I was in a trading class recently about market timing.
Worst class ever. But the instructor made a comment about millennials.
He said, “their idea of the American Dream isn’t what their parents or grandparents were sold.”
I realized that I have been on a journey of self-discovery lately that led me to the same conclusion.
Only not about millennials. I’d realized MY idea of the American Dream had changed.
It used to be about getting a great job, buying a beautiful home, having a couple of kids and retiring after many years to travel and spend time with the grandkids.
I have many friends who are all in on this model.
Everything about that model seemed like a trap to the entrepreneur in me – except the beautiful home.
I had this idea in my head that a great house was the thing to aspire to. So, in 2014, we sold our restored Victorian and bought a brand new modern home (twice the size) for $899,000.
After two and a half years it was worth $1.18 million thanks to Denver appreciation and this was where my self-discovery story actually starts.
I had a problem.
I was in debt.
A LOT of debt.
Six figures to the IRS plus about $60k in credit card debt.
Not a great place to be at 51 years old when I should be focused on pumping up the jam on my retirement account.
In fact, it was crushing.
And on January 4th of this year, my Mom died.
It was unexpected. She was in poor health and we had been battling about her refusal to move to an assisted living facility.
After she passed, I was settling her affairs and discovered that she had nothing.
She died at 76 years old with $117 in the bank and an empty Meals on Wheels container on the floor of her living room.
I got scared.
It felt like I got a glimpse into my future and I didn’t like what I saw at all.
My financial insecurity and the debt load I was carrying could very well put me in the exact same place as my Mother at the end of my life.
And I’m not going out like that.
My debt problem was my own fault.
A big mistake that I made when we bought the new house.
You see, when we sold the Victorian, the couple bought all of our furniture, too.
So we moved into a 4,000 square foot home with a bed, some patio furniture, and two dog beds.
I had set aside money for taxes – savings of about $200,000 – but I spent every penny to furnish the house and install an audio/video Smart home system.
The house was amazing.
But then my business started to decline as a result of boredom and bad advice.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that my American Dream had quickly turned into my American nightmare.
It wasn’t like we were poor. Or couldn’t pay our bills.
We were fine.
It’s just that the crushing debt load wasn’t going to go away anytime soon.
So, I sold the house.
And paid off 100% of our debt.
All of it gone.
Socked away a few hundred thousand in the bank and moved to a “dee-luxe apartment in the sky.”
Just like George and Weezy.
And in the afterglow of sitting on the 16th floor overlooking the Rocky Mountains and all of Denver, I realized that this life is the better deal.
THIS life is the American Dream.
Not being tied to a house and experiencing financial insecurity.
But renting a fabulous apartment with a concierge and a maintenance team.
I am literally responsible for nothing except the well-being of Hank and Harper.
It feels good.
A few weeks ago, I ran some numbers to see what my real return was on the sale of the house.
At first glance, the math is simple. I bought it for $899k, put down 20%, and sold it for $1.18 million.
That works out to a cash on cash return of 56%.
But when I ran the numbers to factor in all the money I had invested in the house after purchase, my total return worked out to just 2%.
I would have been better off putting the money in an index fund and calling it a day.
So, yes the American Dream is changing.
And not just for millennials.
For me, too.
I don’t need a house.
I need financial freedom.
And, to me, that comes from having zero debt, a credit score in the 800’s, and great returns on investments in my retirement account.
I know some will say, “But Susan, what about the mortgage interest deduction or the tax advantages?”
Like most everything, it’s a trade off.
But for now, especially every afternoon as I sun a bit next to the fabulous 7th-floor infinity pool, I feel like I’ve made the right choice.
THIS is an American Dream I can get used to.