Let's start by saying I can't stand Megan McArdle. I think she's a so-so writer and a deeply mediocre thinker, and her continued popularity baffles and slightly dismays me.
That said, this discussion seems to be a new low even by McArdle's low standards. Mike gives some good arguments, and if you click on the links Steve Waldman gives some more. Apparently I'm coming late to this discussion, which was all over a certain particular slice of the blogosphere last week. (Although, oddly enough, one of the best ripostes was actually written a couple of weeks earlier.)
The heavier hitters have already weighed in and hit, but I'm going to scamper in between their legs and make a perhaps slightly disreputable but, I think, relevant point: I would bet a fair amount of money that Megan McArdle has never had to worry about making a mortgage payment.
For no particular reason -- this isn't relevant, really -- that makes me want to write a little about my own mortgage payments.
We got this house with a five-year mortgage. That's short, and that was deliberate -- we didn't want to spend twenty years making payments that were mostly interest. The plus side of this is, five years and we're done, free and clear. We're just finishing up year two, so we're well on our way.
The minus side is that our mortgage payments are large-ish. Not unbearably so. Our house was not that expensive, because, well, we're in Fladungen. It's a pleasant enough small town, but it's a rural community with a population that is slowly shrinking. I won't say what we paid, but three- and four-bedroom family homes around here cost between 70,000 and 120,000 euros -- say around $100,000 to $200,000. Also, we made a good-sized down payment, and interest rates were not overly high.
All that said, our mortgage payment is not small. It is, by far, our single biggest regular expense. I could pay the other stuff -- gas and electric, phone and internet, groceries and clothes for the kids -- with a few days of work each month. The mortgage payment, though, is real money.
In case you're worried: we've never yet had serious troubles making the payment. But my income stream is very irregular -- surges of activity and cash followed by long stretches of not much of either -- so, yes, there have been times I've scratched a three-month household budget on the back of an envelope, stared at it, and said, okay, I really need to pick up some work this month.
I don't mind this, though it is kind of stressful sometimes. The mortgage payment is kind of... ballast. It would be nice if we didn't have it. (There are definitely things we'd rather spend that money on.) But delayed gratification is part of being a grownup, and having it keeps us focused in a mostly good way.
Speaking of which, I need to finish my Congo draft. More anon.