Updated on 06.03.13

The Cost of Maintenance and Defense

Trent Hamm

Based on the title of this post, you might think that I’m delving into politics or the federal budget, but I’m not. Instead, I’ll start off with three little stories about Sarah and our family.

1. When Sarah and I were shopping for a house in 2007, we looked at a lot of them. We went to open houses, we scheduled visits to practically every house for sale within anything close to our price range in the area, and we even looked at houses somewhat outside of the area we wanted to live in.

Anyway, we found this perfect house. We both loved it. We were planning on having three kids and it had these wonderful bedrooms for three children. The master bedroom was just perfect in size and had a shower tall enough for me (I’m six foot five and a half). The basement was unfinished and completely open, as well as having a ceiling plenty tall for me to stand up in. The kitchen was wonderful and had an island and plenty of cupboard space for cooking supplies. It was in an area that wasn’t heavily populated, but we observed a couple houses nearby that had young children living there.

In other words, it was pretty close to exactly our dream house.

The drawback? It was a significant amount more than we were planning to spend – about $60,000 more. Another factor is that the square footage, if we finished the basement, would have been around 4,000 square feet.

My wife had spent time cleaning houses for others and she knew quite well that the time and cost invested in maintaining a home is almost directly proportional to the square footage of it. We also knew that property taxes were also highly related to the livable square footage of the house in that area, thanks to the assessor’s website.

In other words, we’d be spending many hours a week just on household maintenance and cleaning for this house, and our property taxes would end up being pretty high, too. We would be continually paying, with our time and energy and our money, for every square foot that we bought.

With that in mind, we began to re-evaluate the purchase. Did we need these three roomy bedrooms for our children, when at the time we only had one (and another on the way)? Did we really need all of this space in the basement? Could we really afford those property taxes? More importantly, did we want to constantly invest that much time into cleaning and maintaining a house of that size?

We went with a different house, one with less than half the square footage. We may someday own a larger house than this one, but that house was too much house for our lives at the time. Maintenance has a cost.

2. A friend of ours recently installed a home security system. Naturally, the first few weeks with it have been interesting, with forgotten passwords and at least one accidental trigger.

When I asked my friend why he went through with the expense and the annoyance, the reason mostly revolved around all of the expensive stuff they had in their home. They had to protect the beautiful couch, the 60″ flat panel television, the state-of-the-art Alienware laptop, the multiple Macs in the house, and so on.

After hearing that, I quickly realized I wouldn’t want enough valuable stuff that I had to pay for such a security system. If someone breaks into our house thinking they’re going to make off with a jackpot, they’re going to be sorely disappointed by the old computers and so on. They do their job, though, and they keep our life nice and simple.

3. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an older fellow who had retired. He asked me how I was saving for retirement and I mentioned my Roth IRA and my older 403(b) account. He then told me that he had saved for retirement without those accounts and that today he lived off the interest.

“In fact, I give most of the interest away. It’s more than I can live on,” he told me.

I told him that such a move was pretty impressive. “Not really,” he said. “If I kept building up money, I’d eventually have a lot in the bank. People would start bugging me all the time for money and I’d have to give more and more to Uncle Sam. I’d probably have to hire an accountant or something. Instead, I can just give money to groups around here that need it and keep myself from having all of those problems.”

He had a pretty good point.

A big challenge of money and time management are the ideas of defense and maintenance. If you own a lot of stuff, you have to invest a lot of your time and at least some of your money into defending it (having a big house, having security for that house, having insurance, paying property taxes, handling people who want some of your money or things, etc.) and into maintenance (taking care of the items, taking care of the place where you keep those items, etc.).

In other words, simple accumulation creates its own problems. The more you have, the more of your time and money and energy goes into protecting and maintaining what you have.

There are a few very easy solutions to this problem.

First, live simply. Don’t accumulate things unless you actually have a real use for them. The more stuff you have, the more you have to work to maintain and protect it and the more you demonstrate to other people that you have money, meaning that they’ll look to you as a potential source for that money.

