“We bought a house!” I announced to my friends via Facebook a few weeks ago. It was a thrill to say those four words, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a fraud. Why? Because, as anyone who’s ever taken on a mortgage well knows, buying a house is not the same thing as owning a house.

The truth is, when we signed on the dotted line, we only bought a ten percent stake in our new home. That’s right – as much as I’ve preached on this website about putting down the almighty 20%, so as to avoid private mortgage insurance, my husband and I decided to put down just 10%. We have our reasons, some valid, some not quite as valid. But at the end of the day, “our” house isn’t really ours at all; the bank owns 90% of it.

This is about more, though, than buying a home compared to owning a home. Americans by next to nothing outright these days. Your car? Financed! Your college education? Paid for by student loans! Your groceries? Yup, chances are, even that gallon of milk in your refrigerator isn’t entirely yours.

At what point in this whole credit rigamarole (I can honestly say that’s the first time I’ve ever used that word in print!) does an item we purchase actually becomeĀ ours? The fact is, even though I used a similar method – credit – to buy my house, my car, my education, and my milk, I had very different ideas of ownership. I’ve never questioned whether the groceries or gas I purchased using a credit card were mine; of course they were, although – ironically – in most cases I’d consumed those products in their entirety before my card’s monthly statement hit my inbox. I never really questioned who owned my education, either, even though it was financed through an installment loan, virtually no different than my auto loan or mortgage. I think the reason for that is simple: IĀ became my education and, even if I’d defaulted on my student loan, no repo man could have taken away what I learned while in college and grad school.

I’m sure there’s a broader point to be made here, a grand generalization about how common it’s become for Americans to pile themselves under mounds and mounds of debt and be increasingly comfortable with those financial pressures. But I’m going to refrain from making those gross assumptions.

Instead, I’m going to make one last statement about my own microcosm. For me, buying a house is about more than taking on debt in the form of a mortgage. It’s about setting down roots – finally! – and building a true foundation for my family now and for years to come. Yes, it’s debt, and yes, it’s a pain and a burden (especially after spending the last several months completely debt free!), but if you’re looking to call someplace home for decades and decades, then buying a home is every bit the same as owning one.

Libby Balke

Libby Balke