It’s been a year since we bought our house. I’ve barely blogged this year, mostly due to distance learning. But there’s also been the nagging question: are we still “pretending” by living on less than we could? If anything, living in our new neighborhood feels like we’re pretending to be rich. Pretending to fit in. Pretending to care about our lawn.
We also left behind our mortgage-free life, lower bills, and the many updates Neil DIYed over the years. Though our new mortgage is quite small, our property taxes are not. And there are no end of projects. I’m confident it will be far less expensive in the long run to DIY updates, but it will require some cash, time, and patience.
I have no regrets about moving. The concerns I had–the expense, the effort, the sheer lack of necessity–evaporated once we were here. The sense of community is definitely stronger. I can scarcely walk around the block without seeing someone I know (and stopping for a chat). Saturday we have 4 neighbor kids from 3 different families playing in our yard. We can still connect with old neighbors since we’re so close, and my kids didn’t even have to switch school buildings.
Having more space, a big beautiful yard, lots of friends in walking distance, and neighborhood amenities like a bike path, playground, and fishing pond are also great. And did I mention we don’t live in a bi-level anymore?
So what does “pretending to be poor” look like when you feel like you’re pretending to be rich? Moving here has simultaneously felt like the end of living on less, and has highlighted the ways we could be spending so much more. We’re surrounded by the lawn care services, newer vehicles, and professional remodeling projects. Moms get their hair done and wear North Face. And I’m not judging any of those expenses. Moving here has shown me more than ever before that everyone has their reasons for their financial choices. I used to wonder, who would want to live in this Edward Scissorhands neighborhood in these oversized houses? Three kids later, I’m living the answer.
When we first moved here, I noticed a swell of insecurity. Did I look too dorky? (How could I not? I’m so nerdy.) Was my décor too tacky? (Yes again. I’m hopeless in this department.) I was torn between two value systems–pretending to be poor, and pretending to be normal, which maybe now meant rich. Quickly I concluded what I always have: I need to be myself. And be a good neighbor. Think more about others than myself, including how my home or I look.
We’ve spent a little on decorating and furnishing our house, trying to make it homey, hospitable, and functional. We needed porch, patio, and family room seating. As always, it’s secondhand furniture. And I rocked the “just moved” excuse, even if just to myself, as long as possible.
We’re still frugal to the core in certain ways. I’m convinced that the #1 best way to build financial flexibility is to avoid car payments if at all possible. That alone provides $250-700 per month we can save, invest, and/or give away.
Second to that is probably DIY home projects and car repairs. Neil’s skills, which I understand are not entirely replicable, have saved us a small fortune. But anyone can apply other principles. Not needing to have our home look like a magazine or Pinterest board helps. And a can of paint or change of hardware goes a long way toward making things look less dated. So far, most changes we’ve made have focused on functionality (gas stove, bigger sink, hood range). Neil is currently finishing the basement–more on that soon.
We keep our food bills reasonable through an aggregate of simple approaches like: limiting restaurant eating and packing lunches (pandemic made this easy!), shopping at inexpensive places like ALDI and Walmart, meal planning, limiting the amount of prepackaged foods we buy, and keeping expensive proteins like steak or seafood as a special treat. Read: we eat a lot of chicken.
Our spending has changed a lot since my first post in 2015. Our season of life with 3 kids is certainly a major factor. Sports, babysitting, food, outings, clothes, bigger house…the list goes on. Babies are cheap. Kids are not. We do “save” on childcare with me staying at home. While there’s a significant cost to not building a career, this decision is not about money. We’ve been able to establish a lifestyle that does not require a second income, and are working toward a point of financial flexibility you could call early retirement.
So are we still pretending? Yes and no. We could spend a lot more. We could spend a lot less. Bottom line: we’re doing our best to live in line with our values, and we’re so grateful for our new home and the community we’re enjoying here. God has truly provided, and we believe He always will.
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