Second, be giving. You take nothing with you when you leave this world. It’s powerful to save for future goals, but eventually those goals arrive and that means it’s time to spend that money. If you find yourself continuing to accumulate without a goal, look around you at the many people who are in situations where they’re unable to even reach such a point, whether due to physical constraints, intense poverty, or other causes.

Finally, do it yourself. Don’t hand over the management of what you have to someone else. Handle as much of it as you can by yourself without help. The more self-sufficiency you have, the less expense you have and the less time you have to spend managing the people who are supposed to be helping you.

Cut the costs of maintenance and defense. Live simply. Be giving. Do it yourself.

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  1. Carole says:

    I agree with this philosophy. If more people would live this way, it would save a lot of time, money and energy.

  2. kelly says:

    I used to think I didn’t need a home security system. Our things really aren’t that nice or that expensive, so why would we need an alarm? My thinking changed when my house was burglarized. The cost of the things we lost wasn’t that high, but what we lost was more than things. My kids and I stopped feeling safe in our own home. The burglars took things–although not valuable–that had sentimental value. For instance, I lost a wooden jewelry box that had been made for me as a gift by a friend. They ransacked my bedroom. I am incredibly frugal, but I don’t think twice about paying $40 per month for my alarm.

  3. Tracy says:

    I had a friend who house was broken into. The things she lost weren’t that much in value, and the insurance company covered the cost (although the time waiting for the claim to go through was inconvenient, and some things, like pictures on her camera and computer couldn’t be replaced.)

    But it didn’t help with the sense of violation and the fact that she doesn’t really feel secure in her own home anymore. People may get security systems to protect their stuff, but what it really protects is their peace of mind.

  4. Adam P says:

    I’ve never been broken into (touch wood) but I agree with others the sense of being violated after such an incident would be more psychological than financial. I don’t care much about the financial cost of replacing my items; but the time cost to replace my files and sentimental value objects is beyond financial (or it would take a lot of compensation to ease that pain).

  5. Vanessa says:

    “If I kept building up money, I’d eventually have a lot in the bank. People would start bugging me all the time for money and I’d have to give more and more to Uncle Sam.”

    Sorry, but I’m really not seeing the downside to having a lot of money. People will only bug you for money if you tell them how much you have. Why would he do that? And I’d still rather earn more even if I’m taxed more, than earn less to be taxed less. I don’t understand this gentleman’s reasoning at all. He can give away as much as he wants, but to do it to avoid taxes? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    How much savings does he have to be able to live off the interest and still give most of it away? And how did he acquire it without traditional retirement accounts? I’m guessing real estate? I’d also like to know where he has his money parked that is paying him a decent interest rate.

  6. lurker carl says:

    Why did you look at a house $60k over your budget? Kind of like checking out the new Lincolns when shopping for a used Ford.

    Home security systems are to keep unwanted “visitors” out, not safeguarding expensive stuff.

    People saved money even before the invention of retirement vehicles. They even put it in bank accounts, bonds and stocks – not just under a mattress. And no one knows your net worth until you mention it.

  7. mjd says:

    Yes, exactly what #2, #3 and #4 have said. Your friend may be worried about protecting their expensive stuff, but most of us have non-expensive but irreplaceable sentimental stuff that it would kill us to lose. Burglars stole a box of personal letters of mine, for pete’s sake!!!

    And once you’ve been burglarized, you will never feel the same in your home again. I don’t think I slept a complete night after our incident until we had the security system installed.

    It is *completely* worth the money.

  8. valleycat1 says:

    #6 lurker carl & #7 mjd – +1

  9. Troy says:

    Sliding downhill quickly, Trent.

    So you shop for a home that is significantly out of your price range, then pat yourself on the back as some sort of accomplishment for not buying it. I didn’t buy a Ferrari on my last vehicle puchase, though I loved it.

    Then we move on to the mindset that by not having any valuables to protect, life is somehow better. Sorry, but sometimes having nice things is…nice. There is many times a value in having valuables, hence the name…valuables.

    Then there is the assets example. I think that not having much money saved up so that there are no taxes paid and no handouts given is a great plan. Who knew…all the poor and less fortunate with no money or savings really are the smart ones and those financially comfortable people with nest eggs and retirement plans are the fools.

    3 examples. 3 fails. Again.

