The $121,500 Room

Joel M. Schofer

I HAVE A WIFE, two children, two dogs, and the need for three bedrooms and two bathrooms. In March 2015, I purchased a four bedroom, 3½ bath, 3,000-square-foot house in a nice neighborhood with quality public schools.

The fourth bedroom was largely unnecessary but, like many people, we occasionally get visitors and feel it’s nice to have an extra bedroom for them, instead of spending money on a hotel room. This is the story of how that fourth bedroom cost me more than $121,500, far more than it would have cost to get hotel rooms for our occasional visitors.

The Guestroom. The guestroom and its accompanying full bathroom are approximately 600 square feet. We bought the house for $140 per square foot, meaning that this extra room and bathroom cost me $84,000. Where I live, you can get a decent hotel room for $100 a night.

In other words, I could have purchased 840 nights in a hotel room. I don’t think we’ll ever have 840 overnight guests, unless we stay in this house for a very, very, very long time. In addition, we have a very comfortable, queen-size Lazy Boy sleeper couch that could have substituted for the guestroom.

Running total: $84,000

The HVAC Incident. “The way they installed this, I don’t even think I can fix it.” That is not what I wanted my HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) repairman to say, but that is what he said. The guestroom did not have its own HVAC zone and, because it is above the garage and the insulation is not what it could be, the guestroom is always too hot or too cold. If you are going to have a guestroom, it needs to be comfortable, right? Some $5,000 later, the guestroom had its own wall-mounted HVAC unit and zone.

Running total: $89,000

The Exchange Student. Because we have an $89,000 extra room with a bathroom and its own HVAC, we hosted a Spanish exchange student during the past school year. Hosting an exchange student was a great experience for both my family and me, expanding our horizons and hopefully forging a lasting relationship with someone for us to visit in Spain.

The student, though skinny as a rail at 5’8” and 110 pounds, ate way more than I would have expected. I have no idea how much it cost me.

Running total: $89,000, plus whatever it cost me to feed a skinny but hungry 16-year-old boy for a school year.

Despite the fact that he was of driving age, he was not allowed to drive in the U.S. This, of course, led to…

The Manny Van. As of August 2016, I had a wife, two kids, two dogs and an exchange student. It was going to be tough to get around and do the traveling we like to do in our Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion Hybrid. Having a 12-, 15- and 16-year-old in the backseat, while technically feasible, was not going to be fun for anything other than the shortest of trips. Plus, we like to bring the dogs.

Enter the $32,500, 2015 Toyota Sienna minivan, which I like to call the “manny van” when I’m driving. It enabled me to haul all living beings I was responsible for in the manliest of vans.

Running total: $121,500, plus whatever it cost me to feed a skinny but hungry 16-year-old boy for a school year.

The Moral of the Story. One of the classic financial mistakes that people make (including me, apparently) is spending too much money, including buying too expensive a car and too large a house. Sometimes, something as simple as wanting a guestroom can lead to unintended and expensive consequences. If we didn’t have a guestroom, I would probably have an extra $121,500, a school year’s worth of food—and I wouldn’t be driving a “manny van.”

Joel M. Schofer, MD, MBA, is a Commander with the U.S. Navy’s Medical Corps. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or the United States Government.

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