Nut up* or Shut up

by Chloe Jeffreys · 31 comments

in Women in Midlife

Enough chatting, let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? In this life, you need big, brass balls if you want a shot at grabbing the brass ring.

Why all this brassy testicular machismo bravado today from the obviously estrogen-powered Chloe? Because I can’t seem to get the phrase “Ovary Up!” to go viral. I’ve tried in vain for years now, but it just won’t catch on. So, as they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

No. That’s not quite right. There are definitely times that, no matter what the cost, you shouldn’t join ’em. You definitely shouldn’t join ’em if joining ’em costs you your integrity. Nothing is worth your integrity.  The saying should go:

If you can’t beat ’em, and joining them will cost you your soul, then give the hell up and try something else.

Remember that fire sale I mentioned last week? Well, the sale is on right now and there’s never been a better time to buy!

First to go? This house we don’t need.

If It Seems Too Good to be True, Then It Probably Is

I LOVE my house. I remember the first time we drove up the steep driveway in 2004. The front yard alone, with its towering circle of cedars creating a curtain of privacy from the outside world, was bigger than many neighborhood public parks in our hometown of San Diego. No more listening to our noisy neighbors six feet away. No more nosy eyes peering into our lives. (We thought.) The house seemed like heaven; we believed we’d found our own personal Shangri-La.

Lesson #1: If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Your Problems Don’t Happen in a Vacuum

On January 2nd this year my husband and I realized that our lives had spiraled out of control. The years of worry over our son, taking care of my mother, and my depression over the fact that nothing I’d worked for all of my adult life had turned out anything like I’d planned had taken their toll. My way of coping was to draw further and further into myself with writing as my escape. My husband sought solace on the stage with his microphone and was muchly rewarded there. Deluded by our seriously rockin’ sex life, we didn’t pay any attention to the obvious signs that something was amiss between us.

But there were issues. Issues surrounded in shame, with undercurrents of hopelessness, and an overriding sense of personal powerlessness.

The Money Pit

In 2004, we sold our house in San Diego at the top of the market, then turned around and put the money we’d made into this house. It seemed wise at the time. Then, a la HGTV, we made major upgrades, partially redoing the kitchen, putting in wood floors, remodeling both bathrooms and the laundry room, putting on a new roof, upgrading the sprinkler system, and spending lots and lots of money maintaining that park-like front yard.

And then 2007 happened.

We watched in horror as the value of our house tumbled, erasing our equity.

Our (evil) health insurance company denied our medical claims for our son’s months in residential treatment, and we were both too emotionally exhausted fighting for our son’s life to fight them, so we ended up paying out of pocket.

My mother’s illness and financial catastrophe was expensive for us, too. I was denied FMLA by my employer and wasn’t paid a penny for the month I was in Tennessee before she was strong enough to bring her back to the mountain with me. During that entire month, I had to rent a car and stay in a (cheap) hotel because her house was unlivable.

Then there was a wedding on top of that.

Total cost for 2007?

$200+K in lost equity in our home + $100K in expenditures = Wowza.

The good part is that we make good money. Despite the financial set-back, we figured we’d eventually dig ourselves out.

Looking to find our bearings and reconnect with each other again, we traveled around the world, ate out whenever we liked, and enjoyed our lives. We felt we’d earned it. Hell, we were earning it. We could afford the lifestyle we were living, but both of us began to worry about the future. Would the housing market rebound before we retire? Would we even be able to retire someday? We have retirement accounts, surely that would be enough, right?

Financial issues are a major downer, and so we didn’t talk about it. Neither of us admitting to the other how much the worry was eating us both up inside.

On our first date, Jeff and I went to see The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. What we both thought at the time was merely a somewhat amusing B movie, we now see as prophetic.

The reality is that it will likely take a decade or more for the economy to recover here on the mountain, if it ever does. The political climate here eschews any financial growth. The powers that be do not want any industry, clean or otherwise. That, coupled with the town’s remote location, does not portend well for an economic rebound in time for us to recover our financial loss on the house in time for us to retire.

