Owning a home has become aspirational in our culture. The “American Dream” includes a house with a picket fence for a reason. But for a lot of people, it’s an unattainable goal. Many people look at owning a home as an investment in wealth for the future. While that’s true, you need to have a certain amount of wealth to begin with. And that’s the thing that many people don’t think about. On the Netflix show “Marriage or Mortgage,” couples are faced with a decision many of are: if you can only afford one, which would you choose? For me and my partner, the answer is easy. Marriage. Because we don’t have the kind of sustained wealth it takes to invest in home ownership.
I would much rather spend my money on a wedding than a house. To some people that seems stupid and irresponsible, but here’s the thing. Home ownership is a far longer commitment than paying for a wedding. If you’re buying a home, you need to be able to maintain that choice for years. Having a wedding is a one-day financial commitment. It’s a big one, that’s absolutely true. But once it’s paid off, that’s it. You’re no longer financially beholden to it. And that has far more appeal to me than being tethered to a house forever. Renting is annoying and oftentimes inconvenient, but it’s never not going to be an option. Marriage, and the celebration of that, isn’t something that should be dismissed over the more “adult” choice of homeownership.
My partner and I got engaged over the holidays of 2020. Of course, people are asking us what our wedding plans are already. So far, we’ve stated that we’re saving up for a wedding in a few years. We do have some other financial priorities first. But having a wedding that we can share with our friends and family is incredibly important to us. Watching “Marriage or Mortgage,” we related most to Karla and Cynthia, the older lesbians. Much like Karla, my partner’s been married before, and I haven’t. For us, having a wedding is wish fulfillment, but as people who work in creative fields, it feels like a more realistic financial choice. Because if we need to, we can always scale back to save money. Housing is always expensive, and it feels like we’ll always be chasing a goal that keeps moving.
Right now, we’re both carrying a good amount of student loan debt. I haven’t made enough money to make a dent in repayment. And my partner has been paying hers off when she can, but it’s still high. I’ve paid off my small credit card debt, but now we’re paying hers off. It’s only about $11,000, but it still affects her credit score. So even if mine is pretty good, hers is going to bring us down. It’ll be hard enough to get an apartment, let alone a mortgage. And our situation isn’t unique by any stretch of the imagination.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught people anything, it’s the impermanence of financial security. I’m a writer, so I’ve been able to work throughout this. But my partner, who works in the entertainment industry, has been out of work. So I’ve been carrying the financial weight alone. COVID has taken many people’s jobs, making paying bills nearly impossible. You can buy a house, and then lose your job. So now what? Even if you’re able to somehow make your mortgage payments, you don’t have any sort of cushion. We’re a year into this thing, and some people are finally getting their jobs back. But we’ve also seen that the pandemic was going to kick off one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. So how is that going to affect homeowners in the long term? That’s one thing “Marriage or Mortgage” doesn’t address.
Yes, these couples were able to save the money to get a house. But do they have the finances to maintain those payments? Do they have a nest egg if something goes wrong with the house? It’s fun to watch people debating over the size of a shower or the amount of garage space. But if they’re going to talk about home ownership, then they need to get real about how hard that can be. One couple on the show both work in the fitness industry. What happens if one of them gets injured and can’t work for a long time? Their parents were helping with the down payment, but chances are they’re not going to pay their mortgage every month.
Home ownership has a lot of costs people may not take into consideration when purchasing a home. But it’s stuff my partner and I have considered when it comes to owning a home vs. renting an apartment. If something breaks or goes wrong in your house, you’re financially responsible for fixing it. So if the hot water heater busts, you not only have to contact a repairman to get it fixed, you have to pay all related costs. But if something gets busted in my apartment, all I have to do is put in a maintenance request and they come fix it. With no additional cost to me. So if we don’t have an extra grand to spend on hot water, we’re not going to be freezing in our showers. Incidental costs like that, or other housing disasters, aren’t something people may think of when thinking about housing costs.
A lot of critics of “Marriage or Mortgage” talk about how the choice between a home and a wedding now that we’re a year into a global pandemic seems ridiculous. And that may be true. But the show was filmed pre-COVID, so there was no way the couples could have anticipated a global health crisis and chosen to buy a house. Some argue that buying a house in a pandemic is smart because housing costs are low, but again, it goes back to economic uncertainty. What if something happened and they faced financial crises? Most of the weddings happened after COVID hit, and they had to scale their weddings back. So while having a wedding mid pandemic may seem frivolous, they ended up saving money.
In a “where are they now” article, Women’s Health talked to each of the couples about what their life has been like since the show. Two of the couples who chose to have weddings, Alex and Whitney, the lesbian nurses, and Emily and Braxton, the young personal trainers, had COVID related work changes. Alex and Whitney both worked as ER nurses, and the early days of the pandemic burned them out. They both quit their jobs, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and decided to go back to school to become nurse practitioners. If they had chosen to buy a house, they wouldn’t have been able to make that choice, or even be home to enjoy it. And with gyms being closed, Emily and Braxton are seeing a loss in income. Personal trainers aren’t necessarily something people need in a global pandemic.
My partner and I are well aware that for what we pay in rent, we may be able to to pay a mortgage. But there are obstacles that make that reality unattainable. You don’t need a loan to get the money for a wedding venue. My ability to buy a wedding dress isn’t dependent on my credit score. Weddings are expensive, I’m not arguing against that. I can also understand why people think it’s a lot of money for one day. But if we’re not making as much money for a period of time, we’re still married. We don’t have to worry about losing our home. And that’s the thing that is the most reassuring.
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