‘Is Renting a Waste of Money?’ Burning Money Questions With Bernadette Joy

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Hello! This is Burning Questions, an advice column where I answer your questions related to investing, getting out of debt, building wealth, and FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early)! I am not a licensed financial advisor; I provide education. The information here is based on my opinions, my personal experience, and the work I’ve successfully done with clients. In these columns, I’ll give you practical steps to conquer your top challenges in money, plus insight on how real people are achieving financial independence from a variety of circumstances.

In this second installation, I answer questions from two Gen X women who are ready to be FIRE—but have a few things (or people) standing between them and their financial independence goals.

Am I crazy to quit my steady job, buy a home in Nashville, and become a 53-year-old comedian?

Hey Bernadette! I’m excited to say that I’m ready to pursue my dream job as a full-time comedian.

I’m 53 years old and I started my comedy career at 45. I have worked in corporate for 37 years, since I was 16 years old! 31 of those years have been in PR. I’ve been at my current job for 11 years.

Taking the leap is scary, but I know I can do it!

I am hoping to move to Nashville from Charlotte because the comedy scene here is much smaller. I know moving to Nashville would give me more opportunities. I would love your advice on whether I should buy a home when I get there. I rent right now and I don’t want to keep wasting more money on rent (or at least that’s what everyone is telling me).

– Signed, Funny, But I Need More Money

What an inspiration and reminder that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams!

If dreams were free, we’d all be doing what we love. But pursuing a dream, like becoming a full-time stand up comedian, is going to cost you something: your old money beliefs. 

Take that leap to Nashville, but rent there first! No, it’s not a waste of money to:

  • have a roof over your head
  • a safe place to store your belongings, and
  • the opportunity to be part of a new community

Here are three other tips to help make the move easier:

1. Get your income stable before you buy. I suspect that your income as a full-time comedian will fluctuate. Renting will help you upgrade or downsize if your income changes in the next year.

2. Assess if you’re financially ready to buy a home that won’t become a financial burden down the road. I wrote a column about this called If You Can’t Afford a 20% Down Payment, You Can’t Afford to Buy A Home (Yet).

3. Take the first year to explore neighborhoods that are going to be conducive to you getting more gigs. I love Nashville, but like many other cities, living there is different than visiting. 

As someone who’s pursuing a stage life as a speaker, I recently sold my home and went back to renting. It shocked many of my friends and family, especially because my home was already paid off!

But I’m so happy with this decision! It helped me to downsize so that I have very little maintenance to do at home. No more lawn to mow. No more DIY projects and weekends at Home Depot.

Now, I travel to gigs with much more peace of mind not having to think of what’s waiting for me at home. And I’m not home that much anyway, because I’m out there growing my business, just like you are!

I suspect that where you truly feel at home is on the stage, making people laugh and feel good. Let’s focus on owning the stage, then owning a piece of land. Rooting for you!

I’m freaking ready to be FIRE, but my husband of 25 years is not helping me get there. Now what?

My husband and I have historically not managed our money well over our 25-year marriage. In the last 2 years, I have spent a lot of time educating myself on our financial position.

I have paid off all our debt, and am now focused on building generational wealth.

My husband is in his early 60s and I am in my early 50s. He is retired. He is receiving only a small monthly disability payment as my income has continued to grow. We don’t have the same mindset when it comes to building wealth.

What advice do you have for couples that are in completely different stages of life from an earnings perspective?

Any tips for when your spouse does not want to participate in the financial decisions, and is not on board with maintaining a budgeting process?”

– Signed, Wife on FIRE (husband not as much)

My husband AJ and I have been married for 11 years. We’ve had tons of money fights and periods where there were drastic differences in our incomes as you described. Like you, I was the one who was initially leading the charge to pay off all our debt and build my wealth mindset and habits. Here’s how I got him on board.

First, I cried. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true.

Not on purpose, but there came a point where I was trying to do more than I could alone. I couldn’t keep the Beyonce persona of an independent woman any longer. I hit my breaking point. I broke down in tears and asked for help.

I hope it doesn’t take tears for your husband to see your needs. Find a good time to sit down for a serious conversation.

Explain how it makes you feel when he doesn’t help in the financial decision making process. Let him know the emotional stress it’s causing you by feeling like you have to manage this alone.

Second, share the FIRE narrative that will appeal to both his head and his heart.

The head part is showing him the numbers, because numbers don’t lie. This is where calculating your FIRE number comes in handy. You mentioned he’s retired. But he’s not in actuality, because it sounds like he needs your income to not have to work.

Like your husband, the majority of people have no idea how much they need to reach retirement. 

Most people living in the U.S. will need at least $1M to retire. Once you calculate it, that number will either send you into action or into a spiral of despair.

You chose action because you paid off all the debt. And you’ve spent the last two years educating yourself and building a wealth mindset! You know better than anyone what you could connect that number to that would excite him.

For AJ, I figured out that our number was $1.2M, and we were FAR off when we realized that. I painted the picture of how that number represented the things he cared about. He could stop mowing the lawn (which he despised). We could visit his favorite nephew more than once a year. We could go to more K-pop concerts (he’s actually as much into K-pop as I am)!

For your husband, it may be taking more family vacations. Maybe it’s going to his favorite sporting events. Or it’s as simple as knowing his wife can work less and spend more time with him! Ask him what would make this matter to him.

And my last tactic was to keep walking the walk while talking the talk. I meet a lot of women who feel like they have to wait for their spouses to be “on the same page” before they can take action.

We don’t need our husbands’ permission to take action towards financial independence for ourselves.

My husband watched me invest six figures and double my business revenue. He saw with his own two eyeballs that I was going to keep going, whether he was on board or not.

Actions speak louder than words. If he’s not ready to listen to the words, keep DOING what you’re doing for your financial independence. He can decide if he wants to fall behind, or walk alongside you.