And what about retirement? With the mere 15 years we have left where should our money go? What is a wise investment now in this new economy?

Tough decisions must be made.  Jeff and I now find ourselves in the position where we must decide whether to nut up, or shut up and let the current of non-decision take us where it will. I think my long-time readers can probably guess that passivity is not my strong suit.

Houses are just places where we keep our stuff. We can love them, but they don’t love us back. We can own them, but they should never own us.

 

 

*Inspiration for today’s blog comes from Jessica Bern. Thanks Jessica!

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Texanna H. February 14, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Prayers for favor as you nut up. 🙂 Have you seen another Tom Hanks movie, Larry Crowne? Good movie. Appropriate to your situation (though I doubt you’d be going to school).

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Jack December 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Hi Chloe,

I sold my house last year. I really didn’t want to, but it came down to making a hard decision that I think will end up making things better down the road.

Might take a bit of time to get there, but I was tired of keeping that place going when it wasn’t giving back what I was putting in.

Sounds to me like you might be in a similar position. Hard decisions sometimes are painful, but hopefully they put us in a place to make thing better for the long run.

Hope you are well.
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Chloe Jeffreys December 3, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I am well, Jack. Tomorrow is my last day at my job and I am so happy. A house is just four walls. I am sad about leaving it, but it isn’t worth being enslaved in a job I hate. Life is choices. Sometimes life is hard, hard choices.

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BigLittleWolf November 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm

So much life, Chloe. So many lessons, not the least of which is how much is out of our control.

And, that change is unending.

Balls. You’ve got ’em. And brains, too. We know you’ll use them wisely, which doesn’t make the changes any easier to accommodate.

Rooting for you.
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Ginger Kay November 19, 2012 at 11:49 am

My husband and I have similar worries. We are always putting off fixing up our house because it is not worth what we paid for it, and, no, this is not my forever home. (Please, Lord, let it not be my forever home.)

We thought at this point we’d be looking at retirement in a couple years, needing jobs to supplement retirement, but not the career commitment. Now, that looks financially stupid….but, oh, how I still it.
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Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs November 19, 2012 at 7:04 am

I feel your pain regarding house woes. Just as our nest was emptying, I fell truly, madly, deeply in love with a house I was writing an article on. For some insane reason, my husband and I chose to buy it. A house double the size of the one in which we’d raised our girls, with a double-sized mortgage to match. Then we both lost our jobs. We’re still climbing our way out of the hole, slowly (and not all that surely, to be honest). Good luck with your climb out and moving on. Cheers to less STUFF and less stress! You’re heading the right way.
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Ellie November 19, 2012 at 6:31 am

Oh, I applaud your courage even as I know how incredible stressful this is.

And I think we can get “nut up” to go viral. That charm CRACKED me up.

Hang in there, my friend. I’m cheering you on like mad.

-xoxo

-Ellie
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Suzanne November 18, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Dealing with similar issues. Dumped a bunch of money in our CA home, but spent a lot on things we didn’t need throughout the years. We opted to sell the CA house and came out ahead (more or less) and move to TX where life was more affordable. Put 25% down and then the housing market dropped immediately. If we sold it now it would be a wash so are more or less forced to stay here till the market recovers (she says with fingers crossed). We are almost debt free but learning to live that way is a challenge for me. Would love hardwood floors and new carpet, and… but will have to live with stained carpet thanks to dogs and kids for a bit longer. I hate being an adult. I really do.

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Chloe Jeffreys November 19, 2012 at 5:13 am

All of our debt is wrapped up in this house. Once it was clear that we’d be free and clear if we were free and clear of this house it was a no-brainer. But it is hard to be an adult.

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Amy November 18, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Oh man. I’ve still got my head in the sand. We got debt free and in control, then we moved in 2010. Couldn’t sell the old house. Now we are managing rentals. And finding new life in 20-year-old vows.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 19, 2012 at 5:14 am

We do NOT want to manage a rental, period. Being a landlord sounds like a nightmare to me. I don’t like to have to fix stuff on my own house.

