Even though my wife and I traditionally write New Year’s Resolutions every year, I also spend time in reflection on the previous year’s accomplishments whether good or bad. These have generally been a list of either “I’m glad I did this” or “I wish I would have done that.” This year was different because the one thing I reflected on the most was not something I did per say, but a change in attitude I had that I’m rather proud of. I’m proud because I feel as if I’ve made a choice that solidifies a better future. What’s even better is that my wife agrees with this new attitude I have (In fact, she and I debated this topic lovingly and drew the same conclusion). Essentially, we are partners equally yoked on a matter of importance about our future.
The change in attitude, you might be asking? Well, it’s the idea of owning a home. I’ve been passionately obsessed with this for ten years. I once measured my personal success based on whether or not I would one day own a house. It haunted me for a long time, and after my divorce in 2000 I was certain it would be a long, long road to get there. My kids came first, so I knew the only way to own a house was to increase me yearly salary exponentially. I spent the next ten years working hard and diligent for my company and to ensure I was a good provider for my kids. I worked my way up the ladder to a position that has paid me a salary I’m grateful for. I got remarried. I had my fourth child. Now, I’m financially poised to purchase a house. I could do it. I could afford it today, but something stopped me…
My father came to visit me in December. He lives in Hawaii. He owns a home. He’s 63 years old and still working in a job he’s held for 32 years, and he fears he may not be able to retire. Listening to my father, who’s worked hard all his life, conversationally break down his anxiety over a late life retirement put me into deep thought about my own life. The question I asked myself: What is more important? Do I want to own a home? Or, do I want to retire at a decent age? What my dad and I kept coming back to was “The Mortgage” or “The Upkeep.” Those seemed to have a life of its own. It needs to be fed monthly. It sometimes needs a new limb or head of hair. Its surrounding body needs constant manicuring, which requires tools that also need to be maintained constantly. It’s almost a living, breathing thing that eats money faster than some people can produce it. Granted, my father makes a fine living, but this thing, this house…Well…It’s a bit of an obstacle for retirement. Right now, it’s also a hard thing to sell. A person can’t have a mortgage at 75 that exceeds their monthly income. No brainer.
I don’t want an obstacle. Neither does my wife. We both have this dream. The dream is: Some day we will travel all over the world, we will write books even if we don’t get published, we will paint even if we don’t get our works of art into museums, we will live without having to punch a clock or “check-in” to a job. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? That is profoundly appealing to us both. The catch is we don’t want to wait until we’re in our 80’s for that to happen. We have a healthy 401k that grows every month, we have an IRA, an investment account, and a savings that we’re proud of and we try and build upon all year long. We are financially diverse. We’re just not ready to put that diversity aside or empty out an account for something that is unpredictable.
Having a house would be nice, but not if I have to fear having to work until I can’t any longer. My wife feels the same. We want retirement to be a choice, not a necessity due to health. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever buy a house. We just won’t buy a house if it means risking retiring when we want to retire. With the change in the economy, and a house going from being an investment to a bank and back to a home, it’s important to be realistic about what you really want. It’s important to know your priorities. It’s also important to realize that a home doesn’t have to be a house. It can just be the place that you share with the people you love. It doesn’t have to be everything, and if you don’t ever get one: That’s OK too. Just take care of yourselves. That’s the most important thing, right? A house is not a bank, or an investment. Maybe that’s where all the trouble started?
I am proud that with the help of my wonderful wife I have come to understand this, and that I now measure myself on knowing that a thing is far less important than a life I can be proud of. Now knowing this, I am at great peace.