  10. Jackowick says:

    “It was a significant amount more than we were planning to spend – about $60,000 more.”

    The word “planning” does not equal “afford”. I was “planning” to spend $500 on my last TV, though I could “afford” an $800 one.

    I am on the fence with the home security system. I don’t have a family or kids in my house, but I do think about the peace of mind factor. Sometimes a fixed cost item vs a monthly item can be a better investment; I have a door with nice decorative glass panels from the prior owners, but it’s easier for someone to do a smash-in entry (I have a “town house” without any real first floor accessible windows for entry). A new front door would give me more peace of mind than an alarm.

    Moving from an apartment to a small house with a fenced in back yard lawn also meant outdoor upkeep costs for the first time. I went with a push-style reel mower instead of gas; they cost about $100, they are quiet, and there’s very little maintenance such as spark plugs, filters, gas, and proper winterizing. So again, a fixed cost with little in long term costs. Most push mowers don’t “go dull”, they just need to be rebalanced, which is a self-taught maintenance skill that also saves money over buying new blades.

    And I can hang it on the wall inside the shed.

  11. Tom says:

    People would start bugging me all the time for money
    I find replace “people” with “other charities,” and I find this is what happens when I give away my money… I do donate time, money and things to various charities, I just wish I didn’t have to receive all the requests for more.

    My other thought was, Trent, you currently only save for retirement in a Roth IRA? Why not have a SEP 401k or something like that? I have to believe this site generates a lot of money for you (surprised, even, that you still qualify to contribute to the Roth, knowing that other successful PF blog writers cannot), such that you should be putting away more than $5000 a year for your retirement. I guess your wife saves for retirement too?

  12. Gretchen says:

    Then why are you building your dream home after your kids are grown up and getting ready to leave?

  13. Telephus44 says:

    If I had found my dream house and it was 60K over my budget, I would have bought it. Unless you’re going to sell your current house for the same price as your dream house, then you’re going to have to pay additional money when you do get your dream house. Say Trent sells his (paid off) current house for 200K and his dream house costs 300K. He’ll still be paying another 100K when the time comes.

    Of course, my dream house is an underground earth sheltered structure, so it will probably have to be be built. If I had found one for only another 60K when we were house shopping through, I would have not given another thought about it.

  14. TLS says:

    I thought this was an interesting post. I have always lived in small places as an adult, which keeps me from accumulating too much stuff. Thankfully, I have never been burglarized. And I decided long ago that I don’t need to be rich, I just need to have enough.

  15. I could care less about the “stuff” in my house, but I have a wife and daughters that I believe are of enough value to part with $15/month for my security system.
    When it comes right down to it, the security system may not help if someone REALLY wants to harm us. But, it may deter a more random act of violence/theft etc.

  16. Todd says:

    I certainly understand the loss of a feeling of security, but it is merely a feeling. Even with an alarm, if someone decided to harm you, wouldn’t they be able to do so before anyone arrived to help?

  17. Roberta says:

    We have an alarm system and it protects two of the most precious things in my life – my children, and my peace of mind.

    My modest house in a modest part of town was broken into when I was at work. This was years ago before I owned anything of value (no TV, no stereo, no computer etc) but the materiel things that were taken were both personal and sentimental and could not be replaced. Also, knowing that a unknown stranger had gone through my clothing, examined my personal papers and rooted through storage areas and even my refrigerator was chilling. Except when we lived on military installations since then, I have always had and will always have an alarm system.

  18. kristine says:

    I do not understand why it is assumed that burglaries only happen when the house is vacant. I do not have nice stuff by local top 5% standards, but as people grow more desperate (and they are), break-ins have become more brazen and commonplace. Where I live-even 3 houses away- in a very tight upscale community with its own police force, if no one answers the front door (maybe you are asleep or in the shower)- the back door is kicked in. They go straight to the bedrooms-for jewelry. Why? They can walk down the street with their loot, and sans warrant- not be searched. They have a friend nearby in a car to pick them up. It’s the happening MO. Most burglars here carry guns.