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Karen November 18, 2012 at 5:37 pm

You are smart to face this head on. Hope things work out for you.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 19, 2012 at 5:14 am

I hope so, too. Our broker and our accountant seem to think this is the right answer.

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Sharon Greenthal (@sharongreenthal) November 18, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I am very attached to my house. Having lived in it for 21 years, we are ok with the value, the equity, and so on. Sometimes we talk about moving someplace else, but odds are we’ll live here until we die.
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Chloe Jeffreys November 19, 2012 at 5:17 am

If this was the house we wanted to die in it would be a totally different story. We’d focus on paying off the mortgage and letting the kids deal with it after we’re gone. But it isn’t. The property is too large and the house is too big. The driveway is very steep and gets very icy. We get lots and lots of snow and snow removal is a huge chore. If something happened to Jeff I couldn’t deal with all of the snow by myself.

The only question our broker asked us was, “Is this the house you want to grow old in?” When we said, “No” the answer was obvious. I am sure that our next house that we buy will be the house we’ll grow old in though. I really do hate moving.

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Jo Heroux November 18, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I agree…I mean I totally agree. Our little house is NOT a perfect place and little by little we have done some upgrades, many more should and might be done, one day. We have agreed as we are 62 and 74 that money has to be in the bank before anything is purchased. Credit is not our friend.

The house we live together in is our home. It isn’t a building, it’s our love that makes it perfect.

You are on the right track and I agree that your home should never ever ever own you. Walk away and start over, smaller, cheaper or whatever you think you need, but do get a fresh start with a healthier financial outcome in mind.

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Chloe Jeffreys November 19, 2012 at 5:19 am

I had no idea how suddenly thoughts about growing old and retirement would descend upon us. One day we were young and the next we’re worried about what will happen to us when we’re old. I think having a parent die affects you this way. We want a house that fits us and our lifestyle. Acres of manicured lawns and steep driveways that need plowing all winter just aren’t for us anymore.

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Stephanie November 30, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Yes, the death of my FIL, the return of my sister’s cancer, and our own health issues the last couple of years have changed our perspective. It absolutely feels like one day we were young…and the next we weren’t. We bought our house in 2001, thinking we’d be here forever, but it’s too big and too much work now – much less as we age. I couldn’t manage it without dh and he wouldn’t want to without me. I’m glad you’ve come to a decision re: your house. You sound relieved already.

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Kristi R November 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Simplifying can be so freeing. I hope you simplify by choice as that is much preferred. These past 5 years have been hard for so many people but not many have been as open as you about their struggles.

It helps to know that real people are walking these lines with us. We are not just talking points for pundits and you help give voice to our individuality.

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Chloe Jeffreys November 19, 2012 at 5:20 am

Our broker helped us understand all the factors involved here and helped us see that we are far from alone. Many people our age are finding themselves house poor now and having to make seriously hard decisions. If this was a house we could grow old in then our decision would be different. But it isn’t, so we need to look forward to where we need to be going next.

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Molly Campbell November 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Good grief.
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Helene Bludman November 18, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Oh Chloe, this is a big step, but it sounds like the right one for you and Jeff. Wishing you strength as you head down this new path.

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Anne (@notasupermom) November 18, 2012 at 4:43 pm

I still think “ovary up” can catch on.
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Maddie Kertay November 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Good for you!.. I can say that one of the best things we ever did for our marriage was to become debt free together.. it was hard but OH so worth it! Sometimes it means really hard choices.. houses, cars, vacations.. but coming out the other side.. PRICELESS.
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Pauline Gaines November 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I so relate! We have $200k in our house that we will probably never see again…then there was the custody battle, the pesky stock market crash, blahblahblah. As much as I love having a big house, I would sleep much more soundly in an apartment with a nice chunk of change in the bank. Life lessons.

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