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What To Do When You Get Stuck In Your Starter Home

Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.

Sour Lemons

There is an old saying that goes, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. Sometimes you’ll face undesirable situations, but the saying urges you to stay positive and make the best of those unanticipated events. I’d say my current housing market is pushing me to make the best of my situation, being stuck in my starter home.

Below is insight into my housing purchase and my family makeup. And how we have changed our expectations of buying a small/inexpensive starter home, in a great neighborhood, with the hopes of moving up to a new home in the future. We have decided not to move (yet), but we have made some changes to keep us happy on our path to FI.

The Purchase

Back in 2012, I bought a quaint home in a really nice town in Massachusetts. The home is a 1,200 square foot ranch, with a fenced in backyard, and it cost $313,000!

Back then, this was the lowest price I could find in the town. The basement was unfinished but equaled an additional 1,200 sq ft of potential living space. The house is within walking distance to a local elementary school (my three children attend this school), and the town has a middle school and high school within a mile of my home. I live approximately two miles away from my parents, which helps significantly with childcare and family time.

The LifeStyle

There are five of us living in this three bedroom home. The two boys (11 and 3) share a larger room, while my nine-year-old has a small room of her own. We share one full and two half baths.

Currently, I work about two miles, door to door, from my house. Many days I choose to head home for lunch, just to get out of the office.

The town sports are close to home, there are a few coffee shops and some small restaurants if we need a night out. Essentially, we live our lives within a three-mile radius of our home base!

Right now my home fits my family and my life perfectly. We have everything we need, even a basketball hoop in our small driveway. We each have space to spread out and can retreat to our rooms for moments of solace. However, the kids are growing quickly, and I’m unsure if we will continue to live comfortably.

Reasons To Move…

Overall, I really like my home. But one of the things that worries me the most is that it is on a cut through street with busy traffic. Cut through street + three year old = so unsafe! And Remember that basketball hoop? The ball is constantly going into the road. I wish the street we lived on was less convenient for drivers, but I can’t really change that situation, so moving seems like the only fix.

A different home, in the same town, on a quieter street would be awesome! A home where the kids in the neighborhood can come out and play in the road would make us happy. Maybe one where we can take our soccer nets out or hockey sticks out and play without the fear of danger. It seems like our home could be better if we could be more active and safe at the house.

Some other issues, are more of a mindset, and not actually anything wrong with the house. For example, I struggle with figuring out what is worth spending my money on. Being on the FI path, I’m constantly assessing what the right choice might be. And that includes our living expenses and situation. Sometimes, the lifestyle creep struggle is so real! Since others seem so sure about their “forever home” purchases, I sometimes think, “Oh, is that what we are supposed to do next?”.

Also, more of a mindset issue is that I don’t like feeling trapped. With an exploding housing market, I sometimes feel like my only option is to stay in the house, even if I don’t want to.

And Why We Don’t

So, why can’t we move?

A year ago, the house next door to mine sold for close to $500,000. I have Zillow alerts for my town, and this year, the entry point is $599,000 for the cheapest listings. Listings that need “TLC” and “elbow grease”. The other parents and I talk about the sudden increases often, we watch houses change from “for sale” to “pending” right before our eyes. Watching people paying 200-300k more than we paid–for the same starter home, seems good for re-sell value, it also seems to put larger homes out of reach.

Making Lemonade

I am on the path to FI, and realistically, adding to the cost of housing would create a huge obstacle to my reaching FI on time. I accept this fact and have decided that I will stay in my current home, but sometimes we FIREWALKERS need to vent!

In addition to venting, though, we also need to take action so that the journey to FI is an enjoyable one. Here is what I did to combat my itch for another home:

First, we rehabbed the basement! This has opened up our living space, essentially by doubling our usable square footage. Adding a sound booth, a second family room, an office, a work out space and laundry space has given us functionality as well as organization. We also have more storage closets. At the time, we thought we would need tons of storage. But then we did the next step!

Second, we KonMari cleansed our home! This has been a game changer. We have more space, we have less clutter, we donated a huge amount of usable stuff to charity, and we aren’t shackled to constantly de-cluttering our home. The process took a KonMari Consultant (a close friend and fellow Fi-er), and five days of pure mayhem. But in the end, the process was magical and the outcome unbeatable. Here are some photos:

Kids Room Neat   Neatly Stored Documents

Third, there has been a lot of talk about finding and exploring true happiness. In many of the recent ChooseFI Podcast Episodes, Brad and Jonathan have explored the Why of FI, bringing that exploration to a new level. Focusing on what truly makes us happy is so important in quelling the temptation to jump back into spending.

I realized that I need to find my happiness, and that led me to explore more outside of the home. We started saying “YES” when invited to explore events or visit with friends. And I have reinvested time with my kids. Additionally, I have started a business. “Distracting” myself from purchasing a new home, by exploring my true desires, has helped me to stay on track. It has also led us outdoors…

Fourth, get out of the house! Our house has become a warm home base, but it is not where our lives have to begin and end. We get up and out on weekends and stay busy during the week. This change of routine allows us to break free of the monotony of using that same basketball hoop, or the same backyard soccer nets, and we explore elsewhere.

Aquarium - turtle     Target with Arrows at Bullseye    Kids at soccer

Finally, revisit your FI Plan! We may sell our home or move one day, but the move MUST be able to help us achieve our ultimate goals, our FI goals. This is the difficult part of FI-staying on track over many years and through many temptations.

So, there you have it. For now, we will continue to highlight what we are grateful for in our current home (especially that price tag!), and stay put.

To those of you facing the same sour situation of being stuck in your starter home, what do you do to combat your desires to move?

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Choose FI has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Choose FI and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. American Express is a ChooseFI advertiser. Disclosures.
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