Decision to Take on A Significant Expense While on Journey out of Debt

The infamous bride doll. A symbol to keep or sell? 

  • DD2 = Dear Second Daughter
  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

Over the last two months, I’ve referred a few times to a significant new expense that we would soon be taking on. I clearly didn’t want to give the details about it though, and I’d follow up the reference with a coy “more on that later”. Well, “later” has come.

DD2 is going to start living with 3 housemates in a rented apartment downtown. She’s moving out today. DH and I are going to pay for her rent, utilities, and food. I hear a stern frugal voice asking, “What are you doing THAT for? How does that make sense when you’ve still got six figures in mortgage debt to pay off?”

I’ll answer that voice. (Is it yours? Or is it mine?)

Suburban commuting blues

We live in a west-of-city suburb that is a significant distance (about 30 km – 18.5 miles) from the downtown area where DD2’s university is located. Buses from here to there are not bad, but DD2 has more than her studies going on. She’s a varsity athlete, and her training schedule is intense. It requires her to get to facilities in an east-of-city suburb and in the south-east end of the city. In the winter, when snow storms slow traffic down, it can take her as long as two hours for a one-way trip to her training.

She has wanted to live downtown since she finished high school 3 years ago. But at that time, we were still new to our journey out of debt, and she was, frankly, a disaster with money. She would have to stay home and stick out the hours of commuting by bus. There would be stress for her and for the household as a result, but we’ve done it.

Our changing financial landscape

Fast forward to today, and the landscape has changed. In June, we reached an amazing milestone in our trek towards debt-freedom: We finished paying off all $102,000 of our consumer and business debts – not to mention $29,000 in regular mortgage payments. That milestone was doubly significant because it meant that we had passed the half way mark for our total debt. Our original grand total of $257,000 was down to a $128,000 mortgage. And as for DD2 – “a disaster with money”? She has also changed. DD2 gave me permission to write a two-part series about her money-smarts transformation a couple of months ago over at Fruclassity. Check it out to get a sense of what we’ve dealt with and done. She is ready to take on the responsibilities involved in living away from home.

High stress and prayer

Our decision for the move came after an episode of stress that was intense enough to frustrate me to an extent I can’t put into words and to bring DH to his knees in prayer. (Who dealt better with that one?) His suggestion of supporting DD2 in moving out shocked me. Was this DH? The tough parent? The brick wall? The one who drew the hard lines? There was nothing hard in his manner as he explained his idea. “It’s the best thing for [DD2],” he said simply. I brought up the negative impact it would have on our debt-repayment plans. “Somehow, I just think it’s all going to work out,” he said. Yes – DH. The logical, careful, rational one.

The shell-shocked look on DD2’s face when we offered the suggestion is not one I’ll forget soon. “How can you do that when you still have your debt?” she was considerate enough to ask. We assured her that it would all work out for us and that we were doing what we thought was best for her. I managed to convey more confidence in the plan than I felt. In truth, I was torn.

DD2 has been in a state of incredulous happiness leading up to today. Such a weight lifted! All of those hours on the bus – gone! Going to school, and going to her training, and going to competitions will now be so much easier! And she’s eager to set up her own place. She’s been preparing. She sold her hedgehog on E-Bay. She gave DD3 a bunch of her clothes (which is just fine by DD3). She’s thrown out bags of garbage. She’s given me items to sell at a garage sale. She’s started looking for part-time work downtown. (Her current job is near us.) She’s doing everything I could hope she would do.

My angst and Laurie’s (aka The Frugal Farmer’s) support

“How are you doing?” asked Laurie, with whom I co-host Fruclassity, in an e-mail at that time. I told her how unsettled I felt about our decision and how inconsistent it seemed with our goals to become debt-free. Laurie, not one to be reserved in expressing her faith, responded with a depth of true concern to my angst. She said that although I feared our plan would throw us off “by thwarting your financial efforts . . . in reality, what it’s going to do is make things better than ever, financially and otherwise. Sometimes God’s plans don’t make sense to us b/c we can’t see the long-term big picture . . . All of this doesn’t make sense to you now but if you’ll get on board attitude-wise . . . it has the potential to bless your family immensely in the long run. This is what I feel in my spirit.”

