June 1, 2019 will mark the start of the first full month in my new apartment. For The Lady in the Black, her decision to move hinged on both quantitative and qualitative factors. (Essentially, there was a mixture of both financial and emotional considerations.) I suppose that’s true of most people.
Quite honestly, I haven’t written in a while and was going to wait until something really helpful to my readers fell into my lap. Then I realized that moving is something that many people can relate to. So, voila! Blog post.
From Homelessness to Renting
For those of you who might not know (or remember) The Lady in the Black’s story, let me give you a quick refresher.
Just over 3.5 years ago, I had requested my agency (where I was a full-time salaried employee) transfer me from their headquarters in upstate NY to their Arizona office in an effort to be closer to my daughter in California. In short order, I found myself in a brand new state, a new apartment, a new work office, no friends, no car (two weeks prior to leaving my car suffered a painful death by busted transmission)…oh, and no savings.
Fast forward a few months and I was miserable. I was very, very lonely and unhappy and brought that negativity to the only place I could; my work. Not surprisingly, I got fired. So, adding to all the other “no’s” I had in my life, I now also had no income and nowhere to live. In short, as a 46-year-old woman, I found myself quite literally homeless.
Fortunately, a good friend back east lent me some money. I rented a U-Haul and hightailed it the 6-hour drive over to southern California. Some old friends gave me a place to crash, rent-free until I found my feet. Inside of 4 short months, I had landed a high-paying freelance gig and signed a year’s lease on a 2 BD/2 BA apartment. A month later came a 5-year car loan on a sassy little silver Prius and a new-found promise to NEVER let myself be that helpless ever again. It turned out that while managing money had always been a struggle for me, it suddenly became something I HAD to master (or die trying.)
The Lady in the Black was born…both figuratively and literally (as that’s when I started my personal finance journey and this blog.)
The “Temporary” Apartment
The apartment I found in southern California was in a huge corporate-run complex which was “so not me” (said with elitist, barkbiter accent.) But they approved my application with a recent broken lease, no full-time time employer, and a $700 deposit. Ya. I honestly didn’t have a lot of options and I locked in a year’s lease on the apartment with the best view. It was just temporary, right? A year or two tops, I told myself.
At the time, the thought of $2,100/month was truly nauseating. Remember, I was a middle-aged woman who was riding the bus to work (gasp!) and sleeping in a friend’s guest room. The monthly rent was twice what I had paid in Arizona. But it was a decent place. Two bedroom, two bath (I was legally obligated to have a separate room for my daughter.) The complex had pools and hot tubs and was conveniently located near her school, her dad, shopping plazas, etc. I settled in and we were happy there (mostly) and in the blink of an eye, 3 years slipped by–with healthy rent increases every year.
With this year’s lease renewal notice looming only week away, I realized “temporary” was getting more and more permanent. Plus, there was the recent incident with the mold, and filthy carpets that never really come clean, and blah, blah, blah. (Insert general-disdain-but-not-complete-hatred-with-the-place here.)
I considered my options.
- Me: Just move! Also me: Have you seen rents around here?
- Me: Just buy a place! Also me: F’n no way! I’m in no state to consider that–fiscally or emotionally.
- Me: Move in with your hunky boyfriend! Also me: We aren’t ready for that step in our relationship and we both know it.
- Me: Just do that geo-arbitrage that’s trending with PF folks and get out of dodge! Also me: Ugh, I can’t. In order to retain shared custody of my child I have to live within 50 miles of my ex-husband.
The “We Are Thrilled To Offer You” Offer
As these thoughts swirled around, and right around my lease renewal period, I received an email from the community manager with information about my upcoming renewal.
“You are receiving this letter along with your renewal offer because your apartment is part of an exciting renovation project.”
Did they say renovation?
Yes, yes they did.
This struck a chord with me because after 3 years I was kinda crawling the walls. There were days I wondered if they’d notice if I ripped up that crap-ass beige carpet and installed my own floors. Maybe “temporary” could be a bit longer if the apartment was nicer, right? RIGHT?!?!
In fact, the idea of renovation was indeed “exciting” as the letter stated. Upgrades would be made to kitchens and baths, including:
- Quartz Countertops
- Energy-Efficient Stainless Steel Appliances
- New Flooring in Kitchen and Bathrooms
- Energy-Efficient Lighting and Water-Saving Plumbing Fixtures
The flyer showcased shiny new surfaces and hot contractor boys doing manly things..with the promise of them moving quickly and getting sweaty. (I digress.) Oh yes, they had this Lady’s attention…until I read the price tag in the other file attached. Accompanying this “exciting renovation”, my new monthly rent would increase $2,692. (Let that sink in. Nearly $2,700 a month to put lipstick on the proverbial pig!)
Immediately, the renovations seemed far less attractive. In fact, I called to see what my monthly rent would be WITHOUT the renovations. The answer: $2,463. That was still an increase over my current monthly rent.
I felt like the fabled frog being boiled alive. (If you aren’t familiar with that metaphor, look it up. It seems to be applicable to many situations in my life.)
The Search Begins
My housing options essentially came down to a) do the renovation and pay way more, b) don’t do the renovation and pay more anyway, or c) look what else is available.
I went with C.
My first look was at another big complex in the same neighborhood. The interior was certainly an upgrade from my current apartment. It was cheaper. It was also a notorious haven for local college kids. The “cool Lady” in me thought “hey, you were young once. Maybe some youthful energy would spice things up for you.” The “single Lady” thought “Meow. Hot-looking young studs everywhere! Could be worse!” The “mom Lady” thought “you can’t bring up a tween/teen girl in a complex that parties like Motley Crue on a comeback tour.” The “pragmatic Lady” thought “keep looking, ya big dummy. It’s a big city.”
