Every couple of weeks, I attend a widow's support group at a friend's house-we're a group of women with a wide age range..from forty something to seventy somethings, all with a wide variety of backgrounds. Recently, we were discussing finances and the world in general. One of the older women shared that it used to be the case that one's house was,in essence, one's retirement
For many of us, that time has changed. In my case, I only bought this house a few years ago, and can foresee paying a mortgage for some time. This means that a hefty portion of my income will go towards either house payments or basic house upkeep. With a base income of $3500.00 (not including various tiny income streams and supplements), this means means that my housing expenses (mortgage, utilities, security, and basic home maintenance) come to approximately two thirds of what's coming in monthly. While I expect I'll be able to manage that with income stream assistance, its a huge percentage. There are still medical premiums and expenses, food, transportation and car maintenance costs, and pet care just to name a few. That doesn't include all the little things that come up, nor does it cover the 'lifestyle" expenses of travel, quilting, or the other things that make my life full.
I am not the only person dealing with the "house poor" phenomenon these days. No longer do we live in a society where everyone necessarily lives in a single house their entire lives. As we move, often for work or better opportunities, new house costs arise. While there are people like my brother who has paid his house off prior to retirement, there are others of us who are looking at continued payments. Even for those who have homes paid off, there are still all those little expenses that are part of owning a home that can drain the bank account. Routine maintenance, weather emergencies, appliances that wear down or out, homeowners insurance, even home association dues. All these small items add up and eat away at the cash on hand. Due to the economy, there's also another group out there.......folks that had planned to sell and downsize to a more manageable abode, but find themselves unable to get their home sold. Unfortunately this group may be growing.
When our house is too much for us (financially or otherwise), we can do one of two things (depending on economic feasibility). First, we can downsize. We can rent a smaller home or condo, buy a smaller home or condo, move to a mobile home, even go on the road in an RV (although I suspect that's a stretch for many of us nesters). Eventually, I plan to downsize, once I decide where I want to do that (Denver, Hill Country, or stay in place). Meanwhile, like many, I'm dealing with the situation as it is now.
The second alternative is to find ways to lower the costs of the house we are in. Ways to do this can run the gamut from sharing a house, cutting services like cable, improving home efficiency and other ways. In my case, I am working on finding ways to make my home more comfortable and more efficient, while lowering long term costs. This means that what tiny bit of disposable income I have left is going towards affordable housing changes and improvements. I've installed storm doors even though we live in Texas (in other words, I have two doors, like much of the north does). I'm making sure that my appliances run efficiently, and replacing my dishwasher with a more energy efficient model. Although new windows are not in my future, I've created energy efficient covers when necessary. And most importantly in this climate, I've begun the process to xeriscape my front and part of my backyard to low water and no maintenance plants, getting rid of most of the grass.
A side advantage of my "slowly but surely" preparations is that my house will be more manageable on a daily and weekly basis in terms of maintenance and needs. While I'm by no means handicapped, a serious and un-improvable knee issue means there are bad days, to say the least. Having the foresight to buy a home where everything is literally on one level (no basements in Texas) has already made things easier. Having no grass, for example, means that although I cannot always mow myself, I probably will no longer have to pay the boy down to road to mow and edge every two weeks. Of course, it also means the next time I take a road trip, I won't be concerned about how the lawn will look after two weeks.
Eventually, if God and the economy agree, I'll leave my yard, patio, and comfy but slightly too big house for something smaller and more efficient. Meanwhile, I'm finding ways to manage with what I've got, and still live the life I like.
What about you..have you downsized? Will you? How much time, effort and money does YOUR home require?