My husband believed in this plan. My daughter was thrilled by it. My Fruclassity blogging partner confirmed it. I got on board for real.

The numbers

On a strictly rational basis, let’s take a look at what this move is going to entail:

First of all, DH figures that with what we will save in food, car insurance for DD2, gas, and utilities, we will end up saving about $200 per month on our own homefront.

Furthermore, let’s consider interest payments. Although our interest rates have been very low, they’ve still added up. 3 years ago, we were paying:

  • $40 interest per month on Debt #1
  • $40 interest per month on Debt #2
  • $200 interest per month on Debt #3
  • $380 interest per month on the mortgage

That’s a grand total of $660 per month in interest payments on our debts. (Ouch!) Now, on the other hand, we’re paying less than half of that amount in interest on our mortgage – $300 per month. Based on our changed interest payments alone, we are in a much better position to afford the expense of our daughter’s living downtown now than we were only a couple of years ago.

Another furthermore, DH has had his best business year to date. (His year ends August 31.) “My gross revenues this year are higher than the gross income of my highest paid year in high-tech,” he told me recently. What a sense of redemption that news brought! For well over a decade, we’ve accepted a significantly lower income than we earned in those high-tech boom days. Gross revenues aren’t quite the same as a gross income. Factor in expenses, and the resulting take-home pay is not equivalent. But it’s very encouraging nonetheless. So in terms of income too, we are in a better position to take on this kind of expense.

And for a last furthermore, we have earned more income in the two months since we made that decision than we EVER have before in a two month period. DH’s business went ballistic in June. It was his highest earning month in six years of business. A whopping 35% higher than his second highest month. And July has been lucrative too because of continued strong business combined with my summer school earnings. If we were to put all excess income over these last two months in a mattress, we’d be able to draw from it enough to pay for DD2’s new living situation for the two years we have offered her.

What about that doll?

When DD2 cleaned out her room a couple of days ago, I noticed the bride doll still on her dresser. “Are you going to take this with you?” I asked her. “No,” she said. “We  can just put it at the end of the driveway. Someone will take it.” I took it, saying I would sell it at that garage sale I keep saying I’m going to have.

But maybe I should keep it. You see, that doll has symbolic value. It represents everything I did wrong as a parent in terms of teaching money wisdom to DD2. I bought it when she was 5 years old and we were at the store buying a birthday present for her friend. After selecting a porcelain doll for Erin, DD2 wailed. She wanted one too! She wanted the bride doll! On her back, legs kicking, screaming at the top of her lungs . . . and me with an infant DD3 attached in a sling. Ugh! I bought that doll because DD2 raised a fuss, and she learned her lesson well. She raised plenty of fusses over the years. Until DH and I got on the same page and set the boundaries necessary for our debt-repayment to go into high gear. So hard! So worth it. But what to do with the doll? Keep it as a symbol of DD2’s progress? Sell it as a symbolic good riddance to the bad old days?

I was the one who really needed to be firm with those boundaries. And two months ago, I was the one who needed to be convinced that we were in a position to extend a little grace. And I am convinced. The proof is abundant. DH had it right. “Somehow” it’s all working out.

Have you ever struggled with a decision to spend as you’ve tried to make your way out of debt or towards financial freedom? Do you think we’re making the right move? What should I do with that doll?

At Fruclassity: Time Travel Therapy for Debtors. A post about how the yuppy phenomenon of the ’80s negatively impacted my money habits.

