My boyfriend and I have been together for four years, cohabitating for two. We’re both 29 and, like most of our friends, have struggled to make ends meet between paying for student loans and rent. I work in early-childhood education, and my boyfriend is a chef. We are not wealthy by any means, but my boyfriend comes from a privileged background and his dad recently did something incredibly generous: He helped us with the down payment on a house.
It’s been a big dream of ours to have a house of our own where we can raise a family someday, and I’m incredibly grateful that we’ve had this help. I can’t believe it, honestly. But I’m also feeling weird about it. Our new house is pretty far away from our friends, and they’re sort of shocked that we’ve made this move. (We used to live in L.A., but home prices were so high there that we had to move to a more rural area over an hour away.) We both left our jobs because it would be too difficult to commute to them, so we’re looking for new work; my boyfriend already has a new part-time job, and I’m interviewing and doing some part-time nannying.
Basically, I almost feel like I’m having an identity crisis. Becoming a homeowner propels me into a new socioeconomic class that I’m not familiar with. But it also comes with a bunch of new stressors. I don’t want to complain, but I’m terrified that I’m going to mess this up somehow — like, what if we get behind on our mortgage? What if our home floods and loses all its value? (Both our names are on the deed and the mortgage, so we share liability, which is both comforting and terrifying.)
Even harder is the fact that a lot of my close friends have reacted strangely. Like, “Oh, it must be nice.” Or “I didn’t know that you guys were secretly rich” (an actual quote). I don’t know how to handle this. What do I do?
I am deeply familiar with the anxiety you’re describing. The night after we moved into our apartment — which, full disclosure, we also bought with some help from family members — it rained so hard that I was convinced the roof would collapse and bankrupt us (unless, of course, we mercifully drowned in our bed). I lay awake, listening to the downpour, certain that we had made a terrible mistake. We were imposters with no business owning property. What had we done?
For most people, buying a home is the biggest financial decision they will ever make. Ideally, the benefits outweigh the headache of fixing toilets and making sure you don’t have lead paint flaking into your water supply. But I understand why you feel conflicted about it, especially when it creates an emotional, socioeconomic, and geographic distance from your support system. I can’t say for certain whether it will be “worth it,” but I do know how you can feel more at ease.
First, I want to point out that your situation is not unusual, at least from a financial standpoint. About a third of first-time homebuyers rely on help from family and friends to afford their down payment, according to a recent report from the National Association of Realtors. And even those who don’t receive assistance in the form of cash often lean on their relatives in other ways — say, by living with their parents in order to save on rent (as many young adults do). My point is, most people don’t just claw their way into homeownership completely on their own without a leg up in some form. (To be clear, homeownership should be more accessible to those without family support, but systemic problems with affordable housing is a topic for another day.)
That said, I understand why your new home — and the wealth it signifies — has shaken your sense of identity. You also moved away from everyone you know, quit your job, and took on a mortgage in short order! No wonder you’re feeling unmoored. You need to get back on solid footing both socially and financially, and that will take time. You’ll need to be patient.
You’ll also need a plan. “If you haven’t already, it may be good to meet with a financial professional so that you can discuss the ‘what ifs’ around homeownership and gain more peace of mind,” says Megan McCoy, a professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. A strong understanding of your new costs of living (including home insurance, property taxes, and potential repairs) will make your fears less abstract and give you more agency in preparing for them.
Bring your partner into these discussions too. “Not feeling able to talk to your friends about your financial anxieties can be isolating,” says McCoy. “I hope you can have these conversations with your partner and recognize that it’s normal to have fears around money even when you are okay on paper.” I recommend that you and your boyfriend institute weekly “meetings” about your finances as you get settled.
On that note, the standard advice for homeowners is to set aside one to 4 percent of your home’s value to keep on hand for maintenance and repairs, says Dr. Traci Williams, a psychologist and financial therapist. Don’t freak out if that sounds like an impossible number, especially since you still need to get a job first (and you will!). The good news is that the more involved you are in your household finances, the more ownership you will feel over your home and the less indebted you will feel to your boyfriend’s family (always a good thing).
This brings us to the matter of your friends. I can say from personal experience that the people you’re closest to don’t give a shit about who paid for the down payment on your house. Sure, you could tell them if you want to, but you’re not obligated to share the particulars. People might speculate or say awkward things, but it’s not your job to change their opinions or perceptions. “Remember that the core aspects of your life — like your values and your interests — remain unchanged,” says Williams. “Focus on the things you’ve always had in common with your friends, and your new differences in lifestyle won’t affect your bond.”
I hope you’re comfortable enough with your friends to tell them that this transition has been difficult. I’m not suggesting that you complain about your new house to people who are scraping by to make rent, but being transparent about how lonely the move has been — and even how nervous you are that people will see you differently — is fair game. “Acknowledging privilege while recognizing the work that you are putting into it is a difficult thing, but necessary to have open and honest relationships with people who actually care for you,” says McCoy.
And as painful as it may be, the distance you’re feeling from your friends right now will also make space for some new ones. When we moved into our building, I slipped notes to our new neighbors under their doors, which has led to some great friendships (and even better homeownership advice). These introductions might feel stilted at first, but like everything else you’re dealing with right now, they will get easier with time.