    I could care less if any of my possessions were taken. Things are things, and I am not object-sentimental. But sometimes my teenaged daughter or son might be home alone, and distracted or oblivious. They are not replaceable. Females have additional dangers. Hubby and I are both odd-hour teachers, so our house is only vacant about 2 hours any given day. But I have home defense, long distance spray bear-repellant (from camping), and can cock a semi-automatic, loudly, in 3 seconds. But the old cars in the driveway are an excellent deterrent, and I suspect all I will ever need.

  19. kristine says:

    Oh- and from my college days- the poor man’s alarm: rows of tall glass bottles on every window sill, on top of the bottom pane edge. There is no way to open the window without a huge racket, or having to step in broken glass. A large cow bell is also a great panic alarm to wake other family members- it is louder and more startling than yelling.

  20. Availle says:

    I agree with the “cost of maintenance” in Trent’s post. When I moved here, I first wanted a 3 br apartment, thinking of an extra guest room, an extra space to work or put up laundry… But then I thought, hey, I live alone, nobody minds the laundryrack in the bedroom and I don’t have guests over that often… So I ended up renting a very nice apartment with only two rooms (although the bedroom is huge!). It saves me a lot of rent and heating costs right now, and if I do have guests over who will not sleep on the couch – well, I for sure can!

    However, I disagree with an alarm being there to protect your stuff. Several of my friends have been burglarized, and all of them say it was not the missing stuff that was the problem (that’s what insurance is for, and stuff can be replaced albeit a hassle), but it was the insecure feeling that came afterwards “what if they come back?”

  21. Steven says:

    My home security system: .44 magnum.

  22. jim says:

    Just cause your stuff isn’t worth much isn’t immunity against theft. I learned that lesson the hard way. My cheap old compact car was broken into for a cheap car stereo. I figured I was safe since it was sitting in a parking lot at work amongst many more expensive luxury cars. I mean why would a theif break into my car when its surrounded by those european cars? Probably cause the other cars had alarms and mine didn’t.

  23. Andrew says:

    On the other hand , for the 22 years I lived in New York City I never locked my doors, and nothing ever happened.

    There is a lot of randomness and luck involved in matters such as these.

  24. elyn says:

    Trent says:

    “A big challenge of money and time management are the ideas of defense and maintenance.”

    Funnily enough, my husband and I have plenty of money, and some pretty nice things, but really, having children is where my defense and maintenance all goes. I would assume that Trent may also have some serious money and time management that go into protecting his family, too. Just today I was at a friend’s house who has an alarm system, and I thought about how I would actually consider one for the protection of our children and ourselves. I’ve never thought about such a thing before having kids.

    And to answer #16, who says:

    “I certainly understand the loss of a feeling of security, but it is merely a feeling. Even with an alarm, if someone decided to harm you, wouldn’t they be able to do so before anyone arrived to help?”

    I knew someone who was raped and tortured, all day long, by a man who broke in and showed up in her bedroom while she slept. I am pretty sure she would have appreciated him being interrupted in the time an alarm would have gotten someone to arrive to help.

  25. AnnJo says:

    For the price of an alarm system, you can have a German Shepherd, who will also get you out for walks and love you with absolute devotion. (Actually, quite a number of different breeds work well as guard and protection dogs, including some small ones; I just happen to love German Shepherds.) That plus a reliable handgun or shotgun and some practice on it is pretty effective for defense.

  26. Jacque says:

    To those saying that a gun is the form of defense that you should choose, think about the statistic that gun owners are more likely to get shot and killed than non gun owners. There is a lot of data within that statistic, but I believe that if you pull a gun on a burgler you need to be able to kill that person, and a lot of people just cannot do that. Either they don’t have the training for it, or they don’t have the stomach for it. Either way, not everyone can protect themselves with a gun. Also, with the advent of bump-keys, you might not know there is even someone in your house. My emergency plan consists of: hear the alarm go off, grab husband (no kids) and head to closet, grab shotgun and with the door open cock it, close closet door and wait to kill the intruder. There is also a plan if we are in the living area of the house. Both plans fail apart if we don’t hear the perp come in.

    As for the rest article, the example with the guy earning too much money is obviously ludicrous, no need to even discuss it. The choosing to buy a smaller house was a good decision for them probably, but not because they saved $60,000 (which they never decided to spend in the first place) but because they properly evaluated the impact of buying a large house – property taxes, time and cost to clean and maintain (left out heating and cooling costs, insurance, etc).

