Owning a home has traditionally been the Australian dream and through chasing this dream, Aussies have some of the biggest houses in the world with the biggest mortgages to match. But at what cost?
Does owning a huge house, and subsequently a huge debt, really make us happy? The truth is not all of us are going to get the same big block and picket fence as our parents had when we were growing up — and that’s okay.
Whether you own your home with a mortgage, or are just aspiring to get on the property ladder, you’re probably making some easy-to-fix mistakes that can help you in the long run.
Most (93%) Australians admit to wasting money on non-essential belongings and almost half (47%) feel stressed because of the amount of unnecessary items they have.
The question you need to ask yourself is, could you own less but have a happier life? It’s quite telling that just over a fifth (22%) want to move to a bigger home to have more space for all of the stuff they own, with a high likelihood of that pushing them into more and more debt as they upsize.
We hear all the time in the media, or from friends, that home ownership is impossible these days. But, they’re wrong. Buying a house in today’s climate is possible if you’re willing to make the commitment.
For many people, buying a house is the biggest financial decision they will ever make and often it is saving the deposit that is the hardest part. However, with careful planning, it is achievable.
When you think about it, there are a lot of implications we face when chasing the ‘Australian dream’. Namely, the huge amount of debt that we take on by mistaking our wants with what we really need.
By taking time to contemplate the distinction between our ‘wants’ and our ‘needs’, we could live happier and financially healthier lives. Do you really need the pool, extra bedroom, 60” TV, pool table and sports car out front — or is it just a want?
A quarter of Australians (23%) have gotten themselves into debt by buying something they knew they didn’t need, which could be working against them if they are saving for a home or paying off a mortgage. In UBank’s ‘All I Need’ documentary, a conversation around spending choices and lifestyle needs and wants has begun and is continuously evolving.
We can all visualise what we want, but can we stop and think about what we really truly need? And, when we visualise that need, what does it look like? How does that home look? This is a good starting point for people to live a great life within their means with the things they truly need.
Top 3 tips for avoiding unnecessary debt:
1. Ask yourself, what do I really need in my life? Rather than what you want in your life. There is nothing wrong with having nice things, a fast car, going on holidays or having a nice home. Problems arise when we overstretch for the things we want but don’t really need.
2. Start a budget and stick to it. Keep track of where your money is going and forecast for future payments that tend to hit hard, such as car registration or insurance and put a little money aside so when the time comes you can reduce your financial stress.
3. Continue to look at and work on your mortgage just as you would your health – by carrying out regular check-ups. Our research showed that 84% of Australians don’t know their home loan rate. Given that most home loans have a term of at least 25 years, if you don’t keep a close eye on your finances, particularly the rate, it can mean paying thousands of dollars more for a home loan.
“When I was in my late teens I moved out of home and had to learn pretty quickly how to be financially disciplined. I created a budget and have been sticking to it. In the beginning it was really tough but I’ve been able to learn the difference between my wants and needs.
I also meditate and focus on my own personal happiness too. Needs and wants don’t just have to revolve around material possessions. When I hear my friends complain about wanting what they don’t have, I wish they took just a moment to realise how lucky they are to have their health and happiness.
My boyfriend and I are saving for a deposit to buy a house before our next birthday. It’s rewarding to see what financial foundations and positive thinking can do to turn a goal into a reality.”
“I live in a shared apartment in Paddington with one other flatmate. Until recently, I haven’t really put much thought into saving my money, but I am now looking at my needs versus wants and it has been a learning curve for me.
My long-term goal is to buy a house and go overseas. Now that I’m conscious of my spending, I realise ‘wants’, like a personal trainer and getting my hair done, are slowing down the time it will take to reach my savings target. I am going to have to make some lifestyle changes, but that’s okay. I believe I can live with less and be just as happy.”
“I am a proud home owner and UBank customer. I refinanced my home loan to take advantage of the low rate offered here at UBank. It was a no-brainer for me as it means I can pay off my loan faster and get closer to reaching my financial goals, without having to do much at all.
I’m all about making small tweaks to my finances to make my money work for me, including the obvious but less exciting investments like superannuation. I make an effort to spend less and I think I’m just as content as those who have more stuff.
When assessing my wants versus my needs it’s like a little devil and angel appear on each shoulder. But really, it’s amazing just how little you need to make you happy.”
We live in a world of desire. It starts when we’re young. We want the new toy. The new video game. The new movie. Then we get older and we still want all those things and a boatload of new things: a job we love, a wardrobe, a house, a family. We have grown and our desires have grown with us.
