This article is by staff writer Adam Baker. Baker recently featured a post on his own blog entitled, Are You Eating Yourself Into Debt?
As some of you know, Courtney and I recently spent just under a year traveling abroad with our two-year-old daughter. A couple of months ago, we returned home to Indiana and decided that we'd take a six month break from our mobile lifestyle. Our decision meant we needed to start looking for short-term rentals that would meet our temporary needs.
When we started to browse rental options, we created a list divided into Wants and Needs. Some of the Needs included things like two bedrooms, a safe neighborhood, flexible lease terms, and some sort of yard or grass.
Under Wants we placed criteria like a standalone house, a fenced-in back yard, a one-car garage, and proximity to decent sidewalks or paths. Remember, we weren't buying a permanent home: We were searching for a quick six-month stop.
As we started to comb through different properties on the market, I said to Courtney, “You know, it would be so nice to have a separate work area where I could go to write. I don't need it, but it would be nice.”
This wasn't the first time I'd voiced this desire. Courtney had to put up with my complaining for the last year about not having designated work space. It was primarily an excuse for procrastination or lack of motivation, but there was a part of me that wanted to see what it would be like to have a specific space for my work.
A Want becomes a Need
After mentioning it a couple of more times, we agreed to expand our search to two bedrooms with bonus rooms, offices, or even large closets (yes, I'm serious). In general, a two bedroom home with a bonus room or office will be cheaper rent than a comparable three-bedroom place.
Even with a background in real estate, it can be hard to search for houses with extra rooms. Each owner, agent, or listing may refer to the space in a different way. Often these homes have unique floor plans, and it's nearly impossible to understand them unless you visit each home individually. Finding matches was difficult.
Out of frustration at the lack of two-bedroom options that also included a bonus room, I allowed myself to do something that changed everything: I expanded our search to three-bedroom rentals. Suddenly, the flood gates were opened.
After a couple of days searching all of the new options, I called my friend/ex-partner in real estate and gave him several listings. I remember saying something like, “I know we could fit into two bedrooms, but we really need three bedrooms these days.”
It had happened. Of the five listings I sent to him to schedule showings, not a single one of them had only two bedrooms. Somehow over the course of just a few weeks, I'd managed to shift our Needs from two bedrooms to three bedrooms. My attitude had changed.
In our market, we could have easily found a two-bedroom rental in the $600/month range. Our current rent (on the three-bedroom rental we selected) is $900/month. For those of you counting, that's a 50% increase — or around $300/month.
For me, the issue isn't the extra money per month. It's a matter of perspective. We aren't going to be financially ruined by this choice, and we're paying for other benefits in that increase. But, I want to be sure that I view our rental for what it is: a Want. Heck, we could even label it a luxury for us.
If I continue to view this as a Need, it's easy to focus on the negatives. For example, the air conditioner takes hours to cool anything, the lighting is terrible in the home, and the garage doesn't have an automatic opener. If I were to take the situation for granted and focus on the negatives, it would be easy for my standard of living to creep even higher and higher.
In retrospect, if I see this home for what it really is — an indulgence — those little things lose their importance. I appreciate my little workspace so much more. I appreciate the fact the my daughter Milligan can play out back, and that we have space to host guests.
The truth is, for our family of three, anything more than a safe, one-bedroom home with a roof, heat, and simple kitchen is a luxury. It's a Want, not a Need. By realizing that, we can stop taking things for granted, and start being thankful for what we have.
But shelter is just one area of our budget where this shift in thinking can happen. Luckily, this experience has helped me become more aware in other areas, such as Food, Clothing, and Transportation, where my definition of Need can easily grow beyond what is truly needed.
Indulgences in life are great. I've met very few people who want to live at the bare minimum level of their Needs. But taking steps to ensure we recognize our indulgences as indulgences allows us to appreciate how lucky we truly are!