... I could build the house I want without cutting anything out!
But we're not rich.
So we come to decision-making time. Last Friday we met with the team to review the latest version of the plans, which include the things we added last time (when the plans already maxed out the new version of our budget). The plans look great! But they're WAY (as in $60k) out of our budget now, and that is the highest budget we can possibly manage and still pay the mortgage when all is said and done. There are already a few compromises, such as no walk-in closets and no walk-in pantry. I like walk-in closets because they keep the mess of clothes, shoes and accessories contained and out of the main bedroom -- and because when one of us gets dressed while the other is sleeping, we can keep the bedroom dark and quiet. You can't do that when the closet is one wall of the bedroom. However, walk-in closets are more chunky spaces to work with, and when we're trying to minimize the corners in the shell of the house they become very impractical. That was a compromise that hadn't crossed my mind, but I'm okay with it.
I also really wanted a walk-in pantry. I love the idea of having all the kitchen stuff contained in one space, and having a place for our second fridge that isn't in the garage. (With two growing, athletic boys, we go through a lot of food -- and I make several trips a day to the garage fridge to replenish supplies.) However, there is plenty of storage space for anything that would go in a pantry, and we can even build in unobtrusive space for the second fridge. I can live with this.
But these are fairly small compromises compared to what we'll have to do to get within our budget, and this is where we're going to struggle. We can't afford top-of-the-line finishes -- floors, counters, cabinets, fixtures -- which is okay also, as we weren't headed that direction anyway. We renovated our current house when we moved back from Korea in 2006 and we still like the basic fixtures we picked out then. (Thankfully, we're not thrilled with the granite counters and can look for a more reasonable option.) We don't need custom cabinets, but we need strong cabinets. That won't be too much of a sacrifice for us.
But that won't cut it, either. We need large-scale savings to meet our budget, and one option that Sam offered us is to leave some parts of the house unfinished for now, and finish them as our budget allows in the future. That had been the plan for the finishes, too: If we want to upgrade the counters or floors later, we could do that as budget allows. However, the parts left unfinished would be major: the garage would be a carport for now; the patio/deck would be much reduced, as would the outdoor storage under it; and our guest bedroom and bathroom would be a mere shell (no bathroom fixtures at all). The question is, are we willing to do that? Would it be better just to wait another year or so, until we can afford to build the whole house? We could chop off entire rooms, but what would be the point in building a house if it's not the house we actually want?
Today is Christmas Eve, and my parents are in town. Last night we showed them the plans, and today we took them up to the land. I hadn't been up there for a month or so, since we started sweating over the budget. It was a great refresher to wander around on a sunny winter day, listen to the peace and quiet (the neighbor's dogs were suspiciously absent) and remember why we want to build there. It's beautiful! Yes, it will be worth it. It'll be worth the trade-offs, including (I think) one that plagues me: leaving a friendly neighborhood where my kids (and I) can find someone to play with or chat with by simply walking out the door. It'll be worth the budget strain, including the ongoing tighter budget once we have our new mortgage.
Last night, after looking at the plans, my dad got a bit misty thinking about us building a house and reminiscing about when he and my mom built their house. He remembered how stressful it is, and how tense he was over the budget for about five years when there wasn't much breathing room with the new mortgage. And he talked about how happy he still is with their decisions and their house, and his hopes that we will be equally happy. I think I needed to hear that.
But that still leaves us with some hard decisions, unless Santa comes through with some cold, hard cash (or a winning Lottery ticket). I'm trying not to stress about it too much over the holidays, but I'm failing. It's a big deal -- big decisions, big sacrifices. What to do, what to do?