Reader Case Study: We Just Moved In Atlanta With Four Kids And We Might Want To Move Again!
Naomi, her husband Jon, and their four children recently sold their home in an Atlanta suburb and moved to a new home, also in an Atlanta suburb. Case closed, right? Not quite! Hoping for a lower cost of living, a smaller home, proximity to grandparents, and more diversity, Naomi and Jon are grappling with the idea of moving again. Let’s help them iron this out in today’s Reader Case Study!
Case Studies are financial and life dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’s you!), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study.
I provide updates from our Case Study subjects at the bottom of each Case Study several months after a Case is featured. You all have requested an easier way to track Case Study updates and I have heard your pleas :)! Here’s list of all the Case Studies that currently have an update provided at the end of the post (and a hint that if you’re a past Case Study participant who hasn’t sent me your update yet, send it on over–your fans want to hear from you!):
- Reader Case Study: Earn More, Spend Less, Or Both? (Julie’s story, published October 2016)
- Reader Case Study: Stay Home With Baby or Return To Work? (Kelly’s story, published November 2016)
- Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws! (Grace’s story, published December 2016)
- Reader Case Study: Renovations and Vacations (Audrey’s story, published January 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Help Me Decide How To Pay Off $185K In Student Loans (Bridget’s story, published February 2017)
- Reader Case Study: The Grad School Dilemma (Emily’s story, published March 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Can We Buy Our Dream Home? (Jack & Elizabeth’s story, published April 2017)
- Reader Case Study: We Have A Van, Now We Need A Plan! (Florence & Anna’s story, published May 2017)
- Reader Case Study: To Buy Or Not To Buy In Sydney, Australia? (Jemma & Greg’s story, published June 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Starting From Scratch In Canada; Where Do I Go From Here? (Alison’s story, published July 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Moving To Europe From South Africa, Trying To Make Ends Meet (Clara’s story, published August 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Should We Stay (In San Francisco) Or Should We Go Now? (Melanie & Kurt’s story, published September 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Having A Quarter-Life Crisis in Nashville, TN! (Steph & Zach’s story, published October 2017)
- Reader Case Study: National Park Rangers Figuring Out Finances (The Ranger’s story, published November 2017)
- Reader Case Study: Londoners Wonder About Buying A Property (Betty & David’s story, published December 2017)
- Reader Case Study: At Age 57, It’s Not Over Yet! (Lucy’s story, published January 2018)
- Reader Case Study: From Brooklyn to LA With a Baby (the FrugalBrooklyn’s story, published February 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Debt And Dreams In Queensland, Australia (Sam & Keith’s story, published March 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Single Psychologist Saving In NYC (Lauren’s story, published April 2018)
- Reader Case Study: How A Cancer Diagnosis Changes Everything (Emily & John’s story, published May 2018)
- Reader Case Study: Should We Buy A Campground And Laundromat? (Payton & Riley’s story, published July 2018)
I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.
And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances.
With that I’ll let Naomi, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!
Hello Mrs. Frugalwoods and Frugalwoods nation! I’m Naomi, I’m 37 and my husband Jon (age 39) and I have four children ages 3, 4, 11, and 13. We live in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. The question we’re coming to you for advice about is our recent move, which might not have been the best idea.
In March 2018, we sold our home with the intention of avoiding major road construction that was slated for our neighborhood. We planned to move to a less expensive area that’s closer to my in-laws, who live an hour away. Our house sold quickly but it was harder for us to decide to leave our highly-rated school district than we’d thought it would be. It was also a challenge looking at homes for sale in another area with two little kids in tow, and two older kids in school, while navigating Atlanta area traffic.
We ended up purchasing a more expensive home in a neighborhood we’ve always admired, that’s actually only a mile away from the house we’d just sold. On the positive side, the road construction was completed after years of hassles. I’ll admit I kind of rushed the decision to purchase this home in order to avoid moving twice. Plus, this home is located in the same school district and so our children didn’t have to change schools.
I immediately regretted the decision to “upgrade” and stay in our current area, because we only had $123K remaining on our former mortgage and it would’ve been paid off in 11 years. Despite putting $150K down on our new home, this mortgage is more than double that amount. We have $257K remaining, and it’s a 30-year mortgage, with a slightly higher interest rate. Our home owner’s association (HOA) and utility bills are higher as well. Given all of this, I am seriously considering having us move again in order to more nearly meet our goals of a smaller mortgage, a more diverse neighborhood, and proximity to the grandparents. But, I hate the idea of moving again in such a short time period!
My husband, on the other hand, is fine with the idea of moving again to save money or staying put and just paying down the mortgage more aggressively as our incomes increase. He is a very joyful, adventurous person and can be content almost anywhere and under almost any circumstances. I have a strong–perhaps impatient–desire to be debt-free (and mortgage-free), sooner rather than later.
A Desire for More Diversity
I should add that I also wanted to move to a more diverse area, as we are an extreme minority (~1%) in this neighborhood, despite being within an hour of metro Atlanta. Additionally, the type of work I hope to do in the future intersects with diversity–socioeconomic diversity and otherwise–and issues of policy and education reform. These are the main reasons why I went to law school. In light of this, living among or at least closer to diverse populations would be practical, should I pursue my intended career field of a public interest attorney. Realistically, I may end up simply writing about these issues from afar if we stay put, and doing mainly research/computer-based work from home, but I would like to be more directly involved in the community at some point.
While Jon and I are open to living almost anywhere in the world, realistically we will probably stay in Atlanta for the duration, as it’s where we’re from, where our extended families live, and we like the weather.
Jon and Naomi’s Careers
Jon works from home 100% of the time as a Senior Project Manager in Financial Technologies. I’m currently a stay-at-home mom to our four children and I help lead a women’s Bible study twice a week (our youngest goes with me to interact with other little ones). In addition to my law degree, I have a BA in Political Science, and a minor in Spanish (for which I completed a semester study abroad in Spain. I’d like to be back in the workforce by the fall of 2019, which is when our youngest will start preschool. I haven’t figured out exactly where I want to work, although I have a few ideas and options. I expect to earn around $2K/month working essentially part-time, mostly from home and largely around our kids’ school schedules. Given this and our plans to continue working from home, a commute is–fortunately–not something we need to think about with regards to moving.
Jon and I have had an income of well under $80K for most of our 14.5 years of marriage. We got married my second year of law school, and had our first child at the end of following year. We moved to another state the day after I graduated from law school and I stayed home with the baby. Then, we had another baby two years later, so I’ve never actually practiced law, despite earning a law degree. Over the years, I’ve worked part-time as a preschool teacher and watched other children in our home in order to help out financially. I currently don’t earn an income and our youngest child is at home with me.
After a few years of working in his degree field of mechanical engineering, Jon worked full-time in youth ministry for about a year with a $40K salary. Then, we returned to Georgia and he began working in the field of finance IT, which is not related to his degree, and so he started over with an entry-level salary of $46K. I’m sharing this background to explain our lower savings accumulation, as there were years when we contributed nothing or very little to retirement savings because we simply couldn’t afford to.
Frugal By Nature
With the exception of our large food budget, we live pretty frugally. We have no car payments because we’ve bought used vehicles for cash over the years, and we have no interest-bearing credit card debt. I buy clothing at thrift stores and consignment shops, gladly accept hand-me-downs, and the rare splurge item usually comes from Target’s clearance rack. Nearly every piece of furniture in our house was purchased secondhand. We take small road trip vacations, if we go anywhere at all. When our income was lower in the past, we didn’t eat out at all. I have no desire to change much regarding these frugal ways as I enjoy getting a good deal and recycling/reusing items, so a salary increase wouldn’t change these habits.
Jon and Naomi’s Home Buying and Selling Adventures
We bought our current home in March 2018 for $410K, using $150K of the equity from the sale of our previous home as a down payment, leaving us initially with a $260K mortgage (30 years fixed at 4.625%). I think we could break even (or close to it) on the sale, if we were to sell in the Spring/Summer of 2019. The home is located in a sought-after neighborhood and school district and our purchase price was under value with a little built-in equity. If we were to sell in this short time frame, we’d aim to walk away with what we put down on the home ($150K).
The house is 4,200+ square feet with 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, and a finished basement with a kitchenette. Our previous home was 2,700 square feet and it was a foreclosure when we bought it. It was located in an older, smaller neighborhood with no amenities. We lived there for seven years; however, most of our close friends have moved away from that area in the last few years, so we don’t have strong personal ties to the area, with the possible exception of our teenager’s friends.
We bought our new home because we liked the neighborhood and its amenities (pool, tennis, etc) and the fact that there are more children for our kids to play with. Additionally, this house has a more comfortable workspace for Jon. I also wanted to leave open the possibility of a close relative and their child having a place to stay with us if needed, although that didn’t end up happening. Despite the expensive purchase price, it was actually at the lower end for this area.
The Current Conundrum
Now—after moving into this new home just eight months ago—we’re considering going back to our original plan of leaving this more affluent area and “cashing in our chips,” so to speak, in order to buy a smaller home in a less expensive area. To make house hunting less challenging this time, we might wait until summer to sell our current home and temporarily live with the grandparents during our search. We would then target buying a home in the price range of $150K-$300K, with either no mortgage (that’d be my debt-free dream!) or a 15-year mortgage that we’d pay off sooner with larger monthly payments. We would focus our search in the area that’s close to the grandparents.
The grandparents that we would move closer to would not become our childcare, but they would be able to see our kids more often if we lived closer to them. They both lead very active lives with work and other personal commitments, and now that our younger two are a bit older, the desire for childcare help isn’t as strong as it was when this idea first gained traction a few years ago. Still, it would be nice to be closer to them as we all enjoy one another’s company. Plus, moving again in order to eliminate or lower our mortgage would allow us to become debt-free before our oldest leaves for college and allow us to better help pay for her education, as needed. I would prefer a smaller home anyway, for ease of cleaning/maintaining, but we do have a large family, so I’m trying to be realistic with just how small we can go. We’ve looked into downsizing in our current area, but smaller, less expensive homes are rare here.
Pro and Con Outline of Not Moving vs. Moving
Pros of NOT moving:
- Our schools are considered excellent.
- The area is very affluent, which means that everything is new or well-maintained, well-manicured, convenient, and opportunities abound. Social capital is frankly higher here and friends and acquaintances can offer jobs and other resources more easily; for example, I’ve been offered tutoring or teaching jobs while at my kids’ school, while shopping at the grocery store, even while just pumping gas.
- The ease of continuing our current routines and schools.
- Jon now has an office in our finished basement, which has heat, and a door he can close for privacy. In our old house, he worked in the unfinished, unheated, basement. Our next house might not have as much room or as many creature comforts, but we think could figure it out.
- The kids wouldn’t need to change school districts.
Cons of NOT Moving:
- Our cost of living is higher.
- The area is very affluent, which means there’s an assumption that everyone can afford everything or wants to buy all the things. For example, school field trips are much more expensive than your average field trip (think Disney World). Our kids sometimes ask for extravagant things that their peers have as if these were typical expenses, such as going on a spring break trip to South Africa.
- There’s an extreme lack of diversity, both socioeconomic and otherwise.
- Our increased cost of living might push me into working more than we’d originally planned and in types of work that I might not prefer (read: less flexible and less family friendly). Ideally, we’d like for me to continue to be available during the work day for all the various things our four children require (sick days, regular doctor and dentist visits, school club activities, school holidays, field trip chaperoning, homework help, meal prep, grocery shopping, etc… as every parent knows, the list just goes on and on).
Pros of Moving:
- The schools are well-rated in the area we’re considering moving to, so there wouldn’t be a significant change in education in terms of academic quality, although the kids would be changing schools.
- There are smaller, less expensive homes readily available.
- We would live closer to the grandparents
- There is socioeconomic diversity, as well as racial/ethnic diversity, which we value for many reasons, one being the type of work I may do in the future (with under-served communities). Additionally, this would give our children a more realistic view of the world around them and a more representative view of themselves.
Cons of Moving:
- The hassle of moving and selling again so soon with four kids (although at least some stuff is still in moving boxes, ha!).
- The area we’re considering has more traffic, but, we both work from home for the most part, so that’s not a big deal.
- Our oldest child is somewhat attached to our current location (her school, her new room, the neighborhood, her friends) and would be sad/annoyed to leave.
- The kids would have to change school districts.
Where Naomi and Jon Want To Be in Ten Years:
- Jon would like to be in Senior Management with his current company.
- I’d like to do something that really makes a difference in someone’s life. Serving at an underprivileged school or helping at a like-minded non-profit organization. I really hate that your zip code can determine your lot in life, what schools you go to, the quality of your education, college prospects, and job opportunities, I’d like to do something to impact that, big or small. I haven’t given a “career” a lot of thought lately; I’ve been so focused on the “move or stay” question, but I realize it all goes together. As we still have young children that we spend a lot of time with, and I’ve never practiced law (other than some brief internships in law school), I’m not sure attorney is a career path I’d pursue in the near future, if ever, but who knows. I’ve only thought a few years down the road, not ten, with regard to my career. Since I’d like to work a school year schedule, spending the breaks and summers with our kids, my most favorable work options (I think) are the following:
- freelance writing/blogging
- virtual teaching (cyber academies or VIPKID)
- telecommuting customer service type job (least favorite but flexible)
- a job within the schools, perhaps teaching U.S. History, Government, Spanish (these would require some additional tests and certifications, but I did teach Spanish at a private preschool for three years when our girls were younger), or as a paraprofessional/sub teacher
- a family success liaison or child advocate (though not sure if summers would be off)
- Debt-free! Mortgage-free!
- 15% going to retirement.
- Living generously.
- Modest college or future funds for the kids.
- While we don’t have any interest in increasing our regular expenses, we would like to add some travel into our lives, now that no one is in diapers, naps are less needed, and before our older two kids leave for college.