But has the endless pursuit of wish fulfilment left us feeling … well … kind of unfulfilled? Doesn’t it seem like we spend an awful lot of time focused on our immediate wants as opposed to our long-term needs? Speaking for myself, I know that by chasing my desires I often end up ignoring the things right in front of my face that might very well actually fulfil me. Things like love, companionship, memory-building, conversation and security.
I recently watched the documentary “All I Need”, which is about the pursuit of happiness in the modern world. The documentary featured two groups of people living at different ends of the “desire” spectrum. At one end was a family of five. The parents worked tirelessly to afford and sustain their dream house, but then owning such a big home created literal and emotional distance between the family members. At the other end were two young single women so infatuated with going out and buying things that their lives were overflowing with clutter and surprisingly hard to manage; their goal of owning any home at all seemed forever out of reach.
In light of these modern dilemmas, the documentary posits the question: what the heck happened to the dream? Or better yet, why wasn’t the dream enough? Why did the two-bedroom house become the five-bedroom house? Why did having a nice wardrobe become piles and piles of clothes with no sentimental value? When did the pursuit of happiness because more about the “pursuit” than it did the “happiness”?
Perhaps the answer boils down to mere human nature, where the compulsion to spend or simply “do better” can end up overshadowing the joy we’re supposed to receive from the actual things we buy. It reminds me of my short-lived obsession with tiny video recorders. When mini-recorders came out, I was the first in line to buy one. Finally! I thought. Finally I can record myself snowboarding, or bungee-jumping. I can strap the camera around my dog’s collar to see what things are like from his perspective. It’s everything I’ve always wanted!
So I bought my little camera and I took it snowboarding. And I took it bungee-jumping. And I strapped it to my dog’s collar for a day. And then about a week later I put the thing on a shelf and forgot about it. One day I looked at the gadget and asked myself: why had I been so desperate to own this thing? And why didn’t it make me feel the way I thought it would? It was as if my desire to obtain this new toy was so strong that the joy I received purchasing it overpowered the joy of actually owning it!
All over the world people are experiencing the same thing. In order to keep pace, or satisfy an urge, the desire to consume becomes more valuable than the actual thing being consumed. Falling by the wayside are events that provide a more satisfying level of happiness through human bonding or genuine personal achievement. We’ve exchanged healthy, enduring happiness for empty, fleeting happiness.
It’s not the things we buy, it’s how we buy them. For instance, there’s nothing wrong with paying a mortgage and wanting to own a house – that’s a completely normal human endeavour. But what quickly happens is that the “do better” clause overpowers the “necessity” clause, and suddenly a roof over our head and a bed to sleep in at night isn’t enough. After all, what about that pool we always wanted? What about the game room? Oh, and this one comes with a sauna, you say? Well, we just realized we want one of those too! So we buy the McMansion and suddenly we never see our kids anymore. The desire to “do better” has left us with a purchase that contradicts our emotional needs as a human being.
It’s not our fault. Consumerism and capitalism are two entities that thrive on manipulating people into spending money. The underlying message of almost any advertisement is that we can do better. These are subliminal impressions that start creeping into our brains before we’ve even learned to speak, constantly telling us: “More. More. More. More.”
So no, material things are not in and of themselves evil, but the methods employed by businesses to get us to buy those things can be evil. And while the choices we make to accommodate our desires might not be downright evil, they’re almost certainly selfish being they so frequently come at the expense of genuine companionship.
Think about the memories that truly stand out in life. A first kiss. A road trip with your buddies. Weddings. Island holidays. These are the moments that we cling to, the moments that make us happy whenever we think about them. They represent the fulfilment of desire on the level of human need, not mere want.
Memories last longer than iPhones. Simple things like catching up with an old friend over coffee, or watching a football game while drinking cheap beer, or going for a hike with your girlfriend can enrich life in ways you never imagined. Treat yourself to a lasting memory and not a fleeting rush. Watch how much value you can end up placing on something that cost far less than you expected.
You know the great Australian dream; big house, a yard for the kids to play in, and everything you could ever want to fill it.
In 2013 we moved from Sydney to the Northern Rivers, and we bought our first home. We applied for a loan, and it felt like the most stressful thing ever, and we made the decision to only take up around half of the funds we were approved for. We didn’t want a mansion, but most of all we didn’t want to buy a house that we’d resent and make us stressed for the rest of our lives.
