Ask Money

A Bigger Mortgage?

Chris Farrell Jul 1, 2008

Question: Hi Chris! (please withhold my name if you use – thanks!)… I am 36 years old and about to marry for the first time (my fiancé is also 36). He owns a teeny home which he purchased 4 years ago (a duplex) that he will sell and we would use the equity to purchase a larger home since we feel we’ll soon outgrow his place if we have a child, and it’s actually quite tiny for even the two of us. I am strugging with whether or not we should buy. The mortgage payment (with taxes, etc) on the house that we are interested in purchasing would be about 30% of our combined gross incomes. I have heard that 25-30% is what you shoot for. Everyone tells us to “stretch” and buy more house that we think we can afford, assuming that our income will increase over time. Here’s the catch — I am self-employed, and so if I have a child and stay home for even just 6-8 weeks, I will lose money as I don’t have any “paid time off.” Plus, being self-employed, my salary can potentially vary (though it hasn ‘t over the last 2 years that I have been doing this full-time). Is it a mistake to take this on when we know that my income will decrease? My fiancé will probably get annual raises of 5-6%…. Thanks so much! Alexandria, V.

Answer: Don’t do it. DON’T DO IT. Among the worst pieces of conventional financial wisdom is to “stretch” to buy a bigger home. It’s a recipe for money trouble.

You have a lot going on in your life. Getting married. Starting a family. You’re self-employed. What if your husband-to-be doesn’t get 5% to 6% raises, but only 2% to 3% during a recession–or even no raise? Why add mortgage stress into the mix?

What’s more, when you buy a bigger house you take on more than a larger mortgage. Property taxes, heating bills, air conditioning, and all the other costs that go into running and maintaining a home are higher. I’d rather that you put more money into savings–from cash to stocks and bonds–rather than into bigger mortgage payments.

No, I would stay financially conservative so that you can focus on married life and your work. If your incomes go up, you and your husband can always move to a bigger home. But by then you’ll have built up the strong foundation of a healthy balance sheet.

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