The MapleMoney Show » How to Spend Money Wisely » Real Estate

When It’s Better to Rent than Buy a Home, with Gwen Merz

Presented by Wealthsimple

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Is it better to buy a home or rent? It’s a topic that’s often debated in the personal finance community. And while I’ve tended to lean towards the buying side of the equation, my guest this week makes a strong argument for renting.

Gwen Merz is a 30-year-old millennial and founder of the blog, Fiery Millennials. A few years ago, Gwen tried her hand as an entrepreneur, buying a multi-unit rental property, which she also lived in. Eventually, she sold the property and decided that renting was a better option. She joins me on the show to discuss her experiences with renting and owning a home, and she explains why buying is not always the best choice.

Gwen and I begin our conversation by recounting her experience as a landlord after purchasing a 3 unit rental property. You’ll have to listen to the full episode for the details, but let’s say things didn’t go quite as planned.

From there, Gwen spent a few years renting as she moved to a couple of different parts of the country. As Gwen puts it, the flexibility that renting can offer can be well worth the cost. Of course, if you plan to settle in an area for 5 or 10 years, it’s hard to argue against buying a house.

Gwen leaves us with an update on her early retirement journey, explaining that she’s adopted a ‘Coast FI’ approach to retirement and no longer plans to retire at the ripe old age of 35.

Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor Wealthsimple will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights, and the environment. To get started with Socially Responsible Investing, head over to Wealthsimple today!

Episode Summary

  • How Gwen’s first foray into the housing market went awry.
  • Tom’s solution to house maintenance issues
  • Gwen weighs in on the buy vs. rent argument
  • Renting a home offers more flexibility than buying
  • The costs of buying and selling a home can add up
  • Gwen explains why she decided to buy another house
  • Gwen discusses her savings rate post-house purchase
Read transcript

Is it better to buy a home or rent? The topic is debated often in the personal finance community. While I tend to lean towards the buying side of the equation, my guest this week makes a strong argument for the flexibility of renting. Gwen Merz is a 30 year old millennial and founder of the blog Fiery Millennials. A few years ago, Gwen tried her hand as an entrepreneur buying a multiunit rental property, which she also lived in. Eventually, she sold the property and decided that renting was a better option. She joins me on the show to discuss her experiences with both renting and owning a home, and she explains why buying is not always the best choice.

Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Do you prefer to invest in socially responsible companies? If so, our sponsor, Wealthsimple, will help you build a portfolio that focuses on low carbon, cleantech, human rights and the environment. To get started with socially responsible investing head over to today. Now, let’s chat with Gwen.

Tom: Gwen, welcome to the Maple Money Show.

Gwen: Hi, Tom, thanks for having me.

Tom: Thanks for being on. I know you recently bought a house, so I’d like to walk through this whole story of yours but if we can go back a bit, because you had a house before, right?

Gwen: I did have a house before. This is the second house that I have managed to buy.

Tom: Can you tell me about that first house?

Gwen: Well, this should tell you everything that you need to know. But that house got the nickname of the Dingell House. At the time, I was super onto the path of FIRE and wanted to accelerate my path as fast as possible. Everybody was pushing real estate saying it was so easy. I could just sit back and collect rent each month. They’ll pay your mortgage… It’s wonderful. So I bought this house for $82,500. It met the one percent rule and almost met the two percent rule. It was a really good investment or would have been had I realized that it was a not so great part of town, which meant that I couldn’t really get good renters and had a lot of issues with tenants. I was a really bad landlord. I didn’t screen the tenants effectively so it was just not a great experience. I managed to sell the house and walk away with money in my pocket and my credit intact, which, you know, was major success. I didn’t super fail, but it wasn’t the great success I thought it was going to be. After that, I swore off real estate. I never wanted to own a house again. That was four years ago and now I own a house again.

Tom: That didn’t take too long. Did you live in that house or was it truly just income rental property?

Gwen: I did live in the house. It was a three unit house. It was originally built as one and then it got split to three units. So I lived in one and rented out the other two.

