My husband and I just wrapped up a whirlwind homebuying process. As we signed the last closing documents and got the keys to our new house, I breathed a sigh of relief so loud the escrow secretary could hear it in the next room.
During this whole process, I was so anxious I could barely fall asleep—for months. Calculating buying versus renting. Crunching numbers for the mortgage. Looking at homes.
I was excited to buy a home, for sure. I mean, I had 15 Pinterest boards going at the same time. So why was buying a home so much more emotional than I anticipated? Figuring that out has taught me a lot about how I think about money, and the kind of person (and parent) I want to be.
Spoiler alert: It had nothing to do with the house itself.
Going through such a large purchase brought out biases in myself I had that I never knew I held. Most of all, buying a home taught me to let go.
When I started telling friends and family that my husband and I wanted to buy a home, a few people rolled their eyes. Not because they weren’t happy for me, but because they weren’t sure I’d go through with it.
You see, I’ve been nomadic all my life. Growing up with family all around the world — I grew up in Canada, spent summers in Hong Kong and have relatives in South Africa, China, England, Australia and the U.S. — I traveled a lot. I have been freelancing for over six years so I could take my career on the road. I used to be very vocal about the downsides of homeownership. After all, there’s so much world to explore. Why would I want to tie myself down to one location?
Sounds weird, but as soon as I started looking at home listings, I got scared. I kept thinking about how I still wanted to visit Japan and South Korea. All those long distance hiking trails I’ve yet to walk. I felt like owning a home meant I’d never do those things.
Even though I knew these fears were irrational, I couldn’t help my fantasize about taking my family backpacking around the world.
Finally, I spoke to my husband because these thoughts were driving me crazy. I felt ashamed about feeling like we were tied down. “Remember,” he said, “how people thought we would stop traveling once our son was born? That never happened.”
He was right: We survived six trans-Atlantic flights, three road trips across the U.S. and countless weekend trips with our 4-year-old. “Who says we can’t travel around the world as a family anymore? We have the money and the time when I’m on summer holidays.”
It sounds a little funny, but I needed to be reminded that once you own a home, you’re still allowed to leave it sometimes! Even if we owned a home, we could still take vacations and travel.
Instead of grieving for my nomadic identity, I shifted my mindset to what it meant to be a traveler. It doesn’t mean that I have to have all my possessions in one or two suitcases. It’s OK to have a home base and take trips from there. It’s not all or nothing, like I once thought it was.
My knee-jerk reaction at the thought of buying a house was: I can’t afford a mortgage! Even though mortgage costs wouldn’t exceed 10 percent of our monthly budget. Yes, the numbers clearly worked out. Yes, we had a sufficient emergency fund and enough for a 20 percent down payment. Yes, it was cheaper than renting in the long run.
But there’s nothing like a multiple six-figure purchase to bring out some of your deep-rooted money issues.
My whole life, I’ve struggled with a dearth mentality: I absorbed the lesson from my parents that money is a source of both embarrassment and pleasure. I was supposed to work hard, even at the expense of my own happiness. As long as I can remember, I’ve had a chronic feeling of “never enough.”
As it turns out, years of dealing with my money baggage couldn’t prevent the deep-down feeling that I don’t have what it takes to succeed with money. As a result, I kept driving down our housing budget to the point where we were looking at homes in less-than-desirable neighborhoods, even though we could afford better.
Surprise, surprise: I was so focused on the numbers that I forgot to consider what really mattered to us as a family.
Given my anxiety levels, I sat down with my husband again. This time, we looked at worst case scenarios. The worst case scenario I kept fearing was the possibility of losing our home.
As we stared at the numbers together, I had to admit that my deep dark fear was unfounded. We had money to cover the mortgage, home maintenance and moving costs in case we had to move within a few years. First, we have a sizeable emergency fund — we saved at least a year’s worth of expenses in an account for that exact purpose. I also knew that if my freelancing efforts didn’t work out, I could work a bunch of side gigs to pay the bills.
Once I let go of the money side of things, I was able to view properties without much anxiety. And now, three weeks after my revelations, I’m happy to report that we have a cute one-storey home with a 30-foot swimming pool and we love it.
As my husband continues to make frequent trips to the home improvement store, I find myself wanting to splurge a little on items like bathroom tiles, light fixtures and plants for our yard. Giving myself that permission to splurge is actually a big growth moment. It means that I’m finally comfortable with my own financial security. It means I can start to think about the things I want, rather than just being in survival mode.
I’m still learning to let go of my baggage around money, but it’s safe to say I’m learning to enjoy spending a little of it. After all, I plan on being in my home for a long time, so it should be a place for my family to create long-lasting memories. And that’s already happening. Three weeks in, my son’s already taken his first swimming lessons in our new pool.
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