our $14,000 mistake

kids trampoline


Have you ever made a mistake, & in retrospect you find it so glaringly obvious that you wonder WHY in the blazes you did what you did?

Living in a huge house, was a huge mistake for us–one that cost us over $14,000 in just two years time.

They say hindsight is 20-20.

I’m sure this is true. Especially when it comes to matters financial.

Now I know it could be much worse (we could have bought the thing!), but a sum that size nearly takes your breath away. Especially when in retrospect you see how easily you let the money slip through your fingers.

The DL on military housing

The way housing works in the military is this.

Either you live on base (rent is free, plus all utilities are covered), OR you live off base & are given a housing stipend (otherwise known as BAH), which is essentially tax-free money that goes towards a rent or mortgage, plus utilities. BAH is based on rank & whether or not you have dependents. For us, since Joseph is an officer with dependents, our BAH is not too shabby (upwards of $1650, if you want to know).

For a number of reasons we decided to live off base.

Initially I had hopes of finding a place to rent that would be several hundred dollars less than our BAH so we could pocket the difference. But, I was in a rush to find a place (coming off 5 months of living in my parent’s basement with four kids), & when we found our old house, a close distance to base, in a nice subdivision with a swimming pool, we signed a 2 year lease. And didn’t look back. Until the fall of this last year that is, & then I couldn’t help but look back. A lot.

Our big mistake

Rent on the old place was $1475. So we had enough in our BAH to cover rent + most of the utilities. So we were good to go right? Not exactly.

(I explain more in about our decision to downsize, in this post.)

So how does this equate to a $14,000 mistake?

Now that we’re in a smaller place, paying just $975 a month (plus our utilities will be cut by a third, if not more), we will save somewhere around $600 each month (that’s like me getting a part-time job, without having to worry about childcare!).

Let’s do the math.

$600 x 12 (months) = $7,200

$7200 x 2 (years) = $14,400


In two years time we could have saved over $14,000 just by living in our current home to begin with!!

What if we let this crazy behavior go on for 10 years?

$7200 x 10 (years) = $72,000

That’s a mighty good chunk of change. Is living in a large (might I add, burdensome) house worth that extra cost? That is the question.

Other hidden costs

Our old house wasn’t bad–it was I suppose, what you could call a “middle class suburban dream house”–but the yard was tiny, the house nestled in the middle of the subdivision giving us a view of fences, concrete, & other houses.

After a while of such living, I realized we were becoming nature deprived. Our yard had no trees, the grass could only loosely be called such (it was full of what my kids call “pokies” or goat-heads) not to mention there were always mounds of fire ants (despite our best efforts to get rid of them). I had to bribe my kids to go outside & play in our “yard.”

But, our new reality is quite different.

We moved into our new house last month only to find out that the yard is huge.

Joseph & I hadn’t actually toured the property before moving in or signing the lease–a little crazy, I know. But when I saw that the price was right (in fact, it was a few hundred dollars less per month than everything else in the area), looked at the pictures online, & saw that it was still in the kid’s school boundaries, we took it. And were pleasantly surprised by it’s loveliness & large, open yard (+ we’re right next to the subdivision’s park).

I admit I was worried about moving from a 3100 ft2 house to a place less than half that size.

Would my kids complain about less space? Would we feel cramped? Would we feel like sardines packed tightly in a tin can? Would I feel deprived?

As far as I can tell, my fears have been unfounded.

The kids don’t miss the old house at all.

Never once have my kids said, “Mom, I wish we lived in our big, other house, where we had so many rooms we didn’t have names for them all.” Instead, they’ve been playing outside more than they ever have since we moved to Texas.* Also, I think they feel more secure in a smaller, more intimate space.

As for me, I feel at home now.

Simple + less = better

Joseph & I never felt quite comfortable in that cavernous house. I originally thought the extra space would be nice, but turns out, the burden of keeping up a house so large was terrific. Unbearable even.