Tom: Yes, that does sound like a great opportunity, actually, but it didn’t work out for you. I’ve had Court from Modern FImily on the show. She had a much better experience doing this when she used to live in the US. She had a bunch of people renting the place and it basically paid her mortgage off and then some. There’s definitely success stories out there.

Gwen: Oh, there are success stories out there everywhere you look. But it’s much harder to find people who say, “Hey, listen… I did this thing and it didn’t really work out the way I thought it would.” But she (Court) is great and she has a great story. I’m really glad for her that it worked out.

Tom: You mentioned bad tenants. Did you have a property manager for this?

Gwen: I didn’t start out with one. I started out being my own property manager because I was on site but then I moved six hours away so I got a property manager before I left. And that didn’t work out either, because I was getting less money and having more hassles because I kept telling my tenants to go to the property manager if they need something. They wouldn’t. They would come to me and I would go to the property manager. I was wondering why I had this guy if they’re not going to him. The neighbors refused to call the property manager whenever there was issues with the tenants. They would always message me on Facebook at time like 11:00 at night, telling me my tenants are throwing another party. I’d say, call the property manager and have him come over or call the cops, that way I can get rid of them. But they refused to do so. It was just this weird, awful limbo.

Tom: It sounds to me like that was kind of a special situation too, though, in that they actually knew who you were because you were there before. If they knew you didn’t exist and there was just a property manager, maybe that would have been better.

Gwen: Yeah, yeah. I think that would have been a lot better had I not made such great connections with the neighbors and had the tenants living side by side and below me the whole time.

Tom: Yeah, it’s hard to separate yourself from that. You said you sold the place and it did end up profitable. Was that just a matter of differences in the real estate market or were you fixing it up or anything like that?

Gwen: I did end up having to fix it up. When I bought the place it needed painting. It was a three-story, wooden exterior house, so I needed to get it painted. I didn’t think it was going to cost $16,000 but that’s the quote I got, which hurt. It needed new gutters. I ended up having to redo the front porch. I hired a contractor and got ripped off. She ruined the surface of the porch so I had to completely redo it. And when we did, they found out that one of the major support beams under the front porch had been chopped off and replaced but hadn’t been sistered. They just kind of bracketed it so it was like end-to-end with the new beam and the old beam. Obviously, that’s not very structurally sound so I had to replace that. And the back deck also needed replacing because it had been built by some Joe Schmo handyman who knew the first owner before I bought it. They tried to get somebody to build it before the inspection came. Joe Schmo said, “Yeah, you buy the tools and I’ll do it,” so she bought the tools. But he took the tools and never came back. That kind of tells you the care that had been done to this old house. It hadn’t been taken care of very well. The improvements I did to the house helped when I sold it 18 months later. I bought it for $82,500 and sold it for $99,900. By the time everything was done with the fees and everything, I walked away with about $11,000 in my pocket.

Tom: That’s what makes the story work out a lot better because it sounds like it could have got worse.

Gwen: It could have been much, much, much worse. I wouldn’t have gotten rid of it so fast. I could have had tenants who trashed the building completely and ruined the 14 inch floorboards in the original, quarter oak floors. It was a gorgeous old house but I was able to get rid of it pretty quickly. That really helped take a lot of weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have a job at that point. I had quit my job when I moved so, knowing I wasn’t on the hook for $40,000 of upcoming repairs to the house was a huge relief for me.

Tom: You mentioned that it took you four years to buy a house again. What happened in the meantime? Were you renting in the meantime?

Gwen: Yeah, I was renting. When I left my job and moved it was supposed to be with my “then” boyfriend. I was living in his house when we broke up, so obviously, I stopped living in this house. I moved back in with my parents for a little bit until I got back on my feet and got a job, which involved moving halfway across the country to the east coast. I moved around three times because I couldn’t find a place I liked. It was a very high cost of living area. Then I decided I didn’t like living on the east coast and got a different job in the mid-west. That’s where I am now.

Tom: Did you find that renting was a better value for you? I always hear people say renting is so much smarter than paying a mortgage because you can invest the difference. But every time I see that and try to do the numbers myself, let alone the fact you’re paying into equity into the home, I can’t even see the monthly numbers making sense.