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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I think you are! In fact I think you’ve made two good moves: not doing this three years ago, and doing it now. You’re in a better financial position (a *much* better financial position) and it’ll de-stress everyone in the household. And there’s a clear time limit on it; it’s not an indefinite expense. Yay 🙂

    • Thank you, C. I always welcome disagreement, but sometimes it’s just really nice to have confirmation : )
      (Speaking of confirmation, how are your house-buying thoughts coming along?)

  • Seems like the right time. The delay in the decision gave your daughter the time to mature with her finances and now fully appreciate what this apartment will mean. As far as the doll goes, it’s a toss up. It’s a good reminder of how far your family has come, and yet it’s a reminder of bad past decisions. It’s always best to just look forward.

    • “It’s a good reminder of how far your family has come…” That’s what made me consider keeping it. But I get what you mean by keeping our focus forward. Hmmm …. I’ll let you know the fate of that doll : )

  • Get rid of the doll. I think cut ties with it will actually be more freeing that keeping it around to see what it represents. As far as the living situation, no one can tell you what would be best other than you and your family. There are many factors at play here other than money from what it sounds like, and sometimes peace of mind and stress-free living is just as important as anything else. I hope it all turns out for the best! 🙂

    • Thank you Tonya. There are definitely many factors at play here. As far as the doll goes, one argument for throwing it out would be the whole minimalism thing. I think I’m starting to lean towards your view of things: “Get rid of the doll.”

  • Wow, what a story! I like how you guys really fleshed it out financially. It sounds like an excellent move for all of you. As far as the doll goes, I think you should do what DD2 suggested. That may just have been a spiritual message she picked up on. Maybe that doll is meant for the little girl of whoever picks it up at the end of your driveway. Whatever you do though, I wish you all great success and happiness in this new direction your family is taking. I’m just so happy for DD2! 😀

    • I remember being very eager to move out of my house to get a taste of independence too. I was a bit younger than DD2, and I left because I went to school in a different city. I was much less competent and savvy than DD2 is now – including with money. I think she’s better prepared than I was – and she’s definitely psyched to be doing this. Thank you for your good wishes, Kay : ) (And I’ll keep you posted about that doll. I was sure that the minimalist Kay would say, “Get rid of the thing!”)

  • I would agree that you are making the right choice. There are those that would say “Absolutely NOT. You need to live in a cardboard box and subsist on bread and water, and not see the light of day until every penny of debt is paid off!” I’m not one of those people. Life happens once – you have to find the right balance between “living” and paying off your debt. You have a plan to pay off your debt, and you”re executing it fabulously. If you can help out your daughter and help make her life easier and more fulfilling? Yep, go for it!

    • Thank you, Travis! It’s so true that it’s about finding balance. And once you find it, things shift, and you have to find it again. I think I find comfort in auto-pilot mode – even a frugal one. The need to adapt is apparently something I find stressful. But I have adapted, and hopefully it will be easier to do so when the next shift happens. Thanks again : )

      • Thank you, Laurie. (I wasn’t sure if you meant my comment or Travis’ comment, but I’ll say “thanks” either way : )

  • I’m absolutely not a debt or parenting expert, but my opinion is that you are making a good parenting decision even if its not exactly the best financial choice (you know, because math).

    I moved out at 18, and didn’t think that I would ever move back home. I did end up at my parents house for 2-3 months post college when I was otherwise homeless, but I was glad for my independent living experience, and I was glad when I could stand up on my own again.

    I think that giving young adults the opportunity to live on their own is probably the best gift you can give to them. She’ll learn a lot about finances when you give her a very limited budget to work with.

