Keeping Up with the Joneses: A Tale About a "House Poor" Life
Their house was beautiful. We pulled up expecting a small ranch like our own, but found ourselves sitting in a three-car driveway, in front of a three car garage. Really? How many people need a three-car garage?
The house itself seemed to sprawl for miles. It was an architectural dream, all sharp angles and perfect windows. The landscaping was astonishing, with perfect bushes and plantings complementing every angle of the perfect house.
We warily climbed from our dilapidated SUV and glanced at the simple bottle of $10 wine we had brought as a housewarming gift. “A little bit of under-kill, huh?” I asked my husband.
He stared at the house, his mouth agape, and asked, “Can they really afford this? I mean, they’re younger than us…”
We climbed the perfect staircase and rang the perfect doorbell, plastering fake smiles on our faces, forcing our little green demons to hide for the evening. Of course we were jealous. We were plugging away at our modest house payments, and it seemed we had nothing to show for it. At least nothing like this!
Waiting for the Joneses to answer our knock, we were prepared for a stunning interior, beautifully decorated for an extravagant party. But Molly answered the door in jeans and a nice shirt and showed us into her beautiful living room…strangely empty of a single piece of furniture.
We exchanged pleasantries, and Molly led us to the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, “The party will be in the kitchen. We’ve been so busy, we haven’t had a minute to buy furniture.”
In the kitchen, there were a few stools at the counter, but Molly had settled for a buffet style party. She pushed the table back to the far wall of the attached dining room, and some simple appetizers completed a modest spread.
The party was a success, although the missing furniture made some guests leave rather early, including Mike and me. I assured Molly we would have to get together soon, planning a nice evening out on the town.
But that evening never came. Molly kept blowing off plans until I finally asked her to come up with a time and place. She asked us over to their home for pizza and game night one evening, which sounded fantastic.
We arrived, expecting the house to be furnished after their many months to settle in, but the house was still empty. We sat at the simple dining room set Molly bought at a discount store right after college, ate frozen pizza and played cards.
The evening was nice – we really did like hanging out with the Joneses. But they didn’t seem like themselves while we were there. It seemed like Molly forgot how to laugh, and Jake didn’t smile at anything. They looked drained and overworked.
I finally pulled Molly aside and asked if she was ok. She shrugged it off and said money was tight, but they should both be getting cost of living raises soon. She knew their luck would turn around. Plus, they both had second jobs now to make a few extra bucks. They were one of the many families who had over-extended themselves and couldn't afford anything besides their house payment. They were "house poor."
I told her the next night was on us, at our home: a chicken dinner with roasted vegetables and a nice wine. Molly smiled and hugged me, relief washing over her face.
Mike and I talked on the way home, and we decided that even if our house wasn’t a fabulous architectural dream, we were happy where we were, complete in the creature comforts of simple furnishings. We do hope the Jones’s luck turns around, but we wish we could have cautioned them to carefully consider the amount of house they could afford, to keep them from becoming house poor.