Opinion: Going virtually broke


Mary Ellen and I have been taking short walks around the neighborhood after dinner.  It’s relaxing and good exercise, but I can’t afford it anymore.

You see, my wife is always looking for ways to improve our new house, hoping to spruce up the landscape — maybe by adding a blue spruce, just like the one she saw next door at the Fabershams’ house. 

Last night, I jotted down every detail that caught her eye, every home improvement she fancied as possibilities for our place, then I did a quick online search for approximate costs. Your prices may vary.

“Oh, look!” she said. “The Robinsons are screening in their porch. We should do that so we can sit outside and not be bothered by mosquitoes.” Cost: $4,200.

Then, she noticed the Medcalfs’ enclosed glass sunroom.

“That’s even better, Dick. We could sit out there in the winter, have dinner and watch the snow falling.” Cost: $6,700.

A couple of blocks later.

“Look, Dick. Those folks have plantation shutters. That would really make the front of our house look so much more modern.” Cost: $1,750.

“Oh, and that window box is awesome. What an attractive addition that would be.” Cost: $160.

Rounding the cul de sac, my wife was inspired by a beautiful emerald-green lawn.

“Dick, do you know why the Rosens’ yard looks so good? They have an automatic sprinkler system. I think that would be an excellent investment for us. Curb appeal is so important.” Cost: $3,400.

We were almost back to our house when she noticed that the Jamesons were putting in a rock garden with a fountain.

“Now that is so serene,” Mary Ellen said. “I’ve always wanted a fountain.” Cost: $1,200 plus high maintenance costs.

Then suddenly, the Jamesons’ landscape lighting went on.

“That is such a great effect. We really need that,” my wife said. Cost: $900.

By the time we got home, I was feeling broke. We went out on the deck to enjoy a glass of wine, but Mary Ellen was still in home-improvement mode. She eyed our gas grill, which is about 20 years old.

“We are probably going to have to buy a new one next spring ($350) and we better have this deck stained pretty soon ($1,100).”

She also noticed two large dead trees in the woods that probably need to be cut down ($3,000).

She was silent for a few minutes, so I thought the spending spree was over. Yes, things were looking up. But then she looked up: “I’d love to have a ceiling fan out here on the back porch ($179 plus installation).”

We’re not going to buy most of those things. Truth is, my wife is very frugal. She simply enjoys dreaming about home improvements.

Next June is our 40th wedding anniversary and I suggested we go to Spain and Portugal in the spring to celebrate.

“How does that sound?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she responded. “Can we afford it?”

“Yes! It’s cheaper than going for a walk.”

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