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

Housing expenses are the largest budget item for those 55 years and older. Many people opt to age in place, but aging homeowners can usually improve their household finances by selling their existing home and downsizing into a smaller place, perhaps a townhome or a condo.

“Marry Me a Little” by Rob Kirby
“Marry Me a Little” by Rob Kirby

Graphic Mundi, TNS

St. Paul cartoonist Rob Kirby captures the ambivalence about downsizing in his new book "Marry Me a Little." The terrific graphic memoir describes his experience marrying longtime partner John in 2013, not long after gay marriage was legalized in Minnesota.

There is a scene in the memoir where he and John debate the merits of selling their single-family house and downsizing into a condo.

"No more backyard," says Rob sadly.

"No more raking. No shoveling," responds John.

"So much less space," says Rob.

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

"Now we're dependent on building management to get stuff done," remarks Rob.

"Free of financial/emotional responsibility," says John.

Seem familiar?

One reason downsizing isn't especially popular is that owners often don't save much on the purchase price when they target a downsized home. The math has become even more difficult with the supply of smaller homes and condos scarce in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.

Generally, some money is saved. But the biggest benefit of downsizing is it frees up time.

Time is incredibly valuable, particularly with age.

A couple of suggestions if you're thinking about downsizing:

  • Make the move before you need to do it, and then get on with the rest of your life.
  • Downsizing takes 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 downsized home for buying groceries and other necessities? How close is the new place to your network of family and friends?

Rob and John found a condo they liked and "before we knew it, we had a done deal."

Their experience offers another downsizing insight: Once they bought the condo, John remarked, "We can do most of the move ourselves. We don't have that much stuff anymore."

In an asterisk, Rob dryly notes, "This, unfortunately, 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 economics contributor to the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media's "Marketplace."