Introducing Henry to our lot. Now we have to break the news to him that he won’t actually grow up here.
I’ve never been particularly good at making decisions. I changed my major four times. I wait until the absolute last day to make healthcare plan elections. And before I learned about index fund investing, my money would sit in cash for a long, long time while I would drive myself crazy trying to figure out what to invest in.
But as Jordan and I embarked on a process for the past year to completely change course with how we were living, I realized that my inability to make decisions quickly would be our downfall. Jordan is a little more decisive than I am, but it’s hard to make decisions as a team when one person (me) is dragging their feet.
So I had a new goal: figure out how to make the right decisions, quickly.
In the past twelve months, we’ve made a lot of decisions. We’ve decided that:
- Jordan would leave his job and we’d live off my income
- We’d pick up and move 7,000 miles from the UK to Hawaii
- We’d sell pretty much everything in our home
Surprisingly, those decisions weren’t actually all that difficult to make. They took time and research, but ultimately once we knew who we wanted to become and the life we wanted to live, these decisions were pretty easy to make.
But there was one decision that we kept avoiding. It was the weird elephant in the room that we always talked around.
Two and a half years ago we bought a piece of land. Jordan dreamed of building a net-zero home with a green roof. I imagined how we’d decorate it. We spent a lot of time walking around taking pictures of houses for inspiration. We were absolutely, positively going to build a house there.
But as we started making the other decisions, cracks started to form in that plan. We had a mortgage on the land that was fine in our current life situation but would become kind of difficult to manage on my income. And we were no longer 100% sure that we’d want to live in the Bay Area someday. We’re going to Hawaii and while we don’t expect to live there forever, we also don’t know that the Bay area is right.
Even with all of these issues, we never talked about selling the piece of land. I didn’t bring it up because I thought Jordan would never be open to the idea. I also worried that if I started the conversation it would take all of our other decisions and plans off track while we vacillated between options. And if we ever do want to live in the Bay Area, the city this piece of land is in is 99% developed so we may never have another chance to snag a piece of land. And this piece of land is absolutely perfect.
Know, Think, Do
One afternoon a couple of months ago I was walking in the park listening to a podcast. On the show, there was a couple talking about the weight of their mortgage debt. A financial planner gave them the tough-love advice, “sometimes you just have to sell the home to put yourself in a better situation.”
That was the first time I realized that we needed to address this expensive decision. So naturally, I went home and googled “how to make decisions quickly.” I came across an HBR article that goes through the Know-Think-Do process. The idea is that to make good decisions you have to know your objective, think about a broad range of options, and then pick one and do it.
I sat down with a piece of paper and wrote at the top our objective. We want to live a life where we have more freedom with our time to spend with family, Jordan wants to pursue a business in the green space, and we want to live a very active, outdoor lifestyle.
Next, I laid out our current situation: our monthly mortgage payment and how many years it would take to pay off.
After that, I listed out every option I could think of. Those options included:
- Continue living and working in the U.K. for three more years to finish paying it off
- Liquidating our savings to pay most of it off
- Refinance to a lower interest rate
- Sell our rental home and pay off the mortgage
- Jordan take a part-time job in Hawaii to make the mortgage payments
- Sell the lot
I sent Jordan the podcast and asked him to listen to it on his commute home. Later that night, once Henry was in bed, we sat down with my list of options. I walked him through what I had come up with and asked him to add his own ideas.
After a day of deliberating, we both knew the answer: it was time to sell that perfect piece of land we dreamed about building a home on. It wasn’t the easiest decision, but given our goals and how we want to live our lives, it’s the best decision.
This was one of the biggest financial decisions we’ve had to make, and to be honest it still makes me a little sad to think about. But I know there will be another perfect piece of land someday if we want that option. It went up on the MLS yesterday. We’re hopeful it will sell, we’re sad to see it go, but ultimately we’re so excited about how this decision will give us more freedom to go live the life that we really want.
Know, think, and do was one thing that helped us make some big decisions in the past year. But we’ve also made some big decisions using other strategies. We cover those decisions and strategies on our podcast.
Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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