    Overall this article had a lot of narrow minded observations and short-sightedness, with a few fallacies thrown in. Not a great way to spend my time, but then again I decided to spend more time and comment on it.

  27. deRuiter says:

    Trent, the fact that intruders might abduct a child or rape your wife is reason enough for a home alarm system. A TV can be replaced. Peace of mind, when stolen by intruders, can’t be replaced.

  28. Ryan says:

    Do people still think that security systems are massive investments? You’re going to pay a hefty price if you go with ADT or Brinks, but you can install one yourself (or pay someone to) with off the shelf equipment and program it to use any monitoring service you want. Nextalarm.com, for example, costs $18 per month.

    If you don’t buy expensive/nice stuff because of the chance you might get robbed, then haven’t the robbers already, in effect, robbed you?

  29. Sabine says:

    A home security system is not only good for keeping your stuff safe.
    My parents didn’t have any expensive stuff in our house, but someone broke in anyway and stole items for a few hundred dollars. The insurance paid for all of that. However, until now (30 years later) I’m afraid of going upstairs as the last person after switching out the light downstairs as I’m always thinking there is someone there.
    We are living in a very safe neighborhood now, but should we ever move somewhere else I will definitely install a security system.

  30. Jade says:

    Another cost of maintenance and defense: Moving! That’s the big thing that stops me from buying stuff. I helped a family member move 3 times, it took a month and about $1,000 each time for U-haul, PODS, etc. When I move, it takes 1 day, 2 if I’m lazy, and about $100 or less for the gas. Okay, I’ve gotta borrow someone’s pickup truck for my mattress, but in a pinch I can spare another $100 and get a U-haul van and get everything into it in one trip and save on gas. ;-) I never want to own more stuff than will fit into a U-Haul van, but I suspect if I ever get into home ownership it might take a larger U-haul truck for the appliances.

    And I love living in a house with a home security system. It’s not about the stuff, its about going to sleep at night knowing the alarm will most likely go off if any downstairs doors or windows open or if anything is caught by the motion detector downstairs. And the .38 is nice to have too ;-)

  31. elyn says:

    Ryan says:

    “If you don’t buy expensive/nice stuff because of the chance you might get robbed, then haven’t the robbers already, in effect, robbed you?”

    Big like.

  32. socalgal says:

    Most home break ins happen within 10 minutes by pretty desperate people. I have been robbed & it is an awful feeling, but the alarm was screaming the entire time & by the time the alarm company called the house to verify that it was not a false alarm, then called the police, my house was trashed & the bad guys were long gone. I think the best defense is a bunch of alarm signs around your place, lots of security lights, clear all brush from blocking the windows, good locks & a dog. Oh, a really nosy neighbors looking after each other really helps. Just my two cents…

  33. Jonathan says:

    Based on the comments to this article it seems that the marketing departments for home alarm systems have done their jobs well. Personally, I do not like supporting an industry that increases sales by preying on people’s fears. Attempting to win my business by trying to scare me, especially under the guise of protecting my loved ones, is one way to guarantee I never become a customer.

  34. jim says:

    I agree that some of the risk of crime is exaggerated by home security companies and people may have irrational fear of some crimes.

    But… There are over 2 million burglaries a year and average loss is around $2000. Those are real numbers from the FBI. So theres a real risk of considerable loss from home burglary.

  35. SLCCOM says:

    Don’t overlook the advantage of fire alarm monitoring, too, and carbon monoxide. These save lives. If I am away and a fire breaks out, I want to know that the fire department will come to rescue my kids. (OK, they are four-legged and furry, but they are still my kids!)

    We got our first alarm system when we moved into our first house when we realized that my husband would come home from work, greet the dogs, flush the toilet, get some lunch and then proceed to scare the daylights out of me when he appeared at my side in the basement. I am hard of hearing, but I know it and we did something about it. Lots of people are also hard of hearing and either don’t know it or are in denial about it. They need an alarm system, too.

