Monday, January 20, 2014

The Road Less Traveled Could Be Beautiful

To some extent I think we all believe that we take the proverbial "road less traveled". Who really says, I just do what everybody else does and hope it all works out? Remember when your parents would ask you "if all your friends were jumping off a cliff would you?" Parents are so wise, even when you have long established yourself as an adult - at least according to the numbers.

It may be more appropriate to exclaim that I take the hard road! When two decisions are placed before me I choose the one that will probably inflict the most pain for the longest period of time. Because if it doesn't hurt a little is it really worth it? Pain is gain! As humans I thought we were programmed to take the path of least resistance. I suppose much depends on your definition of resistance.

In my Making Mistakes series, my last mistake referenced a certain house that may or may not turn out to be a huge mistake. We should know how much torment that decision inflicts soon enough. The process itself has been quite painful! A story for another post.

We have spent the last 6 months saving like that was our full-time job only to discover that now that we have saved a significant amount I don't want to part with it and start over again at a much slower pace due to the baggage (mortgage) we will be carrying.

But it is too late to turn back now. We are contractually obligated to forfeit our savings, all of it, and start over.  It hurts. It is easy to spend money when you have no money. It's just paper, and a promise to pay it back. But when you have actually earned it by the sweat of your brow, choosing rice and beans over meat.... those dollars mean something. When the money you spend represents something you guard it with you life!

By now you probably also know that once you start looking at something, anything, there is a very good chance that the "thing" is going to be in your possession. It could be a purse, car, house, jewelry, book, vacation, bike, sofa, etc.  If you look at anything long enough and often enough something is going to happen. It is the way the universe works even though I don't have any scientific data to point to - just my personal experience.

We started looking at houses the minute we had our job offer, about 9 months before we would start practice. That is a lot of time. I knew everything about every neighborhood in our desired area. I checked new MLS listings before getting our of bed every morning. I mapped, I googled, I had parents and in-laws drive by.  It helped that we had both lived in the city and knew its surroundings fairly well. Rather, knowing the city just sped things up. We knew this was the final stop on our journey so buying a house was in our future.  (Let me rephrase, we hope this is our last stop on the journey - there are no guarantees in life.)

Even with all of that looking and researching I was convinced that we weren't going to buy a house right away. I just wanted to be acquainted with the market, or so I told myself. Reason suggests that you have to have some money to buy a house, and we had none. What harm could there be in looking when you don't have the funds to make anything happen? We were in no danger of having someone give us money, or winning the lottery. It was just innocent fun. On a "research" trip out to our new city we contacted a trusted realtor and started looking inside the houses we had seen online. That was a lot of fun! Are you starting to see how things happen?

We looked during that trip and then immediately after we arrived in July. And then because my husband had almost a full month off before he started work we decided that would be the perfect time to keep looking. Not because we were prepared to buy, but because we had the time. What else were we going to do? Time isn't always a friend. Remember the saying about idle hands?

Our house! It is everything we were looking for. Right neighborhood, excellent location. It was perfect, except for the price. Even I knew it would be a stretch on top of the high property taxes in the area, but not impossible if we budgeted right. As much as I wanted it, and could easily imagine our family living there and building a life,  I patted myself on the back for walking away. I watched the house for months before we saw it, toured it twice, drove by it nearly every week, and watched it until the day it sold. Even now when we drive through the neighborhood we stop to admire it. It was the one that got away! Thank heavens - that would have been a big, beautiful, expensive mistake.

During this same time we found another neighborhood in a suburb I never would have considered until I discovered that my kind of homes (think igloo in Miami) existed in only two neighborhoods among a population of almost 5 million people. The one area was out of my price range, and the other out of my comfortable distance from the city. We were looking for a needle in a haystack.

Through what seemed like divine providence, and may very well prove to be, we found a home in a beautiful, new, custom, gated neighborhood that had been started with foundation and framing completed. Did I mention this all happened before we even had our first paycheck? The builder had started while between other projects and was waiting for the perfect buyer to finish it.  US!  It wouldn't be completed for months which would give us time to save our down payment. It followed the same purchasing model as a resale home instead of a new construction loan. The builder was flexible with our earnest money and allowed us to make installments over a few months. Really too good to be true, but it is true. And soon enough we will have a house. That may be all we have.

