22 June 2009

Money vs House vs Happiness

The love of money may be a root of evil, but lack of money causes problems too.

T lost her construction job last summer ~ along with hundreds of thousands of other people in the building trades. She has had a couple of crappy maintenance jobs since then that pay, on average, a bit less than half of what she used to make. She has been picking up side work when she can to keep some money coming in but it isn’t steady enough to count on.

This has two primary effects and many secondary effects. First, of course, is paying the bills. I can carry all the bills for the household and make my house payment. She has rented her house but the rent is not equal to the mortgage and she needs about $500 a month to make up the difference. This means that neither of us is saving any money which, at our age, is problematical.

The second primary effect is on T’s state of mind. Not contributing to the household, not having money in her wallet, not “taking care” of me; these things weigh heavy on her. In all of her previous relationships, she was the primary earner, the one with the house, the one who paid for things, the daddy. She was also, maybe not coincidentally, always older than her partners – at least by a few years.

Now, everything is upside down. We are the same age – in fact, I am a few months older. We made roughly the same amount of money before she lost her job and split the bills equally. We used to trade off paying when we went out to eat. The first time I paid the bill she was a little shocked – she’d never been with someone who simply assumed that it was fair to share in the cost. But, that was before she was laid off. Now I pay almost all of the time. And, it kills her. I can see a little part of her self-image erode every time. I feel bad about that, but not bad enough to give up eating out occasionally.

And the household expenses – she can’t pay every other month like she used to. So, instead, she has embarked on some fabulous home repair projects. My house is old and has suffered through some decades of neglect. The house and the yard, for that matter. When she moved in the yard looked more like a jungle than a small city lot. She has completely transformed the yard and together we built a wonderful deck. She has replaced light fixtures, patched drywall, tiled a vanity, painted, powerwashed, installed a gas fireplace, replaced faucets, rehung doors, and on and on… All of which is wonderful, and believe me I am grateful, there’s just one catch. A lot of those things take money. Which puts us right back to square one.

I generally keep a household maintenance and improvement fund. I put my tax return money in there and contribute a little extra to it when I can. It had grown to a couple thousand when T moved in (since I hadn’t done anything to maintain the house). We have used it up on worthwhile projects like the deck. And all those other things. I don’t regret that one bit because the house is in better shape and we are reaping the benefit by living there. And, T feels good about contributing, which makes her a little bit happier.

The issue at hand, though, is the latest project. A sunroom. With a hot tub. Oh, yes, that will be wonderful, and we will get lots of use out of it, and it will increase the value of the house and, and, and… But, it’s not free to build a sunroom. I had some of the windows from a different project, and we bought the doors at the local low cost, recycled building materials place so we didn’t pay tons of money for them. But there is lumber, tile, electrical, roofing, plumbing, etc, to pay for and we have gone through all of the building fund. She is waiting for some money back from her federal taxes, but mine is spent. I paid for half of the hot tub out of my checking account and I am looking towards Friday anxiously.

I don’t like worrying about money. And, I don’t like my partner to feel unhappy over money. But, she is happiest when she is building or repairing something and feeling like she is contributing. I’m not sure how we’ll continue paying for everything we need to complete this project, probably end up putting some of it on credit cards. Sigh.

I know the economy will turn around one of these days. I know that T will get a good, well-paid job again. I’m holding the good thought about all of that. It’s just getting through this rough patch that is so difficult right now. Difficult and expensive. I may end up broke, but the house will be in great shape!


Maria said...

I am so jealous. I would love it if Bing decided to actually FINISH a job. She tore up the bathroom floor THREE years ago and over Christmas, she finally steamed off all the awful "fishy fishy" wallpaper. We finally have a new tile floor, but my radiators are gone (she says she is going to sand them and re-paint) and I have these awful looking walls...

8thdayplanner said...

All I know is that small money problems can quickly become big issues. Honest communication about how you're both feeling can help prevent future riffs.

If you lived closer, I would hire T to do all the undone jobs here. She could make a fortune on my house alone.

Anonymous said...

Followed you 'home' through Syd's blog. Sorry to read that another person (couple) has been affected by the economy... hope things turn around!

e said...

Maria, Tess doesn't finish EVERY job she starts. The half-bath was repainted but then she had to fix a couple of rough spots and now it's a lovely green with abstract sheetrock mud designs. She also pulled off the old trim but didn't put the new stuff up ~ it's leaning up against the corner. I don't care too much about that kind of stuff... it works and the tiled vanity is gorgeous.

8DP -- I don't know where you are but I sure wish she could come over and fix up your place!

BTE -- Things will turn around!