- We’d also like to help pay for college for all four of our children, give more generously to those in need, and perhaps add in some small hobby-type expenses.
- Jon plays basketball on the weekends, but would like to join a league and participate in triathlons and other races.
- We also spend a lot of time at home, and would like to interact more with our community in ways that honor God.
- Hobby-wise, I wouldn’t mind taking an exercise class at a gym, growing a good-sized garden, and cooking more elaborate meals to share with family, friends, and even strangers. I’ve also contemplated writing a book. All of these “extra” activities (in my mind) require chunks of free time, which would mean either no work, or very flexible part-time work.
Naomi and Jon’s Finances
|Gross Income (Jon)||$9,500||$114K salary, divided by 12 months. Jon also receives a 12% annual bonus, but we don’t include that here because we prefer not to depend on it.|
|Statutory deductions||-$1,198||Federal and state taxes, Social Security, Medicare|
|Health, dental, and vision insurance||-$285|
|Health Savings Account (HSA)||-$642||We contribute the maximum amount to our HSA right now in order to pay for an upcoming bill for an ER visit earlier this year as well as braces for our older two kids. This contribution will likely be cut in half starting in January 2019.|
|Monthly net take home pay after the above deductions:||$6,805|
|Annual net income:||$81,660|
|Mortgage||$1,776||Includes property taxes and home owner’s insurance. 30 year, fixed at 4.625%, would like to change to 15 year (if we stay here), once I begin working or income increases.|
|Groceries and Household Supplies||$1,060||For our family of 6. Includes lunch money for 2 kids as well as household products.|
|Tithe||$916||Non-negotiable. We tithe (give) as part of our faith.|
|Clothing/Shopping/School activity fees/misc.||$300|
|Auto Maintenance/Repairs||$248||We don’t spend this amount every month, but this is what we budget/save for this category.|
|Naomi’s student loan payment||$216||1.625% interest rate. This payment increases gradually every two years. The original total on this loan was $58K.|
|Home Maintenance/Repairs||$213||We don’t spend this amount every month, but this is what we budget/save for this category.|
|Gifts||$186||For birthdays and Christmas|
|Gasoline/fuel for minivan||$150|
|Refrigerator payment plan||$128||0% interest, pay off date is April 2019 (the house we bought had no refrigerator)|
|Missionary Support||$100||We give monthly to friends in a foreign mission field and will continue to do so until they return in a few years.|
|Cell phones (through Verizon)||$66||Three iPhones. The actual bill is $146, but $80 is reimbursed by Jon’s work. Our teen “pays” for her portion of this bill by babysitting her younger siblings three hours per month.|
|Jon’s student loan payment||$61||1.75% interest rate. It will be paid off in March 2019. The original total on this loan was $31K.|
|Jon’s personal money||$50|
|Naomi’s personal money||$50|
|Internet (through Comcast)||$25||The actual bill is $70, but $45 is reimbursed through Jon’s work.|
|Car tag and registration||$14|
|Total Monthly Expenses:||$6,553|
|Total Annual Expenses:||$78,636|
|Difference Between Monthly Income and Monthly Expenses:||$252|
|Home||$180,000||Estimate of equity based on down payment of $150K|
|Emergency fund||$27,500||Held in a savings account with 2.01% interest|
|Mortgage||$257,000||30-year mortgage fixed at a 4.625% interest rate. I’d like to change this to a 15-year (if we don’t move) once I begin working or if Jon’s income increases. This includes property taxes and home owner’s insurance.|
|Naomi’s Student Loan||$44,900||1.625% interest rate. I currently pay $216 per month and this payment increases gradually every two years. The original total on this loan was $58K.|
|Jon’s Student Loan||$181||1.75% interest rate. He currently pays $61 per month. It will be paid off in March 2019. The original total on this loan was $31K.|
|Refrigerator Payment Plan||$513||0% interest; we have four more payments of $128; pay off date is April 2019 (the house we bought had no refrigerator)|
|2004 Honda Odyssey Minivan||$3,000||We own our car outright. We only have one vehicle, but since we’re both home a lot, it works out well for us.|
Naomi’s Questions For You:
- Should we move and aim for quicker debt freedom and a more diverse neighborhood?
- Should we stay put and enjoy the many things our area has to offer and pay off our mortgage at the usual speed? Diversity would simply have to be sought out more intentionally and less frequently.
- Jon’s position at the company he works for changed last year, and with the new position comes an annual performance bonus. It’s not guaranteed, so we don’t count it in our budget, but he did receive it this year, and will likely continue to receive it. This year’s bonus was $11,702 (after taxes) and that amount didn’t cover the full year due to when he started his new position. In looking at our budget, what would you recommend we do with it? Pay down the mortgage, pay down the student loans, add to retirement, start college funds, or all of the above in some combination?
Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
We have to start today with a tremendous round of applause for Naomi and Jon. They are crushing it! They have four children (I’m in awe as I can barely manage my two… ), they are in good financial shape, they are living in the city they want to live in, and they are pursuing lives they love! Way to go, you two!!!!! I have so much I want to highlight about what they’ve done right before we tackle Naomi’s questions, so I hope she’ll bear with me as I outline how awesome she is.
A+++++ On The Car
I am SO impressed with their fantastic decision to own just one car for a family of six in an area without public transportation (and I’m not just saying this because I also used to own and adore a Honda Odyssey Minivan). Hold on, I’m going to say that again, a little bit louder this time:
Naomi and Jon own ONE CAR for a family of SIX in the suburbs where there’s no public transportation.
That’s an impressive feat!!! And it’s saving them a BOATLOAD of money. Seriously, an entire boat of money just backed up to their savings account. Here’s the other reason why this is so excellent: it’s an older car that that bought used FOR CASH. Did everyone catch that? THEY DO NOT HAVE A CAR PAYMENT. And it’s not because they’re millionaires, it’s because they made a judicious decision to buy something they could afford to pay cash for and they don’t have plans to upgrade it.
I am willing to bet my Christmas Tree (which I really like, by the way) that their 2004 Honda Odyssey is one of the oldest/least flashy cars in their expensive neighborhood. It’s not easy to be in this position, but Naomi and Jon seem impervious to the insidious desire to keep up with the Joneses. They’re like– Joneses? Who cares!!! We’d rather be financially stable and have lots of time to spend with our children, thank you very much. You might think I’m talking an awful lot about a car here, but this is important, people. SO MANY FOLKS are saddled with one–or two–car payments that drain their budget every single month. Buying a new car is a horrendous idea and buying a car you can’t afford is a similarly horrendous idea (with the caveat that sometimes a person must have a car in order to get to work and doesn’t have the liquidity to buy in cash). But if you DO have the liquidity–or the option to WAIT and save up–you will put yourself miles ahead financially.
Here’s more on why buying (and keeping) used cars is such a great idea:
- Why We Buy Used Cars And You Should Too
- Why We Broke Down And Bought A Used Truck
- Our Frugal Solution To The All-Wheel Drive Conundrum
- Ode To An Old Car: Our Money-Saving Machine
To Move Or Not To Move
That is, indeed, the question. This is one of those questions that doesn’t have a clear right answer, so I can’t give Naomi and Jon a definitive response. But what I will say is that if they are considering this so soon after moving into a gorgeous home in a desirable neighborhood, they probably really want to move. And if that’s the case–if they dearly want to move–they should do it. They’re in good enough financial shape to swing it and, while it won’t be an immediate financial win, it might pan out for them in the long run.
Naomi has done the herculean job of outlining every possible pro and con of this move, which indicates that this is on her mind constantly. There’s no reason for Naomi and Jon to live somewhere that they don’t love–they don’t need to do so for jobs, for commutes, or for financial reasons. Naomi and Jon have made prudent financial choices over the years, which means they have the flexibility to take a bit of a bath on this sale.
From my perspective, Naomi wouldn’t be asking us about this if she didn’t truly want to do it. If she was content with their new home and felt settled there, the thought of moving again won’t even flit across her mind. But the idea is seeded and she is laboring over it. That level of pondering, I think, indicates that she wants to move. Yes, it’ll be a massive hassle, yes it’ll uproot the kids, and yes they might lose some money. But if it gets them into the home and the neighborhood they really love? They should go for it.
Truly, Truly Downsize
If they decide to make this move, they need to commit to a massive downsizing. In order for the finances to work out in the long run, they’d need to target homes that are dramatically less expensive than their current property. From a financial perspective, it wouldn’t be worth it to downsize to a home that’s say, $50K less expensive. But if they went for a home that’s $200K less expensive? They could be living Naomi’s debt-free dream sooner rather than later!
I get the sense that Jon and Naomi are a lot like me and my husband: the two of us could live in a very small space and be perfectly content. However. It’s not just the two of us or the two of them. Children have a way of transforming how you view, utilize, and prioritize space. In light of that, I encourage Jon and Naomi to outline how they’d fit their brood into a smaller house. Could the kids share rooms? Could Jon’s office be in the master bedroom? What other considerations do they need to take into account? Is having a guest room a priority? What about a play/rec room? The reality of children is that they require space and working from home also requires space. Since Mr. FW and I both work from home (something that Naomi and Jon are considering), we need two dedicated offices. Mr. FW’s is up in our master bedroom and mine is downstairs in a room behind our woodstove (this room doubles as a guest room too). Point being: there are ways to make it work in many different size homes, but Jon and Naomi are currently situated in a house that meets all of their bedroom and office space needs.
House Hunt In Advance
I feel Jon and Naomi’s pain on trying to house hunt with two little kids in tow, and so, I recommend they start perusing homes now. Go whenever they can–even if it’s just one or the other of them–and get a true read on the market in their desired neighborhood. How old are these homes? Would a lot of maintenance be required? How little can they spend and still get enough space for their family? If Jon and Naomi can visit some potential homes in their desired price range, I think that would go a long way in helping them make this decision. Looking at properties online is a good starting point, but seeing them in person allows you to visualize yourself living in a space. Be honest about where the kids and the offices will go.
Make A Move Before High School Starts
As a kid whose parents bent over backwards not to move while I was in high school, I want to strongly recommend that Jon and Naomi do the same. Sometimes, moving during high school is unavoidable, but Jon and Naomi can avoid it and so I suggest they do. Naomi mentioned that their thirteen-year-old would be annoyed to move, and I imagine those sentiments will only increase as she gets older. Ideally, the family would move during the summer so that the kids aren’t changing schools mid-year.
Identify Homes Before Selling
It sounds like Naomi and Jon sold their old home prior to purchasing their new home and then felt in a scramble to buy something. I don’t advise they buy a new home before selling their current home, but I do suggest that they get a really good idea of the types of homes they might buy. They don’t want to find themselves in this position again. Naomi has already identified that they could live with her in-laws after selling their current home and before purchasing a new home, which sounds like a great idea. Buying a house while rushed is not a wise plan and rarely results in getting exactly what you want and can afford. If Naomi’s in-laws are fine to host them for an unspecified amount of time, that seems ideal since they live in the new school district the kids would be attending. Naomi has already outlined this timeline and it makes sense:
- Sell their current home in late spring/summer 2019 (they’d want to ensure that the kids could finish out the school year in their current district)
- Move in with Jon’s parents
- Start the kids in their new school in fall 2019
- Naomi starts part-time work in fall 2019
- House hunt
- Buy a new home in fall 2019/winter 2020
A few other considerations:
- Would they need to put their belongings in storage while staying with Jon’s parents? How much would that cost per month?
- Would they pay Jon’s parents rent/utilities/food? I suggest they have a frank conversation ahead of time and iron out how this would be handled in addition to where everyone would sleep and work.
- Would Jon’s company reimburse him for a co-working space during this time period (if there’s not a good spot for him to work at his parents’ home)?
- Is it feasible for the family to move, buy a new home, and have Naomi start a new job all in the same time period? I’m not saying it’s not, I’m just saying that it’s a lot.
The Financial Angle
I can’t say that it’s a fabulous financial decision to sell a home so quickly after buying it. However, there’s also the sunk costs fallacy and the idea that if this isn’t where Naomi and Jon want to be, they shouldn’t stay. I’m not sure they’ll be able to break even on selling their home, but I don’t know anything about the Atlanta area housing market. With Realtor and transaction fees, it’s usually tough to break even when selling a home in such a short time frame.
That being said, if they commit to buying a vastly cheaper home (in the range of $150K), they could do just fine even if they lose some money in this sale. Run the numbers, have a Realtor come over to appraise the home, and do some serious house hunting in the desired new neighborhood to gauge what’s realistic from both a size and a price perspective.
Naomi and Jon’s Expenses
These two are already in the frugal category, so I don’t think we’ll find a lot of room to decrease their expenses. As Naomi has already identified, their real challenge is how much they spend on their mortgage every month, which could be yet another reason to go ahead and downsize. But it wouldn’t be a Frugalwoods Case Study without an expense perusal, so let’s take a peek.
In every single Case Study, I like to point out that what you choose to save or not save is a very personal decision. Cutting every last expense is NOT the right answer for everyone and I am NOT an advocate for making yourself miserable in the process of achieving financial stability. I AM an advocate for values-based, goal-oriented spending. I think it’s important to assess whether all of your expenses bring you fulfillment and a good return on your investment.
I think it’s also important to question if your rate of savings will help you to achieve your long-term goals. But what you spend on? That’s a very personal choice and one you have to make for yourself. My job is to point out areas where you might be able to save, but only you can decide if that level of savings is right for you. If you’re struggling with where to save more and how to map out a longterm financial plan, I encourage you to take my free 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge.
Ok, with that said, let’s take a look at potential savings for Naomi and Jon:
- Groceries and Household Supplies: $1,060. This sounds really high, but then again, this is to feed six people and manage the household needs for six people, so from that perspective, it actually sounds quite reasonable. Without knowing precisely what they buy in this category, it’s tough to say whether or not they could save. But, this could be a spot to reduce spending. If they feel there might be an opportunity to reduce spending in this category, I recommend the following posts for ideas:
- Clothing/Shopping/School activity fees/misc: $300. I always encourage people to do a bit of digging on any category that contains “miscellaneous.” It’s highly possible these are all mandatory expenses, but, if Jon and Naomi are hoping to reduce their spending, identifying some of the misc here might be helpful.
