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“I Can’t Afford A House” Syndrome

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Grocery Shopping on a BikeOn a drive up to a local restaurant last week to celebrate our friend’s final Master’s class, my wife and I were listening to this segment of Marketplace on commuter bikes. The segment talked about how more people are biking to work and how expensive these commuter bikes were. They range anywhere from a couple hundred to five figures! It’s an astonishing price to pay for a bicycle but here’s the truly astonishing part about it – many pay without any reason to.

First, Marketplace talked to Richard Fries of Bikes Belong, a bicycling advocacy group, and he said that you just need a simple bike to get you from A to B. All you need “is the bike that Curious George had. You know what I mean? Fenders, chain guard, a little rack to strap your books onto. Does wheelies. Gets around town.”

Then they talked to Susan Brady, just a regular Jane consumer who bikes every day to work:

Brady: I mean, the cool thing about bikes is you can spend a little or spend a lot, and they’re all gonna pretty much do the same thing.

Cole (Marketplace reporter): That’s what I’m wondering, why you would spend a lot.

Brady: Cause I thought I’m never gonna be able to buy a house, so I might as well buy a nice bike.

Woah. Now, it’s one thing to justify the price with good reasons and another to justify it like that. For example, high end mountain bikes are expensive because they are made of carbon fiber (to be lighter), have high end shock absorbers (to handle the rugged terrain), and other similar characteristics that improve performance and durability. While you do pay a premium, it’s likely that most seasoned mountain bikers recognize what they are getting for their money. This is the very reason why I advocated Acting Your Age Financially and how you shouldn’t hit the premium aisle before checking out the discount bin.

While the Marketplace segment might have had some editing involved, the fact that Brady’s best response was that “she can’t afford a house” is astonishing. That reasoning isn’t uncommon though. I had a friend once email out to a bunch of our friends lamenting the fact that home prices are so high in our area. There’s no way he could afford a home here. That’s when someone pointed out that the reason he can’t afford a home is because he has a boat and a new truck to tow the boat.

We all make decisions and trade offs, don’t say you can’t afford a house and then go out and buy a ridiculously expensive bicycle. You sound foolish and it’s insulting, especially to all the hard working Americans scraping by and saving all of their money so they can afford a place of their own.

(Photo: kamshots)

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3 Responses to ““I Can’t Afford A House” Syndrome”

  1. Glenn Lasher says:

    This is good advice. You can get around town on a $100 bicycle quite handily. For that matter, if you must drive, you can get around in a $4000 car. I do both of these things.

    For the seasoned mountain biker or road racer, yes, then the extra money on a premium-quality bicycle makes sense, because your bicycle is your passion. If you are just getting around town on it, though, it is like buying a Mazzerati to drive back and forth a few miles each day.

  2. Big Winner says:

    I used to think I could never buy a house. Then I realized that a large group of people – many with incomes lower than mine – had bought houses and were successfully paying their mortgages.

  3. Kathy says:

    When I bought mine in 1977, it cost me $22,500.

    Realtors advised me that I would NEVER find ANY house that was under $30,000. What I learned was, don’t be discouraged by “expert” advice or conventional wisdom. If you truly want something, start looking for it.

    My house is not big, but it has everything I need. It’s brick, has a garage, one big bedroom and two smaller ones, and it’s on a good sized lot, 80′ x 120′. The neighborhood wasn’t so good at first, but it improved over the years.

    It’s true that prices today are a lot higher, but a home is an important purchase in more ways than one. What I learned as a young lady was that as a renter I had very few rights. The OWNER basically had ALL the rights, and the power to tap into my pocket forever. The struggle to reverse the balance of power was worth it.


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