Gwen: Maintenance is a huge factor, right? My current apartment costs $1,100 to rent each month but it’s a super old building. If I lived in equivalent housing I’d have to worry about my furnace that’s super old and sounds like a freight train. I’d have to worry about the wooden windows that don’t necessarily work super great. But I don’t have to worry about any of that. I just pay rent. If my pipes freeze and I need the faucet on the bathroom sink replaced, I’m not the one going to Home Depot and replacing it.

Tom: My easy answer to maintenance is to just have a newer place. I was having this conversation with our friend J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly and he was having some troubles with his house. I don’t know any of that stuff. I’m not good at maintenance. But if you have a house that’s been built in the last five, 10 years it sure helps. In our real estate market, it doesn’t seem to be a money issue. An old house can still cost just as much as a new house.

Gwen: It’s true. It’s really helpful when you buy a house that has a concrete block foundation or a poured concrete foundation instead of one that’s hand-cut, limestone rocks stacked on top of each other.

Tom: My very first place was a townhouse from the 70s. I think it was built in 1977. I was so lost. We had an electrical problem and the electrician said, “Your wiring is so old, it doesn’t even meet current codes.”.

Gwen: Yeah, that aluminum wiring. If you go far back enough you’ve got the knob and tube like I had in the walls in my first house.

Tom: Yeah, it’s all over my head. I’m not a maintenance guy. My answer for anybody that is similar to me is, just get a newer house. You’ll have a lot less maintenance issues.

Gwen: It’s true. But there is more to the equivalent rental. I bought this house and have been an owner for week and a half now. My mortgage is $1,800 but the house is three times bigger, in a nicer school district and a safer area. So, are they equivalent or not?

Tom: Yeah, exactly. If you were to find a place exactly like yours then the rental must be higher than that. As someone renting, being the landlord, that makes sense. Of course you need your rental to be more than the mortgage.

Gwen: I think the home versus rent scenario is really dependent on you and your future plans. If you’re going to stay in an area for five, 10 years, then yeah, buy a house, stay there and make it your own. But if you’re going to move around like I did in the last three years (a whole bunch of times) and you don’t really know where you want to be, then rent. That flexibility is worth far more money than you could imagine. Trying to buy a house and sell a house…Stop Ironing Shirts– he has a whole series of how much money he lost on buying a house and selling a house and buying a house or selling a house. They moved three different times for his job and lost a ton of money on it. I think it really depends on what your future plans are. For me, I’m not going anywhere. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I don’t want to move anymore. I’m done. So it made sense for me to buy a house now.

Tom: That was always my hope too. I don’t even like the act of moving, let alone the money.

Gwen: Moving is torture.

Tom: I have been burned by that so the flexibility is a good point. I had to move to a different city for my job and because I was in a fixed mortgage there were a lot of penalties involved with having to cancel that one. Now, I was lucky in that my employer was covering all my expenses. So I sometimes forget about it. I don’t consider it a true personal loss, but I did see it as a good sized amount that could have cost me money if I were moving by my own choice and my employer wasn’t covering it. You really can get stuck if you’re in a five year mortgage and suddenly need to move with three years still left on your term. Depending on the type of mortgage you have, that can mean big fees. Now you’ve bought a place. What made you decide to go from renter to homeowner again? And also, you’re not sharing with any people right now, it’s just you?

Gwen: Well, as a matter of fact, we will be having one roommate so we will kind of house-hack. My partner is currently splitting an apartment with his roommate. And we said, “It’s not your fault that we bought a house before your rent period was up. So if you want, you can move with us.” He came, took a look at the house and said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll live here with you guys for at least for a couple of months to see if I like it or not.” And if he doesn’t, he’s more than welcome to find a place and move out. We have a 2,500 square foot, five bedroom house, so we’ve got lots of room and can definitely fit a roommate in.

Tom: Well, that helps you too, obviously.

Gwen: Yeah. And he’s going to pay l2- percent of the mortgage so that’s super nice. We only have to cover 80 percent of it ourselves, which is very helpful, especially when you have to buy all sorts of appliances and stuff when you move in.

