Our First “Aha!” to STAY out of Debt

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1 = dear first daughter
  • DD2 = dear second daughter

“write about what you’re doing stay out of debt”

2 months ago, I hit a writer’s block for the first time in 6 years of blogging. Why? Our narrative had changed dramatically because we’d received an inheritance, and it no longer felt genuine for me to be writing about our “struggle” to become debt-free – since it was no longer a struggle. I shared my concern with a colleague who reads this blog, and she said, “Why don’t you write about what you’re doing to stay out of debt? It’s a real issue, and it’s not a topic that many people write about.”

I have been very confident throughout this journey out of debt that DH and I would never use debt to buy anything ever again. We had indulged in yo-yo debting in the past, but we were now aware of our old bad patterns and were steering clear of them.

My susceptibility to marketing “seduction”

In these last 6 years, although we have saved for every purchase and avoided debt, there have been a few times when I’ve come face-to-face with my own susceptibility to what I can only call the seduction of marketing. In a post I wrote in December of 2013, “Debt and Battlefield of the Brain at Christmas Time”, I recognized the power of the season over my wallet.

“I got a little lost as I looked through all that was available,” I wrote of my shopping experience. “A subtle seduction was working its power on me as I imagined DD1’s delight and DD2’s surprise as each opened her gifts Christmas morning. The colours, the fabrics, the variety of styles . . . They wobbled my mental math, making me round down, making me subtract rather than add tax – or so it must have been, because I was way off and genuinely shocked by that $299 total.”

In 2015, after we’d paid off all non-mortgage debt, we decided to reward ourselves with some new furniture to go hand-in-hand with the home-office renovations DH was doing. Again, that seduction worked its power. In a post from the spring before our renovations began, I wrote “We would have to start looking out for new furniture – a sectional sofa for the old office space; a small love seat and two chairs for the combined family room/dining room . . . It was SO LOVELY to be able to think, talk, and plan in this way! I was high on visions of tile, hardwood, and leather furniture. I don’t even care how shallow that sounds!” How embarrassing is that?

Our condo plans

A few days ago, DH sat down at the kitchen table with me as I finished up my breakfast. His body language told me that he wanted to broach a difficult topic. “Let’s talk some sense and sensibility,” he said. (Sense and Sensibility is the title of one of Jane Austen’s novels. I’m a big fan. It was strategic diplomacy on DH’s part to use those words.) He was holding floor plans of the different condo units from the close-to-downtown development we’d planned to move into. 

A quick recap – I have always wanted to live downtown, and recently, DH and I discovered a new development in a great area close to the the downtown core. Condos are being built, and 2 months ago we decided that this fall we would put money down on one scheduled to be ready in 2022. We were both very excited about this plan, and we’ve visited the development several times over the summer. The timing seemed perfect. In 2022, we will both be retired empty-nesters. And although the condos are expensive, we were confident that we’d be able to cover the cost completely with the sale of our home.

Sober second thoughts

As DH started to talk at the kitchen table that morning, I knew where he was going. “It’s OK,” I said. “I woke up today thinking the same thing.” Our individual mental gymnastics had brought us to a shared conclusion based on many points.

  • The 10% we would put towards the condo in October would mean a significant amount of investment money not gaining any interest for 4 years.
  • We can only say that the price of the condo is more or less what we could reasonably expect to get for our house once it’s fixed up. There is no guarantee though. Who knows what will happen with housing prices in the next few years?
  • Condo fees will be significant, and again, there’s no telling what will happen to them over time. Usually, condo fees go up.
  • To get the house sale ready within 2 to 3 years, I would have to work an extra year. I might choose to work an extra year anyway, but this would make it a “have to” thing – not a choice.
  • There would be an ever-present stress between the time we put the 10% down and the time we put the house up for sale. “Will the sale price cover the cost of the condo?”

Bottom line: it’s too risky. It’s too close to the line. When we move to a smaller space – as we probably will in the next 5 years or so – it should be a move that ends up giving us a slush fund.  It should not be a move that might give us a new mortgage – as well as condo fees – when we’re on our lower retirement income.

Our decision

So we’re not going to put 10% down in October. More than likely, that means we won’t move into that development. Worst case scenario? Our house sells at a more-than-adequate price but the condo also goes up in price and stays out of our reach. And we say, “If only we’d put that 10% down in October of 2018!” Could I live with that? Of course.

