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I was asked recently, for about the millionth time, why I haven’t bought a place of my own yet. I’m 42 and my husband is knocking on the door of 50, so it’s a fair – if frustratingly repetitive – question. Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this seemingly iniquitous inquiry.
In simple terms, I missed the window. My parents have never owned property, nor their parents before them. Growing up, money for a deposit and mortgage was unthinkable. Owning property has never been a ‘thing’ for us. It was never the goal and never the barometer by which we measured others’ success or failure.
In my late twenties, while many of my friends were busy with mortgage application fine print, I was in financial recovery after the end of a long-term relationship. I admired the sacrifices that my friends made in order to sign on the dotted line, and their dedication to the cause. Many had a helping hand from supportive parents, too, without which they’d also have struggled.
[Owning a property] was never the goal and never the barometer by which we measured others’ success or failure
A mortgage for my husband and me, when we got married in 2003, was denied because of my somewhat unenviable financial history. I worked hard to decrease debts and stabilise our finances but a mortgage was always tantalisingly just out of reach, even during periods of stability and hard saving. In 2006, my son was born, and all our income and resources went into maintaining the roof over our heads. Rent, huge commuting costs and stratospheric nursery fees meant that even our two decent salaries couldn’t stretch to more than treading water. This, compounded by two redundancies in the space of 14 months, meant that acquiring a mortgage (even if we’d had a deposit) was out of the question.
In 2010, my husband was offered a job overseas and it was the fresh start we badly needed. It took years to build up our savings but, nowadays, we have adequate pension plans in place, modest investment plans, and no debt, which we hope will fund a stress-free – if quiet and unexciting – retirement.
As renters, we don’t have to worry about maintenance expenses or negative equity. We realise that these worries are a small price to pay for peace of mind in the years to come, but we enjoy a mobile and footloose life that being tied to one location, or troublesome tenants, would not support.
While we envy our friends’ beautiful family homes – the product of sound decisions, hard work and many tears – we’ve resigned ourselves, not unhappily, with our property-less state. Having chosen to eschew convention in favour of an uncertain nomadic existence certainly ruffles feathers. Such a seemingly ill-disciplined endeavour would be unthinkable for some, particularly those who set dreams aside in favour of the security of a home of their own. We can see why our choices unsettle our critics, as we’re not easy to pigeon-hole. Perhaps they see frivolity and abandon, whereas the reality involved prudent retirement planning and placing a greater value on experiencing the world.
Clare Lawrence, nicknamed 'Coupon Clare' at college, lives mostly in Cornwall. Proud mum to Gregory, she'll stop at nothing in her quest to save cash!