As people become absorbed by the notion of conspicuous consumption, they go to great lengths—or to great debts—to keeping up appearances: having a glamorous home, backyard pool, car or country club membership.
Back in 1913, the late illustrator Arthur R. Momand created a comic strip called, “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” which featured the McGinis family, who struggled to stay in line with their neighbors, the Joneses. At the time, it was meant as a joke, yet more than a century later, the term still takes hold in neighborhoods across America.
While outdoing your peers with material items might seem appealing, there are many reasons why prioritizing the challenge of “keeping up with the Joneses” could lead to major financial mishaps. Since the path of financial success is more a marathon than a sprint, it’s important to keep a long-term outlook when making any important decisions about money. As a result, you should switch your mindset from “how can I keep up with the Joneses?” to “how can I improve the equity in my home over time?”
Here are some simple steps you can take today to improve the equity in your home over the long-term.
Make a big down payment
By making a larger down payment—more than 20%—you’ll instantly have more equity in your home. This will reduce the interest you’ll need to pay on your mortgage and could potentially eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance, which typically costs between 0.5-1% of your entire loan amount on an annual basis. If you had a $200,000 loan and a 1% PMI fee, this, alone, could save you $2,000 a year.
Select “keeping up” improvements that add value to your home
Some home remodeling projects deliver a higher return on investment than others. To keep the value of your home going up over time, you’ll want to identify which projects will provide the most value during resale. A garage door replacement, which costs an average of $3,470, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2018 Cost vs. Value report, provides an average resale value of $3,411. Other improvements that pay big include replacing vinyl siding on the exterior of your home with stone veneer, which recoups an average 97.1% of the costs, and replacing your entry door with a steel door, 91.3 percent. Furthermore, a wood deck addition recoups an average of 82.8% of the costs and a minor kitchen remodel recoups an average of 81.1%. For more details, check out this article from Bankrate.
Pay down the principal on your loan
Contributing higher payments than the minimum to your mortgage will help you pay off your home sooner and reduce the interest you’re handing over to the lender. Consider a 15-year mortgage, or if that’s not within reach, prioritize paying off your mortgage ahead of big-ticket purchases like a new car or a country club membership. If there are two working adults in your family, consider budgeting to live off of one person’s salary, and put the other salary towards helping to pay down your home debt.
Hire a certified home inspector
Routinely hiring a certified home inspector—even if you’re not planning to sell in the near future—could help to improve your home’s value. Doing so will help you identify any issues that need to be tackled now to minimize future risk over time. For example, knowing about a termite problem now could save lots of money in repairs down the road, or if you know that your roof will need to be replaced in the next few years, you can start budgeting for it and hold off on other projects you were considering.
Keeping up with energy-efficiency
Home features like double-paned windows, enhanced attic insulation, efficient appliances and LED lighting can all increase home value. By scheduling an assessment with a certified energy auditor or with your utility company, you can gain a better understanding of which upgrades could help your home run more efficiently.
While the idea of keeping up with the Joneses can provide immediate satisfaction, resisting the temptation to have the latest and greatest possessions can pay dividends down the road. Follow the rule of thumb of focusing on building your home equity, and chances are, the Joneses will be wishing they were in your financial situation years from now.