Great Savings 23 – What You Own Owns You

 

Wanting a new house, a bigger house, a vacation property, a boat or an RV may sound great on the surface. In fact, from the standpoint of an improved lifestyle you may greatly benefit from purchases like these. Yet before you buy, consider that what you own has a way of owning you.

 

A yacht in the French Riviera.

My friend would jump at a chance to own a boat like this one, but think of all the people, time and effort it would require to maintain it.

I have a good friend who owns a boat. He loves his boat, even when it’s not working, which turns out to be a good portion of the time. He loves fishing and being out on the water, so yes, he gets a significant benefit from boat ownership. At the same time, he’s always fixing something. Either his boat trailer is broken down, the boat engine has conked out, the hull needs a fresh coat of paint or all the hardware needs polishing.

 

On top of the time and effort it takes to own the boat there are other costs. My friend has a loan on the boat so has a monthly payment. He also pays to store his boat over the winter. And let’s not forget the cost of insurance, or the cost of all the gasoline consumed by his less-than-efficient-engine.

 

 

When it comes to accumulating long-term wealth, it pays to consider all the costs associated with the things we buy to decide whether or not buying is really our best option. Some of the costs we run into can surprise us too, since they end up having nothing to do with money. Sure, “quantifiable” costs like monthly payments, insurance and taxes matter. However, other costs like the amount of time one puts into maintaining a particular thing can end up being equally or even more significant. This is especially true in the case of home ownership, or of owning a boat like my friend.

 

A huge house has a way of owning it's occupants.

This looks like a nice house, but it’s much too big for me now. If I owned it, I’d have a huge mortgage and be on the hook for years of maintenance.

There’s yet another important cost to owning, which we sometimes miss entirely—one we call opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of giving up certain things as we commit to a particular course of action. In other words, say we buy an RV that costs $40,000. Now, that $40,000 we just spent isn’t available for our education, our children, a new car, retirement, etc. In other words, the consequence of committing to buy an RV means giving up or at least putting off other opportunities.

 

When I was younger owning things felt very important to me. I wanted my own home. I wanted to be able to fix it up the way I liked. Yet now that I’m older, the idea of constant maintenance or taking on new projects doesn’t have the same appeal. And while I still enjoy the home I own, every time I need to mow the grass or blow the leaves off the driveway it feels more like a burden than it used to.

 

Great Savings Tip #23 - What you own owns you.This suggests that our age and ever changing life goals are another important factor worth working  into the equation of ownership. Like a lot of people, I’ve learned the older I get the less it seems I have enough time to do all the things in life I still want to do. When I was young my time seem unlimited as my whole life was still ahead of me. Now, I see that accumulating material possessions feels more and more like I’m taking on added weight and that weight takes a heavy toll.

 

There’s no right answer on owning a particular something or not, but it’s worth considering the long-term consequences involved—how owning has a way of taking up our time, energy and resources—and how we end up being owned in the process.

 

Before deciding that true wealth means endlessly accumulating material items, try understanding or determining what’s most important to you in the long run. Sometimes, it’s not so much about owning a thing as it is about having a particular life experience. Once you do that you can let the idea of ownership go. In a sense, we’re taking about the freedom to move through life feeling less burdened by inevitable consequences that ownership implies. Maybe a boat is in your future, but does that imply owning it all by yourself  is the best option? Couldn’t you rent or share one with a like-minded person? Would it matter if you could save thousands over buying it on your own?

 

Accumulating wealth doesn’t happen magically, nor does it look the same for everyone. Deciding you don’t need to own the world’s possessions—or at least so many of them—gives you the power to control your future. You could say what you own owns you, but another way to look at it is to realize owning less right now is a means to create the resources and freedom necessary to explore new opportunities down the road. Hey, maybe real wealth isn’t about owning at all. It’s something to think about.

 

Action Item: Walk through your house or apartment and consider how much of the space you really use and how much sits mostly idle.  You may decide you use it all, but if you don’t could you see living in a smaller space that costs substantially less? Now, ask what implied obligations you’ve bought into by choosing to live where you are? For example, do you have to maintain the home? What does that involve? And have you ever considered what possessions or experiences you’ve had to forego as a consequence of staying in your current location? Asking and answering questions like these can be very telling in deciding what you really want from life, and that’s the way toward a brighter future.

 

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