Tom: I kind of threw a lot at you there but what made you decide to make this move… that renting wasn’t for you so you decided to get back into a house?

Gwen: I don’t mind renting but this pandemic has shown that I do like living in quieter, more spaced out housing, so to spend a whole year in my apartment, it takes 20 steps to get from my second bedroom to the kitchen. I’m not moving at all in the apartment I’m in now. And I have neighbors above me. I have neighbors next to me. I have neighbors across the alley. I have neighbors everywhere. I don’t like being cooped up in that dense of housing so I was thinking about moving somewhere quieter. And then my partner and I reached the point in our relationship where it made sense to move in together. But we didn’t know whether we wanted to get an apartment or kit-and-caboodle, buy a house. He’s a couple of years older than me and was tired of renting as well. I think it all just combined to make sense to buy a house. And then you get into the financial aspect of that. He is a super big nerd. I’m not being derogatory. He actually calls himself a super big nerd. He works for a video game studio. His boss, the guy who runs the studio, is just kind of like a crazy guy who’s really hard to put up with. With and just gives a lot of like abuse and video games. With video games, it sounds fun to work on video games, but it’s often a toxic environment. So the studio got bought out by a bigger company and in exchange for buying the studio, they gave employees stock in the new company. So he’s had to put up with this abuse for the last couple of years in order to get his shares to vest. And they did last year. And all of a sudden he had this huge six figure windfall and wondered what to do with all the money. So we had the money to buy a house and we wanted to buy a house. So we bought a house.

Tom: I feel very pro house myself. Again, I don’t understand the math of people saying rentals over houses. But if you have a six figure amount and you’re still renting, I just don’t see the point to that. Even if the math was even to me, it’s just a security thing. I want to retire with the house paid off. That just seems like a given to me but I know it’s not for everyone.

Gwen: Yeah, I think we’ll aim to have house paid off before we retire. We got a typical 30 year mortgage and I’m 30, so that’ll be 60 by the time I’m,30 years down the road. We’ll have it paid off by then.

Tom: And you mentioned Covid in the apartment. I was talking to a nice little old lady who was in an apartment with no balcony, just a couple of windows. And that was her experience for a long time.

Gwen: I don’t have a front yard. I don’t have a backyard. There is just a parking lot in the backyard and the front yard is probably only five feet deep. It’s not a whole lot. I don’t want to hang out in the yard anyway. It’s just kind of weird to treat the space like that. I do have a small balcony off the back with a little patio table in it and space for a grill so I was able to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. But nothing like being able to go out on my deck and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning, like I’ll be able to now.

Tom: I think that gets really appreciated over this past year when people realize what they were forced out of. A lot of people I know that do have those little apartments, are used to being able to get out and get around. They live in a little apartment but go eat at restaurants and such.

Gwen: I meet my friends at bars or coffee shops. Or I go to the park… And you can’t do that anymore and suddenly you wonder why you’re in that apartment now.

Tom: Yeah. Yeah. That smaller square footage (over this past year) starts to really mean something, especially if you’re someone that’s single and lives by themselves.

Gwen: Yeah, the walls closed in and it was very hard mentally to be alone. I could go a whole week without talking to another human being in person. And that kind of isolation really starts to grate on you.

Tom: I have a family here and I still get it. I still want this urge to get around more. And I’m super thankful that I am in a house and have a yard I can hang out in. I appreciate that so much more over the past year.

Gwen: Yeah, absolutely.

Tom: So when you were looking for this house, did you have any interesting things happen or was it pretty smooth? How did the hunt go?

