Monday, October 24, 2016

real estate and real life

There seems to be an endless real-estate debate over the virtues of renting versus owning. Being indecisive and uncommittal myself I understand the pros and cons of both sides and as with many issues tend to be a fence sitter.

When I got out of the military and snagged a nice-paying contractor job, I had by that point been sucked into the conventional American dream of owning a single-family home.

We ended up in a small townhouse, however, shortly after buying our home, glaring problems started to surface that we hadn't seen with our inexperienced, first-time-buyer's starry eyes. In the first year we needed the roof reshingled and gutters redone, and the fire-hazard electrical box, missing bedroom ceiling lights, and ancient water-wasting toilets were also replaced. In the second year the basement, hastily and cheaply carpeted by flippers, flooded badly due to a tropical storm. We ended up getting the entire room down there re-walled and re-floored (with porcelain tiles and proper 5/8ths-inch mold-resistant drywall, to minimize risks of future expensive headaches). The third year we had to replace the heat pump.

There are many shoddily-done parts of the house that we still plan to renovate. Some are choices that we could get by without doing, which leads to the "temptation to upgrade" argument against owning.

I've heard it said that if you're not particularly handy or inclined to be, then you're probably better off renting over owning because the maintenance costs will rob you blind. Costs that could've been money put to better use elsewhere. I wonder how many people feel the weight of that statement as heavily as DH and I do.

So while we are content in the house (for now), I find myself often wishing we'd opted for renting an apartment from the newer complex in the neighborhood. The rent for a two-bedroom would've been a couple hundred more than our current mortgage payment, but if you factor in HOA fees plus a monthly average for all the upgrades and repairs, renting there comes out much more cost effective.

On the other hand I will concede that it does feel good to "build equity" as opposed to handing money to a landlord indefinitely. (But I'll also concede that arguments of that being a psychological trap are fair.) Additionally rent rates tend to drift uncomfortably upward which could undo potential cost benefits. I do heap a good pile of cash on the principal each year with the goal of both increasing equity and decreasing the total interest cost at the end. The tax deduction is also some consolation for the headaches of owning.

I will also admit to the anchored-down feeling that home-owning gives, which grates against DH's and my desires to keep moving around and having new adventures. Having a kid seems to counterbalance that a bit; instilling an increased desire for stability over adventure. And since we're both bringing home robust salaries from very tolerable jobs, for now we're content to stick it out in this house for a while.

In the end, we've grown content to appreciate the mortgaged house for what it is, at least for the medium-term future. But, I also think renting that apartment in the neighborhood could very well have fostered a similar (if not greater) contentment with our living arrangement. Live and learn.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

news diets

I used to go through phases in which I would feverishly watch, listen to, or read the news, thinking it was part of my duty as an American to be a well-informed citizen. But in my journey to become more frugal over the past few years I've attempted a thing called a news diet (or media-in-general diet) and, as I've gotten more used to lower media consumption, have found it very helpful to my state of mind.

In college I had this aggravating communist professor. While I still consider her "out there" in many ways I'd have to admit that she was right about one thing - modern news is still very much like it was in the olden days: sensationalist half-informed hyperbole that tends to promote hysteria instead of mitigating it. It's not much different from fictional programming that's designed to push you on an emotional rollercoaster purely for entertainment purposes. Conventional news outlets seem to only be a contributing source of stress in life. Living without it, or at least with a minimum of it, can be liberating.

These days I rely almost entirely on theSkimm, The Christian Science Monitor, and FactChecker.org to know about what's happening in the world. I've come to believe that relying on these written outlets for my nutshells of news has led to an upgraded personal radar for detecting red flags on questionable reporting, trolling by bored jerks, and fictional click-bait. It's also led to more freed up time and precious little brain space to focus on other things in life.

And, like other frivolous, distracting, and even stressful pursuits in life (too much TV/news/adverts, too much gossip, too much going with the crowd, etc.), relieving yourself of it helps with things like discovering what's important to you, the individual, and sifting out things in life that you realize aren't worth your time, money, or energy. Hence, more life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.