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Sara’s House: On Making “Adult” Decisions + A Look at the Final Design Plan

People tell you that buying a home is hard. They also tell you that renovating a home is both emotionally and financially draining. They even tell you that you won’t believe it until you’re doing it yourself. But I think humans are programmed to ignore that kind of information until they’re actually going through it themselves, otherwise we’d never do anything, right? BUT WOW RENOVATING A HOUSE REALLY IS EMOTIONALLY AND FINANCIALLY DRAINING. I’m just yelling for the people in the back. The whole process also brings up a lot of weird emotions and thoughts. I’m really lucky to be doing this alongside a great human (I’m talking about Macauley, not my work wife Velinda, though she’s pretty great, too). This post might get a little mushy, so try and stay with me and you’ll be rewarded with a sneak peek of our FINAL design boards for the living room and dining room at the end. I’m literally squirming with excitement for you all to see it. But first…

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This guy right here, he’s pretty amazing. 2020 will mark 8 years for us. It’s hard to imagine liking someone THIS much for THIS long, but then I think about him and I’m like “yeah, yeah I get it.” Listen, I don’t need grief about how 8 years is nothing from those of you who have been together like 35 years (I’m looking at you mom and dad). For us, eight years feels like an accomplishment. But it also feels like in a lot of ways we’re just getting our life together started. Of those 8 years, we’ve only been living together for 3 of them. I mean, I know people who have gotten married or had kids in less than three years. And we’re starting to get into the real nitty-gritty of co-lifeing, like figuring out how to share bills and signing legal documents together. Our first apartment together was a dream…

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photo by tessa neustadt for ehd | from: sara’s living room reveal

But buying and renovating a house together is one of the most adult things I can think of. And once you start tearing down walls and ripping out floors, you’d be surprised at what other real-life adult things can pop to the front of your brain. For me, this thing was life insurance. 

We really value honesty here at EHD, and we like being upfront with you all whenever we are sharing sponsored content. So yes, this is a sponsored post about life insurance. Sponsored posts are a big part of how we support the content we create (like this series about my house!), and we love working with companies that not only align with our values but who also believe in the work we do! But the second, more important part of this equation is the fact that life insurance is a subject I was actually already researching. When Caitlin said Haven Life (an online life insurance agency that we’ve worked with in the past) had reached out about the possibility of collaborating again, I was like “ME! PICK ME! I can write about this.”

When I brought it up with my parents to get their advice, they were a little surprised I was already thinking about something like life insurance (they both have life insurance policies). Mac and I don’t have kids, we’re not married yet, and our debts (not including our house) are pretty minimal at best with some student debt and car loans. But that house, man…it suddenly meant our individual low-debt lives have become a single, intertwined LARGE debt. We really do look at this house as an investment in our future together. Possibly as our forever home, but more likely as a stepping stone to something bigger and better. We were also careful not to get into a mortgage that we couldn’t reasonably pay. But that’s hoping for the best-case scenarios (neither of us getting hurt, losing our jobs, or something else unpredictable), because our mortgage is something that relies on both of our incomes to afford. And all of this got me thinking seriously about what would happen if something were to happen to either of us.

My interest in life insurance is a two-part equation. First, we had a slight but very real brush with that “worst case” scenario with our apartment fire in December 2017.

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When I was woken up at 4 am to the sounds of people yelling and the smell of smoke, I have to admit that my first instinct wasn’t “we’ll pull through this stronger than before, and it will eventually lead to us owning our first home.” My first thought was “OUR CHRISTMAS TREE IS ON FIRE” followed closely by “what if we don’t get out?” Both were very scary thoughts, but the second one is the one that still haunts me. I can’t even drink mezcal anymore because the smokey flavor triggers this pit of anxiety in my stomach. If there’s one thing that fire taught me, it was that it’s very easy to think “the worst” will never happen to you… until it does. I’m not trying to be dramatic, and that fire did not end in a worst-case scenario. Both Mac and I are fine, our cats are fine, and we’ve landed very much on our feet. However, having the living room of your beautiful apartment charred like a hot dog left on the grill too long definitely wasn’t an ideal way to kick off 2018. We made the best of it though:


The second part of the equation is seeing life insurance in action. Sadly, I’ve experienced first hand the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. I won’t go into too much detail because it’s an extremely personal story and one that is not solely mine to share. What I will say is this—an unexpected death is unimaginable grief wrapped up with scrambling to figure things out, plus huge piles of paperwork, legal documents, and bills. And none of those things wait for your grief to subdue (it can take years to find any semblance of a “new normal”). BUT I’ve also seen how beneficial having even a small life insurance policy can be for grieving loved ones. In fact, in the specific situation I’m referring to, the proceeds from the life insurance policy are still proving wildly important to the family’s financial stability, and I don’t know what they would have done without it.

