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:
- 7 (easy) ways to save even more on the grocery budget
- How to make money with craigslist (& other places)
- What to do about kid’s extra-curriculars when getting out of debt?
- 5 minute raw apple crumble