I felt like from the moment I woke up, to when I went to sleep all I thought about was how my house wasn’t clean, or how I would never be able to get my house clean. And this is not because I’m OCD (trust me, I’m not, at least when it comes to cleanliness). It’s because when you have that much space, you have more stuff**.

More stuff + more space = so much time & energy spent cleaning & organizing, followed by more cleaning, & more organizing.

What I know for sure know is that I want to spend the least amount of time possible cleaning & organizing. I don’t want to have to hire a house cleaner, & I don’t want to just surrender to the chaos & mess. So the solution? Live in a smaller house, with fewer things.

I can tell you it’s really that simple.

Before, it would take me days, if not weeks to get my house “in order.” If I got sick, or we got slightly behind on housework, I felt like there was no hope. No amount of reasonable effort could get us back to order.

Now, I can whisk through my cozy home, tidying & straightening, sweeping, & polishing, in just an hour or two & have the thing in tip top shape, which for my mental & spiritual well-being, is huge.

Regrets, I’ve had a few…

The thing about mistakes is that if there was pain involved, it should theoretically lead to not repeating the action that lead to the particular mistake. I feel pain when I know I have mismanaged our family’s money. This is because we have worked so hard for the past several years to throw everything we could at our debts. This self-imposed frugality has taught me the value of a dollar.

For the past several years I’ve saved money by cutting all of my kid’s hair (including myself & Joseph’s), line drying our laundry, using cloth diapers, baking our own bread, buying in bulk, & so many other things.

But all of those efforts looked so silly when I realized that though I was saving $10, $20, & even $50 here & there (little things do add up, after all), me trying to pinch pennies on groceries & other things while still paying far too much on housing is like focusing on fixing a leaky faucet to conserve water while I’m ignoring the firehose of water gushing from the pipes that have burst underneath the house.

This big, expensive lesson has taught me:
1) We need far less space to meet our needs & be happy, than we think.
2) Housing is one of the biggest expenses we will ever spend money on, & we can’t afford to not also look for ways to significantly cut this particular expense, within reason & practicality.

So, back to the original question at the beginning of the post — have you ever made a mistake, & in retrospect you find it so glaringly obvious that you wonder WHY you did what you did?

Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


*The photo is at our new place. Since we finally have a big enough yard, we bought a trampoline for Christmas (it paid for itself in the first week).
**Seinfeld’s recent stand-up bit on the Tonight Show, is acutely on point in regards to the absurdity of “stuff.” I especially loved the part about his favorite kind of store being one where he can buy something & “then immediately turn & throw the item(s) down the chute to burn in an incinerator…”


Other bring joy posts you might want to check out:



  1. Laurie
    on January 11, 2015 at 11:37 am said:

    “have you ever made a mistake, & in retrospect you find it so glaringly obvious that you wonder WHY you did what you did?”

    Oh, my, yes! So many times, so many different situations, too many to list. But your question and thinking about my answer has made me realize the best part about getting older: I don’t worry so much about them anymore. Yay!

    There was a time when I would have AGONIZED (and I mean really agonized!) over all the mistakes I’ve made. Now I’m more likely to say, “D’oh! Well, don’t do that again” and move on…to all sorts of never imagined new mistakes. LOL

    • Janae Wise
      on January 11, 2015 at 1:13 pm said:

      “Now I’m more likely to say, “D’oh! Well, don’t do that again” and move on…to all sorts of never imagined new mistakes. LOL”
      What a great attitude to have! I love your positive attitude.

      I agree, there is something lovely about getting older. Along with the wisdom that can come from making & learning from lots of dumb mistakes, comes a calmer approach to life. Less ambitious, more craving for the simple, basic things in life. Or at least that’s been my experience & sounds like yours has been similar. Getting old doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all!

  2. Christiana
    on January 9, 2015 at 12:05 am said:

    I love hearing about your downsizing and lessons learned. My husband and I (no kids yet) are focused on buying some land for a big garden and having a “tiny house” built on it, probably 500-1,000 sq ft. (There’s a tiny house movement that has sprung up in the past decade or so, and it really connected with us.)
    A mistake I’ve made was accumulating stuff, mostly vintage books and holding on to old things. I’m finally to a place where I see that this stuff is holding us back. I think when something is nagging at you in the back of your mind for a long time you know it’s time to do something about. And sometimes the lesson is a hard one to learn, so thank you for sharing.