- Dining Out: $219. Not a deal-breaker for Jon and Naomi, but it is an area they could reduce or eliminate, depending on how quickly they want to reach debt freedom.
- Gifts: $186. This doesn’t sound high until you realize that it’s $2,232 per year on birthday and Christmas gifts. That being said, Naomi and Jon have four children. But, this seems pretty steep to me. I suggest taking a look at this category and identifying if gifts need to be restructured. For example, perhaps used gifts for the younger kids (that’s what I do) and activity or sport-specific gifts for older kids? Or perhaps whole family gifts such as a museum membership or a pool table? These are just random ideas I’m spouting, but the point it, there might be a real opportunity to both spend less and teach their kids about reducing consumerism and material needs.
- Vacation: $73. This isn’t a massive dollar amount, so I’m not really concerned, but I am pointing it out as a discretionary expense.
- Individual money for Jon and Naomi: $50 each ($100 total). Not a ton of money, but again, another discretionary expense that could be eliminated depending on how desperate they are for debt freedom.
Naomi and Jon aren’t in a desperate financial situation, so they’re fortunate that they don’t have to make these cuts to their spending. However, Naomi reiterated several times that she really wants to be debt-free. Given that, if they decided to reduce their grocery bill by $75, reduce the clothing/shopping/school activity fees/misc by $50, eliminate the $219 in dining out, reduce gifts by $100, eliminate vacation and personal money, they’d be able to save $617 more per month (which is $7,404 per year).
Again, I’m not saying that they have to or need to eliminate these expenses, but these are the discretionary categories as I see them.
Furthermore… Naomi and Jon are about to get a boost to their monthly savings in the form of the final payments on Jon’s student loan and their refrigerator! Those final payments are coming up in spring 2019 and, after they’re paid off, Naomi and Jon will save an extra $189 per month (also known as $2,268 per year)!
Furthermore… IF Jon and Naomi decide to move and IF they’re able to downsize and find a cheaper home, it’s highly likely they’ll be able to reduce their mortgage, spend less on utilities, and eliminate HOA fees, lawn care, and perhaps pest care too.
Ok so if they decided to save the outlined $617 per month and then we add in the $189 they’ll start saving once Jon’s student loan and the refrigerator are paid off, they’d be on track to save an additional $806 per month, which is also known as $9,672 per year.
This additional savings, coupled with a less expensive home (and cheaper utilities, no HOA, etc) would fast track Naomi and Jon to debt freedom in a very short amount of time. Then, they could start building up their retirement and college savings for their kids. Speaking of which, let’s discuss their…
A fancy way of saying “how you use your money.” I am thrilled to see Naomi and Jon’s healthy emergency fund! At $27,500, their emergency fund would cover just over four months worth of expenses for them, which is perfect. An emergency fund should be kept in an easily-accessible bank account, such as a checking or savings account (like Naomi and Jon have done), NOT in investments, retirement funds, or cars/houses/expensive china. An emergency fund is cash money you can access immediately in an emergency. I recommend saving three to six months’ worth of expenses, meaning three to six months worth of what you spend every month, which is why it’s crucial to track your expenses and know what you spend every month. If you’re not tracking your spending, you can sign-up for the free service Personal Capital, which is what I use and recommend for expense tracking (affiliate link). If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.
Savings Accounts Side Note
One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to keep it in a high-interest savings account. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources because your money is sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:
- Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.
- Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.
And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while sleeping. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.
Next up, I’m glad to see that Jon is contributing to his 401K and that the couple has an IRA. As Naomi noted, however, they could stand to beef up their retirement savings given their ages and the dollar amounts they currently have saved. To give Naomi and Jon a general sense on how much they should have saved for retirement at this stage, Fidelity has a helpful rule of thumb:
Aim to save at least 1x your salary by 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60, and 10x by 67.
Given this, Naomi and Jon should have saved three times Jon’s gross salary (he’s 39). That’d be 3 x 114,000 = $342,000. While this might seem insurmountable right now, I’m not worried about Naomi and Jon. As Naomi outlined, Jon’s salary only recently increased to six figures and they are clearly adept at frugalizing and making it work. Plus, Naomi has her eye on reducing their monthly outlay while increasing their income. All that to say, while they do have some catching up to do–and I would recommend prioritizing their retirement savings–I’m also confident they’ll get there.
Now let’s tackle their debt. Naomi and Jon are carrying debt with very low (or no) interest rates, which is what we like to see if we see debt at all. I recommend they pay off Jon’s student loan and the refrigerator as scheduled this spring (no reason to accelerate these payments given the low interest rates). Next up is Naomi’s student loan of $44,900. Normally, I’d push for her to pay this off ASAP; however, the interest rate on this is a paltry 1.625%, which means I’m less concerned. I share Naomi’s aversion to debt, but she’s wise to see this interest rate for what it is: very low. Given how low it is, and how little they have in retirement and college savings, I’m going to recommend Naomi just continue to pay this off as scheduled–as long as that interest rate is fixed and won’t balloon in the future. If Jon and Naomi reduce their cost of living and make other cuts to their spending–and if Naomi goes back to work–they might have enough cash to wipe this debt out completely, which would be wonderful. But given their current asset allocations, I wouldn’t recommend accelerating payment here.
What To Do With Jon’s Bonus?
I LOVE this question because I LOVE that Jon and Naomi want to be thoughtful about this extra cash. They’re not going to blow it on a new car or clothes, they’re going to wisely allocate their resources. So, from that perspective, as long as they make a rational decision, there is no wrong answer. With money, the wrong answer is usually the un-considered, un-thoughtful, un-math based answer. And Jon and Naomi don’t roll that way.
At this point, I think that any extra money should be prioritized towards maxing out their retirement savings, as I discussed above.
As I mentioned, I wouldn’t necessarily prioritize paying off Naomi’s student loan. And I personally wouldn’t prioritize paying off their current mortgage at an accelerated rate. This debate is as old as the hills and people fall into one camp or another, but for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts:
- A paid-off house is a wonderful thing, but you can’t use a paid-off house to buy groceries or pay for health insurance if you’ve lost your a job (you might be able to get a Home Equity Line Of Credit, but that’s not a guarantee and certainly not if you’ve lost your jobs). A paid-off house is an illiquid asset (unless you’re able to sell it quickly, which is an unknown).
- There are opportunity costs to paying off a mortgage. Namely, you’re missing out on the potential investment returns you’d enjoy if your money was instead invested in the stock market. Mr. FW and I choose to hold mortgages on both our primary residence and our rental property because, mathematically, our money is better deployed in the stock market thanks to the average annual rate of return (7%) that you can expect after many decades of remaining invested in low-fee index funds. Essentially, money is better leveraged in the stock market than in a paid-off house.
- If you have a low fixed interest rate mortgage, then from a mathematical standpoint, I wouldn’t pay it off early. I view holding a mortgage–and having money properly invested in diversified assets (aka low-fee index funds)–to be a much less risky decision.
- A mortgage is an excellent hedge against inflation. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable and the neat thing about a mortgage is that it’s denominated in the dollars you originally paid for the house and so, over time, as inflation increases (which generally happens), the money you’re using to pay off your mortgage is “cheaper.” Essentially, it’s not bad to hold a mortgage and it’s actually a fine component of a diversified portfolio of assets. Paying off your mortgage to the detriment of investing is a lot like putting all of your eggs in one basket.
- It’s not that it’s a bad thing to pay off a house–it’s just that it comes at the expense of other opportunities to grow wealth. Many of us who are early retired/financially independent choose to hold mortgages–even though we could afford to pay them off tomorrow–for the above reasons. Bottom line: financial independence can happen with a mortgage; but it absolutely cannot happen without cash on hand.
However, if they were to get into a home with no mortgage, or a very small mortgage, and debt-freedom is their dream, they could easily funnel extra savings and Jon’s bonuses into paying off their mortgage.
Naomi also asked about saving for college for their kids and I’ll tell them what I tell everyone: you can take out loans to pay for college, but you cannot take out loans to fund your retirement. It’s very much a “put your own oxygen mask on first” type of situation. Parents need to ensure their own retirement is solid before starting to save for their kids’ higher education. However, since it seems very likely Naomi and Jon will have more discretionary money in the future, setting up 529s or other savings vehicles for their kids could be wise. 529s can be a good idea as contributions are sometimes tax advantaged (you don’t get a federal tax deduction, just a state tax deduction in some states), but this is really dependent upon your income tax rate and the laws governing your state. Naomi and Jon should certainly do more research into 529s and decide if that might be right for them.
A Note On Gross vs. Net Income
Naomi and Jon get a gold star on this one. You know how I’m always harping on the difference between your gross income and your net income? That’s because there’s a HUGE difference between those two numbers. Naomi did an awesome job outlining Jon’s salary and so I’m going to paste it here again for reference:
|Gross Income (Jon)||$9,500||$114K salary, divided by 12 months. Jon also receives a 12% annual bonus, but we don’t include that here because we prefer not to depend on it.|
|Statutory deductions||-$1,198||Federal and state taxes, Social Security, Medicare|
|Health, dental, and vision insurance||-$285|
|Health Savings Account (HSA)||-$642||We contribute the maximum amount to our HSA right now in order to pay for an upcoming bill for an ER visit earlier this year as well as braces for our older two kids. This contribution will likely be cut in half starting in January 2019.|
|Monthly net “take home” income after the above deductions:||$6,805|
It’s easy to overlook deductions and just assume that your gross and net (aka your “take home”) pay are the same, but they never are. As you can see from the above, with a standard set of deductions, Jon’s take home pay is fully $2,695 less per month than his listed salary. Naomi and Jon are all over this, which is why they find themselves in such a comfortable position. If you’re unsure of your gross vs. net income, take a close look at your paycheck stub or talk with your HR department.
P.S. thank you for letting me use you as a wonderful example, Naomi!!
- Start looking at houses in their desired neighborhood ASAP to get a sense of how small they could go and what price range they’d realistically be looking at.
- Have a Realtor appraise their current home.
- Decide if they want to move.
- If they DO want to move, decide if it’ll be this spring/summer or next spring/summer. In light of the school schedules of Jon and Naomi’s kids, as well as the likely kids of prospective buyers, I imagine summer is the time to sell for top dollar.
- Iron out the details of living with Jon’s parents in advance: rent, utilities, food, bedrooms, workspaces, storage unit, etc.
- List the house and hope it sells quickly!
- Prioritize beefing up their retirement accounts with any extra money that comes their way (via Jon’s bonus or a less expensive mortgage).
- Determine if they want to reduce their expenses further in order to make faster progress on paying down debt and/or building up retirement savings and/or investments and/or college accounts.
- Enjoy life! Naomi and Jon are doing wonderfully well and should appreciate and enjoy it.
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Naomi? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!
Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your brief story and we’ll talk.
Updated by Naomi on 2/24/20:
We finally decided that we wanted to move. The pros seemed to outweigh the cons, and with our oldest child about to start high school, it felt like a good time to do so. We replaced the roof on our current house in preparation for listing it. I toured the new high school and went to parent meetings and perused real estate listings, BUT THEN the circumstances changed. Jon was offered (and is accepting) a senior management position with his current company (something he’s hoped for), but the new position is supposed to only last about a year and then we have to decide if we’re willing to relocate to continue to advance his career and if so, where to.
So this position change that ends with a possible future move (perhaps to another state or even a different continent), made the more local move to a different Atlanta suburb (for potentially only one year) seem like not such a good idea after all. So, long story short, we will likely stay put in our exact same area and then decide where to go when Jon’s new position ends next year. I’m happy for Jon, his career is advancing and we will be better off financially, but I’m somewhat in a bit of limbo, as any job I would pursue (law or education related) requires licenses or certificates that are state specific. I was already working on both of those credentials (just in case) and I will have to start over with a future move, but it is what it is.
I’ll seek out some opportunities to volunteer in the meantime. I’m also concerned about moving our oldest while in high school, but if it has to happen, we will make the best of it, and on the bright side she admits she’s excited about the possible adventure of a overseas move. Thank you for checking in with us, and for all the advice from both you and the Frugalwoods nation, it’s greatly appreciated.
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I don’t have anything to add on the financial end, but it was touching to read about this family’s outlook on the world and how your zip code determines so much in your life. It’s really great that Naomi wants to help underserved communities and help those who don’t get the same opportunities that others get.
Thank you for taking the time to read it and for your encouragement. 🙂
Thorough! My household is similar size and nearby (I think I recognize the pool) — Naomi’s household is doing well with the expenses. I can only add a little around the edges.
Move/stay: you’d need to downsize noticeably to really make headway. How would the new location affect Jon’s and your careers?
Jon’s bonus: into savings until you have settled move/stay and figured out priorities.
Jon’s look to senior management: that will most likely require lots of long and odd hours, commutes (through heavier traffic!), and other extra expenses to support the heavy “face to face” time with potential peers and higher-ups. Upside is higher income (thus saving and investment); downside is the time-lag until that kicks in, and that it might not even happen. Would moving require a promoted future-Jon to commute to live in a secondary during-the-week place (eg apartment) and only be with the household on weekends? (Done this myself several months, didn’t think it worth it, all told. And one can only take so much time on MARTA ….)
Thanks Joseph, and howdy neighbor! 😉 I’ll be sure to show your comment about senior management to Jon, I’m not sure if he’s thought about all those considerations.
Thank you very much for your blog! I am a forty-something Californian that has recently moved to the state of Maine. In search of a more simpler, affordable quality of life.
