have different priorities. One is not better than the other. Just very different.

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