Gwen: We started looking at the market in the end of November, beginning of December. Just keeping an eye on the inventory and the kinds of houses that were coming on the market. We wanted to get an overall feel for how things were going. And it’s Covid do lots of people don’t want to sell and it’s very much a seller’s market. There is next to no inventory coming on the market. We’re 60 percent below inventory for this time two years ago. Houses go fast. We had a lot of trouble getting in to see a house before I went pending. The types of houses that we were looking at were very much in demand. If the house has been on the market more than five days and it’s not pending, what’s wrong with it? Why don’t other people want it? What’s wrong with this house? We found a property and put an offer on it. We offered five percent over list with an inspection, no repairs over $500 and extra earnest money. And we came in second. We didn’t get the house. That was depressing. How many times we’re we going to have to put in an offer on this house. So we kept looking and somehow we had overlooked this house… I guess a bunch of other people did as well. It had been in the market for 20 days by the time we saw it. And we’re wondering why nobody wanted this house. It looks awesome. It is a great house. I think the reason nobody wanted it is because it was priced at the very high end of the market. A lot of people who would want that house probably couldn’t afford to buy it. It’s been on the market for 20 days in the hottest seller market ever. So we put an offer in on it for $10,000 below list and they countered back with $5,000 below. Plus we pay closing costs. So we bought this house and they gave no quarter… Like in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies where they’re say, “You give us no quarter. Take everybody!” The was the seller’s attitude… “We’re not giving you Jack for this house. We’re done with it. We don’t want to spend any more money on it.” So we asked them to do a bunch of things and they said “no” because they didn’t have to. They wouldn’t replace the original 1969 double oven that was still in the house. They refused to sleeve the sewer lateral. They refused to give us a credit for fixing the door to the deck that had a little bit of water damage on the bottom. They’re we’re only going to do the things that the inspections said they’d have to do, like replacing the batteries in the smoke detectors and changing out the filter in the furnace. Yeah, like, “Gee, thanks, guys. You did so much for us.”

Tom: I guess they looked at it as they gave you a few dollars off and that’s probably all they were willing to give up.

Gwen: Honestly, I’m surprised they even came down as much as they did when we put the offer in.

Tom: Yeah, it’s interesting. Our market looks the same right now too. There is very low inventory, at least here in the Calgary area. I can’t speak for all of Canada, but I believe it’s going up quite a bit everywhere.

Gwen: I think all of North America has no inventory.

Tom: And the prices are going up for that reason. We still have really low mortgage rates and everything so it’s definitely a case where people do want the houses but the lack of inventory is going to keep those prices up.

Gwen: Yeah, I feel very grateful that we were able to buy a house because we had money accessible and because interest rates were so low. We were able to get more house than we probably could have two years ago. But it’s really tough to find a house right now. Everybody’s looking and you have to be able to make a decision at the drop of a hat… “Yeah, let me just put down half a million dollars on this property that I looked at for a total of fifteen minutes. What could go wrong right now?”

Tom: You mentioned things like the appliances from the 60s. How much are you looking at having to do? Is this a real fixer upper? Is it the opposite of what I would suggest which is to buy new you?

Gwen: We stayed away from the Dingle kind of houses and bought one that’s more Tom Drake style and is basically move in ready. We had to buy a washer and dryer because they took those with them. They also took their fridge with them. So, the washer, dryer and fridge right off the bat. We were going to keep the 1969 analog oven but we were at the house last weekend and it would not stop making this horrible buzzing noise. The timer would go off and we couldn’t figure out how to shut it off. They said it malfunctioned but the oven still heated up. They refused to give us a credit because it was still functional. They said that the timer malfunctioned. We thought it just doesn’t work. What they actually meant was it makes this incessant buzzing noise and it never, ever stops. How they got it to shut off for all the showings and everything, I have no idea. But since it was super old, we just decided to replace it. That way we don’t have to worry about fixing anything for a while until the next thing breaks.

Tom: Replacing appliances doesn’t seem as bad as having structural issues or mold. There could be worse things than getting some new appliances.

Gwen: It seems like this is a really great time for people with problematic houses to dump them on the market and push that off on some sorry newbie who doesn’t know what they’re looking at. But houses with water issues, houses with iron stacks for plumbing that were rotting. There’s one where I almost poked my finger through during the walkthrough. And I thought, “Okay, that’s a little rusty. And that’s a big ticket item that needs to be replaced.” There was one that had foundation issues. A beam had popped out and they had put bracing up that ended up tilting the house back two degrees. Do you want to buy a house that has a beam that popped out?

