Saturday, February 16, 2008

Deciding What Is Important

Approximately 10 1/2 months ago, my husband and I bought our first house - a beautiful old colonial in need of...well, everything.  Or almost.

Structurally it's very sound.  But otherwise, it has major infrastructure needs - new wiring, the oil tanks need to be replaced before they seep, and we've got a small barn that is currently rather slanted and falling apart.  Oh, and then there's all the appliances that need replacing, cosmetic work, and furniture, rugs and so on.  Tack that on to the fact that we moved from an 1100 sf apartment to a 2300 sf home....and, well...hmm.  

Homeownership isn't for the faint of heart.  Especially not an older home.

It's hard when you own a home not to want to do everything right now, immediately.  And society is full of temptation - catalogs, malls, commercials...if you can dream it, you can buy it. Especially the first home, the one you've dreamed about, waited for, idealized - the desire to make it all perfect can be maddening.

But there's that thing called financial solvency, and in my humble opinion, that's important too. So my husband and I have a lot of lengthy discussions filed under the header of 'prioritization'.  

These discussions are hard because home improvements are cumulatively very expensive.  It's not that a can of paint is particularly pricey.  It's that 15 cans of paint plus painting supplies and primer in order to tackle all the spaces with rotten paint jobs is hundreds of dollars.  Or, a couch isn't that bad - expensive, but doable.  It's when we add a rug, coffee table, chairs and lighting that it starts to make me squeamish.  And then there's the not-so-rewarding but necessary purchases.  

Add it all up, and, like us, you may come up with a list that seems near infinite.  And the knowledge that you, like us, are years and years away from completion of that list.  Oh, and by that time there will be a whole new list.  Welcome to the club.  Have a drink.  Have two.  You'll need them.  

Back to this prioritization thing.  My husband Sander and I spend a lot of time on this.  One of our major decisions early on was that all home improvements happen in cash.  We talk sometimes about an addition, and that might not be entirely cash, but for right now, all work or new purchases happen entirely in cash.  We pay off credit cards that we use  for points every month.  

So the cash thing is one limit we set.  The other is that home improvements cannot impair our other savings and debt repayment goals.  We have a car loan, and a first and second mortgage, plus many goals for saving that need to be attended to.

Then it's on to where the cash available for the house gets spent.  

We shoot for a balance of infrastructure work and things like furniture, lighting and so on.  A little bit of visual happiness and comfort, as well as the necessary, less sexy improvements. Still, there's a lot of negotiation that goes on.  And because this is real life, neither of us gets everything we want.  

I tend to be the maker of the lists of what we want, Sander adds to them, and then we hit the negotiating table, which isn't really a table, more like a series of conversations via email and in the car when we are driving somewhere.  Occasionally these discussions happen while looking at the budget, but often we are not.  I keep enough of our financial picture in my head that we can have pretty detailed conversations about it.  And when I'm not sure, we put the conversation on hold until we can verify the amount in question.  

What makes the conversations work for us is that we've come to understand that we are always trying to make things better for our home and our life - we just go about it in different ways.  It's really a listening exercise for both of us.  

I think our parameters - cash and not impeding other financial goals, have made it easier.  It's the boundaries that tie our discussions into the realm of reality.  It's also driven by need.  If we don't replace our oil tanks, a seepage issue could cost us $50,000.00.  If that's not incentive to spend the $2800.00, I don't know what is.  

Still, it's an ongoing thing.  The discussions around what's next are never really done.  


leann said...

This is what we do, as well. We have a list of what we want and what we need, and it's prioritized so that we can make the most of the improvements we want to do.

And cash for everything - on our Marriott card which is paid off every week.

Regardless of the amount of work there is on a 100+ year old house (and concurrently the money needed to do said work,) we must still be able to have nice holidays, eat out a couple times a month, visit our families, and, in general, enjoy life since we work so hard.

Sure, we don't get to do *everything* to the house that we want to....but we wouldn't have it any other way.

Simplicity Living said...

And society is full of temptation - catalogs, malls, commercials...if you can dream it, you can buy it.

I so agree and feel the same way. It's so tempting!!