A Master Suite Or An Annual Month of Vacation?

A Master Suite Or An Annual Month of Vacation?

Does your life serve your home, or does your home serve your life?

That’s the question I’ve been chewing on for over a year, since I first wrote “Why Do We Love to Look At Homes?” about the curious predicament of lusting after pretty houses that would actually thwart my ability to live my life the way I want. Lately I’ve been looking for ways to make the idea more concrete, and the universe delivered one when I watched a House Hunters marathon on HGTV.

Everybody on House Hunters seems to want a master suite – a bedroom connected to a private bathroom, with an optional fancy walk-in closet that sometimes connects the two spaces. They’re the new normal in modern homes despite the fact that they’ve only been around since the mid 1980’s, according to Zillow. After watching couple after couple reject perfectly nice homes because they “didn’t have a master,” I wondered, what else can you get for the price of a master suite? Are they still so desirable in the context of your whole life, and not just isolated in home blogs and magazines? Would you choose an extra-private bathroom over almost a month of vacation every year? Because my math says that’s just about what it costs.

A Home That Serves Your Life

Talking about how your home can support your life can sound vague or “woo-woo”, but it can also be very concrete. Let’s do some math about it and put the cost of a master suite in the context of something many people like even more than luxurious bathrooms: vacation. Here’s the infographic version, and I’ll talk through some of the numbers below.

How much does a master suite cost? Infographic by Billy Ulmer from Unlikely Lives.


I admit that these numbers are imperfect, but I think imperfect data is still more useful than cultural peer pressure and unchecked assumptions about what you’re “supposed” to want or have. So let’s dive in. Remodeling.hw.net reports that in 2015 the average cost recouped during the sale of a home that added a master suite was $68,598. So if you buy a home with a master suite, you’re effectively paying $68,598 more for that home than for a similar home without one.

So let’s say you’re choosing between two homes: a $200,000 home (the approximate average in the U.S.) without a master suite, and a $268,596 home with one. A quick punch into an online mortgage calculator using the recent average interest rate pops out an estimated monthly cost of a $955 mortgage payment for the “masterless” home, and a $1,279 per month mortgage payment for the “masterful” home – a difference of $324 every month. After a year of those payments, you’ve paid $3,888 for that master suite, and you’ll pay that master suite surcharge each year, for 30 years.

Still abstract? Then let’s convert it from dollars and into something frankly more precious: time.

You can do this math yourself, with your own unique financial situation, but let’s see how this plays out for the “average American”. CNN reports that in 2014, “The typical American family income was $53,657” per year. That equates to an hourly rate of $27.70, or, after taxes, a take-home rate of about $22.  Many households have two working adults, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say this one doesn’t. It’s one person making that annual income and take-home rate of $22 an hour.

The extra $324 a month that master suite costs per year is costing that person the equivalent of almost 15 hours a month in time, because if they weren’t paying for it, they could afford to take that much more time off per month. Multiplied across the year, that’s 177 hours, or 22 eight-hour working days. That’s an entire month off every year for 30 years that that breadwinner is working solely to pay for the privilege of their master suite, which, again, barely existed before the last 30 years.

When I talk about the difference between your life serving your home and your home serving your life, that’s what I’m talking about.  What would you do with an entire month off every year? How amazing does that sound? Does it sound more amazing than having an extra-private bathroom? Those are the kind of comparisons we need to draw to make informed decisions about how our homes really affect our lives. These are all averages, and your home, job and real estate market conditions will inevitably vary. The point is to try to put some kind of accounting to this stuff to combat the TV shows and magazines telling you how you’ve just got to have something because everybody else has it.

Money Vs. Time


“It’s Time to Relax and Enjoy Life.”

Money can feel like the most limiting factor in the world, but you know what’s even more scarce? Time. The hours we have to live are what they are: finite and unknowable. We can’t buy more of them, but we can choose how we use them. I, personally, am not interested in working 22 days every year for many, many years just so I don’t have to share my bathroom with dinner guests.

Your preferences and particulars might be different, and that’s okay. The point is to check your assumptions and ask yourself why you want what you want.  It’s called a “master suite,” but it shouldn’t be the boss of you, making you work days and months you’d rather not. You don’t have to have the house in the magazine. It’s more important to live the life you want to live.

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  1. I have chosen the master suite over a yearly month long vacation. I think the reason is 2 fold. First I enjoy it daily, and second I think it will make selling the house in the future easier. In the next few years I plan on down sizing, so will sell this house. My 2¢. Good post that makes you think about your choices & if they still make sense today. Keep up the good work!

  2. This is great. Reminds me a lot of what I read in personal finance/early retirement “blog-o-sphere.” I don’t have a master suite and don’t have any need for one. A nice, warm bedroom is enough. And on the other hand, if you save that $68,598, using the 4% rule, it would be enough to support $228 a month in expenses going forward.


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