House Hunting in D.C. – Scratch That. Let’s Talk About Money

Dennis and I are house hunting. When we moved to D.C. nearly 5 years ago we were certain we’d only be here for three. Alas, here we are, with no intention of leaving anytime soon.

We currently pay $2150 per month in rent for a 2-bedroom, basement apartment. That’s $25,800 a year. Does it make sense for us to continue paying rent when we can be paying off a mortgage for the same amount (or less) and not be living in a basement? It’s a really nice basement in an awesome location, but still.

Without derailing this blogpost too much, I should mention my philosophy on talking about money. First I have to acknowledge that Dennis and I make decent money which, I recognize, impacts my willingness to discuss such a touchy subject. But the difficulty, I think, is that it is so touchy.

A few years ago the U.S. had a financial crisis, as we all know. Would less people have been stung (or worse) if finances weren’t a taboo subject? We’re never taught about personal finance in school and if your parents don’t manage money well then how are you supposed to learn? Friends don’t have meaningful discussions about money. We may say, “oh, that’s too expensive” or “I just got paid, let’s party!” but no one really says, “hey, how much money do you make? How much are you putting towards retirement? How much do you think I should be putting into savings each month? Can you really afford that new car?” We don’t have those conversations.

Money is a status symbol-I get that. Talking about money with friends is bound to feel like we’re comparing ourselves to each other. And whoever is making less, or saving less, or whatever measure of success you want to use, is going to feel bad.

But, having these conversations keeps us from making bad decisions. If R & J buy a $500K house and I think, “man, I should be able to buy a $500K house,” I might bite off more than I can chew. Because what I didn’t know was that J’s parents gave them $100K for the downpayment, or R has been saving since high school for this, or maybe they made a bad decision themselves and are literally eating Ramen every night, wondering how they’re going to make their mortgage payment.

Not only does open conversation help us from making bad choices, but it can help us make good ones, too. Maybe R & J are doing it right and I want to be like them. But it’s not socially acceptable for me to reach out and say, “hey-how are you making this work? How much do you make? What goals should I have so that I can afford this, too?” Instead, I look at these beautiful D.C. row-houses owned by young couples and I think, “how in Frank’s name are you doing this?”

I do have a few close friends with whom I discuss these things. We still don’t say specifically how much we make because, again, it’s not socially acceptable, but we hint. And we talk about down payments, student loan payments, etc. We all talk about 401Ks and Roth IRAs, like responsible adults, but we never actually talk about how much we put in there, or how much we have. But I’m curious. I don’t want to make a bad decision. I want to learn from your mistakes and I’m happy to have you learn from mine, as painful or embarrassing as those mistakes might be.

So that’s where we find ourselves now, Dennis and I. Hunting for a house, wondering if it makes financial sense, wondering how other people are making it happen. But you’ll notice, I haven’t disclosed our actual salaries in this blog post. Nor have I disclosed the price range we’re searching in. It feels awkward. Twice in this post I typed out “How much do you make?” and both times it felt intrusive and wrong.

We did make an offer on a house this morning. We’re waiting to hear back. That’s what I intended to write about but I did end up derailing myself. Despite my philosophy on needing more open communication it feels weird to share the list price, how much we offered, the cap to our escalation clause, etc. What if you judge our decision?

Clearly I’m not ready to practice what I preach… But, if we do get the house, I can at least promise you pictures!

One Response to “House Hunting in D.C. – Scratch That. Let’s Talk About Money”

  1. Deb April 5, 2015 at 1:15 am #

    Great blog! I agree. And I hope your offer is accepted 🙂

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