A mortgage is the tip of the house expenses; avoid becoming house poor.
You’ve found a wonderful home, but buyers beware. The thrill can wear off faster than a first love. The term "house poor" looms. A mortgage, real estate taxes, and homeowners insurance are just the tip of the house-expense iceberg. There may be emergency repairs to tackle, and most likely you won’t want to live in rooms without furnishings, window treatments, lighting, art, and accessories.
Often, people think of real estate taxes and homeowners expenses as being fixed amounts like a fixed mortgage, but that isn’t the case. Those amounts can–and will–change over time. Another possible drawback for some people is that homes cannot be sold at the drop of a hat, which may limit your ability to make a move to a new city in a timely fashion.
And then there’s the real litmus test. You find you come up short at the end of the month with your cash flow in and out. Although you may think you’ll be content eating home every night, it’s nice to have extra cash for dinner out occasionally, additions to your retirement fund, life insurance, college tuition if you have children and long-term-care insurance once you’re past 50. And don’t forget day-to-day living expenses, which can too quickly get forgotten.
On the positive side, home mortgages offer a tax break and are currently hovering near historically low levels. Owning a home is a way to save and set aside money, too. As traditional fixed mortgages eventually are paid off, and you may have some price appreciation over time, you’re apt to have more equity for a future purchase, or retirement funds.
Most financial planners advise not overextending yourself financially by having these 3 lifelines within reach:
- An emergency fund of six months of your salary to bail you out if you lose your job, face a health crisis, or home-related disaster such as storm waters flooding your basement. Avoid dipping into savings or skipping a mortgage payment.
- A goal or personal mission statement as a road map to reach priorities–paying off college loans within five years or building a deck for your 10th anniversary.
- A realistic budget based on your monthly net pay minus your monthly fixed and variable costs to keep you on track. If your bottom line is not in the black, delete non-essential money guzzlers. Shopping for clothing too much? Or that daily $4.95 latte will shave off $148 monthly–and that’s without a tip.
With sound budgeting, life still will be joyful. Maybe, you can’t afford a vacation this August to toast the National Park Service’s Centennial, but if you set aside money monthly, you’ll get there next year. More important, you’ve mastered a key personal finance lesson: A balanced budget will help you sleep more, stay healthy, and be productive.
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