“You never know,” DH said. “Maybe in 4 years we’ll be saying how relieved we are that we didn’t go for this because of something else that comes up – something better.”

“That’s a nice thought,” I said. “But I can’t see it. I can’t even imagine something better.” DH winced. “But I’m OK with that,” I added.

And I am. I LOVED the idea of moving into that condo. It looked p-e-r-f-e-c-t. But I l know that if it compromised the financial freedom we’ve been gaining, it would be a huge regret. It’s never a good idea to want something too much. That kind of longing is at least in part the product of marketing, and for me, it’s been the cause of many debts. I’m sure that DD2 and DD1 can’t even remember the Christmas gifts we gave to them in 2013. And that furniture I was so excited about in 2015? It’s just our furniture now. Presents and sofas don’t make life full. Neither do condos.


Have you ever wanted something “too much”? Your comments are welcome.


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22 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Good for you! I’m sure you won’t regret it. Building wealth over the next few years will only give you more options in the future. My personal habits have shifted. I don’t want stuff much these days. I do still need to watch my temptation to want to buy things for my wife, and kids.

    • I am hit with that kind of temptation for things relating to home and, like you, gifts for family. You are right in saying that building wealth will give us more options. I hope you’re right in saying we won’t regret it. This is a bit of a tough one.

  • It was a tough decision, I’m sure, but you have to protect yourself financially first. As far as wanting something a bit too much, a few years back we thought some positive financial changes were coming our way, but it would require a move from our condo. We found a new development of homes that was exactly where we needed it to be, and in addition to the lure of being brand new, it would give us the extra room and garage that our condo lacks. The cost was going to be considerable, but we just wanted it so much. In the end, the changes fell through and the move became unnecessary, and it was just as well.

    • “but we just wanted it so much” – I can tell that your experience was very similar to ours. I’m glad you can say, “it was just as well” at this point – and I hope I’ll be able to say that eventually. I know in my head that it’s the right decision – because as you say, we do have to protect ourselves financially – but there’s a bit of heart pining that still comes and goes. I trust it will eventually go for good.

  • “It’s never a good idea to want something too much. That kind of longing is at least in part the product of marketing…” So true! I know it seems like a loss because it was kind of a dream place for you, but I think you’re being very smart and sensible and I’ll bet there will be something even better in your future.

    • Thank you, Tonya. If I’m being “smart and sensible”, that might just be the “something even better”.

  • Good for you! I must admit I winced when I read that you were planning to trade your home for an equally expensive condo with condo fees. In an income constrained model, downsizing only makes sense if you are saving money (less taxes, utilities) or recuperating some of the value in your home so that you can invest it to fund your retirement, IMO. I’m happy that you came to your own conclusion on your own though. We don’t need naysayers shattering our dreams. We can do that all on our own!! LOL

    • You say it all so well, Deb. And in this case, although utilities would be less expensive, taxes would be roughly equal – as would price. Condo fees would be extra. This was all clear from the get-go, but I think that old denial is still kicking around. Dormant – but ready to wake up. I’ll have to be on guard for it. Thanks for the comment!

  • We did similar with turning down, but on an almost-perfect-rental property. My SO crushed. After much consideration the event didn’t fit squarely in the budget and overall financial picture. It was tough to turn it down, but I do think we made the right choice for now.

    Thank you for sharing the tough decision you and DH had to make so that financial security can be kept/made.

    • Jane, that sounds like a very similar experience. An almost-perfect-rental property would be hard to turn down! I’m sure you had to fight off many rationalizations in your decision not to buy it. Head-over-heart financial choices can be tough! Here’s to a lack of future regret for both of us though.

  • Ouch! What a sober awakening from all the dream building and planning of the past months. I’m so sorry it won’t work out as planned. You both have certainly dodged what could’ve been a huge mistake. Yet, in four years a lot could still happen allowing it to happen under different circumstances.

    The necessity of making a 10% deposit on a condo not ready for four years is surprising to me. Would you’ve been an investor in the project? Was it a cooperative situation that required owners to be in at the financing stage so that the building could begin?

    In California buying in a new single family home development, placing down payment funds & contract terms often times happen while they are breaking ground and building. I haven’t heard of needing to do that four years out. Condos maybe different. Unfortunately, much can happen to a developer’s business in four years.

