I ran into a friend yesterday and when I told her our news--that I am four months pregnant--one of her very first questions was whether we would now be getting a bigger house. It seemed an odd, rather personal and presumptuous question to me.
I find it interesting that having a bigger, nicer, newer house is on so many people's minds. Our house is definitely what I would call modest. We live in the older part of town and have an older house. It is not huge; we have no basement or garage, which I regret, but we do have a really large lot (about a third of an acre). Also, though the house is not enormous, I really like the way it has been laid out. Lack of storage space notwithstanding, the builders of this house knew where to put the square footage: in the kitchen and the family room, which is perfect since these are the two most used rooms in the house. But the best aspect of our house? By far, it is the really low mortgage payment we have each month. We pay $150 less than our rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago.
Technically, I suppose we could actually afford a bigger, newer home. Since moving here, Bil has gotten a raise or two, so based on income we could upsize, theoretically. When I look at our budget on paper, we should definitely be able to afford a bigger mortgage, but then when I see how much of our money actually makes it to our savings account each month, I see an entirely different story. It is especially apparent this year with higher prices on gas, groceries and just about everything. So, while we should be able to swing a larger mortgage, I am not sure we could do that and still save any money, which is one major reason we have decided to be happy where we are. Instead of a bigger house, we plan to pay down our debt (student loan and mortgage) so that if and when we decide to relocate, we will have the means to do so.
It doesn't mean I am not tempted sometimes to look for our dream home. Occasionally, when I visit friends' homes I get a bit envious of their bright, shiny houses in the more fashionable side of town. But, it just doesn't seem worth it to me to trade in my sense of financial well-being. Right now, we do not struggle to pay our bills. We sometimes struggle to pay for the extras, but not so much that I stay up nights worrying. We are able to stay within our budget with some sacrifice and frugality, but we can still afford to eat out once in a while, and never once have I had to resort to some of my money-saving tactics from college (like living on Ramen noodles or eggs until payday).
I grew up in a small house in Chicago equipped with only one bathroom. I have 2 brothers and 1 sister, so none of us had our own room. We managed ok. Yes, it would have been really nice to have an extra bathroom or a bit more space in our bedrooms, but we came out of the experience relatively unscathed--and with some pretty funny stories to tell our kids. And come to think of it, most of my friends were in the same situation. When did that tide turn? Why has our generation decided that we need much bigger, nicer homes than our parents had? What has caused this obsession?
It is really sad to me how obsessed Americans are, how entitled we think we are to more stuff. I don't have statistics, but I would say that we are definitely in the minority world-wide when it comes to how much we have. Most people in other countries don't have multiple cars, huge houses, etc. When I lived in Hong Kong, I don't remember ever visiting a house or apartment--no matter how wealthy the residents--that had a kitchen in which more than 2 people could fit. That was just how it was. When I remember that, it makes it much easier to be content with what I have, even grateful.