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How Much Does Comfort Really Cost?

by Shawanda Greene

Uncomfortable Seat on the Bus

Photo by Chad Magiera

Last weekend, I attended a taping of The Truth About Money with Ric Edelman here in Washington, D.C. The show consists mainly of audience members asking Ric Edelman questions about their personal finances. As expected, I learned a ton of information about money – stuff I’d never even thought of. It was all so fascinating.

However, there was one topic that really stood out, and I’d like to share it with you today.

So, here’s the situation.

A woman in her late 30s to early 40s stood at the mic to ask Ric if she should rent out her home. Although she could cover the bills, things were tight. The woman estimated that she’d net an extra $300 to $500 per month if she leased an apartment and rented her house.

After going over the risks and costs involving this strategy, Ric told the woman it may be a workable means of bringing in some additional cash.

Satisfied with the response, the woman thanked Ric and cheerfully plopped down in her seat. Perhaps not totally content with his answer, Ric then asked the woman what I’d been thinking all along. “Have you considered taking in a boarder?”

Now, what do you think her response was?

I’ll tell you what her answer was. It was cringe worthy – made even more cringe worthy by the guy to the right of me who echoed it in agreement.

The woman wouldn’t feel comfortable with a stranger living in the house with her. She wanted her privacy. I mean, after all, she had a young daughter.

My mind as well as my heart began to race. I felt my blood pressure rising.

So, so, so committing yourself to another obligation outside of the mortgage you can barely afford makes perfect sense, huh? To hell with vacancies, evictions, repairs, maintenance, and unpaid or late rent. Bring ‘em on.

This woman was prepared to take on an obscene amount of risk. And for what? Comfort.

She’d make way more money by getting a roommate without all the financial risk.

The point I’m trying to make is that comfort is expensive. We often disguise it as privacy, safety, convenience, peace of mind. Whatever we call it, the concept is pretty much the same. We don’t like being uncomfortable. Well, boo effing hoo.

The next time you rationalize spending or passing up money you can’t afford to lose, I want you to do two things.

  1. Calculate your costs, and
  2. Assess your risks.

For instance, does it make sense to keep your big ol’, spooky 4BR/3BA house practically empty if you have to pass up $10K for the privilege of privacy? In a city like D.C., it may be closer to $20K.

Try it. Think about your situation. How much is comfort costing you?

This post was featured in the Carnival of Money Stories #98 – St. Patrick’s Day Edition over at Money Thinking.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

guest March 12, 2011 at 11:26 AM

I recently talked to a friend in a similar situation. His mortgage was 2K. He makes ~100K. Yet, he lives to live alone in a 3 BR house WITH a basement. At what point, do you swallow your pride or fear of using the toilet after someone and do what is sensible?

Reply

TheyCallMeCheap March 14, 2011 at 11:12 PM

When you're approaching retirement with inadequate savings and paltry Social Security benefits. Actually, your friend could just rent the basement. The only inconvenience he'll experience is the work that's necessary to get it ready for rent as well as a little bit marketing.

Reply

Sara March 12, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Uh-uh. Personally, if I lived in a house that was too big and expensive for me, I'd sell it and downsize before I'd live with a non-relative. I work with people all day long, and while I love my job–and love making money–it would ruin my life if I had to go home and make small talk, rearrange my TV and shower schedules, get fully dressed every time I left my bedroom, and keep it down during romantic interludes with my husband–you get the picture! I guess if I were seriously in debt, I'd do what I had to do, but taking in a boarder would be my very last resort–after getting a second job delivering pizzas and selling an organ. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but communal living is THAT unappealing to me!

Even though I don't agree this time, I love your blog! Keep it up!

Reply

TheyCallMeCheap March 12, 2011 at 1:12 PM

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

I wasn't expecting to get a lot of agreement on this one – particularly from the Mama Grizzly sect. :) I'd lean towards selling the house as well. For me, working a second job would likely be my last option. I take issue with working extra to keep stuff. Maybe to get out of debt or to build long-term wealth, but not to hold on to stuff I couldn't otherwise afford. I say just let the stuff go. It's not worth it.

The point I really wanted to get across was that we should consider how much things that make us comfortable cost. For instance, is a $10K safety feature on your vehicle worth it if it only reduces your chance of serious injury or dying in an accident by 0.5%?

I've had roommates as recently as two years ago and it worked out really well. For me, most people really have no interest in making small talk. They just seclude themselves to their room. I've also lived with people who I actually enjoy talking to. Since roomies are in your personal space, you definitely have to be selective about who you allow to live with you. It also helps if they're recommended by someone you know and trust.

Reply

Afford-Anything.com March 12, 2011 at 3:00 PM

I know two couples, with very young children (diaper-aged children) who live with roommates. Not only do they save money (which they can put towards their kids), they also have someone around in case of emergency.

They were selective about their roommies — they started by asking friends and friends-of-friends, and if they needed to, they'd post a Craigslist ad specifying that they want a family-friendly professional, very responsible, need 5 references, etc.

I have 2 roommates (no kids) and LOVE THEM! I posted a Craigslist ad seeking "quiet, clean" … I was very specific. People who didn't meet that description, or who wanted a 24/7 party house, just didn't bother responding to my ad. Plain and simple.

Reply

TheyCallMeCheap March 12, 2011 at 7:06 PM

Thanks for sharing that. I know it's doable. With college being so expensive, the extra money could be the difference between your kid graduating from college debt-free or debt-ridden. I have a friend who lives next to a bunch of non-related elderly people. So, I guess you get used to being "uncomfortable" now, or accept discomfort later. Personally, I've never had bad roommates. My worst roommate is, to this day, one of my best friends.

Reply

Donna March 14, 2011 at 3:55 AM

I liken this to moving in with my grandparents right after graduate school. I moved back home to California after I finished grad school in Ohio. I secured a job but living out of California for so long, I hadn't realized how much rent in a decent area close to my new job would be. So I moved in with my grandparents who live on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in California. I stayed with them for a year until I could put down first and last month's rent and have some money in the bank if things got tight. It almost drove me insane b/c I became their primary caregiver while enduring a hellacious commute and a full-time job. I stayed with a friend one night a week so I could go straight to my 8am class without the hour-long commute. But it also allowed me a year to get my finances back into shape so I could get a place I could afford and still have money for food and other items.

If you really are committed to getting your finances in order, you either pay now or pay later and I'd rather share a place with someone for a year than owe a creditor for the next 30 years.

Reply

TheyCallMeCheap March 14, 2011 at 11:06 PM

Wow. Now that sounds like a sacrifice. Knowing that the discomfort is temporary makes it a bit more bearable. You can't help but admire people who endure short-term sacrifice for long-term success.

Reply

Kate April 13, 2011 at 11:49 AM

I'm a single mom who works goofy shifts, so live-in childcare was the only logical solution for me… but it's not cheap. The monthly cost for a nanny could have been in the range of $1700-$2000. Instead, I carefully chose another single mom (who has one child in the same age group as my son) to be my roommate, and now I have a babysitter PLUS extra rental income. (And she has an occasional built-in babysitter too!)

Net monthly savings… $2500. I think I can share a kitchen for that.

This arrangement allows her to live in a much nicer home and neighbourhood than the apartments in her price range. Everybody wins!

Single mom home-sharing… it's the way to go!

Reply

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