One of my current goals is to figure out how to take a firmer hand with our budget. We’re not big spenders and our budget is really, really streamlined, but due to circumstances last year, we find ourselves under massive debt and with our expenses outweighing our income. A year ago we were fine, but once you add two car payments and $20k of house repairs (which had to go on our credit cards, because our savings were drained the year before when Jason lost his job), you go from monthly “wiggle room” to monthly “further into the red.” There is literally nothing more we can cut from our budget, so this comes down to large-ticket items: cars and house. The cars are a no-go: one of them is the family car (the only one that fits us all) and the other one is upside-down on value. Which leaves the house.
I will admit straight out that we shouldn’t have bought this house. It flat-out cost too much, plus it had particular features that we knew would make it more expensive to care for. It was on a hill, meaning potential problems with structural elements, and it was two stories. Neither of these may mean problems in other parts of the world, but San Antonio has very peculiar weather patterns. We sometimes have years without rain, and sometimes years without the rain stopping, and due to this, the land is constantly shifting. Basements don’t work here. Doors have to be adjusted several times a year. Plus, San Antonio is just HOT, and that means the second floor will always take a lot more energy to cool (during the nine months we need a/c).
So why did we buy it, knowing the potential issues and the excess cost? Well, we were desperate, and we lived in a different state and couldn’t go look at houses in person, and we needed something immediately so we didn’t have the luxury of waiting until the right house came along. That summer of nightmares, anything and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Additionally, the housing market had exploded in San Antonio. When we moved to Boston in 2014, our 1500-square-foot house had been worth $120k (only $25k more than when we bought it in 2006). The following summer, the same house was worth $140k, and the summer after that, $160k. By the time we were looking at this house, that old house of ours was worth $180k, and these days, it’s over $200k. Five years, and it’s almost doubled in value since we sold it. And the house we’re in today? It’s gone up at least $50k in selling value just in the last 18 months, especially after our improvements. Unfortunately, the increased sales value does nothing to help us with our insane mortgage payment, or our out-of-control electrical bill due to cooling two floors of this beast-house. We can’t afford this place, no matter how much we love it.
Downsizing is going to be our best option. Unfortunately, this will be tricky. Space-wise, we can certainly downsize. This house is about 2200 square feet, and we’re perfectly comfortable with something smaller, especially if it’s laid out well. (Actually, ironically, we preferred our 1500-square-foot house from pre-Boston, because while it had less overall square footage, it was laid out so much better than this current house!) But even the smaller houses are currently selling for the same price (or higher) than what we spent on our current house. You can’t get anything for an affordable price unless you go to high-crime areas (no!) or you buy a major fixer upper (NO!). If we sell and buy simultaneously, the proceeds from the sale should make a major down payment into a smaller, one-story house, but we’d have to be very sure those transactions, and the right house would have to be available. Plus there are a few things we’d have to fix up in this house first. Sucks, but it’s got to be done. Even if I did finish school and get a decent-paying job, we’d have years of major credit card debt and constant worry before we were comfortable again, and this house would always be too big and too expensive for us.
We’re not looking to do this immediately, of course. It’s likely we’re not looking to do this until our boys are all off to school in a few years, or at least not until one or two of them are. We’re not going to spend a lot more money and get further into debt fixing up the things that need to be fixed. We just can’t. Right now, we’re just going to focus on the things we can do cheaply (finish up the last bit of the front yard, wall repairs, paint touchups, door adjustments, etc), work on getting me into school (or other solution), and continue to economize. But probably, in the next three to four years, we’ll be looking to move somewhere smaller, single-story, with a smaller house payment. It’s long in the future, but I’ll ask anyway: wish us luck!!