This Reader Story is from GRS reader Jon, who writes for MoneySmartGuides, a personal finance blog that helps educate people on personal finance so that they can reach their financial dreams. He focuses mainly on investing and paying off debt since those are the two of the most challenging personal finance topics we face.
Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
Many of us dream of owning our own home. When we finally save up enough for a down payment and buy our first house, the emotions can be overwhelming. If I close my eyes, I can still see myself pushing the key into the lock on the front door of my house for the first time. I went right over to my new home after signing the paperwork. I walked through the empty house, overjoyed and with my mind racing with all of the things I was going to do to make it my own. I can even still smell my house. That was five years ago. I am now in a bigger house, planning on starting a family soon.
It's typical in our society to buy a “starter home” and then upgrade once the kids come along to accommodate the increase in family size or simply wanting to be in a great school district so our kids get the best education. In my neck of the woods, this usually means upgrading to a McMansion within a development. While the idea of moving for better schools or more room is good on paper, there are a handful of unintended consequences that get overlooked in a house move. In fact, these pressures, as I like to call them, can destroy you financially.
The Honda in a BMW Neighborhood
The first pressure that can result in moving is our own mind. Let's say you drive a Honda, which is a great car to own, but everyone in your new neighborhood drives BMW's. You might notice it at first, but you might start putting pressure on yourself to fit in. You'll hear the others talk about the deal they received on their new car or how fast it is. You look over at your five-year-old Accord and think that maybe it's time for an upgrade as well.
Suddenly, you are on the hook for $400 monthly payments for 60 months along with increased insurance premiums and repair and maintenance costs. Had you stayed in your previous house or moved to a different neighborhood, you might not have taken on this added debt.
The Pressure to Fit In Expands
Taking the analogy above one step further, the pressure to fit in expands beyond your own mind. This can come from both yourself as well as from your neighbors. When it comes from you or your spouse, you will hear Mr. Johnson talking about the incredible vacations his family is taking all of the time. Wanting to add to the conversation or fit in, you might start traveling more as well, regardless if you can afford it, just so you don't feel like an outcast.
Or, your spouse might see that Mrs. Smith has such amazing clothes. They are all designer brands, but they look so comfortable to wear. So, your spouse begins to buy designer clothes as well, regardless if you can afford them or not.
Then there is the pressure from neighbors. While some might not be as forward with it, some will tell you that so-and-so is talking behind your back because you drive a Honda and they wonder why you are living in this neighborhood, assuming you can't afford to be there.
Other times it will be more subtle and neighbors won't invite you over to want to spend time with you. They will exclude you from gatherings simply because you aren't one of them. No one likes being the outcast, so you might give in to the pressure just so you are liked and fit in.
Impact of Pressure on Kids
Of course, we can't forget about the kids. Many times children have a smaller filter than adults. Johnny might come home one day proclaiming that Bobby down the street said you're poor because you don't have a Lexus. You will have to answer the question of whether or not you are indeed poor.
If that conversation doesn't happen, then your kids will probably pressure you into buying them things to fit in. If all of the other neighbor kids have designer clothes or the latest smartphone, they will pester you for the same. Getting tired of their requests, you might give in.
Lastly, your kids could be teased or excluded from get-togethers as well. Kids can be brutal with name-calling and harassing, so the pressure on you to make sure your kids fit in can be costly.
I have personally seen this. I have a friend that moved to an upper-middle-class neighbor but lives very frugally. She bought her kids shoes at TJ Maxx. One day, her daughter came home in tears because one of her classmates made a comment that her shoes look like they came from Payless.
The Toll of Pressure
If you aren't careful, all of this pressure can easily lead into living beyond your means. Sadly, it happens more often than you think. The next time you are with your neighbors who you think have it all, realize that most likely, they don't. They are just like everyone else in the neighborhood trying to fit. It's a case of the blind leading the blind. Everyone thinks everyone else has it all, and if they mimic those that “have it all,” then they will too.
In many cases, they are living beyond their means as well, adding debt every month. What seemed like a great idea moving to your dream house or a great school district for your kids, turns into a financial nightmare.
Combating The Pressure
So what can you do to offset the pressures outlined above? First off, be comfortable with who you are and be happy. If you know who you are and what your values are, you will have a better chance at not caving in to the pressure.
Next, live your life. Don't try to live life through someone else's eyes or try to please them. The only people you are accountable to are yourself and your family. It doesn't matter what the Smiths think of you. It doesn't matter if they choose not to be your friends either. In fact, if they are that shallow, count your blessings that you aren't friends with them.
Lastly, educate your kids that things don't equal happiness. For me, I am happy just being with my friends, eating dinner and playing board games. It may sound cheesy, but those experiences are priceless to me.
In the end, you have to be honest with yourself and what you want out of life. If you are always trying to please others or trying to fit in, you will be forever miserable. You'll get a temporary high from buying something new, but that that high will fade quicker and quicker, forcing you to buy more and more. Create a long term financial plan for your family and stick to it.
Readers, what other consequences are there from a house move? Do you have any suggestions for combating the pressure?