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Their House Is Better Than Ours

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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Thursday 13th of February 2014

Leaving structural issues aside and just talking about furniture and decor -

It's not so much the quality or amount of seasonal knick knacks that make it look like a nice put together home. It's the lack of random hodge podge. You don't have to go out and buy a bunch of matchy matchy stuff, but do stop accepting random stuff into your house. Just because you're working with free/cheap stuff, doesn't mean you can't be picky and turn things down. Wait for something that fits or can be made to fit in with your decor.

For instance, go ahead and decorate your bedroom with a bunch of random wooden furniture in 7 different styles from craigslist. But then spend a weekend and paint it all matching or coordinating colors. Now it's "eclectic and fun and creative" instead of "college chic". Easy and fairly cheap, but makes a huge difference. Tablecloths can also hide a multitude of sins, as can slipcovers.

One Frugal Girl

Thursday 13th of February 2014

Love the 'eclectic, fun and creative' idea. I think this would be easier if we were more handy. We have switched up inexpensive slipcovers, which did make a big difference! Thanks for the comment.


Thursday 13th of February 2014

As other commenters suggested, throwing money is not the only way to make a house a home. True, some financial attention is required, but even the tangible elements of comfort and warmth are not really expensive (candles books, used and cherished objects, seasonal accents, warm colors, even furniture grouping/placement and cozy lighting). Perhaps get a few books or research home staging online to get a feel for this, and allocate a bit of the summer house funds towards making the every other season house feel like the real home it is.

One Frugal Girl

Thursday 13th of February 2014

I agree completely! For years we lived with hard wood floors and no rugs. One afternoon we picked out a rug for $100 at IKEA and it dramatically changed the look and feel of that room. I'm not the best at home decorating. I see the pictures in books and magazines, but I find it hard to find similar options when you don't want to spend a lot of money.

comparison is the thief of joy | shmeruns

Thursday 13th of February 2014

[…] morning, I read this article, “Their House is Better Than Ours.”  It’s perfect.  It’s exactly how Eric and I […]


Wednesday 12th of February 2014

It's not just the money to make a house a home.

It's the time. It takes a long time, especially on a smaller budget.

You have your priorities with your time as well.

One Frugal Girl

Thursday 13th of February 2014

Thanks Jenna. That's true. This house has never been a priority of mine. Not time-wise or with money.


Wednesday 12th of February 2014

Your values seem clear and focused. But it sounds like you and your husband aren't quite aligned. Is it time for the two of you to have a discussion about your path forward?

One Frugal Girl

Thursday 13th of February 2014

Hi Dorothy -- My husband reads this blog, so we actually had a long conversation after I posted this ;)