While I am excited I am also terrified. Now that we have saved our down payment I realize just what that money could do.  If we were to continue saving and living at the same rate we are now we could be debt free in another 2 1/2 years. That is all, granted we wouldn't own a home, but we wouldn't have any debt! In a total of 3 years out of practice we could pay off our student loans and our two cars. In anther 6 months (without those pesky student loans and car payments) we could have saved for a down payment on a house equal to what we are purchasing - assuming all things stay the same.

I can imagine what that would feel like, and that is all I will be able to do... imagine. There are so many more options available when you don't have debt and do have money in the bank. That would have been the road less traveled and it could have been beautiful. It would have been courageous and honorable, something to be proud of, and an example for our children. But I didn't do it.

The world needs more courage in the face of difficult decisions. The world needs more people willing to say no to debt and yes to savings. I wish it could have been me. I wanted to be in that camp! I look at the few people that I know who are living debt free and I envy them. They are a small happy group. But in the end didn't choose to join them. I read stories about people who make the decision to live without debt and cheer for them and applaud their journey and triumph. I read Dame Ramsey books and The Millionaire Next Door. But ultimately dismissed that path for myself and my family.

I feel like a complete dupe. My husband works in a highly compensated surgical specialty. It could have been relatively easy. Sure it would have been mildly uncomfortable for another 3 years, but what is 3 years when you compare that to what we have already been through, or the difficulty that we will know for years trying to payoff student loan debt and save for a meaningful retirement with a mortgage starting all of this after the age of 40?

We say we want to be debt free and fund a comfortable retirement, but our decisions when it comes to tangible purchases don't support those desires. When it comes down to it we all find ways to justify getting the things we want. Our rationalization sounded a lot like this:

  • If we wait any longer to buy a house we love we might as well just buy a retirement home.
  • Housing prices and interest rates are moving up!
  • We have 4 kids, I would be different if we had 1 or 2. We need the space.
  • Our kids deserve to have a place to call home, 4 locations in 9 years isn't fair to the kids.
  • I don't want to move the kids during their impressionable years when making friends become more difficult.
  • I don't want to wait any longer, we have already sacrificed so much.
  • We can afford it!
  • We will be the only people in the 40+ age bracket we know without a house.
  • Our financial advisor says it will help reduce our oppressive tax burden.

Definition of justify: to prove or show something to be just, right, or reasonable.

Definition of rationalize: attempt to explain or justify one's own or another's behavior or attitude with plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.

Whether we justified or rationalized our decision, it has been made. Now we get to live with it. The truth is that in 3 years from now when I am writing checks for payments on our cars, student loans, and mortgage I might cry a little knowing it could have been different. By some miracle maybe we can make it all happen - that's what the rest of us say who take the same road as the majority. Sounds like the definition of insanity - doing the same thing yet expecting different results.

Only time will tell.



  1. I have to say even as we look towards residency because of the age of our kids we are approaching it all differently than we thought we would. That being said - I think your reasons for buying a home are valid. You are providing your kids with a stable base - the chance to settle in like they have not been able to through this whole process. It is time you guys have a "home" - not just a house to live in. Just because you had certain expectations of how you would do things does not mean if you do them differently it is wrong - you are just bending and flowing with what is working for the family and what in the long run is really important for all of you to be happy, together. We will always have bills of one sort or another and we just do the best we can. Be happy and content knowing that you can provide a stable, secure, and happy, loving home for your children to grow up in. It is ok to stray from that perfect image in your mind. I am very jealous of you being at that point in the adventure - but remind myself that it is important to enjoy all of it as you go - it is not just the end goal that is important. Thank you for a very open post.
    Chey xo

  2. Oh man! Ive been using you as my compass bc my husbands about to graduate fellowship and were going back and forth on the buying thing too. It really is such a huge decision and you made the right one-just trust that. EVerything in life works out just the way it needs to and Im so excited for you guys :) Now can you be my real estate agent please!?

  3. Thank you for the practical and honest post. There is a saying that goes that the choices we make in the past affect us today. At the end of the day if you tried your best and made the decision that was best for you at the time then you can more readily accept the consequences of your actions. Thanks again for your honesty


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