I would stay put, isn’t there a boatload of realtor costs and closing costs to buying and selling? Like in the $20000-30000 range including physical moving costs? That’s a big expense that you have to shell before you see any downsizing or frugality paying off. If it’s a financial decision then I would try to rent out parts of the home or add a side hustle. And definitely what Mrs Frugalwoods said about cutting back expenses (not that you have any massive ones!)
Yes, to the cost of selling. We have a few things we may be able to do to lower the costs (use Redfin instead of traditional agent, so a 1.5% commission instead of 3% to our agent, etc.), but it would still be a challenge, and a potential loss. We are able to physically move for only 1k-2K, b/c we will physically do a lot of it ourselves (Jon just loves that part, ;)).
I was also struck by the description of the basement, which sounds like a great potential source of income, if the space isn’t needed for the family and it can be rented out as an apartment or as an Airbnb. A permanent tenant in an apartment seems preferable, since it’s more stable, requires less active management of turnovers, and suburban locations are less desirable for Airbnbers.
As an Atlanta native, and a white woman, I want to echo what Naomi has said about lack of diversity – in case any readers want to minimize the importance. It’s a *big* problem here, and the rich neighborhoods are 95% white. Without exaggeration.
Naomi, please do your research on the schools before you move. I used to renovate schools in dekalb and Fulton, and the difference between schools is shocking. I recommend touring a school before you even look at a house. I know you know this, but please be brutally honest with yourself about the overall goals of your family.
Best of luck!
Echoing the “tour the schools first” advice. I’ve taught in about 3 dozen schools over the past decade, and a school that’s only a few blocks from another can be shockingly different (this is in two dense, European cities, where the cities and their surrounding villages have melded together over the centuries, so take this with a grain of salt). This is just one example of many, and obviously you are probably super-well informed on this stuff anyway! But, for others reading who might not know how stark the differences can be:
For instance, within 2.5km of each other, there were 4 elementary schools. I taught in all four of them. One elementary school was airy, bright, well-resourced, and my classroom’s exterior wall was literally attached to a barn on the adjacent land plot (as in, cows would sometimes moo during my classes that were later in the day during 4pm milking time!). Great teachers and resources, small class sizes, solidly middle to upper middle income kids who had one or both parents who could afford to take time off of work and volunteer in the school. So much fresh air, flowers, so beautiful. Three bus stops away, a bigger school with nearly the same profile (sans barn but with a pasture full of horses across the road). It was a restful place to be in, and there were giant playgrounds for the children to play in.
1.5 km down the road, there were two schools at the bottom of a hill. One was your stereotypical giant, urban, concrete block school. Classes were overflowing with children, there were almost no resources, and teachers were stressed beyond belief. Basic stuff, like the school toilets, would routinely go on the fritz. The teachers were in survival mode, and there was very little time for extras or enrichment. The other school that was about 2 blocks away had great resources, small class sizes, and even got a grant from the city for smartboards in some of the classrooms. There was a good mix of socioeconomic backgrounds there, but the children were all quite bright (elementary school, you had an interview to get into this one, though it was public, because of the surrounding school population being so enormous. The small school was there before there was a building boom in the area in the 70s, during which the giant school was built.). The kids who didn’t pass had to go to the big, under-resourced school (and/or, many families who had 5, 6, or 7 kids didn’t want to have some in one school and some in the other because obviously that wouldn’t be very fair to the kids…). Neither school had a great playground, both were small and cramped, and by the end of the day the children were bursting with pent-up energy. Construction was constant in the area, and we rarely had a break from the constant noise in either of these schools, a latent source of stress for children and teachers alike.
For my situation, now in a different city, my husband and I have decided to stay in our higher cost but relatively frugal for the area apartment because we are within the city/zone for our preferred bilingual public school (having much higher priority than people who commute in to the city with their kids or just try to get their kids in from the suburbs), because we ourselves are bilingual and are a family with multiple nationalities. We are planning to re-evaluate after the kids have been in elementary school for a couple of years, though.
Your situation sounds like the opposite might be the best if the schools really are comparable/have other benefits that offset the more obvious privilege markers of the wealthiest schools–a glut of all-wealthy children makes for an unpleasant herd mentality for your children to confront daily… And moving to be near family is an awesome privilege that I wish I had, and I don’t think you can put a price tag on that.
Also, consider that your two oldest won’t really be at home that much in a couple of years–they’ll have jobs, all-consuming high school sports/other activities, and be hanging out at their friends’ houses some, too. And in just 4 short years, you’ll only have 3 at home, then 2. That could make more aggressive downsizing easier in the long-term than the short term.
Hello, and thank you for your advice! The schools our kids would move to are actually some of the same ones Jon went to as a child, but I would still revisit them to be sure. The ratings are comparable.
Thanks Erin! It is shocking how stark the difference in the schools in virtually the same area can be! Yes, I have and will continue to research our options, I really hope this issue is something that improves within my lifetime.
I agree that it seems Naomi really wants to move, many of the cons had a pro attached or were not a deal breaker for the family. It is as if she needs to give herself ‘permission’ due to the fact her move was so recent, and should do so! We can be hard on ourselves when we make a big decision which doesn’t work out as planned. On a financial level I would add that as the kids get older they costs increase. They develop their lives and interests and this has taken more money that I expected for me . What Naomi is experiencing with the older kids asking for things their peers have may still happen at the new school. That is the age that ‘things’ and clothes are important to them. Also may want to consider whether the kids will be driving (insurance is horrendous!) which seems far away now but is not! I wish this wonderful family all the best.
Thanks Claire! It’s funny how obvious my leanings are to objective third parties. You’re right, there will always be peer pressure and a desire for “things” no matter where we live. The increasing costs as kids get older goes in the move to save more money column, good point.
I am in awe of what Naomi & Jon have accomplished! I encourage you all to max out your retirement savings. Perhaps some of the money in the Gifts category could go into the kids’ 529 plans. Remember, too, that the kids can start at community college, apply for scholarships, work part-time, etc. They don’t give out loans for retirement!
The gifts category encompasses gifts for our four kids’ birthdays, as well as gifts for their friends’ birthday parties, teacher gifts, Christmas gifts for our kids and other relatives (large family). For birthday party gifts we try to set a $20 limit, but it adds up due to frequency. I thought what we spent in this category was kind of low, so I’m surprised to see the suggestion to cut back here, but it’s a worthy consideration, thank you!
This line really struck me: “I really hate that your zip code can determine your lot in life”. Would you be moving to a zip code that would put your children at a disadvantage? If so, stay put. If not, go for it!
Hi Claudia, no, moving should not put our kids at any known disadvantage, the schools are good, the proposed area just has a more of a mix of incomes, etc., than our current area.
Thank you for sharing your story, Naomi! It is indeed a difficult situation to be in. I’d do the following:
— Cut costs where necessary (i.e. food, restaurants, lawn care, personal money)
— Work with a realtor to evaluate the sale of the house and when to put it on the market
— Go house hunting in the neighborhood you want to move to and decide on what features of the house are the most important to you and your family
— Increase your savings for the next house and for emergency
— You can also try renting out the basement in your current home since it has a kitchenette to lower the monthly costs
Best of luck!
Thanks Ms. Frugal Asian Finance! I like most of your suggestions. You think we should increase our savings, in general, or in preparation for a possible move? We’ve had a couple friends mention using the basement for AirBnB, etc. but I’m not sure we’re comfortable with that with kids, but it is a good option.
I would just say, don’t stop contributing the max to the HSA! It’s a great retirement account if they don’t end up using it for healthcare-related expenses.
That’s interesting, I thought it was a use it (for health related costs) or lose it proposition! I’ll have to look further in to that, thank you!
Plus you dont pay FICA taxes on it if I remember correctly.
My HSA is also eventually carried over to a retirement account so I max it out each year even though I don’t use it all. I think of it as just another way to save for retirement. Something to think about…
Make sure what you have is an HSA too, not an FSA. FSA’s are use or lose. HSA’s are way more valuable.
I totally agree about continuing to contribute the max to the HSA. They get a tax deduction for the contribution, the money in it grows tax-free, and then they can take it out anytime as long as they have medical bills in that amount. I would recommend using current income to cover the medical bills, and keep the money in the HSA until retirement. Here is an article that explains it: https://www.madfientist.com/ultimate-retirement-account/
Thank you Carolyn!
Yes! I wanted to give this same advice about the HSA and link the same article!!
I agree with Mrs. FW on making some small additional cuts, except for one — I live in the deep south and pest control is pretty well non-negotiable no matter what area you live in. A neighborhood might be fancy, but that just makes the roaches and termites lust after it even more.
This is a hard decision! I applaud Naomi for the thought and work she has put into this, and hope that their next step, whatever it is, works out well for them.
Ha! Yes, JD! these southern bugs don’t play! lol We lived out West for a while and we had forgotten how this hot and humid climate (which we happen to love) is also a great breeding ground for the creepy crawlies. When we moved back, we were a little jumpy to say the least and soon felt the need to have a pest service to keep the populations in check. 🙂
We’re also in Atlanta and, when we were frugalizing our budget, decided to work on pest control expenses (they were about the same as yours). We’ve had a lot of luck with purchasing professional grade pest control chemicals and sprayers online and applying them ourselves (search “do it yourself pest control” ). It ended up being a one-time $60 purchase that has provided 3 years of protection against the buggies . . . and will likely provide at least 10 years more 🙂 Cheers!
doityourselfpestcontrol.com not an advertisement, nor do I work for them. Years ago my dad saw the ingredients of the stuff our pest control folks used in my house growing up, went online and bought it. It has served me well in my house. No issues with bugs. I live in ATL. I only pay yearly for my termite bond.
I think they are still reeling from the first move. Sit tight! Look for your dream job next year wherever in the city it is, work there for 6 months to make sure you want to keep it. Then make the informed choice to move to be closer to that job.
Thank you Shey!
Naomi, I understand your desire to move to a more diverse neighbourhood, but I wonder if instead of living in a more diverse neighbourhood you and your family could spend more time monthly doing activities with more diverse people or perphaps set goals to travel to diverse areas in the city once a month. Personally I’d stay in your current home and increase your family income for now. It sounds like a great neighbourhood and your kids will benefit greatly from the connections and amenities in the area. It’s also difficult to leave friends and move schools (although can be done). It’s amazing that you’ve been offered tutoring jobs and such just at the grocery store. If you increase your income, any extra money that comes in can be put towards the mortgage to pay it down faster. I think your in a good spot and personally I wouldn’t move again.
Thank you Shyla!
I think it’s important to point out that when you work from home your household costs have to be increased. Most of us are at work 8 hours a day, and that’s 40 hours a week that we are using someone else’s electricity, toilet paper, hand soap, microwave, etc. That’s what I tell myself when I’m miserable at work…at least think of the toilet paper savings! LOL
Toilet paper savings! LOL
Hello there! What a great picture you’ve painted of your lives. It’s nice to not want to keep up with the Jones. It seems like you’ve always weighed the pros and cons of decisions for you and your family and will do the same here. Best of luck!
Two years ago I sold my old house that I had been renting for many years and used that cash to purchase another house. When I calculated what it would cost to pay a real estate agent for both transactions, I decided to get my real estate license. It cost me about $400 for the weeklong class and the exam, but it saved me $9000 on the sale and I got a check for $9000 on the purchase. You sound smart, educated and not averse to working hard where there’s a payoff, so it could be worth it. I educated myself on the market and outlined a plan for pricing to help keep myself neutral and not emotional.
I’m in Massachusetts where all I had to do was take a week training, pass a state exam and find a broker to “work” under. Rules are different in different states, so you’ll have to look that up. When I bought something in NH my license wasn’t valid and it wasn’t feasible to get my license there.
Another creative solution I heard from a friend who lives in a city where there are hardly any homes for sale and those that hit the market sell for 30% more than asking – she sent a message to everyone she knew at her children’s elementary school and pre-school. A month later she got a call from a family who was moving THAT WEEK due to some job promotion and they sold them the house on the spot. If you can create a network in your soon to be new neighborhood, you could get an edge.
I hope you get to practice law someday! The world might need more lawyers like you 🙂
WOW. I am super-impressed. That is incredible re: getting your own license!
Hi Alison, I have thought about getting a RE license just for this reason. I think it takes longer in GA (6 months) and cost more, but it’s a great idea! I think I even know a couple people who have done so, so I may pick their brains on the process. Lovely suggestion!
Hi Naomi and Jon! First, I have to say that I am blatantly envious of your low, low, LOW student loan interest rates. LOL. That is awesome!
Honestly, it seems as though the two of you have set yourselves up so well that there is no “wrong” option here. You have the flexibility to stay or leave. Definitely don’t stay if you’re unhappy. On the other hand, if you’re not quite sure yet, you might stay for another few months just to let the dust settle and see how you feel then.
I’ll be interested to see what you decide to do! Best wishes in whatever you choose!
Hi, thanks! Yes, the low interest rates have been great, though it’s hard to get motivated to pay them off when the rate is so low. Sometimes I try to pretend the balance is lower but the interest rate is higher, but it’s incredibly hard to trick yourself, ha! Thank you for the encouragement and kind words.
Naomi – also a fellow Atlantan here. I understand what you’re saying about diversity. We’re in the heart of town and while there is diversity, there’s still segregation that’s very apparent. I look no further than the elementary school our children are zoned for (predominantly white) and the adjacent elementary school (predominantly black). That’s why I’d also follow Frugalwoods and others’ suggestions of visiting neighborhoods, homes and schools. You may think you know a neighborhood or suburb, but it pays to dig deeper and spend time there. The housing market is crazy right now in Atlanta (or at least what I’ve seen in town), so the more time and flexibility you can give yourself, the better. It sounds like you’re heading that direction, but felt like it needed to be echoed.
