Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

None of My Business

Supposedly, Mr. J. and I are going to stay in this house for quite some time. (Knocks wood, prays, clicks heels, etc.,) So when you're starting from scratch (with some limitations), you have the luxury of a clean slate. You also have the burden of creating a home where none currently exists which costs money. A lot of money.

We bought our little love shack back in December. Wait - we put in a bid that was accepted in December and we closed at the end of January. This means that Mr. J. has been toiling away on this place ever since. Evenings, weekends, even a week of "vacation" all dedicated to making this 70-year-old foreclosed-upon-owned-by-the-county brick Cape Cod into a homey abode for Teacher Lady, Minnie and himself.

Mr. J. and I have very different priorities about what is "urgent" in a house and what merits a "splurge" and what merits a "scrimp." Unfortunately, his priorities usually make more sense. A leaky roof needs to be repaired (or, as it turns out - replaced) much more than the current kitchen floor needs to be ripped out and replaced with Mexican ceramic tile. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Even though I've often mocked my students for not grasping the "I can't have everything" concept, I trip over it myself more than I'd like to admit. To me, it's obvious that as a student I can't skip every class, turn in every assignment late or not at all, never read, review or take notes and then get an "A" simply for rewarding the universe with my presence.

However, I'm struggling with the concept when it applies to the refurbishing of a home. I'm 110% ashamed to admit that neither Mr. J. nor I have ever owned an unused (okay, "pre-owned") couch. I am 37. He is going to be 39 in November. This seems rather silly and extremely immature to me. But we have chosen (mostly) to spend our money on things like stainless steel kitchen appliances and quartz counter tops. Now, I am absolutely dying to get these blinds. If you're familiar with them, you know why I feel like I have to have them. If you're not familiar with them, then you'll just think I'm completely insane because these suckers ain't cheap, people. In fact, they are so outrageously priced that I'm too embarrassed to tell you about the recent quote I received. Mr. J. thinks that buying expensive window blinds is an outrageous waste of money when we could be buying a new dining room table. (We already have one. It's my old boss's sister's and I have no idea how old it is and my old boss's sister had actually already put it out on the sidewalk for bulk trash pick up when I decided I wanted it, but still. We have one.)

So here's my question (which is none of my damn business and I realize that, so no pressure to answer): Since I'm guessing that most of my readers are not reading my blog from a lounge chair at an exclusive resort in Bora-Bora while sipping a tropical drink (although I certainly hope you are), I'm also guessing that we all have our financial priorities - the places where we "splurge" and the places where we "scrimp." Specifically, I'm being nosy about home repairs/maintenance/furniture, stuff like that. Do you get the most expensive refrigerator possible and save by getting laminate counter tops? Or, like a friend of mine, do you completely scrimp on the house all together and splurge on vacations and a commitment to exploring other cultures (via travel) instead?

A former co-worker buys all her furniture at Ethan Allen. Gob bless her. Even if we had that kind of income, I'm not sure I'd feel I could fork over a few thousand for a dining room table. What furniture we haven't inherited, we've bought at Target. (Except for our bed. I will not scrimp on a mattress people. I also refuse to buy cheap sheets.) But I also know that millions of Americans would think I'm completely insane for even considering to spend the amount of money on window blinds I'm considering spending on window blinds.

It's weird and tricky, this whole money issue. I used to talk about sex for a living and never felt the least bit uncomfortable. But money - whoa! Now that's private. But just like my students all ultimately wanted to know, "Is that normal?" or really, "Am I normal?" I just want to know the same thing: Without going into debt, and after "paying yourself first" are there certain household items you're willing to fork over serious cash for and others you just won't? I await your responses. And if I don't get any back, I get it. I think that in this culture we can talk about nearly anything on Oprah, Dr. Phil, etc., except the dirty little details of our financial lives.

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Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

Boy, am I the wrong person to answer this question. We earn very little, so we spend very little (but not little enough).

When we do have to make purchases, though, we always try to put quality first and do it right, so whatever it is, it is less likely to break and need replacing. Which would hold true for blinds. I hate buying blinds because they always break, so if these are somehow less likely to break, they would be worth it to me.

September 02, 2007 8:05 PM  
Blogger B Squared said...

I'm with Veronica on the blinds, get good ones or just wait until you can afford good one's, nothing worse than cheap blinds.

My wife and I just moved into our first house a year ago and moneywise we decided we get 1 vacation capped at 1000 total per year until we get the house like we want it (and other debt paid off which is the bigger part of our plan) and we have a list of stuff we wanted to do/improve to the house, did one item a month and eventually got it all done.

IMO stainless is overrated for a kitchen but to each his own

September 02, 2007 8:46 PM  
Blogger Carolie said...

