Unintended consequences

March 13, 2012

I’ve been thinking about the unintended consequences of the choices we make ever since I wrote the post about the banker and his $350K pay.  At that point, I focused on the biggest choice we make:  our attitude about our money; whether we treat it as a gift from God, or something we did ourselves.

Since then, though, I’ve been thinking more about the domino effect of our choices:  how one choice automatically leads to another, and another, and so on.    To use the banker as an example:  by deciding to become an investment banker on Wall Street, he (by default) chose an incredibly high cost of living.  While he could move to a cheaper area, (though probably not in this housing market), a move would result in a much, much longer commute.  His choice of occupation dictates much of the trouble he’s dealing with now.

We went through our own version of this a few years ago.  When my husband and I originally moved back to this area, we took his place of work and drew a “twenty-minute” radius around it.  Twenty minutes seemed like a reasonable commute, and we only looked for houses within that area.  Job change after job change would alter the commute, but never terribly far from that twenty minutes we started with.

Until his last job.  The twenty-minute commute turned into a forty-five minute commute (on a good day).  Sometimes, if traffic was exceptionally bad, we were looking at over an hour.  During overtime season (which would coincide with winter) he would be setting his alarm for 4:00 in the morning, to get to work early for OT, driving on snowy, icy highways.  It was getting really, really ugly.  So we decided to go back to our twenty-minute idea, and move; especially before the kids started school.

Keep in mind this was supposed to be a lateral move–we were not looking to “move up,” not going bigger and better, just closer to work (though I was shooting for a four-bedroom instead of a three).  But the definition of “closer to work” meant, we discovered, a more expensive house.  Not bigger or better or fancier (actually, most rooms are smaller); but still a bit more expensive.

Even now I think about “if we’d just moved a little farther west…..”  A few miles further and we would have paid a little less for housing–but it would have completely defeated the purpose of moving.  The goal was to save time (and get my husband his life back); a forty-five minute commute from the west instead of the east wouldn’t have gained us a thing.

(One other observation:  what we pay for in mortgage payments is MORE than made up for in what we save on gas.  So actually, we’re still coming out ahead.)

Think about choices and consequences, though, the next time you get tied up in knots about a problem.  What choices were made that lead up to this?  Is it something that can be changed?  I know that the housing market is a disaster right now, so harping about poor choices in housing is pointless.  But try to think back–really think back–to where the dominoes started to fall.  Is there a choice I can change to help simplify my life?  To help in my finances?  Is there something I thought was a “need” that’s actually a “want?”  Follow that trail of dominoes back to the beginning.  That is where the most effective change will be made.

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