What has been an interesting development, especially in the nonprofit space (which I work in), is that there’s real discussion finally starting to happen around equity and the lack thereof. I find it to be an exciting time, mostly because we’re acknowledging that there’s a need to tackle some really big issues. I looked at what you wrote with regards to what you want your career to give you and I’m wondering if you’ve considered the nonprofit space. Nonprofits often can’t offer a lot with regards to pay, but more are offering flexibility. My nonprofit allows flex schedules, working from home and other benefits that I find my husband doesn’t have in his corporate job. Plus, your training as a lawyer could be very useful to a lot of nonprofits. If there are some nonprofits you’re interested in, a lot of them are willing to do informational interviews. Since you’re at a point where you are not in the job search, this is the best time to request these types of interviews. This quote really stuck with me: “If you ask someone for a job, they’ll give you advice. If you ask someone for advice, they’ll give you a job.”
And one thing that Naomi didn’t note, but is a huge benefit to Georgians, is the HOPE scholarship program. If a high schooler graduates with a 3.0, then they are eligible to receive funding for most in-state colleges, universities and technical schools (even some private!). It often covers a good chunk of tuition. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’s around in 15 years 🙂
Good luck! I’m sure you’ll find the right thing to do for your family.
Thank you Lauren! I will definitely look into the nonprofit sector, especially if telecommuting is an option. If you have a specific organization in mind, I’m all hears. 🙂 love that quote too!
Education is not my specialty (I’m in the sustainability/environmental sector), so I don’t have any specific organizations. I’d definitely look into Georgia Center for Nonprofits: https://www.gcn.org/. They have a member directory that you can sort through. I’d also ask your network/social groups if they know of any nonprofits that need board members. This is another way where you could learn more about the sector, gain more contacts and have something to add to your resume! They’re usually looking for people with legal expertise and often the time commitment is low (a couple of hours a month).
Thank you Lauren, very helpful tips!
Yes! I didn’t mention the HOPE scholarship! It’s how I and Jon paid for most of our undergraduate degrees! Definitely hoping that our kids are able to use it or something like it for tuition.
I would highly recommend looking for a new place while in your current home. It may save you money to move in with your parents, but it may cost you your sanity with schlepping all of your things to a storage unit and their home + plus kids… and then a short time later doing it all over again. If you find a home that you’re interested in, you can always put in an offer with a home sale contingency. That’s all I have to offer because overall it looks like you’re doing a great job!
Thanks Bec, great recommendation for sure!
It seems pretty clear from how are you written this that you really do want to move, just that you need some extra confidence that it is the right thing to do. From everything you’ve said, I absolutely think it is. It’s quite a big house and mortgage or something that you don’t absolutely truly love. I would echo Mrs. Frugalwoods though and move before your oldest kiddo starts high school. It will definitely help with the transition. And as someone who is raising her son purposefully close to family, that’s a big bonus in my book. Good luck!
Thank you Angela, it’s funny to me how obvious this is to everyone but me. That’s the real value in these case studies, third party and frugally-like minded opinions. Thanks again!
Thanks Mrs. Frugalwoods for all your advice! I love the ideas about the 529’s and trimming the fat in our budget (dining out, nailing down what miscellaneous is, etc.). You are so positive and encouraging! Not many people cheer us on with regard to the older Honda minivan, but it’s been incredibly reliable for over a decade, and it’s still going strong. We’ve hauled countless furniture items in it over the years, so yeah, we do love our “swagger-wagon” ;).
I believe that there will never be a perfect home, job, zip code etc. However, to put it simply: these are your major income earning years. One must maximize your earnings as well as minimize your costs as much as practical. I agree that if you can use your law degree sooner vs later and save every cent of your income, that would be most helpful.
It appears your analyses are thoughtful, but do not forget the big picture:
Moving is very costly (most of the time), good education is priceless, 40’s/50’s are your most productive years with a big/beautiful family and responsibilities…and with whom you will be spending most of your time anyway. So make your home/move practical and financially sound: one you can afford and will roll with the punches as neighborhoods will and do change. I’ve got 60+ experience in life so it’s not perfect but grounded in logic over time.
Ps-lower grocery bill is possible and a paid off home is priceless. If your home loan rate is 4% and you are not incurring that anymore-voila! There you have ROI as well as peace of mind!
Thank you Debra! peace of mind is priceless! I know it doesn’t make the best mathematical sense to pay off the mortgage versus investing, but do like the idea of marking something off the list of expenses, especially the biggest one.
What a great outlook and what wonderful priorities you have! I have a feeling that there are no really bad decisions for you – you’re going to do great no matter what. Three thoughts:
1. I agree with Mrs. F that you may want to save/invest more in lieu of paying off your house. However, you could get on a schedule where you pay 1/2 of your monthly mortgage payment every two weeks. This would allow you to make the equivalent of one additional mortgage payment per year, and doing this from the start will cut several years off the mortgage. That way, you’re not putting all of your extra money into your mortgage, but you are going to pay it off more quickly. When we did this, we cut almost 6 years off our mortgage, building equity much faster.
2. When you really take the time to imagine yourself staying where you are for the next decade, vs. living in a home in a neighborhood you’re considering moving to and raising your children there, how do you feel? Write a whole page – every feeling about staying in your current home on one page, and every feeling about buying a new home in the new areas you’re looking at, totally unfiltered. Focus on feelings, which are different than the pros and cons. Then look at those “feelings” and you will likely see that many of them are actually thoughts or assumptions. Ask yourself which are core truths for you, and which are just opinions, which you have the option of changing. This is a good way to reveal limiting thoughts that we just take as “truths” and which cause us a lot of internal conflict.
3. One thing that I don’t think I see in the comments so far is the issue of home appreciation. The home/neighborhood you are currently in may help you build substantial equity (wealth) through the value of your home that you wouldn’t accumulate in a different neighborhood. Although this home might not feel like an immediate source of wealth (the opposite!), in a decade or two when you do downsize, it might provide a great bump to your nest egg.
Best of luck to you!
Thank you, I like the idea of a combo choice if we do decide to stay here. I’m not sure I’m great at sifting through my thoughts and facts on this one, but it’s worth a try.
Yes…the equity thing is very important…like you I value diversity and chose to raise our sons in a racial diverse neighborhood near Dallas…my cousin bought a very similar home to mine in a not so diverse neighborhood north of DFW and that house is worth 200,000 more than when he bought it…mine has increased about 90,000. This is over 25 years…but I am glad I raised my boys in a racially diverse neighborhood and I love my neighbors. However, the racism in housing and neighborhoods has cost us, as it does our black and hispanic nieighbors.
Thank you Carol, great points! it would be nice if a house’s value came mostly from what the house itself has to offer.
Don’t move! Or at least ask the older children if they want to. I was moved every year or so as a child, I hated it, had no roots and find friendships difficult as a result. Moving broke my heart on several ocassion. In this one – I’d let my heart rule, if it’s affordable.
Ask the children.
Thank you Carolanne, I’m sorry moving was a source of heartbreak for you as a child. This factor is probably the hardest one. It is only an hour away so we could visit friends, but I know that’s not the same.
With interest rates increasing and signs of a coming recession, you might find that your losses are greater than anticipated in selling your new house. Can you afford this reality in your calculations? And if you wanted to live in a more diverse neighborhood, why did you choose an area with less diversity? There’s a saying about buying houses: Buying is easy, selling is impossible. Next time, perhaps rent for a year and look for your dream house at your leisure. Or, if the new house sells, stay with your in-laws until you are SURE the next one has fulfills most of your needs, not wants.
Thanks Marilyn. If the loss on a potential sale were too substantial then I suppose the decision would be made for us; we wouldn’t find it financially prudent to move. Why did we choose an area with less diversity? When we first moved back to GA for Jon’s new job we rented a home near his job in the neighboring (and much more diverse) county. We when were ready to buy a home 8 years ago, there were none we could afford in that area and we were encouraged to cross the county line where the schools are considered excellent and the taxes are lower, we still couldn’t afford the area, but found a foreclosure that worked for us. We tried to ignore the lack of diversity, reasoning that we could simply journey into the city (across that county line) for diversity. That’s still true, but it hasn’t worked out that way in our daily lives, for the most part you hang with who you live nearest and go to school with, etc. Plus our families live in another area and we are no longer tied to a physical office location for Jon’s job.
Hi Naomi- I don’t have financial advice, but I wanted to let you know that I am a public interest lawyer-turned stay at home mom-turned part time consultant for public interest orgs. For what it’s worth, even in the public interest sector, I think you might be able to make more as an attorney than some of the other paths you listed. It might be starting out as a paid law intern (or even unpaid) during the year and aiming experience from there. And I’m assuming you speak Spanish—that’s huge!
Also, I just wanted to affirm your desire to live in an area that’s diverse. We actually pay more to live in an inclusive area that’s diverse (ethnically, racially, socioeconomically) and it’s worth every penny to us!
Thank you Emily! I found your comment to be very encouraging! I didn’t consider an internship due to my age (!), but why not! My Spanish is rusty; I’m not fluent, but I can read and write it, and sing preschool songs, ha! I could definitely brush up on it and utilize that skill if necessary, thanks for your input!
There are “Spanish for Lawyers” courses you can take online. There is a huge need for attorneys in public interest work (for pay or pro bono) who are bilingual. It may be worth looking into that and seeing if your Spanish is strong enough to be eligible for these roles.
Thanks for bringing this one up Emily!! I was going to suggest Naomi look into ways to start to get back into the law, or around the law. I practiced for 7 years, worked in non-profit fundraising for a few, a bank for about 1 (which pushed me to make my big move….) and then got my Masters of Social Work and I’m a practicing social worker now.
I’d recommend looking for a copy of What Can You Do with A Law Degree (its expensive new- used on Amazon shouldn’t be too bad, or maybe if your law school is close enough their career services office has one you can borrow). Look at some of the jobs you can hold “around” the law without actually working as an attorney. Non-profit fundraising (especially planned giving) has a lot of former attorneys. Likewise, non-profit management has a lot of attorneys.
My advice would be find an organization you’re passionate about and start volunteering. Find out what non-profit life is like on the inside. Then get on a committee, including working with the board. Or even better, on the board if they’re interested in your specific talents!
Also, I found that I loved my time as an attorney when I hung out my own shingle and was a solo. The down side was benefits and a steady paycheck. And since I was single at the time, this was tough. If you think you might want to practice, its something to think about.
Finally, general advice is to do lots of informational interviews. Chat with people who’s jobs you think are cool. Buy them a cup of coffee. Find out how they got where they are.
Just because you’ve been home for all these years and you haven’t practiced doesn’t mean you don’t have an incredibly valuable and deep educational bench. Use that to your advantage! You eared a JD!!! A JURIS DOCTOR! You earned velvet stripes on your academic regalia. Own that. Love that. And find a way to use that education in a role you’re passionate about! Even as a social worker I pull on my legal background all the time. And if I get into non-profit management some day I’ll use that education and experience even more.
Good luck! 🙂
I think if you move – you really need to consider if you are being called to that place. You’re placed where you are for a reason. I’m not particularly fond of my neighborhood because of lack of diversity and the same aspect of affluenza – but my church is nearby and we wanted to move closer to be able to host more church-related stuff like bible studies. Wherever you are – you could be a great driver for your neighborhood. We got our new neighbors to start attending our church and being part of that community shortly after they moved in after us. Its great to have the extra space in a home office – the added expense of having a larger home is not too bad if you use that space.
Taking a look at your budget – I think there is definitely room for trimming. Personally – I would max out the HSA and keep it invested as long as you’re able to pay out of pocket for your health costs. The HSA has great tax benefits – and you’ll be able to draw upon tax-free growth later on when its appreciated.
Cell phones: Since you have Netflix – consider getting TMobile – they offer Netflix for free along with their TMobile One family plan – $160 – 4 lines unlimited Data/Text/Calls. (still cheaper than your current plan w/ 3 phones too).
Groceries: You could probably trim this down
Taxes: I think your HSA and 401k contribution is flipped around – since the max for HSA is only 6,900 for 2018 (increasing to $7k in 2019)
Since you have 4 children – your kids result in a $8k tax credit – and I only calculate your Fed tax liability currently at about $2k or less with many many unknown assumptions. So look through your Payslip to see if you’ve already surpassed that amount on withholding – you might just have found money per month!
Personally – I’d want to max out 401k, keep maxing the HSA account – and look for other ways to cut your current budget.
Car insurance – seems very high to me – with an older vehicle – you should not be paying that much if you’re on liability only. my two vehicles similar age I have total <$700 per year.
College costs – should look to community college for the first two years then transfer to a 4 year instituion. Along the way- your kids could probably qualify for some subsidized loans. I saved a 529 for my oldest but then I realized that thats actually not going to help when it comes to applying for student financial aid. So I stopped all future contributions and will just let it ride. (I know that I'll get tax credits for paying for future education as well). I think NOT giving your kids a free-ride to college allows them to be creative with their own education. My parents were not able to afford any part of my schooling – so I got a job/internships, and took out loans (thankfully they let me stay at home for school, and even after starting my first job). Was able to pay off all costs within my first year working.
I would argue against going to a 15 year loan if you were to stay. If you wanted to have a paid off house – then just make more payments to it. But having the longer term give your additional flex/margin to be able to adjust to unplanned expenses along the way.
Wow, love your thorough and thoughtful response, I’ll look into car insurance and the other possible cut backs you’ve suggested, thank you!
Insurance is very important to monitor, everyone. My mother passed away a year ago, and though we live in a high-value resort area, I was horrified to find her homeowners’ premium had crept up to $3600/year (and she was typically savvy about these things). When I talked to the broker, his excuse was that, “she is on an old product the company is phasing out,” but his big commission on that policy clearly eclipsed any ethics related to telling her that. He admitted that HAD she asked, he could on have gotten her better coverage for around $1500/year and quoted same to us after she died for the house. For unrelated reasons, we chose to stay with this company one more year, but, interestingly, when I went in to get new policy run, the broker was on vacation and his assistant calculated the policy, and we got almost TWICE the coverage, with the same company, for $800/year. (The client has not changed, remains my mother’s trust.) I had recently stepped away from the same company when they indicated a 20% increase after a $700 fender bump (first claim in 25 yrs, no citation) and learned to my horror that better, more highly-rated coverage than I’d been spending $1400/year on was available for $700/year. Fender bump turned out to be a huge blessing!
