Today's economy

Frugality and the theory of relativity

By Kevin Press, Sun Life Financial

Comments (6)

The Lovely Lisa and I bought the house of our dreams last week. To be honest, it’s more the house of her dreams than mine, but then my vision of a downtown loft across the street from my office probably wouldn’t have gone over well with the kids. So the focus this week is on selling our current home. By selling of course, I mean staging the heck out of it.

If you’ve ever sold a house, you know all about staging. (If you haven’t, go turn on HGTV.) There are a few key steps:

  • Empty your home of just about everything you use on a day-to-day basis. Clutter kills.
  • Remove all evidence of a family actually living in the house. This includes the use of an unbelievable little sponge that removes every possible scuff mark from your walls, a can of touch-up paint for the floor trim and a calming mantra that you can whisper quietly to yourself to keep from getting frustrated with family members and real estate agents.
  • Landscape. I recommend buying a lot of mulch. It will cover up all of your property’s rough bits. And to be honest, the time I’ve spent on my hands and knees laying the mulch down is the closest thing I’ve had to a rest in six days.
  • Buy a bunch of new towels. The fluffier the better.
  • Fill a bowl with something green and put it on your dining room table. Apples are the most common choice. We’re going with limes, just to shake things up a bit.

This doesn’t have to be an expensive process. We’ve spent less than $1,500, about half of which went to a painter who worked on our front porch and window trim. We also paid a landscaper $100 to remove two old evergreens from our front yard. The rest has been pretty much DIY. Studies show that staging provides a return on investment in the 300% to 450% range. Even those figures seem conservative to me.

What’s been fascinating to me though is how the whole experience affects day-to-day buying decisions. Lisa and I are usually pretty careful about how we spend money. Not so much right now. Having agreed to invest the better part of a million dollars in our new home, we seem to have lost our capacity to pinch pennies. This is counterintuitive of course. You’d think that a big commitment like the one we’ve made would cause us to be even more loath to spend.

It’s a kind of a new theory of relativity. No single price tag feels significant in comparison to the price of the new house. So no buying decision feels that painful. We know this makes no sense, but it’s a pretty powerful feeling.

I can’t wait to be a tightwad again.

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Michelle Black, SimplyRead on

Hi Kevin, I feel your pain, as we’re about to do the same thing with our place (and also have those young’uns whose stuff will have to be spirited away!). We’re also hoping to save on fees by only using some services from our realtor.

I hope by now that you and Lisa are spending freely on your *future* place, having unloaded the current one.

Karin Carter on


I am smiling as I read your blog. It will be a year in two days that we are in the “new” house with the great bones that I visualized finished once I have applied my artistic touch to the re-design…………and I can tell you from experience that the days of you going back to being a tightwad, aren’t anywhere in sight. We are still spending and somehow we justify it because it is an investment……you know the drill, resale value…blah blah blah.

It is my dream house and I think my poor husband (who is quite skilled and capable when it comes to trade work as he is an engineer) is almost giving up the ghost. Regularly I get emails telling me : I hate this house! What he means is too much work, too much money and never ending………. He doesn’t really hate it, I know that. It is just a huge job that costs quite a bit of money turning great bones into the dream house. We are 90% there and all the hard work and the money spent is paying off. House warming party soon!

Just remember, every dollar spent is an investment!


    Kevin Press on

    Thanks Karin.

    I shudder to think what would happen if Lisa had that much confidence in my handyman-ness. My idea of home improvement is a programmable espresso machine.

Ray on

I keep forgetting this is an economy blog not a real estate blog in my RSS reader… otherwise you certainly wouldn’t have bought a house right now. It’s about to crash. I pray for you, but you are about to approach a world of hurt.

Sheryl Smolkin on

Good luck. It’s a very exciting time. We last did the buy/sell 10+ years ago when the numbers were closer to 1/2 million. I’m getting the itch to do it again, but I want an infill bungalow with all the bells and whistles near public transit for the next chapter. No downsizing for us.

Liz Campbell on

Hi Kevin!

Two more staging tips….rub a good vanilla oil on all of your lightbulbs. When agents come in to show your home – the first thing they do is turn all the lights on. At that point your house will immediately smell like baking! Also – rmeove screens from your windows. It makes everything look a little shinier! Let me know if you want more!!! And good luck!


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