Tom: I know I’m going too much on this but I hate old houses. These things seem to happen with older houses. It was common where you had your 500 square foot house and added these extensions to it. Apparently, you prop it up… All these things you just keep tacking on and building instead of just getting something that’s altogether.

Gwen: My best friend bought a house and the inspector must have been half blind or something because there’s so many problems with the house. It was originally a double wide trailer that they literally built around and extended into a house. The flooring was super rotted in the kitchen and her dad almost fell through it. They went under the house to look at it and it was held up by three cinder blocks on one corner. So, there’s always a risk when you buy a house where the previous owner made all these changes to, with a beer in one hand and a visor over their face so they couldn’t see what they were doing.

Tom: Yeah, I’ve also heard people complain that even in new houses, you find out that you’re in a neighborhood of cheaply built houses. And that’s a thing. But I’d still rather take my chances with that over a house that’s older than me.

Gwen: We call those houses mushroom houses because they have a cornfield and then all of a sudden, overnight, there’s a whole subdivision that pops up with this weird, tannish brown siding. They all look the same and they’re all built as fast as possible. The boards are all warped and they’ve used cheap drywall and used caulk liberally in the bathrooms to make up for their tiling issues.

Tom: Yes, there is that side of it for sure. It’s not that new houses will always be better, but if I had to go one way or the other, I’d definitely prefer the newer houses.

Gwen: And now, if you try and buy a new house, the price of lumber has skyrocketed like crazy so it’s not cheaper to buy one because you still have to pay an extra $40,000 in lumber costs.

Tom: Yes. And when I say new, I mean anything within the last 10 years. Not necessarily having to build it, but just getting a more modern house. You also mentioned they took the appliances with them. I’ve never heard of that before. Maybe if it was like an extra freezer in the garage or something, but I’ve never heard of someone taking their fridge.

Gwen: It’s a fairly common experience. You have some people that take their appliances with them and there are some people that leave them behind. It’s kind of a toss up to where they’re going. I see it fairly often on Craigslist and some other sites where they’re saying, “I bought a house and it already has appliances, so I’m selling mine.” That works too.

Tom: No, I’ve never heard of it but it probably happens here too. Maybe I’ve just never come across it.

Gwen: It’s just this giant gaping hole in the kitchen where a fridge would be.

Tom: Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. Anything else you learned from buying this house?

Gwen: Even having been through the home buying process before and knowing what I was getting into, it still surprised me, all the expenses that pop up that you have to do right off the bat; buying appliances, prepaying a bunch of things like our HOA… We have a small HOA that’s about $40 a month. But the payment is yearly and that’s coming up soon. There are all these things that like we didn’t know about with maintaining a big house. Apparently, our house has an inground sprinkler system that needs to be maintained twice a year. Once in the spring and again in the fall. Then there’s extra costs associated with it. We have to have it inspected by the county or something like that. It’s just these random, weird requests popping out of the woodwork for money. So we paid $40 and now we’re paying $100 for you… Where is all this money going? As for the appliances, you can’t just get a washer and dryer delivered. They’ll deliver a washer and dryer but you have to go to Home Depot to buy the washer intake hoses yourself. And you also have to get a hose for the water to come out of the washer. You have to get a separate plug for the dryer. And you have to know what kind of dry plug you have. Is it three-pronged? Is it four-pronged? There are all these extra tentacles to things in home buying that kind of slither out.

Tom: I’ve been jealous of my neighbors inground sprinkler for years now. Maybe I’ll just be happy because I think last year it rained evenly enough that I think I only had to bring out the sprinkler twice. To not have that extra cost in maintenance, I think I’ll just be happy with what I have.

Gwen: Well, I was surprised that I made it a whole 24 hours before I had to go to Home Depot and buy stuff. That’s a huge part of home ownership, just the time-sink into maintaining the yard, doing things around the house, going to Home Depot and buying the wrong thing, or forgetting something and having to go back four times. You don’t have to deal with that in an apartment. So there’s pros and cons, but I’m pretty excited because I get to hang pictures wherever I want on the walls. And I can paint them any color I want. I can make it mine, whereas I’ve just kind of occupied this space for a year and change.

