When Staying In Becomes More Expensive Than Going Out


A neighbor recently announced that she was getting serious about getting out of debt and saving for her family’s future. “Good for you,” I said and meant it, right up until she started detailing her plan for becoming more frugal.

“We need to start staying home more,” she said. “We waste too much money eating out, going to the movies and bars.”

“It’s an easy trap to fall into, but also an easy one to correct,” I said.

“Yes, but part of why we go out so much is because we don’t like being home. We don’t like our house and there’s nothing to do here.”

At this point I offered up some ideas for free/inexpensive entertainment that would get her out of the house but still enable her to save money.

“But I’ve already got a plan,” she said excitedly.

“What’s the plan, then?” I asked.

“We’re going to fix up the house and make it so we want to stay home more.”

She proceeded to lay out “the plan,” which included: ripping up the carpet and putting in new hardwood flooring, repainting almost every room in the house, purchasing a new home theater system (to make watching movies at home more exciting), upgrading the kitchen appliances and replacing the dining room group (to make cooking and eating at home more acceptable), redoing the three kid’s rooms to make them more fun to play in, putting in a bar so they could have friends over for drinks, and replacing all the lighting to make it more “atmospheric.” And all of this is to be completed by the end of the summer.

The amount of money she is proposing to lay out is substantial and will put her deeper in the hole. Even if, after all this work was completed, she and her family do opt to stay home more often, they will have to stay home practically forever to even begin to make this kind of money back, in addition to paying off their existing debt. And I have a feeling that, once the renovations are complete, this family will still be eating out and going to the movies. I don’t think they’re ready to face their financial problems. If they were serious about getting out of debt, they wouldn’t be thinking about spending this kind of money.

Hoping to salvage something from this plan, I asked, “Well, you’re probably doing most of the work yourself, right?” I was thinking that at least if they did the flooring, painting and installation themselves, it would shave something off the cost.

“Oh, no,” she said. “We’ve already hired some contractors.”

All I could do was plaster a smile on my face and wish her luck.

Now, I’m a big fan of home improvements and certainly recommend creating the home environment that makes you comfortable. However, I am also a big fan of being reasonable about it. And I don’t think this woman is being reasonable.

First of all, it’s not a good idea to launch major home improvements when you’re already in debt, as improvements are likely to add to your debt. No home improvement project ever ends up costing what you expect; they all go over. It’s almost a law. Second, I’m not a big fan of doing tons of improvements all at once, unless you have a lot of disposable income to cover it. I find it better to space things out. Do one project, let the finances recover a bit, and then move on to the next. Third, I’m a big believer in doing as much of the work as you can yourself to cut down the cost. Again, if you have the income to cover it and no debt, then maybe you want to splurge on some help but otherwise, get to work. This woman is doing none of these things.

Unfortunately, this woman is not the first I’ve encountered who believes that the answer to the money-draining problems of eating out, going to the movies, and going to bars is to be found in making their home into a showplace and entertainment center. There is some truth in the idea that having a wonderful home will make you more inclined to stay there. I don’t have any problem staying home because I have plenty to do and I genuinely love my home. However, I have worked at it over many years to accomplish this (and it’s still not a showplace because I don’t find that comfortable). During that time, I still didn’t go out to eat much or to the movies. I simply learned to make do and be happy with what I had while I saved up the money to improve it some more.

That’s what people like my neighbor are missing: the willingness to make do with that they have until they can afford to improve it. There is a belief that, if you’re going to “sacrifice” by staying home more, then you deserve to have it be as comfortable and posh as possible. Which, of course, negates the whole notion of “sacrifice.” And spending tons of money on improving the home negates the concept of “saving.” So you end up with a showplace home, but no further along the path to financial security than you were before. In fact, you’re probably further behind.

In addition, once the renovations are complete, you’re likely to find that your new showplace home is more expensive and labor intensive to maintain than it was before. That new home theater system eats electricity and demands new DVD’s and cable subscriptions to get the full use out of it. That new furniture is nice, but if you’re afraid of getting it dirty and messing it up, what was the point? Those commercial grade appliances may make it more fun to cook, but what are they doing to your electric bill? The kid’s new rooms are fun to play in, but how much better if they each had their own PlayStation and DVD players? And on it goes.

If it is going to be more expensive to stay in than to go out, continue going out and find some other places to save money. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re “saving” money by making your home into an entertainment center. Yes, staying home is less expensive than going out, but only if you don’t go into more debt to do so.

For most people their home isn’t the reason they won’t stay home. They have good, serviceable appliances that can make a great meal. They have a TV and a DVD player for watching movies. There are plenty of books and magazines lying around. They probably even own some board games, puzzles, or video games for more entertainment. The problem is that they simply don’t want to stay home.

They haven’t realized the value of staying home. They haven’t reached the point in their financial life where they understand that the “sacrifice” of staying home more often gives them other choices of what to do with their money. They see their friends going out and want to be with them. They want to keep up with the latest movies, restaurants, clubs, and bars. When these people do turn their attention to staying home, they mistakenly try to replace the experience of going out with a house that has all the things they liked about going out, at great cost to them.

For most people, the ideal home is not the one they see in a magazine or model home. It’s the one that’s comfortable and welcoming, filled with things that mean something to you and that you’re not afraid to use. It’s made up of things you’ve accumulated over a lifetime of experiences, rather than those that you picked only because they matched the decor. The home that one wants to stay in is neither a perfect showplace nor a shabby dump. It’s somewhere in between.

