The One Rule That Prevented Me From Taking on More Debt

Because planning a wedding wasn’t enough, in the middle of last year, we started talking about renovating our kitchen.

Not actually renovating, to be clear, but discussing it. It’s our next big house priority after the roof, since our cabinets have seen better days, and we want to add more storage space.

So in the lead up to the wedding, we started shopping around and comparing prices. It turns out, you can do a $7,000 kitchen… all the way up to a $70,000 kitchen. We had a decision to make: how much do we want to spend on the kitchen, and how are we going to pay for it?

And as we bounced ideas and talked through the purchase, one thing became crystal clear.

If you aren’t willing to save for it now, you won’t be happy paying it off later.

See, I am not actually made of stone, and emotions and wants colour my money decisions sometimes—I’m only a small bit ashamed to admit that “maybe we could put it on the line of credit” was uttered at least a few times in the price-shopping process.

When we borrowed for our car, that’s the approach we took. We moved up the purchase date, and instead of continuing to save the amount we were already saving, we moved that to a loan payment, and took the hit of paying interest because we needed the car.

But the key was that we were already saving the money. And not even that we were already doing it, but that we were already willing to do it.

First, we looked at the actual numbers.

After comparing kitchen prices in different places, for different elements (it’s basically a logic puzzle of shopping, and everything is expensive) we figured we could do our dream kitchen for about $20,000, or our perfectly-fine kitchen for about $10,000.

As with any short-term savings goal, we took our timeline into consideration too. Ideally, we’d love to redo the kitchen in the spring, which gives us somewhere between six and nine months to save up the money.

If we go with the $10,000 kitchen, we have most of the money already, and don’t need to save aggressively. If we want the $20,000 kitchen, we’d need to find the extra $10,000 somewhere, which works out to saving between $1111 and $1666 a month between now and then.

That’s a heck of a lot of money no matter how you slice it, which is where “maybe we could put it on the line of credit” came into the discussion.

We’re a little extreme-savings-ed out right now.

Do we want a dream kitchen? Sure, in the way that of course we want the shiny fancy thing—I think that’s pretty normal. But we just spent the past few years saving aggressively for a house, then a wedding. What we want even more than a dream kitchen is a bit of a break from being super-strict with savings goals.

That’s why the line of credit came up as an option, but critically, it’s also exactly why we shouldn’t use it.

We’re not willing to save up the money to do the kitchen on our timeline, which means that we’re choosing to buy the kitchen we can afford on our timeline instead. It’s tempting to defer that savings (and pay for that luxury) by putting our current wants on a line of credit, but if we aren’t willing to save up now, there’s no way we’re going to be happy when we’re forced to do that savings plus interest later to pay off the loan.

So yes, we will be Ikea kitchen people when we eventually renovate. And while it’s not going to be the perfect kitchen, it means I can afford to get one of those dishwashers that looks like it’s a cabinet, which is such a rich person thing that I am never going to get over it as long as I live. (It’s literally the same price as most dishwashers, I am just unreasonably stoked for it.)

And in the meantime, we’ve rebalanced our savings goals to save for the kitchen, but also work in some other savings priorities as well, including a bit more wiggle room in our budget for the fall. We’d much rather have a perfectly-fine kitchen, plus be able to travel to see family, stay mostly debt-free, and buy new cell phones next year, you know?

These are my confessions. (Cue Usher song.)

Honestly, this was a hard post for me to write, because this is basically admitting I’m the worst personal finance blogger of all time. Considering putting home renos on a line of credit is pretty much a cardinal sin, because in this case, it’s very much a want. This is not some roof disaster we didn’t expect.

But I also think that the temptation, and the thought process we went through, is really normalized. I wanted to share this because as responsible as we can all be most of the time, we still live in a world where people do make these calls, and finance wants, all the time. I spend a lot of my time reading about and thinking about personal finance, and this is still something I considered!

Sharing the process, and how we ultimately did decide not to put a cosmetic home reno on a line of credit, seems much more helpful than just writing a post scolding people that borrowing for wants is always bad.

Deciding to live within your means, and save up for what you want—even if it means scaling back on what that want is—isn’t always easy, and it’s an ongoing process. Cheers to everyone doing the work to make those calls every day.