I just saw you. You paused in the lighting aisle and pointed up at a nice brushed steel sconce. When you stopped your wife leaned in and hooked her pinkie to yours. I only saw you for a few seconds, but I feel like I know you so well. You’re a young married couple, and you just bought your first house. You’re beautiful, young, and full of energy. You’re going to tackle a dozen projects at once. Nothing can stop you. You’re going to remake that house in your image.
I used to be you. When I bought my house at twenty-three I had the same gleam in my eye. But now, ten years later, I’ve grown world-weary. After so many failed home improvement projects, I walk the aisles of Home Depot tentatively, my shoulders raised. There’s so much advice I’d like to give to you.
- For instance, every time you come here, no matter the reason, you will spend at least $100. You’re fine with it now, but it will get old.
- You should plan out your whole project ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll make five trips and end up with a lot of unnecessary doo-dads sitting unused in your basement (see previous advice).
- Every project will cost 20% more and take 20% longer than planned. There are no exceptions.
- Every time you buy paint, you’ll buy an overpriced pack of blue painter’s tape. Then when you get home you’ll find five rolls of tape in the basement from your last project.
- Water can rot your house, and splattered paint is hard to clean once it’s dry, but only electricity can kill you. Keep this in mind when planning DIY projects.
- You can never use too much plumber’s tape.
But there’s one big piece of advice I want to give you. If you follow it, you’ll save thousands of dollars. You might even be able to retire earlier. If it weren’t inappropriate I would run up behind you, grab your shoulders and yell it.
Whatever you do, don’t buy a truck!
Why is this my big advice? Because from the moment I bought my house, I was schooled by almost everyone in the importance of owning a truck. “If you own a house, you need a truck,” a coworker told me. Family members said the same at Christmas dinner. “Time for a truck,” said a guy in the Home Depot parking lot as I struggled to fit baseboards into my Honda Accord.
It became almost inevitable: I should join the herd and buy a small used truck. But even then, young as I was, I saw the flawed logic of their argument. I never bought a truck, and here’s why:
Extra vehicles are way more expensive than they are useful. If you take the purchase price of a truck and spread it across the life of the vehicle, along with taxes, insurance and maintenance, you’ll be paying thousand of dollars per year.
How often do you think you’ll use your truck? I’ll tell you: much less than you think. Even if you’re completely tearing your house apart, you will likely need a truck only 5-6 times per year, including runs to the dump. Once you’re settled into your house, you’ll need it even less. If you make ten trips per year with even the cheapest truck, it’s still costing you over a hundred dollars per use.
Fortunately, I’m living proof that you can own a home and renovate it without owning a truck. A small hatchback can carry a shocking amount of goods. Here’s a list of materials I’ve fit into my 2008 Toyota Scion: 4x8’ panel boards, 8’ trim boards, a lawnmower, PVC and copper piping, five drywall panels, and every electrical fixture I’ve ever purchased. In the rare case that you really do need to buy large items, you can either get them delivered or rent a Home Depot truck at $30 per hour. Once, when I bought a couch on Craigslist, I borrowed a truck from a carpenter friend (now there’s someone who actually needs a truck). He was happy to help.
I’m not saying that it’s easier to live this way - just more profitable. Stuffing your hatchback can be a hassle. So can renting a truck: you’ll have to fill out a bunch of paperwork, and then make a second trip to return it once you’ve dropped off your payload. Asking for help from a friend can make you feel like a pain (though, isn’t that what friends are for?). But for me, and for most people, saving thousands of dollars is well worth a few small hassles. If you consider how much that extra money can be worth when invested, not owning a truck becomes a no-brainer.
These are the kinds of financial decisions you’ll face as a young couple, of which the truck question is just one. Do you buy everything put in front of you in order to be self-sufficient at all times? Is self-sufficiency and convenience a worthier goal than a high savings rate? Many say yes, but I say no. Because for the average American who saves just 4% of income, a second vehicle rusting in the driveway is dangerous lifestyle inflation -- which can lead to lifestyle deflation in retirement.
I want to tell you that the best kind of self-sufficiency isn’t freedom from hassle: it’s financial independence.
The sooner you reach it, the sooner you’re freed from the hassle of a job you don’t like, or a boss who treats you poorly. A high savings rate, invested regularly, will get you there faster than you think. And lifestyle creep will snatch it away.
I hope you make the right decision. And don’t forget the plumber’s tape.