As I’ve alluded to in recent posts, an interesting confluence of events has lead Elise and I to begin searching for our first house a full six months before we intended to undertake such a project.
As we both combed through our finances in anticipation of applying for pre-approval for a mortgage, a certain fact about the two of us became abundantly clear: we are living marginally.
That’s not the same as “living on the margins,” a phrase you might use to describe the forgotten Americans our politicians are currently busy vying over. We are hardly teetering the precipice of hopelessness and debt. Thank goodness.
Instead, what I mean to say is that our lives just don’t cost very much to live, and by extension we have assets but not much equity.
The cost of being us is marginal. We began our adult lives by leaving college with a manageable amount of personal debt. We haven’t owned a car in years, and don’t own our own home. We don’t have any children or pets, or other family members to support. We consume uncomplicated food, and not much of it. We have a finite collection of housewares and consumer electronics that we don’t frequently expand. I quite adamantly dislike vacations, and neither of us participate in a particularly costly hobby or habit aside from music, which is at times a second career.
Essentially, in any given month after rent, food, utilities, and student loans we’re in the clear.
If it sounds like a charmed existence, well, it is. We’re living risk-free. But, that comes with a downside that’s subtly dangerous: we’re naive about how much life costs, and we’re reticent to find out. We have no concept of car insurance or property taxes, or even of paying for parking or needing a lawnmower, and it would be easy to stay this way
Yet, we can’t stay this way if we want to become upwardly mobile adults. No risk, no reward.
Therein lies the thin line between living marginally and living in the margins. You must make the leap into adulthood just right or else you become a forgotten American. You wind up making an effort to make ends meet, and tying up your entire livelihood in the upkeep one major asset – your home – living in fear that its value might drop out from under you. And if the bottom falls out from under your life you don’t just become forgotten – you disappear completely.
We had to be cajoled into applying for our pre-approval, because we assumed we would be laughed out of the realitor’s office. We read the news – we knew about how bottom fell out of the mortgage industry, taking thousands of forgotten Americans with it. We didn’t think we had a hope.
Well, owing to living marginally, we did; though we don’t have any equity, we don’t have any bad credit either. In the mind of a reeling industry we still represent a good risk – a possible reward.
For a few weeks the potential mortgage check in my pocket made me feel immune to any financial woes. But, now that the euphoria has worn off the sticker shock is settling in.
Can we afford the homeowner’s life? Are we equipped to go from marginal to mobile without falling into the margins?
While I don’t think we will become invisible or disappear completely, both outcomes now loom tangibly, if remotely, over our house hunting. I’ve been invisible before, when I was a child visiting the corner store with a fist full of food stamps. The prospect of returning there – no matter how incredibly remote and unlikely, sets my stomach to roiling.
Life without risk may not be rewarding, but at least it’s comfortable.