Home Buying (and Other Big Purchases) as an Emotional Purchase

A few months before we bought our current home, my wife and I toured literally dozens of different houses, trying to find one that was right for us. We had come up with a budget for our purchase and knew what our firm spending cap was.

On one bright spring day, my wife and I were visiting three homes for sale on the same block that were all having open houses at once. None of them really struck our fancy, but we did notice a fourth house on the corner that was for sale at a price about $60,000 over our price range.

We toured that house. We fell in love with that house. Even now, it’s really obvious to both of us that it was our favorite house that we toured.

But it wasn’t the house that we bought. We ended up with another home that was within the price range we had originally set.

It was a difficult choice. It was a choice that, if we had entered into the home-buying process with less planning and less self-control, probably would have turned out differently. It would have been quite easy to simply give into our desires and buy that house, but if we had, we would have been drowning in mortgage payments now. It was also a choice that many people made differently – and that difference in choice caused the housing bubble and a giant mountain of foreclosures.

It is so easy to just let our emotions take control when we’re making a major buying decision. It would have been so easy for us to walk into that house, tour it, smile at each other, recognize that we could probably make the mortgage payments, and then sign the papers.

But that one choice puts us on a different life trajectory. I would have been much more worried about leaving my full-time job. In fact, I probably would have wound up choosing it instead of choosing a writing career – and that would have meant the closing of The Simple Dollar. I would have had less time to spend with my kids – instead of taking them to the zoo or the Science Center of Iowa or just spending afternoons with them at the park, I would have been behind a desk somewhere. We would have had more money stresses on our marriage. We would likely have never chosen – or even considered – having a third child.

Yes, I would have loved to have that house. Yet, when I step back and look at all the good things that happened in our life because we stuck to the budget, I wouldn’t trade any of it for that house.

A house is not a home, after all.

The next time you’re about to make a major purchase, whether it be a home or an automobile or even just a high-end home electronic device, and you’re thinking about jumping outside of your budget for that purchase because you fell in love with somethng that dazzled you, step back for a moment and ask yourself about what you’d be giving up for this thing. Would you be tied even more to your job, at the mercy of your boss? Would you not have the financial resources to take advantage of opportunities that came your way? Are you going to have to push yourself more to earn more, taking away time from the other things you value in life?

On the other hand, if you simply stick to your budget and get a slightly downscale model, you gain the freedom to choose the life you want. What’s better, after all? The 2,000 square foot home that you have time to enjoy, or the 2,800 square foot home that requires you to work tons of extra hours?

Houses and cars and televisions and boats are just stuff. Don’t sacrifice your life for them because you want them in this moment.

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