Stop Losing Money in the Kitchen

Life isn’t Million Dollar Listing!

We live in a 24-7 HGTV world.  Magazines, websites, internet shopping, luxury lifestyle reality television… coupled with cheap, readily available credit…. have folks convinced that a super high luxury level is the minimum acceptable baseline.

Nowhere is this trend more out of control than in the kitchen.

It’s so nonsensical.  People are cooking less than ever before (what with going out to eat and prepared grocery meals), yet demand for high end appliances, marble countertops (“stainless and granite!” should be HGTV’s tagline) a farmhouse sink and a subway tile backsplash has never been higher.

Kitchens are now a status symbol.

But just like a 2008 Ford Focus will still get you from Point A to Point B, a 1990 kitchen will still churn out great food.

Here’s my kitchen.  White appliances, laminate countertop, linoleum floor.  Horrible layout.

Every time my mother walks into my kitchen, she talks about how someday I’ll update it.  Maybe, but probably not.

For one thing, I’m not convinced it would be a “dollars in/dollars out” situation.  The house has so many pluses – location, driveway, yard, space, charm – that I’m not convinced an updated kitchen would add to the value all that much.  We did the wrong thing in terms of real estate in that we bought the most expensive home on the block.  In our case, sinking money into a kitchen upgrades would literally be sinking money.

Second, we don’t plan to move any time soon.  Therefore even if the home did come up in value commensurate with a kitchen renovation… it doesn’t matter.  Bottom line, it would be dollars out of our pocket.

Third, it would be crazy to spend tens of thousands of dollars on home renovations while we still have a mortgage.  Financing a renovation is out of the question.  We believe that decreasing the equity in our home is a bad idea.  Therefore we pay for any home upgrades with cash.  It just doesn’t make sense to use our emergency cash fund for a non-essential, luxury upgrade.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us in an awesome house with a dated kitchen.  So what? The kitchen is clean.  I got a little rolling island to add to the counter space.  And importantly, the food I cook in our dated little kitchen tastes the exact same as if it was prepared on a granite or marble or corian countertop and cooked on a stainless steel 6 burner with red knobs.

There will always be a way – several ways – to spend lots more money in the kitchen.  There will always be nicer knives to buy, cooler pans, a more beautiful countertop, a fancier this or that.

  • Got a cool $4,894 burning a hole in your pocket?  You can now buy a fridge from Samsung with interior cameras and a digital display that connects with your smartphone.  You can see your food while avoiding the “hassle” of opening your fridge door.  That’s absurd.
  • Kitchen all tricked out with the latest?  Well now you need two!  Two ovens (and a warming drawer!).  Two dishwashers.  Two (or three) sinks.  Two islands, even- “kitchen with two islands” populates on google search!
  • Already have double everything?  What about restaurant-grade appliances? A deep fryer, an Italian espresso machine, a wine fridge, a pizza oven…
  • Have all that?  Well what about an outdoor kitchen?  Sure, you already have a grill, but a grill is just a small component of a tricked out outdoor kitchen.  Don’t worry, HGTV can help you if you need ideas.

The point is that a kitchen – like a car – will only be the latest and greatest for a moment.  The next moment, a new thing or trend will emerge that makes your perfect kitchen seem lacking.  I sat next to a kitchen designer on a plane in April and she told me she’s done a $250,000 kitchen renovation!

I’m not anti-kitchen updates.  I spend a ton of time in my kitchen, and theoretically, sure, I’d love it to be updated.  But kitchen updates need to make sense.  All updates should be done with cash.  Big updates should be undertaken by people without debt.

I’m constantly surprised by the friends and coworkers who classify financed kitchen upgrades as “needs.”  It’s difficult to stick with a budget when we’re constantly barraged by so many convincing voices telling us that we need beautiful things, and we deserve the best of the best.  It’s so hard to keep the Big Picture in mind!  But the Big Picture is: no house is perfect.  Don’t sacrifice a trajectory to financial independence by trying to spend your way to perfection in a house.  Decide what elements of a home are most important.  Size, location, kitchen?  Be prepared to make trade-offs.  Don’t go broke chasing perfection.  Find contentment.  And remember, food tastes just as good when it’s made on white appliances 🙂


How to Plan for Retirement

How much money do you want to live on each year in retirement, in today’s dollars?

This is such a basic step.  It’s so obvious.  But it’s crazy how many people don’t know the answer.  Even people who work with personal finance coaches and planners get tripped up when asked.  “I’ve got someone taking care of that for me,” a friend told me a few weeks ago.  Why aren’t you taking care of it yourself?  It’s not that hard.  I don’t get it, I really don’t.

Once you figure out the annual amount you want to live on, look at any pensions, and go to the social security website for projections.

If you think you and your spouse will live on $4,000 / month in retirement, and your spouse will get $1,800 / month from a pension, and you will get $1,500 a month from social security (I’m pulling these numbers out of thin air), then you need:

$4,000 (per month) – $1,800 (pension) – $1,500 (social security) = $700 / month from whatever other sources (Roth IRA/401(k)/rental income/investments/dividends, etc.)

$700/month x 12 months in the year = $8,400 per year

$8,400 / year.  Based on the 4% safe rate of withdrawal rule that personal finance bloggers tend to rely on (I won’t even attempt it — read this article to understand) you need 25x – 32x  (depending on how conservative you want to be) of your annual expenses to achieve the lifestyle you want in retirement.

So in this scenario, the couple would need $210,000 – $268,800 to achieve a $4,000/month spend rate in retirement.

If you wanted to live on $50,000 / year, and were not taking into account social security or pension, you would need $50,000 x 25 = $1,250,000 in investments to achieve that lifestyle.

It’s really not so terrifying once you break it down and set a goal.

2015 was the first year that I maxed out my pre-tax 401(K) account ($18,000), and it felt awesome.  Once we pay off the mortgage, my husband and I will also begin Roth IRAs ($5,500 each, post-tax contributions).  We’ll throw the rest of the money that had previously gone towards the mortgage into a Vanguard or Betterment index fund.

Turns out retirement isn’t so impossible after all.