My advice, if you’re planning to stay in more often, is not to try to recreate the experience of going out in your home. Instead, look at what you have and discover the greatness of it. You probably have games or books lying around that you’ve forgotten about for entertainment. You probably have cooking tools you’ve never used that might give you new meal ideas. You might have a yard that’s great for playing football or catching fireflies. You might have an unused space that can become a play area or video room. Maybe you have a picnic table and grill that have gone unused for years and would make for some fun barbecues. Really look at what you have before you write it off as hopeless and miserable.

Maybe you’ll find that you do need to improve a few things around your home, but they can be fixed over time while you enjoy everything else that you have. Chances are you have more than you think and staying home won’t be a hardship at all, if you give it a chance.

Image courtesy of kurafire

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11 Responses to When Staying In Becomes More Expensive Than Going Out

  1. Lisa says:

    Rationalization, delusional, take your pick. She’ll always find a way to spend money and justify it! My only complaint is when people go bankrupt doing those things and we the conservative pay for them.

  2. sillyoleme says:

    Wow. I completely agree with you. Now that me & my BF are more focused than ever on our finances (paying off debt, saving for a wedding), we realize that we have to seriously cut outside entertainment.

    Even as 22-year-olds, we realize that you can’t fix one problem by piling on another. Our budget is tight, but we’ve still managed to save up for a couch (we have NO couch right now), and purchase the odds and ends that we need to make our apartment our HOME along the way. If we can survive by watching free TV or DVD’s while sitting in our DINING ROOM chairs in the living room, then other people can to.

    Just takes a little sacrifice I guess.

  3. Miranda says:

    I agree that your friend is definitely ready to face her financial problems. The key is to look at things realistically. And she is not.

    The other problem is that so many people think that “something else” will make them happy. Your friend thinks that “something else” at home will make everything all better. Unfortunately, you have to learn to be content with what you have, and look for realistic and simple goals (like saving up for a couch) that really will offer an increase in quality of life.

    If you’re always looking for “something else”, you’ll never actually find it. And it will cost you a lot of money along the way.

  4. Miranda says:

    Ooops. In the comment above I meant “definitely NOT ready”…

  5. I agree whole-heartedly with Lisa.

    Ironically, My husband and I are actually in the middle of some home renovation work that’s been put on hold because of various unforeseen expenses (e.g. we didn’t expect to need a new roof). In our case, the renovations did help some with our finances in the short term. Since we’ve closed off the uninsulated den, we’re saving a bunch on cooling and heating — though not enough to pay for that new roof and the other renovations.

    Anyhow, we have become more comfortable staying home, but that was only remotely connected to the renovations. The renovations forced us to live in a smaller space, which made us reconsider the stuff we had bought and sparked a huge wave of decluttering. As the yard sale pile grows, I feel less inclined to add more stuff to the household. When I do buy stuff, I make sure that it is something that I really, really like. As a result, I feel more at home with fewer things overall but more things that I really love.

    So, it’s mostly by getting rid of stuff that my husband and I have become more comfortable at home — not by bringing in new toys.

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  8. Cindy M says:

    The challenge ought to be: How can I make changes/enrich my life and surroundings by spending next to nothing. You can pick up used furniture and household items for next to
    nothing with a little imagination, planning ahead and some physical help to move the stuff (why bother to “save for a couch” as above??). Throw a nice sheet/throw on a used couch, voila. You can watch and listen to plenty of free movies and music (library). You can become a great cook at home, doesn’t have to cost much of anything to feed folks, again, plan ahead for your get-togethers, make lists ahead of time, reserve stuff. I look back and wish I’d done that all along; I think of all the money I’ve blown in my younger years thinking such things had to be brand new. To impress who, I wonder?

  9. Gail says:

    Your friends sound like they are related to my ex-husband.Never do anything for free that he could spend money on instead!

    We stay home a lot. My hubby is self-employed with his workshop connected to the house. He is also a bit of a hermit. If he didn’t leave the house for a month solid it wouldn’t bother him. I’m disabled and in between caring for my health needs rarely feel well enough or have enough time to go out other than for errands that I try to do all at once to save on gas. We are down to filling our tank every 1-1 1/2 months! We have a lot of hobbies, like to read, sew and yard sales in the summer and library sales provide us with lots of cheap DVD and videos and our youngest son keep tracks of newer movies that we would be interested in and buys them for us for presents. We have no cable or antenna, so our TV watching is just our video collection. when we needed a couch, my hubby made one.

    Becoming frugal by spending money one doesn’t have will never work. This lady will be in tears by the end of the project as she is forced out of her home when she can’t meet her bills any longer.

  10. Even without the home remodeling, staying in can be more expensive than going out. I like to cook for friends, so once a month my wife and I try to stage a dinner party for six to eight. The groceries for a five course meal will run about $80 to $100. Crack open three or four bottles of wine, and you’re adding another $100 or more (no point in serving cheap wine you are serving beef tenderloin with bearnaise sauce).

    The irony of course, is that we could go to a steakhouse and the symphony for about half the total cost described above.

  11. Mark Jansen says:

    It’s the new notion that Leisure=Entertainment=Being entertained. Play some board games with your friends and/or kids, read some books (REAL books, not a new Kindle) and just talk and enjoy each others company. Soon it becomes apparent that having fun does not always mean spending $$$ (and vice-versa). Previous generations were not dying of boredom because the DVR & flat-screen hadn’t been invented. They weren’t piled in debt either.
    The same thing has happened to sport and fitness, and to many hobbies too. Limit your leisure budget and get creative! You may find that there myriad of things that cost little or no $$ are proportionately MORE fun, especially when you don’t have the stress of what it costs. Leisure and fun does not equal spending and I bet I could list a cheaper and better alternative to any rat-hole “entertainment”. Boring, shallow, and superficial people need to be entertained- make yourself more interesting and you won’t have to look outside yourself for what you are lacking inside.

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