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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What It Means To Be "House Poor"

What it means to be "house poor"
"House poor."

I'm pretty sure the first time I heard that phrase was when Jake and I went to meet with a financial adviser before we bought our house. He looked over our finances and gave us feedback on whether or not it was financially feasible for us to buy a house.

This meeting took place over two years ago now, but I still remember what he said. He warned us by saying that while we could probably swing a mortgage and all the home-maintenance frustrations that come with owning a house, but he wouldn't recommend it at this point. He took into consideration our income levels, along with some debt that we had, and said that, for us, buying a home might make us feel "house poor."

He then went on to describe what being house poor looks like. It doesn't mean that you can't afford to make the payments, but instead that you'll leave yourself with nothing much left after the bills. The house, essentially, will become your life. And since you can't really afford to do anything but stay home and pay for your house, you'll feel "house poor."

I heard him out, and although I believed what he had to say, I was hopeful that things would be different for us. I mean, we weren't planning to spend nearly as much as the bank said we qualified for, and I was sure that in the long run it would be wiser to invest our money into a mortgage instead of rent, and so I made it my mission in life to convince my then fiancĂ© that buying a house was the best option for us.

After all, we were getting married soon and we needed a place to live. How great would it be to start out life together in our very own house!

What it means to be "house poor"
So after looking at four or five homes we found what we believed to be our "forever" home—a place we could raise a family, grow old together, have the grandchildren come and visit, and host big holiday parties. We had to jump through a ton of hoops in order to purchase the house due to the type of government loan our bank recommended we go with—we had to get permission from the owner to go in and start cleaning to demonstrate to them how serious we were; we had to paint the outbuildings, the deck, the trim, and a bunch of other things. Finally, a month after our wedding, we closed on the house! OUR house!

Fast forward almost two years later.

I can now say I understand firsthand what the phrase "house poor" means. I wouldn't recommend anyone live this way. The house has, exactly as the financial planner warned, become our life. We work to pay off the house, and when we're not working we're thinking of other ways we can work to earn more money to pay off the house. And if we're not doing that we're making emergency fixes to the flooded basement or the broken furnace, we're renovating the upstairs, or just maintaining the property—mowing, shoveling snow, raking leaves, gardening. It never ends.

The time has come for a dramatic change. Jake and I have a lot of things we want to do in life and right now this house is holding us back. We're considering doing something drastic to change our circumstances... but you'll have to come back to find out the rest of that story.

Keep pinchin' ;-)


  1. This is a great post. Hang in there, guys! My wife and I know firsthand what it means to be "mortgage-focused". It's great to apply Dave Ramsey's gazelle intensity to every baby step, but if you aren't careful, paying off the house early can become an idol, consuming all your thoughts and making you miserable.

    Baby Step 6 is much more difficult than Baby Step 2, at least for us. We didn't have a ton of consumer debt and it only took us a few months to knock it out. Not so with the mortgage! This is something that will take years and is more of a marathon than a sprint. I picture it like a multi-headed monster that laughs when you strike it with a flimsy extra $100 payment, even though it is losing some of its life even with such small strokes. :)

    I'm anxious to see what you guys are planning to do to get out of debt quicker. My wife and I have tossed around moving into a "tiny house" or getting a shipping container. No joke! The faster there is no mortgage, the faster freedom comes.

    Anyway, the very best of providence to you on this journey!

    1. Thanks Todd! We're in the midst of many similar considerations. We're meeting with a realtor on Saturday to discuss the possibility of selling the house, but we're also considering renting out the upstairs to generate some income that way. It's all up in the air at this point, but you can be sure we'll blog about it in the future. Thanks for reading :)

  2. Excellent essay, and something many of us face at any age. I think having a house is great for equity, and a wonderful investment. However, having too much house for your situation is not fun at all, as you're finding. Hugs to you both and prayers too as you decide what is best for you. I've no doubt you'll find the right answer!

    1. Awe, we very much appreciate the encouragement :) Thanks!