If the worst were to happen to me, the last thing I would want for Mac to be thinking about is how he’s going to pay the mortgage on our house or being forced to quickly sell the house and move amidst the emotional turmoil. (In this scenario, I’m going to assume for my own self-esteem that he would be in emotional turmoil after losing me). I would want Mac to be able to choose, in his own time, what he’d like to do with the house. And because we own a house together, but we’re not married, I want to set up systems that protect him. Life insurance is one of those because I can choose to list him as a primary beneficiary. But it extends beyond Mac. I would want my parents and grandmother to be paid back their share of the down payment if Mac decided to keep the home, which is why they would also be set as primary beneficiaries with a specific amount allocated to them. That way, they can help my brother buy his first home in the future. It turns out that there are many other good reasons for life insurance, beyond being a parent with children.

And as I’ve been doing my research, Haven Life’s site has been one of my favorites. It’s wildly user-friendly and super easy to navigate. It also doesn’t hurt that they are backed and wholly owned by MassMutual, a nearly 170-year-old insurer with a long history of financial strength. It’s really simple to get an initial estimate for coverage. You can adjust the different areas like your health rating and the amount of coverage you’re looking for until you find a Haven Term policy that you think could work for you:

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With the quote tool, I was able to see that Mac and I could each purchase a policy that would cover the cost of our home (plus some) for about $35 a month for me and $45 a month for him. $80 a month total isn’t bad for our peace of mind. I know that $80 a month may not fit everyone’s budget, but for us, I would really want to make a few budgetary changes to make it work. Next, I went further and filled out the life insurance application (which took about 15 minutes total). Once completed, I got my final rate, and it was exactly the same as my initial quote. The benefit of starting a life insurance plan now (not too young, not too old) is that my health is still in really good shape, and I’m able to get an affordable rate that I can lock in for the next 30 years.

I was instantly approved for coverage and didn’t need to take a medical exam (this is not always the case, though, as most applicants do. Regardless, the process is quick; it’s several weeks with other, less digital options.)

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Here are some nuts and bolts about what a term life insurance policy gets you:

  • Term life insurance provides a simple, affordable way to help financially protect your loved ones. This type of life insurance coverage lasts for a fixed period of time—typically 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. You have coverage in place during the years your loved ones need it most, until the mortgage is paid off (like us) or the kids are adults. 
  • Like other kinds of life insurance, term life guarantees a financial payout to your beneficiaries during the designated time frame in exchange for your regular monthly premium payments. That payout is often tax-free and paid in a lump sum.
  • Most term life policies offer guaranteed level premiums. All this means is that your monthly rate is locked in and will not change (which is GREAT). If your monthly premium for a 30-year term policy is $35 when you sign up, then it will be $35 next month, next year and so on… right up to the end of the term even as you age. That also means that if your needs change as the years go on, say you have children or you buy a bigger home with a larger mortgage, you’ll need to revisit your life insurance needs and potentially purchase an additional policy.
  • Once your term length is up, coverage ends. You don’t get the money back that you paid in premiums because like car insurance, for example, you’re paying for coverage in case something does go wrong. You do have an option to renew your coverage once the term is up, but premium pricing is much more expensive. So it’s more cost-effective to revisit your life insurance needs periodically and buy an additional policy if it’s needed.

Not everyone needs life insurance. It’s a personal choice that usually happens once there’s someone who relies on your financial contribution in some capacity. It’s one of those things you pay into hoping you never have to use it, but life is unpredictable and having seen first hand how important a safety net can be, it’s something I’m seriously considering for myself. Mac and I are on a very strict budget right now, and probably for a while. But for us, life insurance feels like something worth working into our budget. I buy too many $5 turmeric lattes anyways.

We’re really turning this house into our HOME, which makes me even more anxious to protect the future of it. And the design process so far has been making it all worth it. Finally being able to pick out pieces is giving us a light at the end of the tunnel. And I know you’re all excited and anxious to see what final decisions have been made. So, without further ado, here is our FINAL design/furniture board for both our living room and our dining room!