Everyone has their priorities. No one is ever going to convince my sister-in-law that it's ok to spend $10 a pound for goat's milk gouda, but then again, she'll spend the big bucks on designer clothes her 6 year old will outgrow before the weather changes. Of course, I roll my eyes at her, as I shop at the Goodwill for my clothes and pick up said gouda on my way home.

All our furniture is second (or third, or fourth) my husband almost died when I spent more than a thousand dollars on an oriental rug for our dining room, a rug I fully intend to outlast me. I grew up with ancient oriental carpets underfoot...our furniture might not have been much, but Mom turned down several offers for those increasingly more threadbare rugs...purchased originally by my grandmother, and in one case by my great-grandmother.

Get what you both love and can't live without...and negotiate for those things you don't agree upon. Will those blinds last a very, very long time and make you very happy? Will they get dirty easily? Will you want to do new window treatments in a couple of years? If the answers are yes, yes, no and no, then my vote is for you to spend that money!

(I totally agree with you about sheets, by the way.)

September 03, 2007 1:52 AM  
Blogger Tizzie said...

The most I have spend on anything in my whole house is £300 on my son's bed. To be fair thou, its the only new piece of furniture I've ever bought. I'm too busy trying to pay bills to think about something like replacing my curtains instead of simply mending them and so on...I need a better job!

There are other, cheaper things that I will splurge on thou...good coffee beans from my local specialist shop, brand new books rather than using the library...that sort of thing.

September 03, 2007 3:24 AM  
Blogger NG said...

Ah, this strikes a cord! We also purchased a foreclosed-upon house and have been doing "little projects" almost the whole decade we've lived here. We've constantly pondered the dilemma of "do we do it cheap, but we get it done NOW? or do we wait until we can afford to do it right and live with the mess as is?" It's hard to decide.

We have a generally-agreed upon rule that we don't scrimp on the projects that will increase the resale value of the home. So when we put real sized windows on two rooms in the basement to make them legal bedrooms and double the number of rooms in the house, we bought the nicest, most secure windows we could afford, rather than cheaping out on crappy ones.

But there are other things we did save money on that now I regret. Like the inexpensive, small refrigerator we bought because we had no money when we first moved in. Then... it was the nicest thing we could afford with the money we had and we HAD to have a fridge, right? Now... I wish we'd spent just a couple hundred more on a nicer one because we've endured 10 years of not having enough room to store a normal amount of food for one family. Or the ceramic tile on the kitchen floor... the original floor was disgusting so we pulled it up and tiled the floor almost immediately, but now the tiles are cracking and coming up because we decided to save some cash by not putting in the more expensive subflooring materials. If we'd done it right in the first place, it actually would have saved us money (not to mention time) because now those tiles need to be repaired/replaced.

I've kind of learned over the years that there's a time to splurge and a time to scrimp. The scrimping doesn't always pay off - especially if I'm the one who has to use/live in the object of my miserliness. The hard thing to determine is what will matter to me three or four years down the line and what just needs to be done because I can't live with it as it is now. Ugh.

September 03, 2007 7:17 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

This is an interesting question to me, because as I think about it I realize we've really had a lot of house projects for only being here 3.75 years (and having two kids at the same time). Somehow I managed to be in my last house for 8 years (single) and only have two projects: building a garage, and building a new porch when a tree fell on it. In this house we've put up a fence, added a screened porch, put in hardwood floors, replaced all of the HVAC systems except the downstairs pipes, had the house painted, had various siding repairs, and bought a new fridge, dishwasher, sofa, bookshelves, china cabinet, and a whole slew of baby stuff.

Anyway, in general I'd say we spend a lot more on the substance of the house than we spend on furniture. Furniture is one of those things like cars; it drops in value so fast when you get it out of the showroom that it is hardly worth it. We did buy the sofa new last year and I've been kicking myself ever since; it has worn fast. I like hitting estate auctions for furniture. There's much better quality there than your old boss's sister's trash.

We've also found that the house itself has locked us into certain decisions. For example, since we already had some hardwood downstairs, putting in laminate wasn't an option.

In general, I'd say we go for the simplest high quality we can (we bought the cheapest Kenmore Elite refrigerator) and we often wait for things to die to replace them (the freezer was at 50 degrees when we bought the new fridge).

The window blinds look very nice and I could probably rationalize them on the UV protection. They'll keep any new paint or new flooring you put in from getting sun damaged!