The great Australian Dream of the house with the yard started off simple, but now the goal post seems to be constantly moving. The dream keeps getting bigger, and the house keeps getting larger, and so does the stress that comes with that. A documentary recently aired on Channel 7 about the Aussie Dream, and our wants and needs. I rarely tell people what to do (except my kids and husband) but I’m going to tell you what to do here. This is some of the best 40 minutes I’ve spent in my life. I scribbled down a million notes and tips, but also I left the end of it feeling really satisfied with what I have. WATCH THIS VIDEO (there’s a good chance it will change your life).
One of the biggest learning curves for me around wants and needs happened in my early twenties. I was working as a nanny and I worked for people who lived the grandest lives. They had huge houses, filled with more bedrooms than they could sleep in, and more bathrooms than they could count. They could buy whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. They had the fanciest of cars and the best holidays. To me, a girl from a country-ish town, from a middle-income family, this always seemed like the dream to me.
Except those people I worked for, they didn’t seem very happy. They worked long hours, they saw very little of their children, their houses were so big they really didn’t see much of each other and from where I was standing they seemed miserable. It wasn’t quite living the dream.
A whopping 90% of Australians are stressed so there’s a good chance you’re feeling a little under the pump too. So, UBank are asking… “Is it perhaps time to reset the Aussie Dream?” Should we be aiming for smaller, and wanting for less? Is it time that we worked out what we need versus what we want?
In the documentary, the topic of wants and needs is a constant one, but a moment I loved most was when one of the kids shares a project he did. On one page he had the word WANTS and the other had NEEDS. He’d drawn and collected pictures and pasted them on whatever page that they belonged. When his parents asked what his needs were, it was simple, “love!”. That seems like a pretty cool exercise to do with our own kids so they can start learning about it early on.
I learned so many gems from the documentary and I’m sure I’ll find more when I watch it again.
But most of all, the thing that made me get teary, was this: We’ve got so caught up in this dream. In the working, getting stuff done, trying to pay bills, and just trying to tread water … we’ve forgotten about making memories. What if we turned off the TV and played a board game, or what if we spent a whole day together making memories? Those moments shouldn’t be put off for next school holidays, or one day when we’re less stressed, that stuff needs to be happening now.
So, don’t wait to make your memories. Make them today.
Two years ago my partner and I started making preparations to sell our house. We have five kids (four boys and one girl). Our home has three bedrooms plus a large home office. We felt we wanted another bedroom so the kids could have more space and there'd be less kids per bedroom.
We had our house valued and started looking in areas that would allow us to have a bigger place. But as we started to look we started to have second thoughts. There was a big push pull factor of a bigger house, having to move further out and questioning whether we really needed to do this.
This questioning really made me think about what we actually did need in our home compared to what did I want. I wanted more bedrooms, a modern kitchen and potentially a pool.
Conversations with my ever so practical husband showed me that we really didn’t need these things. At the surface level this was just the easiest change to make. There were other choices.
When we really looked at it, I realised our house is great and we needed to make adjustments so we could accommodate the changing dynamics of our family. It wasn’t just the kids who were impacted by these adjustments and continuing to have to share rooms. I had to let go of my home office.
I did it gradually, with the eldest moving into the room of my home office (it is a big room) and I would work there during the day while he was at school. This transition made me realise that my need for the home office was no longer there. The home office had been invaluable when I had little ones. I needed a place that I could have as a work space and where I could leave works in progress and not have the area disturbed or be distracted while working. But that was the situation when I started working from home over five years ago.
Fast forward to now and all the kids are at school. I have the house to myself during the day and the majority of the time I no longer work at night or on weekends – when I most needed to have space away from the family so I could concentrate.
The gradual transition away from the home office on my own, meant after a couple of months I happily let go of it completely. In some ways it was reinvigorating! You know how the more space you have, the more you fill it? Well my home office had fabulous built in desks, drawers, cupboards and shelves and somehow I managed to accumulate stuff to fill it all.
When I moved out of the office, I kept very little of this stuff. I scanned papers I wanted to keep, but most of the stuff I could simply put into the recycling bin. And this minimalist approach is how I operate in my new work position at a desk in the room, that would be a second living area but is now a communal study area. It has two desks, one for the kids and one which is now where I work. I have not for one second missed my old home office. The home office is now a bedroom and with the exception of the eldest child who inhabits the new bedroom upstairs, the kids continue to share.