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Arched Mirror from Rejuvenation | Fireplace Hearth Tile from Bedrosians | Ceiling Light from Rejuvenation | Custom Roman Shade from Decorview | Velvet Sofa from CLAD Home | Rug (Vintage) | Coffee Table from Blu Dot | Leather Chairs from Blu Dot | Standing Lamp from Article | Nantucket Front Door from Simpson | Monoprints from A.E.U. | Vintage Bar Cart from Sunbeam Vintage | Hanging Pendant from Target | Portrait Print by Stephanie Kurth | Bar Cabinet from All Modern | Dining Table from Lulu and Georgia | Vintage Dining Chairs from Amsterdam Modern | Bench from Rejuvenation | Vintage Rug from Esmaili Rugs

We have yet to add that final layer (art, accessories, textiles—including bringing some green into the dining room), but there you go! Our brand new living room and dining room in 2D. The pieces aren’t even in my house yet and I’m already in love with all of them. This process is getting me so wildly excited to really move into our home and start enjoying it. But there are a few more steps before we get there (like adding quarter-inch to all of our baseboards, which is a very fun task I’ve relegated to my brother). Stay tuned… and thank you Velinda (our designer and friend) and EHD for inventing this series.

And an extra big thank you to Haven Life for supporting this series. If you’ve ever even been curious about what the benefits of life insurance are or how much it might cost you I highly recommend heading over to their site and starting with the quick quote tool. It took me two minutes but started a very important and needed conversation between Mac and me about the steps we can take to protect each other.


***Thanks to Haven Life who sponsored this post and allows us to continue to bring original content to you every day. Thank you for supporting the brands that support us.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

Catch up on all of Sara’s Makeover Takeover: Sara Buys A House Part I: Six Tips For First Time Home Buyers | Sara Buys A House Part II: The Renovation | The Designing Begins: A Floor Plan Design Agony | The Designing Continues: Time To Pick FurnitureA Fireplace Design Agony | Sara’s Moody TV Room Plan | How Much It Really Costs To Work With A Designer: The Final Tally Of Sara’s Project 

Looking for our second-day “Afternoon Snack” post? It’s up! Head here to see what we’re chatting about today. 

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4 years ago

I know you’ve probably considered this, but also make sure your life insurance amount will cover your funeral costs. I personally didn’t think about that when I added my long-term boyfriend as my beneficiary on my life insurance. (Like you, I was thinking about easing his mortgage burden.) But that’s a huge amount of money, too, that you won’t want to saddle him with.

Can’t wait to see the final reveal!

4 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

Yes same here

4 years ago

Thank you. This was finally the right time for me to read this, and I FINALLY got my term life insurance. I have two little boys, and this had been weighing on me for a loooong time. My husband is completely unable to get life insurance, due to a stupid diagnosis almost 10 years ago, but at least my family is covered if something were to happen to me. I could almost cry I’m so happy I finally did this. Thank you so much.

4 years ago

Nice Post

Roberta Davis
4 years ago

It’s encouraging to see a young person talking about financial security! And I like your final design choices!

4 years ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

AGREED! I feel like when I was in my late 20s I was living pay check to pay check – but not because I needed to. I just wasn’t careful or thoughtful with my spending the way I wish I had been.

4 years ago

I am totally on board with sponsored posts. I know that they help pay the bills at a time when people seem to think digital content writes itself and should be free.

That said, I do think this should say “sponsored post” in the headline or on the art. As a reader, I should know before I click on this that it’s a sponsored post. Just food for thought.

4 years ago
Reply to  Lee

On the other hand, I think it’s nice that it was clearly marked “sponsored” within the post rather than in the title – someone might not read it if they know it’s sponsored, even if it’s well-articulated and relevant to many people.

Julyne Derrick
4 years ago
Reply to  Sara Tramp

Agree with the others that this piece needs to be clearly marked “Sponsored.” I am addicted to this site, come to it every day and it’s a bit disappointing to expect one type of post and then get a paragraph or two in and learn you’ll have to wade through what is basically ad content to get to the fun stuff.

4 years ago
Reply to  Lee

Agree. SPONSORED POST under the title would be great so we can all skip these.

4 years ago
Reply to  Gayle

I recognise the importance of sponsored posts and don’t not actively read them… but this is a design site. I don’t really see the relevance, myself. I don’t mind sponsored posts when I can see how they work with the brand, but a post about life insurance is a bit of a reach.

This is compounded by the fact that not only is “sponsored post” not included in the title of the post, but the post is called “SARA’S HOUSE: ON MAKING “ADULT” DECISIONS + A LOOK AT THE FINAL DESIGN PLAN”. There’s no sign that this is a post about life insurance, which I wouldn’t read otherwise.

There’s a lack of transparency about this which rubs me the wrong way, I guess. But the final design is great (just annoyed I had to skim over irrelevant material to get there).