  3. brenna
    on January 9, 2015 at 12:01 am said:

    When we first moved back to the states from Germany we bought a brand new car thinking we needed to in order to build our nonexistent credit. We had 8000 cash to spend as a down payment. Had we done our research we could have probably completely paid for the car we bought with that money. Instead we paid sticker price, bought an extended warranty, and all those extras you should never get. A kia Rio, manual transmission, locks and doors you actually had to work yourself. Not only did we put down that that 8000, but we also took out a 10000 loan at 11.9 percent. Yikes! We paid it off in two years, but all that wasted money makes me cringe.

  4. Kristi
    on January 8, 2015 at 6:23 pm said:

    That’s exactly why I want to downsize, too! Spot on post!

  5. Joya
    on January 8, 2015 at 2:26 pm said:

    I’m glad you found a place with a huge yard. I can handle a smaller indoor space as long as there is plenty of outdoor space. It makes a difference, especially when you have kids.
    That’s great you are saving so much money and I agree about the house cleaning. Why have a huge space when you are going to spend time stressing over it?

  6. Alysa
    on January 8, 2015 at 7:34 am said:

    This post has perfect timing for me, Janae! We are looking at houses (to rent) right now. Thank you for the reminder! (p.s. I hate cleaning)

  7. Katie
    on January 7, 2015 at 9:52 pm said:

    Agh. I get what you’re saying. My hubby and I are in the process of saving a bunch of money so we can build a home on an acre lot. It would be our forever home of about 4000 sq feet. We have visions of our aging parents staying at our place when the need arises, having family gatherings and casual get-togethers at our house, home school our kids in the home, friends being able to stay at our place when they come into town, etc. The home will be much bigger than our current home, but I feel like it is perfect for the type of life we want to live. Not grand, just with lots of friends and family around, and options. My kids will be older then…do you think it’s possible to take care of the house when kids are plenty old to pitch in their share? Do people with clean large homes only have housekeepers? Or is there another solution? I don’t want to build our home only to hate it a couple years later! Like I said, Agh.

    Anyway, good for you. I’m excited to see that debt ball rolling like crazy now! Also, if you’re up for it, I’d love to hear how you frugally handled Christmas. I’m also up for ideas and new perspectives.

    • Janae Wise
      on January 7, 2015 at 10:46 pm said:

      Hi Katie.

      I think it really comes down to your values & priorities. For us, we’ve realized that even if we have the money for a bigger/nicer space, we would choose to spend our money elsewhere (this is a recent realization, mind you). For the time, it’s going to our debts (& yes, that debt snowball is accelerating with lightening speed, which is awesome!). In the near future it will go towards a more secure financial future by building up our savings & retirement (which at this point are paltry). Even once that is set, we would still choose to spend our money elsewhere–traveling, charity, hobbies (like music), & so many other things will take precedence. All the while we are still living in quite luxurious circumstances, just slightly less luxurious than before.

      Wanting a home that is large enough to accommodate lots of family & friends is not a bad thing at all! I have several siblings with lovely, very large homes that serve as centers for entertaining & hosting. But I don’t think a home needs to be several thousands of square feet to become an abode of warmth & love, even for a large family & family gatherings. Both Joseph & I grew up in homes around 2,000 ft2 (8 in his family, 9 in mine). His family often had other families live with theirs & we always had an exchange students or relatives live with us.

      Though my kids all help out with chores (the oldest three have been doing dishes, vaccuuming, doing laundry, etc. for several years now), the fact remains I’m still the overseer & main do-er of the work. Joseph does a good brunt of the work as he is able, but despite all this, in our old house, there just always seemed to be a never ending stream of housework. Always something to vacuum, dust, sweep, mop, disinfect, clean, or organize.