The takeaway here is, NEVER buy insurance from a broker who carries just one brand, folks. It can cost you huge money over time.
That is excellent advice. I have a client(full disclosure, I am a mortgage broker), that was paying $5500 a year for her $1.5 million dollar home, she was doing a refinance and I suggested she shop that insurance she was able to increase coverage and drop it to $2400/year. It was so good, we switched our to this particular agent.
Even though it seems easy to get Real Estate license to buy and sale a home. When you hire Realtor to negotiate contracts, you are also getting the years of experience that they provide. Too many stories of Realtors saving their clients thousands even hundreds of thousands because of different scenarios, too many to list here. What I am saying is that it is more than just filing out a contract.
Also, love your first point about being where you are for a reason, I have a hard time seeing those reasons at times, but you are right, we can be or service anywhere.
1. Would the grandparents consider moving in with you?
2. The children’s friends will help shape who they are. It’s harder (but not impossible) to shape their values when surrounded by materialism. If you’re already seeing this, imagine what will happen when they all start getting vehicles….
Thanks for sharing!
Hi Danielle, I suppose if they needed to move in with us they would, but I don’t think that is something either party is interested in right now, especially since they live in an area we find to have some desired qualities (lower cost of living for example). We’d like to live near them, but probably not with them, unless that became necessary for some reason.
I don’t really have anything useful to add, but it was interesting to me to see such detailed budget numbers. I’m not in the US and the way people talk about taxes and health insurance costs I’d expect them to be much higher.
For comparison I earn about $6000 per month
I pay $1980 in tax (33% effective rate, 41% marginal rate) and we pay $280 for basic health insurance for 2 adults that only covers hospitalisation.
This is in South Africa (where you should totally let your kids come on a spring break btw!)
Apparently we’re getting a raw deal on the cost of living front though :-/
I do think taxes are higher in a different income bracket, but I admit I don’t know a lot about taxes, other than what we pay. As far as health insurance goes our premium is very reasonable now, but has been more with smaller employers, and our deductible is high, 4K per person, with an 8K out of pocket maximum; I’m not sure how that compares to South Africa. I’d love for my kids (and myself to visit South Africa), it’s just not a feasible, or rather affordable week long trip for our family of six. 🙂
I would stay put and not move. The house sounds perfect for their needs. Home office, bedrooms for everyone etc. The house will only appreciate in value which is a huge plus in 5 years. Seek friends in that immediate community. Forget the $$ attitude in the area, it exists everywhere unfortunately. Be proud of your accomplishments, put your focus on a job for possibly next year, part time. It maybe time to upgrade the car instead in a few months. Stay put work with what you have, the grass is not always greener and the stress is not worth it. Grow where you are planted.
Thank you Lewellyn!
Hi Naomi, kudos to you for putting it all out there! And also, love the fact that you are making faith and family a priority, that warms my heart.
A few thoughts: I grew up moving a ton and it was hard and disruptive. I had two siblings and it was harder on them than me. I now have two kids and have vowed to try to not make them move as much as we did, but we are now in our third house in a similar neighborhood situation to yours after an out of state move here. I’ve grappled with similar thoughts to yours of downsizing versus staying put.
I think that for you guys, the financial situation (as other have said), will be a wash in the short term due to taxes, fees, etc. Also, what if you get to this new house and decide that you want to move again? I know that’s never the intent, but … so in that case, it could be a wash in the long term as well if you move again.
I think it’s also easier to think that the grass is greener and that another neighborhood or place will be better.
I totally agree that living in a non diverse ritzy neighborhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; but it’s hard to know if something different will be the answer …
You have to follow your heart and your gut; but I am just concerned that you might continue to want to move again.
Just my thoughts, I could be way off base, but hopefully this was somewhat helpful!
Hi Naomi, thanks for sharing your story. Based on this small snapshot of your life, it seems to me you are always in planning mode. Living in your head, thinking about what’s next. It also looks like you’ve been in planning mode for several years now. Although it definitely seems like you want to move, I have an alternative suggestion. Live in your life for a while, the way it is. Don’t think about moving, don’t think about your career. Be present. Perhaps for three months. Then reevaluate. You may come to different decisions.
Thanks Tera! great insight, I’ll admit I can definitely plan and rethink things a lot. Not sure I can change that aspect of my personality, but some intentional exercises in living outside of my head could prove fruitful.
I can relate to Tera’s answer. My thinking is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Your current life is affordable and pleasant. We moved out of Seattle this year mainly due to affordability. We miss it so but as one-income renters it just wasn’t affordable or fulfilling. As frequent movers who also move at the low cost you named, it’s easy to get caught up in a mentality of we can do changes again. Why not try AirBNB or renting while you are pondering? It’s an action that can be taken without a major cost or commitment. And try a job someone is offering you, too.
Thanks Heidi! I job offers I mentioned came at a time that didn’t make since childcare wise, with four kids, two preschool age, I would have been paying to work. I will have more options in the future though, thank you for your input.
Hi Naomi, is it possible that your desire to move again is fuelled by emotional exhaustion from the process of selling, buying and moving? Any one of those is a major life challenge, and you have just been through three! I understand your desire to be debt free, and mortgage free, but the area you have moved to looks super gorgeous! How wonderful to be a child growing up in those surroundings! I must say that I would be inclined to resist moving – if I were one of the children….
The area one lives in has a major influence on one’s life – you acknowledge this yourself. Be it fair or otherwise, it is not a social construct that your children established. I have even read that when it comes to success in life, a “good address” is even more important than having a loving family. I found that hard to believe, and I certainly don’t approve of the fact, but my cousin Dorene’s case is an interesting illustration.
She, her husband and their 3 children lived in one of the most prestigious streets in the most prestigious area of our capital city. There were serious marital problems, which eventually culminated in a very acrimonious divorce when the children were teenagers. My cousin stayed in the house with the children, even though it was very difficult to make ends meet – and she was nothing like the wise manager that you clearly are, judging by the figures that you supplied, Naomi.
Eventually, all three children earned Masters, and got themselves lives which gave them options.
Now that you and your family are in the place you are in, why not milk it for all the benefits it provides? Not least amongst those is the opportunity to teach you kiddos that keeping up with the Joneses is a losers’ game. It also sounds like the sort of area where lots of part time jobs would be available for them when their sports activities etc become more expensive. Stay there and prosper, I say.
PS Letting out the basement would earn you some nice money that you could put towards the mortgage every month.
Thank you Maire!
I think you are doing a great job! One thing to consider is that if you sell before you live in your home for 2 years, then you will have to pay capital gains taxes. Also, there are a lot of expenses around selling/buying a home in addition to the realtor fee. For me, it seems that your expenses are going to be increasing with time due to your kids growing up and potentially getting involved in more activities, larger appetites, and even potentially a need for an additional car. My one advice or tip for you is to consider gifts for friends and family now, rather than a week before the birthday/celebration. I always keep an eye out for things that my loved ones would like in the future when looking through thrift stores or clearance bins. Also, I have found that in January and February, there are many “holiday” things that get added to the clearance bins. As a result, I have a gift bin in one of my closets. As a children’s birthday party approaches I go look in my closet prior to shopping. I also buy multiples of gender non-specific gifts (Lego sets, art sets, dress-up stuff, play-dough, puzzles, books, etc.) on clearance so that when parties come up, I’m not spending $20 at the last minute, rather I’m pulling out a gift that was much cheaper on clearance.
That’s a good idea regarding gifts Silverbullet! I usually let my kids pick out the gift for their friend, but there’s no reason why they can’t pick from a bin of pre-purchased gifts I suppose.
Hmmm, I think we are exempt from the capital gains tax because our gain would be less than $500K (the married couple limit) and we rolled nearly the full value of the sale into the purchase of our current home. I should look into this possibility to be certain, but if someone out there has a good grasp of capital gains as they apply to real estate please share.
My understanding is that you can only claim that exclusion once every two years. So if you excluded any capital gains on your last house (which I’m guessing you had since it was a foreclosure), you would not be able to exclude the gains on this one for another year+. That being said, as many others have commented, moving now would probably be a financial wash or even a loss which means you probably won’t have many (if any) capital gains to worry about.
I just want to say you are doing a great job making the money stretch. I’m a tither too, and I send a monthly gift to a missionary from our church. I know people wonder why you don’t cut that out to save money, but it is important to remember where the money comes from, and to show faith by supporting your local church. I do think you should do some careful house hunting and find out a lot about the neighborhood you want to live in before making the move. If your present home is in a desirable area you probably won’t have a problem selling it. The kids will adjust to a new school and make new friends, and since you are still going to be in the Atlanta area they can visit their friends once in a while if they really want to. I’m envious, really, because I know where I’m going to be spending the rest of my life and I used to enjoy moving around to a new house and exploring a new neighborhood and finding secret treasures . I pray you will find the house for your family and enjoy many years there.
Thank you Pauline! No one asked about tithing or suggested we eliminate it, and I appreciate the respect of faith there. I like your suggestion to very thoroughly investigate the new neighborhood should we decide to move again.
First off, kuddos to the Odyssey! Mine is 11 years young! My recommendations would be to sell the house in the spring as planned. We raised our kids in a less affluent/more diverse community, and don’t regret it! I would suggest you “save” your husbands bonus for the time being. (you can always invest it or pay off debt with it in the future) The market currently is “squishy” as my hubby and I like to call it! LOL! Although stocks are “on sale” (and we do like a bargain!!) that money may come in handy when you purchase a new home. It could be used as closing costs, moving/storage costs, or even repairs/updates to the new property. You may find the perfect home, but it needs new appliances, paint, flooring etc. This winter, while waiting to sell, spend your time going through the house to make it as “salable” as possible. There is probably not much that needs fixing, (you could ask a realtor’s opinion) but if there is, now is the time to tackle those projects. I agree with Mrs. F about college. Retirement first. Work on your childs grades, activities, etc. to give them the greatest chance for scholarships/financial aide. AP classes are a bonus in High School. They not only show colleges how commited the student is to achieve academic success, but they may even earn college credit towards some classes (and some state community colleges allow High School students to take classes for free/discount!). Two of my child’s friends entered college with almost two years worth of college credits! Keep up the amazing work!
Thank you Robin! Good point on AP classes and joint enrollment!
Since I’m probably one of the few people on here that have more kids than Naomi and Jon (we have 7 at home, including 3 teenage boys, and two more boys in college that are here part time), I’ll comment on the house size, groceries and gifts.
The groceries seem high to me. We spend $800-1100 per month on groceries for 9 people +2 part time people and we have 3 teenage boys, one of whom is 6’4″, and lots of food allergies. So I do think this could be cut down a decent amount. If you figure $100 per person per month, you’re at $600 a month + maybe another $100 for house supplies (shampoo, etc).
House size: Kids can easily share rooms, even over big age spreads. Minimizing belongings is also a good idea -people rarely need or even want everything that is in their house. You will have to consider the office thing (we don’t deal with that ourselves) although we do homeschool so I have to house all our books/school supplies and my kids are almost always at home. But the house size, esp if it is set up well, can be quite small even for a large family. We are currently in a 1966 sq ft, 3 bed, 2 bath house with our 7 still at home and can fit in our two college kids when they are home on vacations without too much adjustment. So if you do decide to move, really consider how much space you truly need.
Gifts also seem high although maybe this includes lots of parties your kids are invited too? For our kids, we average about $30 per birthday (less is we can find used for the youngers) and usually less than $100 per person for Christmas (this year we spent about $600 for all of us and extended family so lots less than $100 per person). But again, you have too look at who you are buying presents for outside your immediate family.
I do agree with the observations on the car/lack of payment. We only have 1 car too (our college kids drive our other car). We do have free public transportation where we live so that makes it easier but with so many people going so many places, it can be tricky. But it is so worth it. Good job on that one!
Thank you Rebecca!
I have a different take on this.
You live in a lovely area with great schools for your kids. Their education is going to be what sets all four of them up for life. So let’s think about this for a moment. Staying out means a great education in two ways: first the actual education, second the work you’re already doing to set out that expensive treats aren’t the norm for everyone sets them up for being better able to manage financial choice making of their own as they grow up as they can see it all.
Also there is a missing component in these considerations. That is that your current home is far more likely to appreciate by a greater amount as you (aggressively) pay it off than a cheaper, mortgage free house in a cheaper area. Therefore you also need to crunch numbers for the year your youngest goes to college: you may find you highly likely to be very, very significantly better off in terms of capital assets in 15 years by keeping your current home. So it’s worth thinking which option is better for your long term goals – cheaper lifestyle now, or also seeing your home as an investment asset (that also pays dividends in terms of the education system) that you can cash in when the kids leave home.
As Liz says, there are no right answers but I offer this word of personal experience. In a robust desire to always keep my expenses minimal, I neglected the opportunity to gain serious amounts of money through my house prices. If you can genuinely leave it and downsize in a decade or two, I think you need to crunch the idea that your current home isn’t a capital investment; it might be the very best one you have and will ever have.
Thank you Charlie!
I completely agree with this–granted, I don’t have kids so I can’t really say the impact moving or not moving will have on them, but it sounds like the home they are in now is going to be worth a serious penny down the road. If they can wait and sell later when they have fewer kids in the house, it does sound like it’ll appreciate more in value than a home in a different area.
