Buying a house vs. buying a house AND a life

Buying a house vs. buying a house AND a life

We’re house hunting right now.

One of our long-term goals has been to move from our starter home into a place with a little more space–and more importantly, more than one bathroom–before our kids hit the teen years. I love my starter house, but it’s time to start looking.

I haven’t bought a house (or moved!) in over a decade, and I have a newfound respect for those of you that have. The hunt has been an education (and we’re not done yet).

We’ve been going through the stages of what I suspect is a very typical home search. We thought we knew what we wanted: a cute home with good bones and character, that was close to move-in ready, in one of the nearby neighborhoods we love and are familiar with. 

But we quickly figured out that those modest-seeming homes go for 30% (at least!) more than we wanted to pay.

I’d envisioned raising our family in one of those homes, and it was easy to tell myself that ponying up the big bucks would be worth it in the long run. Big numbers don’t sound like a huge deal when amortized over 15 or 30 years. It’s hard to feel the emotional impact of paying 30% more for a house–even when that looks like tens of thousands of dollars.

It’s a common weakness: money is just a number, and while those numbers remain abstract, we’re unable to make intelligent decisions about money. (That link is worth your time.) I’ve been wrestling with ways of turning our abstract house numbers into something concrete by applying those principles to our house hunt.


I finally landed on a few things that are helping us frame our decision.

We could pay the big bucks for the perfect house (not that there is such a thing, but work with me), or:

  • We could spend 80,000 less, and take the whole family on a two-week European vacation with the savings–four times.
  • With $50,000, we could fully fund a missionary for a whole year.
  • With 25,000, we could take the whole family to visit some of our favorite people on the West Coast–five times.
  • With $15,000, we could replace both of our old cars with pretty decent substitutes.
  • With 5,000, we could fund our daily latté habit for 4 1/2 years.
  • With $1,000, we could buy the most expensive bouquet Trader Joe’s has to offer, every week, for over 3 years.

When our realtor asked us how much we could spend, I tried to explain the difference between what we wanted to pay (less) and what the mortgage company thought we could afford (more). I rambled on, not sure if she’d get it. She works on commission, you know.

She got it. “I understand completely,” she said. “You don’t just want a house: you want a house and a life.”


I hate making big decisions–including big decisions about money–but framing the conversation in these tangible terms is making deciding a little bit easier.

All the Money in the World

P.S. Another book that’s helped change our paradigm and frame our big decisions about money is Laura Vanderkam’s All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Wealth. (Spoiler: you’ll be happier if you spend less on your house and cars, and more on experiences. See why I like it?) Highly recommended.


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  1. Alyssa says:

    What a great post! This totally resonates with me as we just bought our first starter home. It was important to us that we not buy a house that would become a burden due to an overwhelming mortgage. Our little house is perfect for us and we don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck just to live here! That book rec sounds very interesting….might have to check it out!

  2. M. Everly says:

    Thinking about tradeoffs in tangible is terms smart strategy to keep on track! From experience, several actually, I can attest that there are house purchase compromises that are not worth making in order to pay what one would prefer to pay. A bad kitchen or old flooring maybe, if you have the ability to remodel someday, but in my experience compromising on neighborhood for price is a mistake. Poor schools, a busy street, or a run down house next door can make your daily life miserable and or impact your ability to sell when you want to. Better the small house in a great neighborhood than a ‘good value’ in an area you won’t love in 5, 10 years. I am not saying just give up and spend an extra 30% for ‘cute’ just don’t short change your future self on the quality of life attributes of a long term purchase.

  3. Chenay says:

    I know this is an old post, but it’s new to me and very timely. We’re considering moving closer to family and buying a house with a mortgage payment that will be less than half of our current payment! The only issue is that my husband will have a 40 minute commute to work, whereas my commute will be lessened. Decisions, decisions, but I really do think that having more income and being closer to my sister outweighs the commute, and my husband can always find a job in the new town;)

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