Avoiding Misery By Balancing the Desire to Spend and Save

When making financial decisions you probably weigh the impact to your wallet, but do you ever question the impact on your emotional wellbeing?

My house was built in 1950. The bones of the house are solid, but from the moment we moved in there was a lot of ground in dirt that could not be removed. It sat in between the teeny-tiny tiles on the bathroom floor and discolored the black and white foyer that was really more beige than it should have been. The fixtures were old and outdated and the furniture that filled the rooms were all hand-me-downs.

When we moved in we brought two cats with us. One was a sprayer who mercilessly covered our house in urine. Despite numerous trips to the veterinarian we could never figure out how to make him break this habit and so every day I came home and cleaned the walls, the floors and a couple of times the TV. Our other cat loved to jump on the banisters, dig his claws in deeply, and scratch all the way down to the floor.

At some point rainwater leaked into our basement. As new homeowners we didn’t know about grading the dirt and so the basement flooded. The second time we forgot to clear an outdoor drain that filled with leaves. The rainwater loosened the glue on our basement tiles and every week or so another tile would become detached from the ground.

Around 2001 we installed ethernet cable all over the house and electricians cut giant holes into the ceiling to give them better access between the joists. We didn’t patch these holes once the work was complete. We just avoided spending any time in the basement and stuck to other parts of the house as often as we could.

We could have tried to fix the house, but in those post-graduation years we spent the majority of our time at work. We spent very little time at home so I felt like I could turn a blind eye to the aspects of my house I didn’t love. In fact, sometimes I was simultaneously embarrassed and proud of my frugality.

Keeping outdated furniture, scratched railings and dirty tiles kept money in our bank account. With the money we saved we put down 20% on a second home. We used our income to propel our passions and enjoy other aspects of our lives, but over time the house began to make me miserable. I didn’t realize exactly how despondent I felt until more than a decade later.

In my youth I didn’t care as much about the aesthetics of our house. Although my husband and I bought our house in our early twenties I treated it more like a shelter than a home. Our cats made it impossible to keep a well maintained residence. The best I could hope for was a place to keep me dry from the rain and warm when the weather turned cold. What was the point of hanging beautiful artwork or covering the floors in brightly colored rugs when my pets were destroying everything in and around my feet? I don’t regret having pets, (I loved them immensely), but looking back I realize that as with everything in life one decision had great impacts on others.

I’ve made many great financial decisions in my lifetime and some that certainly could have used better judgement. By keeping our expenses low at home we were able to save an extraordinary amount of our income and with that healthy cushion I felt financially confident to leave the workforce and become a stay-at-home parent.

But sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have searched for a greater sense of balance between saving for the future and enjoying today. Can you feel happy when you can’t open the windows to let in fresh air? Can you feel happy when you have to walk across broken tiles in your basement to reach the laundry room? Can you feel happy when you stare at cracked walls?

When our goals had been met and our fifteen year old cat passed away we dumped a bunch of money into fixing up our house and my mood instantly lifted. I no longer live in a cramped kitchen. I can open my windows easily and no longer bother with single pane glass or broken screens. I feel a sense of serenity now that I haven’t felt since buying the property over seventeen years ago.

Now I often wonder why I waited so long to spend money on our home. While my bank account is well over seven digits I lived in an unhappy situation for much too long.

As a twenty year old I was willing to let my house go in favor of other pursuits. As a forty year old I feel much differently. I’m not materialistic. I could live in a big house or a teeny tiny one, but I want it to feel clean, hospitable and beautiful. On the flip side I might have lived in a beautiful home, but spent my days slaving away at work trying to pay for it. I suppose I could have made worse decisions.

These days I’m aiming for somewhere in the middle; a sense of balance between saving and spending. I don’t need to live as though I’ll never live another day, but I don’t need to keep it all locked up in the bank either.

4 thoughts on “Avoiding Misery By Balancing the Desire to Spend and Save”

  1. I’m making those exact decisions now! We are choosing to spend on things that will make our home comfortable for us to live in now. We COULD save that money and invest in an index fund and compound it over forty years, while freezing my fingers off, or we could spend the money and not be in pain while we live here. Twenty years ago I would have chosen Option A because that’s the only choice I had. Now? We’re going with B because we can and frankly, why not spend the money now to enjoy a long term thing that affects our lives every single day? If we ever had to sell the house, we’d probably end up making changes to make it more desirable that we would have wished we had enjoyed during our time here. We’re not going overboard, we’re making judicious decisions, but we are aware that the today is as valuable as our unpromised tomorrow!

  2. Yes, Yes, Yes! I am so happy we made the changes long before we sell our house. I’m pretty sure I would have regretted upgrading it just to sell. Of course, some areas, like the basement, were so awful that we never would have sold it the way it was. So I guess in some ways our hands were tied. I never really thought about it, but odds are the money would have been spent eventually on renovations, but better to do it now and enjoy it rather than waiting until just before we move out. If we ever move out!

  3. I definitely feel that spending money to improve your environment can improve your mental state and physical well-being, which in turn could increase your productivity. We are into our second house renovation and have learnt that it’s good to makes changes early so you can enjoy them before you move on.

    • Now that we’ve made the changes I cannot imagine continuing to live our house the way it used to be. Kudos to you for making the decision to enjoy your house rather than wait until you decide to sell it!


Leave a Comment