On a side note, if you’re a responsible spender who sticks to a budget (which it certainly sounds like you are!), I highly recommend (gradually, thoughtfully) opening cash back credit cards with no annual fees. It’s free money! (Assuming again that you only spend what you need, you’ll end up with more savings). I have a credit card for each major spending category:
US Bank Cash + = 5% cash back on two categories of your choice (I use it for utilities and gym)
Uber = 4% cash back on dining
American Express = I forget what it’s called but there’s one with no annual fee 3% cash back on groceries
Chase = if you can qualify for a small business card, Chase has one 5% cash back on cell phones, internet and cable
Chase Freedom = 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories
Citi Double Cash = 2% cash back on everything
Thanks Lindsey! we do pay bills with a CC, but automatically pay the CC immediately with our checking account, to earn some rewards, though I’m not sure what exactly (Jon does that), but I’ll show him your comment, thank you! FW is a wealth of info!
I like the US bank card. I call the utilities up to prepay for a whole year basically and then I apply the rewarss immediately to the statement once posted. First year is 0% interest – but your credit takes a slight hit from 0% it…
Such a great case study! My vote is to stay put, as your neighborhood does seem lovely with lots of nice child-friendly amenities. Since your in-laws seem to be busy and there isn’t the added benefit of childcare, the amount of time you all spend together might not increase dramatically if you choose to move closer. Since you have a large home to host family, can you convince them to stay for weekends? If/when you do decide to enter the part-time job market, would your current neighborhood give you better access to resources and better salary? If diversity is an issue, and something you feel passionate about, maybe it’s a good community to impact. Even though the house is a sunk cost, managing a move and uprooting your children is something that seems very emotionally and financially taxing. Many children don’t like school or have friends, so to have a child who likes both is a very nice situation to be in!
Also side note (and maybe because I live in a city): Construction is very hard to avoid, and albeit unpleasant, is hopefully only temporary (a relative word I know) and unavoidable. The silver lining is that the public infrastructure around you is hopefully being improved, and moving neighborhoods is not a guarantee to never avoid it again. If I’m missing a detail here please let me know!
Thank you SD! The main reason to move was the lower cost of living/housing, with the nearer grandparents being the icing on the cake, so to speak. I do think the area we are currently in has more career network opportunities. Yes, it’s nice that my teenager likes her school and friends, I’m not sure if the younger ones will as well, but hopefully they are content wherever we are or go. If our old home’s backyard wasn’t directly on the main road, we may have seen that nuisance differently.
My concern is the hidden costs of living in an affluent area. Naomi says that her older kids are already asking for things that may not be consistent with the parents values. While that territory can be negotiated through, and that works for some kids/families, but for others there can be a growing up with feeling left out, or feelings of anger, to not get to do what the other kids are doing.
Naomi seems to be more interested in a simple lifestyle that involves serving God and others.
I would suggest she make decisions through this “seive”, or world and life view.
A neighborhood with more diversity and less financial pressures for the kids could make a world of difference for the family lifestyle.
Assuming schools are still good. Because the most excellent schools, if in a culture of the pressures of affluence, could be detrimental rather than helpful.
Thank you Connie! You put words to some of my concerns here.
I was in the same boat as Naomi’s kids. My parents immigrated and had $200 to their name, and very little when we moved to an affluent Orange County town. Even though we asked for things, we learned early on that our parents wouldn’t and didn’t value those things over family, our community, and quality time together. I’d like to believe that this set up us up to be financially responsible, frugal, and independent. To a point where I am very very happy that I grew up wanting and seeing hard work to get us new clothing at Old Navy while my friends were shopping at Nordstrom. I feel like those friends of mine are those who are more likely to rack up credit card debt, and use money on things I feel are egregious. I also benefitted from great amenities, resources, schools.
It’s false to assume the are not “financial pressures” in a less affluent community. The schools/teachers tend to have less, making them more stressed… the parents may have less job flexibility, making them more stressed. There may be less rampant consumerism, but that does not equate to “less stress.” We live in a highly affluent area, and we are very frugal. We teach our kids every day about OUR values as a family. We seek friends with similar values, even amongst ‘big’ jobs and big houses. Materialism is in EVERY community, your house doesnt’ define you as some poser to your values. It’s okay to enjoy a nice town, give back in other ways, etc etc. Frankly, your higher taxes already support tons of programs run through government agencies, and your tithe is a material show of values. Go volunteer, get the kids to volunteer, whatever, but moving isn’t going to make your life with kids more simple.
Just here to throw out another cell phone option. My husband and I recently switched from Verizon to Xfinity Mobile, which uses Verizon’s network. We were able to switch because Comcast/Xfinity is our internet provider. Xfinity Mobile allows up to five lines per account with no line charges and charges $12 per gig used (per account, not per individual line) or $45 for unlimited data for any given line if you have someone who is a heavy data user. We’ve gone from paying about $75 per month (after work discount) for unlimited talk and text and two gigs of data to just $12 per month for unlimited talk and text and the less than 1 gig of data we use. They also have some promotions for bringing over your iPhone or buying a new phone. And you can use their “hotspots” to reduce your data usage (although we don’t do this because I don’t love being on unsecured WiFi networks).
Anyhow, I promise I don’t work for Xfinity, I’ve just found we’ve saved substantial amounts of money since switching. Honestly, I thought this deal might be too good to be true, but a few months in and there haven’t been any issues. Hope this helps!
Thanks Emily! I’ll be sure to point out your comment to Jon as well. He works from home and would best know what he needs gig wise, etc. and if Xfinity would be a good switch for us.
It sounds like your heart is set on moving so think you should do that. As for finances, max out your HSA every year, even if you don’t intend to use it. Unexpected medical emergencies can ruin you financially; hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Lastly, I strongly encourage you to use your law degree. Work in public policy at a think tank or for a nonprofit.
Thank you Jen! I haven’t yet looked into how to really use it (the law degree) without actually practicing law, but I like the idea of public policy for a think tank or a nonprofit, thank you for the encouragement.
Naomi , we moved an hour outside of Atlanta. Our money bought a lot of house out here. I suggest you might check out Bremen. Unlike Carrollton, the school system is excellent. The interstate is close by. Carrollton is 20 minutes away and Douglasville maybe 30 minutes. The town is small, the schools excellent and the drive to civilization is short.
Thank you Brook, I’ve never heard of that area, but will look into it!
Make sure you understand the costs associated with selling your house, refinancing and moving before you commit to moving. We moved to cut our costs and got hit with a huge penalty for ending our mortgage before the term was up. Not such a cost saving after all…
Good point, I don’t think there are any penalties associated with ending our mortgage, but I would be wise to double check, that you.
Hi Naomi! My only thought: be sure you have sufficient term life insurance. I didn’t see it on your budget and life insurance from Jon’s employer probably isn’t enough, considering 4 kids! Nothing fancy – just term life insurance.
Thank you so much KnoxPatch! We do have term life insurance (beyond anything Jon’s employer provides), I think it’s listed in our budget above as simply “life insurance”, so there was no way for you to know what kind without asking.
I would so move. A year ago we chose to buy he cheaper house and live near grandparents and it was hands down the best decision!! We bought a house with a pool that was cheaper. I like having options with our money. Another thought your kids will just keep getting more expensive too. Are you having anymore kids? Have you thought about getting a job at a state college for free tuition for your kids since two of them are nearing college age? I think you’re doing great with your money especially with that van!! I wish we could have that cash in the bank and one car! But again I really think you should sell that house…memories with grandparents and more cash in the bank sounds like what you want!
Thank you Candi, it’s nice to hear someone has done this move (near grandparents and less expensive home) and felt that it was a great decision!
Wow! Can I say how brave/bold/inspired you must
be to be thinking strategically about moving house with 4 kids without some kind of impending doom.
As a former prep school kid who came from frugal parents living in the “city” rather than the suburb and enjoyed the hell out of summer camps and university in more diverse and less pressurized environments kudos for believing the pressure is real. And the the segregation and elitism not to mention the racism/predjudice/non-exposure is too.
I know your set timeline for going back to work isn’t for a year or more but I’m going to say this, start looking and start preparing. Can you write grants? Are you qualified to be a title 9 school coordinator? Is there time to put together a portfolio of work to be school involvement coordinator or whatever.
Are the kind of houses that will make the savings worth it, available in the neighborhoods you want? Would you have to wait for a foreclosure ? (This May mean being way more flexible on time of move) Do you have a plan to help your oldest two remain close to friends through an activity/ pool membership/ camp ( my feeling is being able to keep a few important friends through a scheduled activity will go a long way to smoothing over transitions.) Do they have friends and connections to the new neighborhood, Can those connections be made in the year moving up to the move?
I’m not sure of the equity needed or the rental situation in your area but could the house be rented instead of sold when you downsize (thereby keeping equity in a house in a upscale neighborhood) While I don’t see this as an automatic win. I do think this might be something to spreadsheet with local area prices since your willing to do the work to move your family.
What happens if you keep the house another three years until your 11 year old starts high school? Can you send the others to camp/ preschool/social programs in the diverse neighborhood? Equity and an extra income might allow you to make a profit on this house.
Are there programs in your very white elite community that would make you feel involved and making it better ( and yes there should be because I guarantee your not the only one feeling isolated as one of a few Christian/Jew/Hindu/black/brown/Asian/frugal/homeschool/non-country club)
I’d say make a plan to move but keep a backup plan or two ( and definitely put in offers with a contingency plan). If we can’t move next year this is how we’ll save and how we keep to our values etc. etc.
Also it seems like your husbands pretty well set up in his career but as a millennial I have an allergy to relying on good employment- keep an ear out both for other opportunities but also to shakeups in his industry and company- I have seen and felt a lot of unexpected shakeups to think that just because it seems good doesn’t mean it’s going to continue well. My husband got recruited for an academic job in another city and less than one semester in he’s gotten notice that that program is being discontinued at the end of the school year ( I was hoping to use their tuition benefit too) ; we are very glad we didn’t pick up stakes to move to the new city and that he decided to commute.
Thank you Rose, you highlighted much to consider.
I would save the bonus and move to the smaller home they could pay off in 15 years or less in the more diverse neighborhood.
We have only one child, but at one point during his college years we had 5 adults in 1200 square feet for three years, so I know they can do it in twice that much space, lol.
Naomi is right, so much less cleaning in a smaller house, too.
Many of our friends traded up to the bigger house and the financial strain can be a real issue if anything goes wrong. I have been able to work non-stop, but my husband has had 4 major surgeries which led to lots of lost wages. At one point, when the house was full, he was off 1.5 years, barely able to walk, so not earning, not even doing dishes. The financial pressure of debt or even a “normal” mortgage would have made our lives much harder.
We moved from the “all white” neighborhood to a very diverse area when our son was three and it was great for him and honestly for my husband, too. We have never been sorry, and a more diverse neighborhood tends to be much more walkable as well.
Thank you Patti for the encouragement!
Naomi, I’ve seen little comments about your insistence on tithing and paying missionary support — it is so refreshing to see this! We also tithe, even in years of low salaries…and have never regretted it. Somehow that less money stretches to cover everything we need. (I think God may have something to do with it!) Good for you!
I wonder if you should put making a decision off for at least a year. Holding off will make you more certain what you want to do, rather than dithering about it. You may also find that renting that lower area will actually help pay off the mortgage faster….but I’d be finicky finicky about renters.
Thank you Cindi!
Moving three times is like burned down once – goes to say, moving is expensive, with all the cost for paint, furniture, drapes, curtains, tools etc on top of the actual cost for buying, selling and moving. That said, I believe it would be important for you to figure out what kind of job it is that you want to do. What made you go to law school in the first place? Why do you know consider teaching Spanish to pre- schoolers? A new house won’t answer the question what you want to do, and you might have to move a third time if that new job is in an inconvenient area, something that I’d recommend to avoid.
Kudos to you, Naomi (and Jon) for doing so many things so well! I have two thoughts that will maybe add something new to the conversation. The first is there’s a new book out (Farsighted) which talks about the decision making process and how we tend to only think in terms of two options (a or b) and make pros and cons lists for both. The author has compelling reasons for why this isn’t the best approach and how it can set us up for major life regret later if we feel like we’ve made the ‘wrong’ choice. Reading it (or the review articles in places like the Times) might help you to frame the dilemma in a different way.
My other question is how many of the commenters on here who are advocating for you to stay because of better real estate appreciation or who suggest you can find other ways of incorporating diversity into your life have ever actually lived as THE minority family. You haven’t raised this as an issue, so maybe it isn’t a concern, but I do know there can be tremendous pressure on a black family in a white neighborhood to a) be practically perfect in every way so their neighbours have a good impression of black people and b) be responsible for interpreting black culture or political events that involve/affect black people for their neighbours. Both can be exhausting and it may well be that choosing to stay in your neighborhood is making a conscious choice to take on these roles both for yourselves but also for your children. (I add that I am a white Canadian so I am obviously not speaking from any personal experience but I have read Ta-Nehisi Coates and Austin Channing Brown recently and they both write at length about thesetting issues. They struck me as relevant to your situation- it’s not just about exposing your kids to more diversity, it’s also about them not being the only ‘diverse’ faces in their school. Apologies if I’ve misread the situation, but I thought it was worth saying.)
*these (and I thought I’d proof read it carefully!)
Naomi, you guys are doing great! As a teacher, I did want to point out one thing though: You mentioned that you wanted to make about $2000 a month working part time, and one of your possible options was a paraeducator. I don’t know how teachers are paid in Atlanta, but I make about $3000 a month as a full time classroom teacher. I don’t see anyone making $2000 a month working part time in education, but again, it might be different in Atlanta. However, if you are interested in tutoring, my hourly tutoring rate is more than double what I make teaching. It’s flexible time wise as well.
Thanks for making this point! My take home pay is ~$2100 monthly, as a full-time certified teacher (paid over 12 months) and I know in my area, paraeducators make $8-9/hr. I live in Mississippi, so I know that paraeducators make more in Atlanta, but I wouldn’t expect a part-time paraeducator to make $2000/month there.
