Downsizing can be a difficult but important decision

Where to call home is among the most important financial and emotional decisions someone makes in the later stages of life.

Housing costs are the largest budget item for those aged 55 and over. Many people choose to age in place, but aging homeowners can usually improve their household finances by selling their existing home and downsizing to a smaller place, perhaps a townhouse or condo.

St. Paul cartoonist Rob Kirby captures the ambivalence about downsizing in his new book “Marry Me a Little.” The stunning graphic memoir details his experience marrying longtime partner John in 2013, not long after same-sex marriage was legalized in Minnesota.

There is a scene in the memoir where he and John discuss the merits of selling their single-family home and downsizing to a condo.

“No more backyard,” Rob says sadly.

“No more tearing. No shoveling,” John replies.

“So much less space,” says Rob.

“At our age, downsizing is important! Also: cozy,” says John.

“Now we rely on construction management to get things done,” notes Rob.

“Free from financial/emotional responsibility,” says John.

Sound familiar?

One of the reasons why downsizing is not very popular is that owners often don’t save much on the purchase price when targeting a downsizing home. The math has become even more difficult with the supply of smaller homes and condos in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.

In general, some money is saved. But the biggest advantage of downsizing is that it frees up time.

Time is incredibly valuable, especially with age.

A few suggestions if you are considering downsizing:

  • Move before you have to and then get on with the rest of your life.
  • Downsizing requires planning and research. You’ll want to run the numbers to figure out your total cost savings from the move.
  • Conduct a neighborhood audit. How convenient is the pared-down home for buying groceries and other necessities? How close is the new place to your network of family and friends?

Rob and John found an apartment they liked and “before we knew it, we had a deal done.”

Their experience offers another insight into downsizing: When they bought the apartment, John noted, “We can do most of the moving ourselves. We don’t have that much stuff anymore.”

With an asterisk, Rob notes drily: “Unfortunately, this is never true.”

Rob is right.

But once you’re done with the move, you still have more time to do other things.

Chris Farrell is a financial contributor to the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media’s “Marketplace.”

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