4 years ago
Reply to  Chelsea

Totally agree, Chelsea! Having 5% of the post dedicated to the “final design” also seems a little “click bait-y” to me. I understand and respect the need for sponsored posts, but this one left a bad taste in my mouth.

4 years ago

So excited about the new front door! I somehow missed it in previous posts, and the old one was killing all the mood boards.

4 years ago
Reply to  Nichole

They just added (decided on) it!

4 years ago

Can a post on life insurance be beautiful? I think this one was.

4 years ago

Pumped for the final design! I love that green sofa, the dining table, the bench, the monoprints, the bar cabinet… and I appreciate that you put the source for each of them in the link text. Very helpful.

4 years ago

At 29, my husband became very ill with something that no one could diagnose. The possibility of him being unable to work, or even losing him forever, became real so suddenly that it made me physically nauseous for months. The unknown of paying for food and mortgage on my salary was a big part of that. Please— get life insurance, even in your twenties!

4 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Oh Sarah, I can only hope that your husband was able to get to the other side of this and all is well now!

4 years ago

I am also SO MOVED by this post on LIFE INSURANCE? Who am I??? Normally these stories just go “I looked at my kids and needed to secure their future” so it was actually really interesting hearing from someone I can relate to.

ALSO agree with other commenters that the new door is SO GOOD. Love the final mood board. Well done Velinda!

4 years ago

WOW SARA I LOVE THIS 2017 CHRISTMAS CARD!!! And this whole post!!!

Heather H
4 years ago

It’s better to get life insurance young. When I got it, I was totally healthy and always had been, so my rates are low. Not long after, I had various health problems that would have made getting insurance much more expensive.

4 years ago

Love Haven Life! Set myself up with a policy after a previous post. Need to get a policy for my husband, thanks for the reminder. Can’t wait to see the furniture as it arrives! Such beautiful selections!

4 years ago

This is actually SO helpful and so smart. I’m in my early 30s, no kids, married, don’t own any property, but it’s also not something I’ve ever thought about doing when I do move into that phase of my life. Thank you for opening my eyes and sharing your very personal story. If only all sponsored content were this authentic.

4 years ago

Are we still getting our afternoon shot/treat………was very excited about that.

4 years ago

I love your door and furnishing selections and can’t wait to see it all in place. And your bit about insurance is great, many folks put off getting these pieces in place and honestly, financial education is hit and miss for most of us. Not to be morbid, but for funeral expenses, consider joining a memorial society. We belong to a small local group in our community. They have options for prepaying for your cremation or green burial or a low cost option at the time of death. It is very helpful for those left behind because you have all your plans and wishes right there instead of trying to think about all those decisions when you’re grieving. We were very lucky our parents were enrolled and it made everything so much easier on us.

4 years ago

I immediately made myself a turmeric latte.

It’s going to be beautiful! And I love a sponsored post that has substance, too. Well done striking a balance.

4 years ago

I just got married this fall and my husband and I were talking about life insurance these weekend. Such a timely post. We don’t have kids, but we do rely on each other’s contributions to the household. We’ll definitely need to have another conversation on this.

Love (LOVE!) the final design board. I can’t wait to see it pulled together.

4 years ago

Life insurance is great, but adequate disability insurance should be your purchased BEFORE life insurance. “If you’re in your 20s, you have more than a 1-in-4 chance of becoming disabled before you retire, according to the Social Security Administration. By contrast, for a 25-year-old male, the probability of dying before age 65 is 1 in 6, according to Life Happens, a consumer education organization. For a 25-year-old woman, the chances of dying before 65 are 1 in 9.”

4 years ago

This felt really sneaky. I do not appreciate that the fact that it was a sponsored post was in the third paragraph and three pictures down.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jessa

I agree . I love this site, but don’t want to be fooled by an ad. Term insurance is smart and cheap. But there are better options for long term investing.

4 years ago
Reply to  Jessa

Third. I have slowly come around to the idea that sponsored posts need to happen, but not clearly labeling it in the headline felt…inauthentic, which is a shame as the heartfelt post’s content is authentic. Huge turnoff – really. Makes me bristle and not read for a while, if I’m honest. So tired of blogs becoming long ads. Well written, though!

4 years ago
Reply to  Jessa

Absolutely agree. Very sneaky. Of course this comment won’t be acknowledged by the EHD team.

4 years ago

LOVE your final picks! Can you tell me the specific color of the green velvet is on the sofa? I liked on the site but couldn’t figure it out.