    We bought our home new 16 years ago but the first couple of streets in the division have differently styled homes. We were told at our developers office in the buying process that the previous developers went bankrupt. Scary!!

    After we moved in we met several residents from those original streets. Oh the stories! They told of the fright of being apart of that process, worried about losing their down payments and the horrific time overruns because of what happened. The whole developer ordeal really tarnished each family’s new home and made for a harrowing experience.

    Dave Ramsey would be proud that you both did not cave into “house fever” and “get married to the condo.” You both are gold star winners in taking your time and doing the math to remain the financial winners that you truly are!

    • Are “house fever” and “get married to the condo” Ramsey terms? Ha! I have also heard of condo development horror stories – and they contributed to the decision on my part. I just tried to imagine how it would feel to know that we were trapped by decisions we’d made … and I don’t want to go there again! I don’t believe that this particular development will have any awful stories connected with it. Good builder. Incredible location. And those who have moved into other parts of the new community are very happy with it. But the point is, nobody ever buys with the idea of an awful story unfolding – yet it happens. Gold star winners? I like that! Thank you, Linda 🙂

  • I am glad that Sense and Sensibility took over before you placed your down-payment 🙂 It is disappointing when a dream flies out the window, but I find that there is always another dream if you remain open to it. When the time is right something even better will come along. Who knows if you will still want to live in Ottawa in five years time – the world is your oyster once you are debt free.

    • Thank you, Nancy. Even though I honestly don’t believe that something even better will come along, I do believe there is always another dream if we remain open to it – and that’s more than good enough. I appreciate your wisdom.

  • It’s usually smaller stuff that I want far too much (accessories, clothes, bags) and I usually regret wasting the money on it, but so far I’ve done well in ignoring the bigger expensive things that could be enticing if I’m not careful. The thing I REALLY didn’t want yet was the biggest thing we’d ever bought and I worried long and hard about whether we’d regret our move. I think so far, tentatively, it’s not a regret… yet! May this still be true 10, 20, and 30 years from now.

    I’m contemplating a big purchase request from PiC right now, and trying to decide which category this falls in 🙂

    • For me, the small things that I want “far too much” are always from restaurants 🙂 I’m so glad your move is not a regret! The absence of psycho neighbours is always a good thing. I have such a favourable impression of PiC, I think he deserves the best whatever-it-is out there!

  • You know, if in 4 years, you still want to live in that building, it’s not that far fetched to think that an apartment might be available, either because it never got sold, or someone needs to sell. Your dream isn’t over yet.

    • That is true, LPC. The risk there is that prices of the units could well go up out of our reach in the next 4 years. So I’m not counting on it – but I’m not counting it out either. Thanks for your comment!

  • Sounds like you have changed and grown so much over this journey! And as much as the decision is impressive, so is your attitude and the conversation you describe. I love your husband’s opening line, too!

    During our debt-free journey, we talked about spending on things like new furniture and a e-bike at the end. But when it came we still felt we couldn’t justify these expenses. We did get some new-to-us matching couches in better condition than our old ones through Craigslist. And Neil still has the green-light to buy an e-bike if he finds the right one. But at this point I joke that researching e-bikes is the actual hobby, not owning and riding one.

    I think the things I’ve wanted have not been material possessions so much as immaterial: a friendship to be reconciled; my babies to sleep better or my kids to behave better; achievement in certain areas, etc. It’s definitely a dangerous place to be in, especially for matters outside my control. For me, that induces a lot of anxiety.

    • I love it that you gave yourselves permission to buy matching couches from Craigslist 🙂 You’ve set the bar just right, and you’re giving yourselves loads of wiggle room. Your desires for a reconciled friendship, more sleep, and harmony in the household are all what I would call wholesome desires of the heart. Again, it’s a good idea not to want them too much – and to be aware that there is marketing involved in the perfect-friends-and-family scenario. You are wise to recognize what is outside of your control and to work on accepting that. I can assure you that all of these anxieties also exist for people in financial stress – and they are compounded by money worries. (I see you’ve written your first post-baby post. Looking forward to reading it.)

  • I think you guys made the right decision. A lot can happen in the next few years and it is better to wait it out. They say good things come to those who wait! 🙂

    • That is true. And for a person who tends to be impatient, it’s good to be reminded of it. Thank you, Mackenzie!

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