Tom: Yeah, that’s another thing I agree on completely. It’s nice to have the sense of “yours” instead of just being there temporarily. The only other thing I wanted to ask you was I know you had a high rate of savings previously. Are you still able to keep that up or is it all going towards house expenses?

Gwen: No, I’ve really backed down. I used to really eyeball my savings rate and tried to keep my spending down to save as much as I could. I saved 60 to 70 percent of my income, which is totally amazing and awesome. It’s something that’s a lot easier to do when you’re a single and you’re 20 something years old. But now that I’m in this relationship with my partner and we have this giant house that costs lots of money, I’ve kind of like stepped back from trying to retire early. I don’t want to retire by the time I’m 35, anymore. It’s pushed back to 55. My employer still has a pension so I have to wait until I’m 55 to get that. And if I retire after 55, I get to stay on the employee health care plan which would save us oodles of money. So, if I’m going to work an extra 20 years, why am I saving all of this money? ‘ve kind of relaxed a little bit. I’m still keeping things up. I’ve been averaging about 30 percent without even really breaking a sweat so I think that’s good enough with the savings I already have which is now being termed, coast FIRE. If I never save another penny towards retirement, I’ll have enough by the time 55 or 60 rolls around.

Tom: Yeah, that sounds great too. I prefer that method over this extreme, “I need to do everything I can to retire in a year,” attitude.

Gwen: Obviously, I see both sides, right? I drank the FIRE Kool-Aid for close to a decade. That was a huge part of my life but life is meant to be lived as well. There’s no sense in being miserable just to retire early. Last year, before Covid hit, my best friend drove down and we went to what they deemed the area’s largest garage sale. It was outdoors at Six Flags and covered the entire parking lot. There were just tables and tables of stuff so we wandered around. I bought a blender, a picture frame, and some video games and my friend commented that I wouldn’t have done that three years ago because I wouldn’t have wanted to spend a $100 or whatever it was. I wouldn’t have but we made a really great memory. It was one of the last things that I did before everything shut down so I’m really glad I did that. And I don’t miss the $100 at all.

Tom: I find it’s always just a matter of balance. I’ve mentioned this on the podcast a few times, in my 20s I was spending way too much. Then I went pretty hardcore the other way where I wasn’t spending anything. I was going to keep shaving down the thermostat temperature and stuff. I was just doing everything I could to save a dollar. Where you’re at right now just sounds like a better balance. At 30 percent savings that’s still really solid, personal finance, fundamentals so there’s nothing to beat yourself up over because that’s great.

Gwen: Yeah. I sleep very soundly at night. I’ll have this nice place to live and I’ll be with my partner . My partner got a slower start than me to life so we’re going to work on building up his retirement savings and kind of getting him caught up to a better spot in regard to his savings. That way we’re not entirely dependent on me. But it’s a nice mix because he’s got the liquid assets right now and was able to put the down payment down and I’ve got the long-term money that’s growing that we’ll be able to use in life. So it really worked out.

Tom: It sounds like you guys are off to a great direction. I definitely like your new direction over going too much in one way. Thanks for sharing your story for us. Can you tell people where they can find you?

Gwen: Yeah, I am all over social media under some form of “fiery millennials.” On Twitter it’s @fierymillennial because I ran out of characters. And, I also have the blog at

Tom: Great, thanks for being on the show.

Gwen: Thanks for having me.

Thank you, Gwen, for sharing your story and for giving us your thoughts on home ownership versus renting. You can find the show notes for this episode at Are you a member of the Maple Money Facebook community? If not, I’d love to connect with you there. It’s a great place to ask a question or share a recent money win to encourage others. To join, head over to to share with the group. Thanks, as always, for listening. I’ll see you back here next week when Dan Hinz joins us to share his four rules to adulting with money.

I think the (buy) versus rent scenario is really dependent on you and your future plans. If you’re going to stay in an area for 5-10 years, yeah, buy a house and stay there, make it your own. But if you’re going to move around like I did in the last 3 years...then rent. That flexibility is worth far more money than you could imagine. Click to Tweet