And somewhere in there, one of those life-changing ideas came to me. (If you haven’t had one of these, it’s like a light suddenly switches on in your head and you are left staring at an idea so brilliant and beautiful that its genius is blinding.)
(insert sunlight from Heaven sound effect) Look for a place in Seal Beach.
Now, for those who aren’t intimately familiar with Seal Beach, I’ll leave you with this link to explore and a description of it as one of the quintessential and quaint California beach towns (in my opinion.) It’s like Mayberry and Gidget had a baby, stuck a pier in its mouth, and swaddled it in daisy-print boardshorts.
It’s the perfect place to raise a soulful, southern California kid and, oh, and it’s only 4.5 miles south of where I currently live. With the idea implanted, I began my search.
The Miracle Find
I was rusty with the whole “looking for an apartment” thing but after only about 2 seconds on Zillow, I saw the cutest frickin’ photo of a place in Seal Beach.
It was love at first photo.
I scheduled a viewing immediately and was instantly enamored. It was 2 blocks from the ocean! It was a bigger apartment in a complex with only 12 units. The apartment was lighter, brighter, and the layout was darling. It had charm. The Kid loved it, too. Oh, and the rent was CHEAPER than my renewal rate, even without the renovation. I put in an application that night and prayed.
But I think it’s important to pause here to comment on all the things I didn’t do.
- I didn’t pour neurotically over the pros and cons. (Well, in comparison to normal neuroses.)
- I didn’t over-analyze the full financial picture.
- I didn’t worry too much about security deposits or moving costs.
- I didn’t spreadsheet the living daylights out of the decision.
- I didn’t wait for validation from anyone (besides The Kid.)
It just felt right and I jumped–and I got approved!
Within a week, I had signed the lease.
It was then that I realized I was staring down the sights of a double-barreled shotgun; paying double rent for May! Oh, plus a full month’s security deposit AND the cost of moving. That’s when the panic started to sneak in. Fortunately, I have been K.I.S.S.ing my finances recently so had a bit of financial wiggle room AND an amazing boyfriend who let me borrow some money.
I found the money. The move went smoothly. I settled in to the new place. It all went like it was meant to be. Life was–and continues to be–amazing. The new place is simply fabulous.
We feel blessed everyday–and I can see being happy there for years to come. (insert more heavenly sound effects here)
The Side-by-Side Cost Comparison
Good for me, you are thinking, right? Yes.
However, it wasn’t until I started activating utilities and changing my mailing address with my various bills did I start to be curious about the true financial impact of my move. All I knew was my monthly rent was cheaper and the security deposit was large.
So, I did what any self-respecting financial blogger did. I spreadsheeted it!
Here’s what I created at first.
It was cool to see some significant savings in car insurance, pet rent, and utilities.It was surprising to learn that your health insurance rate can increase by moving less than 5 miles down the street. However, the net-net was that I would be saving money (about $1,200) this year. Even with the cost of movers, I’d be saving $500 a year. And because the old place would eventually force my hand on paying for the renovation, I’ll likely be savings on rent for years to come.
It was also around this time that I started to actually notice somethings about the apartment that maybe I had overlooked in my initial enthusiasm.
- No dishwasher. Bummer.
- FAR less closet space. Eep.
- No private outdoor space. Eh.
That’s when I revised my spreadsheet a bit.
You can see that I divided things into Quantitative and Qualitative. After thinking about it a while, I realized that this was how lots of financial decisions are made.
Quantitative or Qualitative?
Many people not familiar with the personal finance space might be intimidated that everything is about the bottom line. However, that isn’t the case for the large majority of people. Sure, life might be in part guided by your finances but far more often your finances are guided by your life.
So which should win as an approach to life? Quantitative or qualitative?
Well, hell if I know! You think The Lady has all the answers?
But I have gained a few insights along my 49 years of life. I’ve also learned a lot about managing finances in the last several years.
Here are few tidbits this move has reminded me of.
- Pay yourself first. (I’ll leave that up to interpret as a quantitative or qualitative tip!)
- People don’t talk about the Quantity of Life. The phrase is Quality of Life.
- The theory of abundance isn’t bullshit. Believe, perceive, and receive more.
- Sometimes chasing a dream involves movers.
- Struggling financially is not limited by geography. Struggle somewhere you like!
- As my friend says “Choose joy.” As another friend says “Life is short. Live long.”
- You can’t pay a security deposit with “joy”. (Just saying.)
The Moving Moral of the Story
Money is here to help you live your best life. Daily decisions about your spending, savings, investing of it are based on both quantitative and qualitative factors. The math and the emotions might be able to be divided and analyzed separately on a spreadsheet but they are fully integrated in real life. Where we live and work and play impact the quality of our lives…and yes, those places come with associated price tags.
There is an inherent duality to life. Quality/quantity, dark/light, logic/feeling, good/evil (brie/brussel sprouts)
But there is also a lot of gray space in between. This is the land of the parantheses. It’s the little sidebar conversations we have inside our head, the asides, the backstories, the inside jokes, the tangents that make life rich and textured.
For me, this move made sense. But I led with my heart and my pocketbook was left to chase along, trying to keep up. (Welp, that’s a lovely visual metaphor!)
I’ve done a lot of moving in my lifetime–and I can safely say I have quality memories of every house, apartment, and guest room I’ve ever lived in. Interestingly, I don’t remember much about the quantity of the cost.
I say move where you want (as long as it’s forward.)