September 03, 2007 8:57 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Ah, my fiance and I have been doing all of this, since April when we bought our house (not in quite the low condition yours was in, but still needing to be completely redone, and we're both grad students). We've gone with a few rules of thumb:

-Pay more for a warranty.
-Don't buy something you are going to hate every time you use it/look at it, even if it's hella cheap.
-If the price difference between something you adore and something that's just okay is fairly small, on the grand scale of what you're buying, go for the thing you'll adore! At least then you won't be quite as unhappy while paying it off.
-Don't skimp on things that dramatically improve your quality of life. My desk and most of my furniture are cheap (but okay-looking). My desk chair, computer, mattress, and sheets are not.

Of course, my "not cheap" items I mostly got from my parents, and the other "not cheap" things I have mostly came from Target, but for appliances and the like we went for the cheapest one that (a) was a brand we'd heard of and liked, (b) suited all our needs (or as many as possible), and (c) had some kind of warranty. Same went for our truck, actually!

Of course, on our salaries we had to accept from the beginning that we'd go into some debt making the house nice in the first place, and pay it off slowly. Already knowing that was helpful in making such decisions, in a way.

September 03, 2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Also, my mother has those blinds and I LOVE them. We looked at them and I cried at the price. Not going to happen. Sigh.

September 03, 2007 9:53 AM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

Blinds now, dining room table later, since you already have one.
My mom raised me to be a furniture snob. Having said that, most of my furniture is second hand or Target. We are slowly replacing the crap with nice, quality pieces. Beware Ethan Allen, though. My mom just bought a piece that is not the quality you would expect from them, esp. given the amount of money she paid for it.

September 04, 2007 7:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm probably not a good person to answer this as am a grad student and am presently sitting on a chair held up by books (the one unlimited resource in my home). My rule of thumb, however, is to buy things that will increase my quality of life. So, for example, if I had a few hundred to spend and had to choose between, say, heavy curtains for where the tennis court lights shine through my bedroom window and a new dresser to replace the worn French Provincial that belonged to my mother when she was a little girl, I'd go with the curtains.

As it stands...well, I've got two pieces of leftover fabric pinned over the windows. Ah, grad school.

September 15, 2007 9:42 AM  
Blogger Magpie said...

Damn. I have been living in a house for three years, with no bookcases. Which means that almost all of the books are in boxes in the basement. Which means that there's not enough room in the basement to spread out and do stuff. And what does husband think is a priority? New roof. Okay. New stucco. Um, maybe. All new windows. Um, isn't this getting a little overboard?

I just want bookcases.

September 21, 2007 12:24 PM  
Blogger lkhoyt said...

My hus and I (2nd marriage for both of us, no kids, 90yo house) have been going through this as well. Our strategy: we sit down together and each make a list of wants and needs for the house, with prices (or prices ranges as appropriate), then together, with negotiation, rank items on our lists in order of priority. Things that are currently working (eg the old kitchen table) tend to get lower priority than things currently lacking/not working (no sink disposal), aesthetic concerns are generally lower than safety/security concerns, etc. But seeing the big picture, and being able to make a mental estimate of when I might be able to get down the list to something I just want, is helpful. Sometimes it makes me want something less to see it on a piece of paper with other things I want more.

So in our case, new blinds & curtains for our (recently repainted) bedroom became much less important to me when I saw that a new furnace (lower bills!), replacement of extremely crappy ill-fitting storm windows (warmer bedroom!!), and a garbage disposal (disposal of garbage!!!) were on the list as well and would probably make me happier. *AND* we were able to chart out the budget and I can have new blinds and curtains next spring. Just not now, if I want these other things.

Of course there was a lot more on the list than that--we spent much of our summer reglazing and painting windows, replacing sash cords, painting, repairing cracked concrete steps, weatherstripping, caulking, removing bushes, etc etc--but hey, old houses take a lot of maintenance, and we should all be in such good shape when we're 90!

October 30, 2007 10:19 AM  
Blogger lkhoyt said...

And all that being said, I do--at this point in my life--want to have nice stuff. I promised myself when I got my first real (tenure-track) job that I'd never buy another piece of particle board furniture again. Of course, that was 9 years ago and I have bought...exactly 1 piece of furniture in that time. But it wasn't particle board. I'm actually still using the sofa that was a hand-me-down from a prof when I was in grad school 13 years ago...the thing had been recovered in burnt orange around the time I was born. And I did buy nice blinds for my first house (with first hus), and never regretted spending that money--they were really nice, looked good, and were trouble-free. It was worth using our old junky furniture a little longer.

And I'm not above using subterfuge to make something that's high on my list rise also on Hus's could always graciously agree to wait on the Beautiful Blinds, and in the meantime, nail up some Ratty Old Sheets to cover the windows...after all, it doesn't make sense to spend money on Interim Blinds that are just going to be replaced in a few months.

October 30, 2007 10:29 AM  

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