    • I had that eagerness to move out too – not everyone does. Like you, I see this a the best gift we could give DD2 – I just didn’t think it we could give it and be as committed as we have been to our debt repayment. Many people kind of slack off once the mortgage is the only debt left, and I didn’t want to do that. But change is constant, and adaptability is needed – even in the midst of paying off the mortgage. Thanks for your comment, Hannah : )

  • Having gone through 2 degrees in a very similar living situation as your daughter (about 20km from university), I have a good understanding of the stress that can be involved but moving out wasn’t an option for me until I could afford it on my own (with 6months left of degree #2). i also grew up in a single parent house so it wasn’t an option…i hated the commute but managd fine and I’m sure your daughter would (has been) as well. Honestly you have to manage your family’s money to whatever way makes your lives manageable. I do think though of you plan on supporting her (and really i could see this as an extension of supporting post secondary education as a whole which IMO is not a requirement of being a parent-but we will be as well when time comes) she should pay the bills. Give her the money everu month to manage herself it has the potential to be an amazing life lesson for her. Good luck to you guys!

    • I agree that supporting post-secondary is not a requirement of parenting, and no parent should feel pressured to compromise his or her own financial health to fund a child’s education. Your mom being a single mom is a huge factor, and I think your situation was handled just right – though it did involve the stress. One difference between DD2’s situation and yours is her sport. It’s a HUGE part of her life, and we want to help her to sustain it. Because we are a two income family and because we have reached a significant milestone in our debt-repayment, we can fund he living expenses without risk to our long term financial health. And we are doing what you have recommended: We give her the money, and she manages it. No bail outs if she blows it. Thanks Catherine. I really appreciate your comment.

  • Definitely keep the doll. It’s got meaning. And based on what you’d get from selling it… I’m guessing the symbolism is worth way more.

    I think that if it works best for your sanity AND your daughter’s schedule/needs, then it’s a good deal. It would be different if you were stretching things to the bone with this move. But you’ve found the money, and your daughter is important to you.

    And the whole point of frugality is to save where you can so that you can spend money on what’s important to you.

    • That’s a good point about what frugality is for! It’s not the avoidance of spending for its own sake, but the redirecting of money (that you actually have) to what is of value. Thanks for that comment, Abigail : )

      • This. 100% agree. It’s funny how the first thing you do out of high school is one of the most expensive things you’ll do in your life. I’m all about parents helping out if they can. And it’s great that DD2 is so appreciative. Think everyone who can get help should have that same attitude!

        • I was pleasantly surprised to see that appreciation too. I can tell you that I was not appreciative of my parents’ paying for my post-secondary education. I casually took it for granted. There’s definitely a correlation between an absence of gratitude and a growth of debt.

  • I am not a regular reader and don’t know your full situation (or even your ages). On paper, it seems like a bad idea. However, as a parent, I too would feel better if my child doesn’t have to endure those long commutes. She will have roommates so expenses can be kept low. The only thing I would recommend is that you get her to pitch in a certain amount of $ as soon as possible and maybe also set a date when you will no longer help with rent.

    • What makes sense “on paper” almost always seems like the best way to go when trying to get rid of all debt, and that’s why I felt ill at ease about this decision at first. We are following your recommendations: Our daughter has to pitch in for part of her tuition and books and some of her sport expenses. And the timeline for our paying the rent is two years. Thank you for your comment! Always glad to welcome a voice.

  • I think this plan is brilliant. The numbers seem to add up – how else to tell if it’s viable, than to try it? I applaud the ingenuity and the courage.

    Years ago, I had my income tax return earmarked for taking a huge chunk out of my debt. Then, my car broke down. I had just enough to buy a replacement. I often wonder how much better off I’d be if I’d been able to pay down debt, but it was a necessary purchase.

    I vote for selling the doll. I know the value of sentiment, but it doesn’t seem that she has the right sort. Look her up online – if you’re lucky, she’s a collector’s item, and the profit could go to something new for DD2’s new place.

    • Thanks, Eli. The difference between your car breaking down and my daughter moving out is that your situation involved a need whereas ours involves a want. It’s frustrating when money earmarked for debt repayment has to be redirected to a need, but when it goes towards a want, I find I self-doubt – especially when this particular want is so costly. It’s a matter of spending where there is value, and there really is big value here, so I’m fine with it now. I think I’m leaning towards your view of the doll. She just doesn’t represent anything I want hanging around. I appreciate your thoughts : )

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