Are there kids who look like yours in their classes now? Being “the X family” is rough on so many levels. One acquaintance moved towns so their children would not be 50% of the diversity at their school. When the statewide testing results came back, the parents were thrilled their cohort scores were published (if there are less than ten children in a group, the scores are not published because you can figure out which child is which). Perhaps ask the kids how they feel about being a very visible minority.
I think the bottom line is that if you feel you made a mistake, staying there won’t improve the situation. If you want to move, there’s no time like the present to begin getting those affairs in order.
My advice, though, would be to be patient and take your time in making the next selection. Moving comes with a multitude of costs and so you’re going to want to make the next move stick.
All the best in your next venture… keep us posted!
Naomi, you are in great shape, no matter your choice things are very likely to work out fine. You and your husband seem like you have a solid understanding on priorities and how to make good choices.
As someone who is from Atlanta (Marietta & Braselton) and who FIREd a long time ago, I’d make a few suggestions that I haven’t seen so far:
 Your life depends on Jon’s continued employment. If you move, it should be in the direction of getting him closer to his employer and/or a location that has lots of jobs like his. Closer to the employer will give him more opportunity to understand his company and to become more valuable. Eventually he might need to be at the office or a promotion might tie him to an office outside the home. Would be nice if his potential commute was reasonable. Protect Jon’s job with the home selection. It’s nice to be close to family but better to secure the primary breadwinner.
 After  above, the next best financial thing you can do is to put your kids in the best school district you can and the best school within the district. And then work with your kids so that their grades qualify them for a HOPE/ZELL scholarship. With 4 kids, this could save you (and the kids) over $100,000 in college expenses! If you have the grades, you get the scholarship.
 Buy a lower cost home. Atlanta is a great housing market and a 3,000 sq ft home is a nice size home for raising kids , especially if it has a basement. You can probably buy one for the $300k you had on the higher end of your range. Saving, vs you current home, a $100,000+ will shave years off getting the mortgage paid in full. Based on your life style, with the home paid off, you are near bullet proof. Your cost of living w/o student loans and a mortgage could be handled easier if your husband suffered a career setback.
Use a broker like Duffy to save commission cost on the Seller side, we and my daughter both sold homes this way and saved over 2%.
Real estate appreciation is often uncertain, like Atlanta 2008-2011. If you pay your home off in 10 years or less then you have as much as 20 years of cash going into savings that is also growing each year. It will add up.
 I agree with kids first and your income second. But, you could still have some income. $25-$30k a year is just enough to speed up getting the home paid off and increasing the pool of savings. My wife was a nurse and mostly a stay at home mom but put enough hours in to keep her skills and to help make life a bit easier. My son’s wife is a lawyer and she has done well working part time.
 Diversity in relationships and the comfort of people with background similarity is less important as a reason to uproot your life. If you can do 1-4 above and ‘diversity’, then go for it. Otherwise it might be better to find the social context you want through a church, volunteer organization or something similar.
Thanks Bob for you advice, it all seems sound and well thought out.
Naomi. I live in an affluent, predominantly white area in England. (I am white) There are a few children from different ethic backgrounds in my childrens’ school; Asian, black and Japanese and such backgrounds bring with them a richness of culture that the school embraces. The school is mainly Christian but will celebrate Diwali etc. or cover topics such as Japan or Egypt to welcome those children into the school. If these people do not move here then the area is going to remain predominantly white.
As for peer pressure or keeping up with the Jones’, I don’t even try! When the kids friends come to the house, they have fun. They can run around and make a mess, nothing is too precious. Then I bake cakes and let them decorate them. The parents always say that the kids have a great time. Even the rich parents with Ferraris and range rovers don’t seem to care that we are not extravagant people. Just because they have expensive cars, they are still nice people and non-judgemental.
Stay put. That house looks amazing!
Naomi, I’ve been thinking about your case study. I have a few thoughts that may or may not be helpful: (1) What you’ve framed as a financial decision is not, actually, primarily about money. The financial case can be made for moving or staying. (2) What I am hearing come through most strongly in your story is that you are having serious doubts about whether this community is the right place to raise your family. I think my faith and values are probably quite similar to yours, and everything you wrote resonates with me. My top advice for you is: Put this to God. Pray, every day, for six months, for God to show you what His will is for your family. Pray a prayer of submission – not my will but thine. You can think of your family as having a mission statement, a purpose. I would be happy to share more thoughts / resources on this, if you like. (3) It is easy to think that if you move to another neighborhood, where people are on average less affluent and more diverse, that you will find people who share your values, and that you can become a part of community life / a community that is a better fit for your values. This is a bit of a leap. What you are seeking is not primarily a different house, but a different kind of community. I would advise: find the community. Try to integrate / become a part of community life. And then find the house. (4) I would also vote for getting a better sense of what organizations and what parts of the city are the most likely places for your future employment. If it is likely that you are going to start a job, and have a commute, I would strongly advise not moving until you have that nailed down. Long commutes are so hard, and often reasons why people move. (5) When I read your story, your desired to pay off the mortgage quickly sounds like it is primarily coming from a place of anxiety (about money, and financial security), rather than faith and trust. I am all for financial prudence, and financial freedom. But I think that this desire of yours might be a distraction from the bigger picture. Alright — that’s all I’ve got for now. I know that this is a financial blog, and so my advice may have veered in a direction that was more than what you are seeking. But thought I’d share, in case any of this is helpful.
I am a retired 6th generation teacher. Unless any of your children are special needs, it doesn’t matter what type of neighborhood your school is in. All teachers within any given state are required to have the same teacher training as any other teacher in the state. If your children are bright and intelligent, they will excell anywhere they go to school. . . as long as you and your spouse actively support them and their teachers. If any of your children require extra academic intervention, they MAY do better in a school where the parents are better off financially, but that is not guaranteed. Talk to parents whose children go to a school you are considering to determine whether or not the school is a good fit for your family.
If your plan to stay with the in-laws while house hunting falls thru or takes longer than expected, I wonder if you could rent a house month-to-month or for a school year? Could also be a way to ‘test-drive’ a desired neighborhood near the grandparents before buying.
Hi Naomi – I am wondering if your preoccupation with moving has something to do with fear of working; not that you are insecure or untalented, but that this subject diverts you from thinking of starting up your career. I had four children very young and thus had no such conflict, but I do know that when I was ready to work I had a sense that it would be harder than it actually was. In fact, working made me a more vital and energetic person. However, I did not know that it would improve my life until I did it! Good luck with the adventure!
Debbie – yes! Going back to work proved to be much more of a mental/emotional challenge… much larger than I anticipated, too. We moms are even more capable after being home with littles and raising our families. It takes a bit of a re-boot in dofferent areas sometimes, and can be scary. Moms have so much to offer in the workplace. I recently heard that the idea of workplace balance is a bit misgiuiding, and I kind of believe it. We can’t do everything, so we have to choose how to work and what areas of our kids’ lives we can best serve while working (though kids are always our #1 prioroty). Just a thought.
I don’t know exactly what part of Atlanta you live in, but are there any magnet schools in your area? It might be an opportunity to get more diversity for your kids without the hassle of moving/completely changing everything about their lives (it would also give your oldest daughter the opportunity to stay where she is since it sounds like that’s what she wants but still give your younger kids a chance to do something different).
I would also highly encourage visiting the school and talking with teachers/counselors/current students or parents for whatever schools you’re considering, especially for your oldest. I grew up outside Atlanta in what some might claim is one of the least diverse school districts in the area (full disclosure: I am white, so I certainly was not in the minority but had friends who were). The schools all had excellent ratings and looked good on paper, but when it got time for me to look at high schools, I just really didn’t like the districted high school despite these rankings. The joke was that to fit in there you either had to be “really rich or on drugs, preferably both.” Obviously, this was somewhat of an exaggeration, but it didn’t appeal to me so I started looking for other options. I found a magnet school that wasn’t much further than my districted high school, had a bus that picked me up less than a mile from my house, and let me focus a lot and work ahead on the STEM subjects which I really loved. Plus it’s not a private school, so it was completely free. The school itself was much more diverse than my districted school (admittedly, not as much of a consideration for me at the time), and because the magnet program was contained within the main school, you got a lot of the benefits of a smaller school while still having the interactions you would have at a larger one.
Also, on a side note–others have mentioned HOPE, but I would start having a frank conversation with your daughter about how much you’re willing to contribute to college in the next couple years and what other options are out there (like HOPE). My mother sat both my sister and I down when we started looking at colleges and told us exactly how much she would contribute to our educations. It was great in that it gave us the opportunity to make decisions that made sense for our goals and helped us to learn how to be fiscally responsible. I knew that I wanted to go into a STEM field and, if I did post-graduate work, it would be paid for, so I decided to go to an out-of-state school knowing that I wouldn’t get more than four years of help from my mother. My sister wanted to go to med school, so she chose to stay in state and take HOPE which meant that most of the money my mother contributed to her education could go to med school instead (with that and a scholarship, she actually graduated debt-free!) I plan to do the same thing for my kids because I want them to feel empowered to make their own decisions but still be able to set limits that make sense for me fiscally.
We moved just over two years ago and I really felt like we made a mistake. The neighborhood is a good mix of people of all backgrounds-but there are no young kids and the HOA is restricting us from even having a playset outside. Ultimately we will move-but I’m glad we stayed these two years as not to owe capital gains, and get some equity in the home. There’s got to be a reason why you bought the home to begin with-focus on that for now. I think I would love all the amenities you’ve got!! Anyway, a natural place to look would be within the high school district your oldest will be going to(broader area means better chance of diversity in another neighborhood within the HS district). That way the older kids can keep their friends from elementary/jr. high, but you can hopefully find a different more diverse area to live in? I’ve never been to Atlanta so that may or may not be possible. I grew up in a diverse neighborhood just west of Chicago, so I totally get why you want to move. I would make a plan, start looking in other areas within the hs district, or close to your current district, and maybe move once the oldest or oldest two are starting/in HS. Try staying even an extra year to make up for closing costs, build some equity, and have some fun in this house-you deserve it!!! Who knows maybe the area will change in the next couple of years and you’ll choose to stay. Good luck!
Have you passed the bar and maintained a law license in Georgia? What are the costs of doing so, if you’re not intending to be an attorney? Are you able to be on inactive status? If any future plans include using the law degree, what are you doing to maintain your skill-set in this field?
There is a need for volunteer attorneys at many low income clinics or at non-profit organizations serving specific marginalized communities. Volunteering is one of the best ways to gain experience, especially for someone who never really practiced law after law school. As I commented above, Spanish-speaking skills are so helpful in these roles.
None of this may interest you, and that’s ok! Thinking through these options can give you a more honest and realistic sense of what you want to be doing once the kids are in school, which, of course, affects the geography question too.
I don’t really have anything to add to the financial conversation, but just wanted to say that I like how Naomi looks out for not just her family, but the rest of the world. I would love for you to be my neighbor, but alas, I live in Missouri. We our global neighbors though and I share your vision. Best of luck to you and your family.
From a financial perspective you could make a move work if you slashed your housing cost. I do agree w/ others who said it sounds like however this neighborhood is more prestigious and hence is probably a better investment with more potential upside. The biggest financial issue you have is income. You are earning nowhere near enough to justify your education investment. You should focus on increasing income which of course will be easier as your children all get older and go to school. Also, things change in terms of jobs. If you move and your husband needs a new job in an office, will the new location provide opportunities? For expenses, I mean obviously the huge tithe and missionary support are not good for your balance sheet but they tell me there is more to life than finance. That’s all from a financial perspective. From a what is the best decision overall, make a pro/con list and weigh those other non-financial factors. Also, will it put you closer to your overall long-term life goal?
I just want to weigh in a single topic: your kids have rich / affluent / privileged schoolmates. That’s fine. And it will also help them learn the frugality you both live.
I studied in the most prestigious private school in town for free, because my mother was a teacher there, and teachers’ children had full scholarships. That said, we were lower middle class, and I could never have the same luxuries my colleagues had. And that was good for me, absolutely no trauma. So, I think your kids being in a good school with rich kids is a double blessing: they have contacts, good selection bias, and learn that they do not need the things rich kids have to thrive and be happy.
Naomi, I am only now reading your case study, and looks like a (positive and exciting!) wrench has been thrown into your decision making process/ plans with your husband’s opportunity for advancement. Congratulations to him and thanks to you for sharing your family’s story. I’ll bypass my ideas in responding to the initial case, since it looks like you’ve made decisions for now. But I do want to encourage you (as I am also a woman of faith, and it seems we have a lot of similarities… if none of this applies, then do ignore… I am after all only getting to “know” you through a blog post!). You are an ambitious woman who wants to do (and is capable of so much). Please do not stretch yourself thin. Pause, slow down, and do take it truly one day at a time. Recently I have been reflecting on what I have come to see as a hard truth (I had a hard time accepting it), “You can do just about anything, but not everything.” You know, at first this was hard for me to accept, but it actually gave me more freedom to start focusing and accomplishing and achieving. Above all, you have the Holy SPirit to guide and direct you, and my guess, mentors and spiritual people to lift you up in prayer. May God richly bless you and your family. SO excited for the beautiful life you have together and the loving ways you will impact others.
I would encourage you to move into an area and a house that better matches your world and life view. Just because we can afford something doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing.
Your kids will be just fine with the move as you and your husband give them such a firm foundation.
I enjoyed this case study when it first came out and was looking forward to hearing Naomi’s update. Now that there’s an update, I hear some reservations in her “voice,” primarily related to her own career. Naomi, I wonder if you can pursue some work from home jobs, in particular part-time? FlexJobs.com and Remote.co are good places to start. This is just my opinion as a complete stranger on the internet, but it seemed like you were looking forward to working again and feel a tad disappointed that now it’s on hold again. Volunteering is certainly valuable and I wouldn’t discourage you from that, but if it’s work (and income) that you desire, perhaps there are some remote/part-time options that could work for you. Just a thought. Best of luck to you–I enjoyed reading about you and your family!