With the boy/girl ratio in our house it would certainly be easier in some ways to renovate and add an additional bedroom, but we do not want the stress of the additional amount this would add to our home loan at this point in our family life. So we continue to take it year by year and mix up the room sharing combinations to create the best fit we can for the current stage in family dynamics.
I am still grateful that my husband was wise enough to help us work out the difference between what we wanted and what we really needed. I learnt much through this process and downsizing my office helped me learn to let go of space and possessions, guiding me in a different direction.
When you have to examine your wants vs your needs, it really makes you take a bigger picture look at your life. It was at this point that I realised, I needed to slow things down. Last year was my first year of focusing on that, having a single purpose goal of being a planned, patient and present mother to my beautiful kids. While far from perfect, 2015 was a much better year in terms of feeling like I was in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude.
Encouraged by the positive impact slowing down had on my life in 2015, my goal for 2016 is create space for calm and creativity. This goal becomes the filter through which I need to make my decisions and most importantly it is helping me more easily identify what it is I want and what it is I need.
As part of achieving my goal, I simplified my wardrobe to 37 items per season. I was so nervous about doing this and how I would let go of all these clothes I had hanging around in my wardrobe. One month in however, I can honestly say it is one of the best things I have done to simplify and improve my day to day life. The exercise showed me clearly that many of the clothes I bought were all out of want and not out of need.
When I look at it, my needs are very simple and generally revolve around time with family and time for myself. And if my results from the PWK annual survey are anything to go on, I am far from alone with having these simple needs.
In the 2015 reader survey, 62% of readers agreed with the statement “My life is too busy” and I asked readers if they agreed with the statement, to list why they felt this way:
I find it’s just my own perspective … there is no judgement on my life usually except myself, so I need to leave the ironing or cleaning and just take the kids to the skate park. Kids don’t remember how neat clothes are folded.
Bigger house to maintain than previous generation, too many “scheduled” activities for kids.
Too much to do and most of it I acknowledge I created for myself – trying to run a family, look after a home and go to work. I end up consumed by the day to day stuff and find it hard to find the time, to take the time, to consider the bigger picture – classic woods for the trees.
Trying to squeeze quality time with children, work, maintaining the house, and exercise into a week! Because we have an action-packed week, with little time off, and it would be much more preferable if I could be a full time SAHM to run our household and provide the taxi service!
If you feel that life is too busy and drawing the line between wants and needs is a challenge, I can highly recommend watching the excellent documentary All I Need from UBank. It is hosted by Andrew Daddo and features a typical Australian family with three kids and a couple of fun, single women who would eventually like to buy places of their own.
The doco is entertaining, thought provoking and most importantly has ideas on what you can do if you feel that you have become estranged from knowing what you need compared to what you want. It isn’t judging the people in the doco or the choices they have made, but it looks to show them, there is another way if that is what they want and it sets them challenges to have a taste of what it could be like.
While I enjoyed watching the girls come to a realisation about how their current way of life wasn’t bringing them what they wanted, it was the Winn family that made me think most about my own situation. Like most of us they are trying to juggle work, home, sporting activities and all the other extra activities that come along with kids.
As part of one challenge, the mum and dad of the Winn family are challenged to list their top five life priorities. Robyn listed making memories as her number three priority but then shares honestly that:
We’re not making special memories at the moment because we are just running from pillar to post.
It is a doco with a good heart and it is worth making the time to watch it. If you have a partner, have them watch it with you. Watching it will most likely bring up emotional reactions, best shared instantly to help gauge if there are some small life course corrections you can make, so you can live a life in line with your priorities.
Sonia and Lucy take a look at what they’re spending their money on each month, and the results are a little shocking.
The Winn family seem to have it all, but have they got their priorities straight?
Check out Brad’s award-winning, 27 square meter apartment that contains everything he needs.
Expert declutterer Jo Carmichael teaches the world famous Konmarie technique to the very messy Sonia.
“About six months ago my partner and I decided to buy our first home together. After a few busy weekends filled with open houses, we were able to find the perfect home and now we’re paying off a mortgage.
Our spending habits have definitely changed since becoming homeowners. I’m more cautious before making purchases and budgeting has become very important – but we’re still enjoying our lives! We go out for dinner and drinks with friends, and I even sneak in the occasional shopping trip!”
“I was lucky enough to own my first investment property when I was 19. Today I own several investment properties and I’ve been able to set up myself up financially.
I am happy to work hard while I’m young to secure myself in the future but work-life balance is extremely important to me. I got married this year, and have learnt life is about enjoying the simple things money can’t buy. You really can’t put a price on happiness.”