      I would imagine that certain things do get easier as all the children get older, but they also get busier with hobbies, school, & work. I don’t think it’s a good idea to plan on your kids bearing the brunt of extra housework created by an extra large home. Of course, I’m sure there are some families who manage to create systems where things run like clockwork & the housework gets done, but not without a lot of effort & teamwork. Not a bad thing, but for us, going back to our values, I’d rather spend time with my family outdoors, doing service, traveling, reading, or working on hobbies. And, the people that I know personally (siblings & friends), with very large homes do hire housecleaning help.

      I certainly don’t want to dash anyone’s hopes of building their dream mansion (anything above 3,000 ft2 is a mansion in my book!). But I’d like to offer my perspective as something to consider. I think too often people plan for years & years, & put so much effort, time & energy into their dream home (which is often huge), & yet don’t realize 1) how much responsibility that home will be, & 2) that they would be happier with a smaller, more modest scaled-down version. Basically, I don’t think large homes are all that people hope & dream they will be. A house is a house & what makes it a home is the people & the spirit in it.

      Spacious rooms, long hallways, large kitchens–these things have very little to do with the joy that comes from being in a home (& kids don’t & *need* their own bedroom). One thing that I actually hated about our last house was all the wasted space. I’m not a pack rat, & I hate cluttered, overstuffed spaces (it makes me anxious), & on the same token, I didn’t realize how utilitarian my tastes have become. Our bedroom, for example, was as big, if not bigger than our entire kitchen & living area in our new place. And I thought it an utter waste. We only slept in the bedroom–why, oh why, did I need all that extra space? It just seemed silly & wasteful to me. I suppose I could have filled that space with furniture, but that would have cost more money as well as time in upkeep & care (something I was unwilling to do).

      I can honestly say at this point in my life I have no desire for a large home ever again. Even if we add more children to our family, I will still want a very modest space. I’ve learned my lesson, & hope I will not forget it.

      I would recommend renting a very large house for a few years before you commit to building a “forever” one of your own. This is often not an option (especially if you live in a rural area), but making that kind of long-term, for-life commitment is not something you want to take lightly.

      Best of luck, & thanks for bring up lots of good points for discussion!

  8. Rochelle
    on January 7, 2015 at 7:51 pm said:

    We bought a big, broken down house on 2 acres. Because it was a bank repo we got it for below market value. I said so many prayers before we bought it, saying “God if we are not supposed to have this house, and buy a duplex in the city to have tenants cover our mortgage instead, let the bank refuse our offer”. We got the house. I love it with all my heart yet to clean it (or more accurately, not cleaning it) causes me anxiety almost daily. I can’t keep up. Plus though my husband is a carpenter, we can’t afford renovations so it makes eveything feel extra gross.
    I feel equally happy (because I adore our acreage and our broken down house (there’s so much potential here) ) and equally stressed (because our utility bills are expensive, this house that’s too big for us to clean and it’s filled up too quickly with “stuff”) about where we live.

    These are first world problems I realize, so I really shouldn’t complain. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your situation. Big house problems quickly add up.

    • Janae Wise
      on January 7, 2015 at 8:26 pm said:

      I can so relate with the cleaning anxiety. Personally, I just can’t handle it. I would much rather have a smaller place I can control & manage without spending my days working on it. I guess it’s about priorities, & I have so many other priorities than housecleaning!

      So wonderful that you’ve got some land & that you got a good deal on a house. BUT, like you said, lots of potential for big, hairy issues to pop up that can suck your time & money. Yeah, first world problems for sure 🙂

  9. Kim
    on January 7, 2015 at 6:42 pm said:

    Dang. Thats a lot of money! I knew I wasnt crazy thinking a smaller house would be best for us. Most days I love it. I would really love to have a bigger yard but we are dealing with it. And thankfully our neighbors just throw back all the balls we kick over the fence!

    • Janae Wise
      on January 7, 2015 at 8:23 pm said:

      No kidding. SO much money. It was like, every day we lived there I was burning a $20 bill. Ouch.

      I think you’re right about a bigger yard–what with your brood of dogs, you would put it to good use!