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Your Guide to Overcoming House Shaming

Why are you still renting? Don’t you want a bigger place all your own? You know you’re just throwing money away, don’t you?

Have you heard these prodding questions—which often feel more like financial judgements—before? Sometimes they come out during dinner with longtime friends or with extended family. And while those asking the questions probably mean well, their words can sting, and they might even cause you to doubt your decision to rent an apartment or a house.

There are sound reasons for owning a home, but that doesn’t mean homeownership is the best option for everyone at every point in life. So the next time you’re pitched one of those questions, here are some answers you can rely on to back up your decisions about renting and how you spend your money.

Renting is cheaper. Often, renting is less expensive than owning a home, which includes paying a mortgage, property taxes, association fees, maintenance, and increased insurance. Financial website NerdWallet reported that last year the median cost of homeownership was 54 percent more than renting. Sometimes, that difference was as great as 90 percent depending on the state and city.

This means buying a home could unwisely stretch your budget and tie you to a town or state you may not live in long term. Living within your budget should always be your primary financial priority. And while you’re renting, you could be saving that difference in living expenses for other goals—like an advanced degree, marriage, travel, a new car, paying off debt, or a down payment for a house in the future, when you know the investment will be worth it for you.

There are other ways to build net worth. For many Americans, the equity they invest in a home makes up a part of their net worth, but it isn’t the only way—or even the fastest way—to build net worth. Having an emergency savings fund is part of your net worth, as are any CDs or share savings accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement savings, and your vehicle. The great thing about these other methods of building net worth is that they don’t require you to take on additional debt—like a mortgage does—which ultimately detracts from your net worth in the beginning because Net Worth = Assets – Debts.

A mortgage is debt, and a lot of it. Most people need to take out a home loan, called a mortgage, in order to buy a house that ranges from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars that will take decades to pay off. Borrowing this kind of money should never be taken lightly, and if you’re already working to pay off other debts, the addition of a mortgage to your debt-to-income ratio may tip the balance out of your favor. Always remember, just because someone ese is comfortable with a high amount of personal debt doesn’t mean you have to be comfortable with it, too.

You’re working on other aspects of money management right now. Owning a home doesn’t automatically make you a financial mastermind. In fact, as a renter you could have a stronger financial situation than those who have a mortgage. Build your financial strength by increasing your credit score, paying down debts, creating an emergency fund, perfecting a personal budget, saving for retirement, or learning how to invest. It will always be easier to make a decision about homeownership from a strong financial position than from a weak one, where peer pressure and image-consciousness are driving factors.

You don’t want a house. This is a perfectly sane and legitimate answer! Houses are big commitments that require constant investments of work, money, and time. Maybe it’s not your thing, just like maybe rock climbing, goat husbandry, or crocheting are not your thing. If the phrase applies anywhere, it applies here: You do you.

You have other priorities. Just like there are other ways to build net worth and other financial goals to achieve besides owning a house, there are other priorities in life that you might put above homeownership. Priorities are personal, which means they’ll be different for every person, and they can change! Sometimes friends and family can forget that your priorities aren’t their own, but that doesn’t mean you can’t respect and celebrate those differences.

Saving for a down payment takes time. Jumping the gun and buying a house with a small or no down payment is a risky and ill-advised financial move. It means borrowing more money, paying more interest, and paying for PMI (private mortgage insurance). You might be able to stem the tide of homeownership questions if you remind your aunt and uncle how much houses cost these days, how big a down payment is, and how you’ve got a savings plan figured out to get you into a home when your finances are right.

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