    And I’m pretty sure the lady who was tortured and raped all day would have loved to have someone come to her rescue. They don’t all steal and run.

  36. elyn says:

    I honestly have never actually seen an alarm system ad, and I am gathering that most commenters here are not being scared into buying alarm systems because of fear mongering alarm companies. Many people have mentioned having had personal experiences with break-ins that left them feeling violated, or know someone personally who has experienced a violation, like the rape/torture that I mentioned. Also, most people are addressing Trent’s assumption that people get alarm systems to protect their stuff rather than the humans who occupy the houses. I think most people who have commented here are smarter than you are giving them credit for by making this a blanket statement about the alarm systems marketing being responsible for comments on this thread.

  37. Gretchen says:

    I’m also surprised at the number of pro-alarm people.

    I cannot remember the name of the the book I read with a whole segment on how well the marketing for alarm systems work and how they don’t actually catch any criminals. They are long gone with whatever they want by the time any cops arrive.

  38. Gretchen says:

    Google tells me It’s “Freakonomics.”

    A good read.

  39. Julia in UK says:

    Great post Scott.

    Scott’s point is, everyone, what are you buying all this stuff for? And is it worth all the work and worry to own your purchases?

    I would add: don’t love anything that can’t love you back.

  40. Lynn says:

    If you want it, take it, all I can say. Nothing I own physically is of much value really. And it’s all insured for a very reasonable amount. That philosphy has probably kept me from getting robbed ever! Sometimes, I think, it’s a mindset. You think you’re going to get robbed, you get robbed.

    But for me, my two dogs give me nothing but piece of mind. Probably cost as much as a monthly security system but I don’t care. They give back a lot more. The only thing I don’t know, and I hope not too, is will they protect me from physical violence?

  41. Kate says:

    I can’t understand the alarm mentality either. I lived in a house that was broken into when I was young and it was scary. I was also held up at gunpoint. I don’t feel the need to have an alarm system or to have a gun but maybe my barking dogs make me feel safer.

  42. Linda says:

    I had a particularly difficult experience when someone stole money, got into a checkbook, stole sentimental things belonging to my husband and me–all while we were supporting this person with food, a roof over his head, the husband driving him to/from work, AA and drug rehab meetings, etc. We didn’t have the room or time to help him, as we were caring for a gravely ill family member, yet we made the room and time. Needless to say, drug and alcohol rehab didn’t work out so well. This person is a familiy member–step son to me. He has many seedy friends. His sister, while not having the exact same problems, also has a seedy history. I took all my jewelry, mostly sentimental, but valuable, to the safe deposit box, sold most other things of value, shipped other things to a sister across country and gave many things to charity. I’m still downsizing with the goal of having only enough, non-valuable possessions to live. Even doing all this, I was terrified to leave home, even to go to work, let alone go out for the evening or a weekend or vacation. This happened nearly two years ago, and we still don’t tell anyone when we’re leaving the house. I know it’s unreasonable, but the stealing, by both individuals, has been going on for 30+ years, and we’ve no reason to believe it won’t happen again, given the opportunity. We had an alarm system installed. It hasn’t completely relieved my worries, but the comfort I’ve received from having it in our home, shop, etc. is worth so much more than the admittedly spendy amount we paid for it. We have gone on trips. We just leave a couple of trusted friends with keys and codes and cell nummbers, and I can leave without constant, painful worry. It’s still always in the back of my mind, but I can deal with it. Dogs, I think, are the best security system–while you’re home. I want to protect my animals, too, and the security system helps to do that. Security systems aren’t for everyone, but for me, ours has allowed me to continue to function. It’s that important to me. Best money I’ve ever spent.

  43. JuliB says:

    I have an alarm for personal protection. No, I don’t think that it will stop people from trying to rob me, or from them taking stuff if I’m not home. However, when I am home, I sleep well. All I need is a moment’s notification that someone has broken in, and the real defense plans kick in.

    In addition, my alarm (ADT) monitors my fire alarms too. My home insurance gives me a discount, bringing the average monthly costs down to less than $20 a month.

    I look at the alarm and my additional defense … tools… as the same as my fire extinguisher. I’ll be happiest to never need them, but if I do need them, I’ll have them.

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