Australia has the biggest houses in the world, and the biggest mortgages to match, as we chase the Aussie dream. But whose dream is it? And is it making us happy?
We’re working some of the longest hours in the world and giving a huge percentage of our salaries just to meet the repayments. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
All I Need is a thought-provoking social experiment, and one-hour TV show, that follows two different households through a series of challenges designed to explore how we live and what we really need to be happy.
To guide us through the modern minefield, we hear expert opinion from world-renowned Psychologist, Jacqui Manning; Professional Organiser, Jo-Anne Carmichael, who specialises in KonMari the Japanese art of de-cluttering; and Architect, Brad Swartz, whose creative thinking has transformed his tiny studio flat into an award-winning space.
Our first ever documentary 'All I Need’ helps you decide between what you want and what you need. Will a large house filled with unnecessary stuff really make you happy?
Watch the short trailer above. You can view the whole documentary on our Facebook page.
Studies show that owning more stuff doesn’t actually make us any happier.
Psychologist, Jacqui Manning, explains how owning more stuff can make us more anxious, more irritable and that we tend to spend valuable time and energy worrying about it.
Jacqui stresses there’s nothing wrong with buying things, but it’s a mistake to think they will bring us happiness.
We’re all chasing a dream. The problem, according to Psychologist, Jacqui Manning, is that our dreams are often influenced by stuff we feel we should be doing, not by the things that are really important to us.
A great starting point, to help re-calibrate our hopes and dreams, is to list the things that make us happy and bring us joy.
Many of us are hoarders, but we don’t know it.
Jo-Anne Carmichael, a Professional Organiser, shares insightful tips as she talks us through the process of de-cluttering.
After removing their clutter, many of Jo-Anne’s clients find themselves liking their home for the first time in many years.
Decluttering can be a liberating experience, but the process can often be challenging.
Jo-Anne Carmichael, a Professional Organiser, shares simple strategies for making the process a more joyful one.
Winner of the 2015 Houses Award, for his extraordinary 27 sq. metre apartment, Architect, Brad Swartz, gives us the grand tour of his tiny but perfectly-formed home.
Brad shares with us the joys of small-space living, redefining what it takes to live comfortably.
Architect, Brad Swartz, invites us into his award-winning small-space apartment.
Ben is a realist. He knows the Australian ideal of what constitutes the perfect home will never completely change.
But this stunning advertisement for small-space living certainly earns him the right to ask some big questions.
Everything we own comes at a cost – and we don’t just mean dollars and cents.
All our possessions come with an emotional as well as a financial price to pay.
Lee Hatton, CEO of UBank, believes we surround ourselves with possessions to make ourselves feel more comfortable and secure; but often they have the opposite effect.
Whilst other banks continue to encourage Australians to borrow more and more, Lee Hatton, CEO of UBank encourages us to borrow less.
There are obvious financial benefits to borrowing less money.
Lee argues that the emotional benefits can be just as important.
We’re challenging Australians to look at their needs versus wants.
We’re challenging Australians to look at their needs versus wants.
Matt, an adviser at UBank, is taking a closer look at what he wants and what he needs. Here, Matt shares his story on saving, renting and Concrete Jungle dreams.
“I learnt the art of living minimally and how to save money when I lived in New York. It’s an intellectual challenge and very rewarding to live with less. I am currently renting and living in Sydney in a share-house and I am torn between saving up a deposit for an inner-city apartment, or follow my other travel dreams”.
Sam, an adviser at UBank, is taking a closer look at what she wants and what she needs. Sam shares her tales of shopping, impulse buys and the challenges of saving.
“Like a lot of people, I have no control when it comes to spending. I buy things I don’t need all the time! Last weekend I went to the shops to buy one dress to wear to an event and walked out with an entire new wardrobe and a $600 hole in my bank account. I really need to examine my spending habits in order to get ahead and save for a home deposit”.
Gabby, a senior adviser at UBank, is taking a closer look at what she wants and what she needs. Here, she shares the challenges of adjusting to owning her first home and having a mortgage.
“I have a big new mortgage on a house I bought with my dad. To help pay the bills, I have a roommate and dad is renovating the house; despite these savings, my mortgage means there’s no more online shopping. Overall, the new house is a downsize for me, having to move from family home, and there’s much less closet space. I also collect jigsaw puzzles and storage is a challenge. In purchasing my first home, I was realistic about what I could afford and what was right for me”.