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cash clash

Kim, 56, and Mike, 63, Montreal

They built a lakefront cottage from the ground up as their empty-nest project. After six years, it's all done except for the basement. He wants to finish the job, but she wants a break - and a hot tub. Instant gratification or responsible homeownership?

He said: Finish the basement

We started working on this cottage in 2004, when it was just a rocky outcrop overlooking the lake. We had contractors do the major stuff, but Kim and I spent many hours laying floors, painting and building the dock, the gazebo, the bookcases and bunk beds. The final frontier is the basement, which we'd eventually turn into another guest suite - right now it's just a dirt floor, and there are some moisture issues that could pose a problem long term. We'd do the finishing ourselves, but we need the contractor to put in the cement floor and wall studs, and he's only available for a limited time this fall. I don't want to be boring, but I'd like to just get it over with, and we can pop the Champagne afterward.

She said: Buy the hot tub

When we decided to build the cottage, our dream was to have a place where we could get away and relax with family and friends. We've spent the past six years working on one home-improvement project after another, all in our free time on weekends and holidays. The basement will take another 30 to 40 hours, and I'm exhausted. I work 60-hour weeks in my corporate finance job, and I've had to travel six weeks out of the last eight. I spotted this amazing two-person spa that would be perfect for the cottage, and I think I deserve it. The basement can wait - it's been six years, after all, so what's one more? I live in a world of numbers and rationality, and I want to do something frivolous for a change.

Vital stats

Years married: 34

Annual household income: $150,000 (almost all hers - he's retired)

Cost of the hot tub: $4,000

Budget for the basement reno: $8,000

Cost of the cottage so far: $200,000 for 1,000 square feet

The advice: Buy the hot tub, says financial expert Kelley Keehn

I vote hot tub, hot tub, hot tub - and a cement floor.

Kim, this isn't a frivolous purchase, considering your job and the amount of work you've put into the cottage. Actually, I believe it ought to be a necessity in getting through a Canadian winter.

I understand your frustration, Mike. You're retired and just want to get it done. But Kim's right - you both need to enjoy your project and it sounds more like it's been a six-year sentence of hard labour (albeit a labour of love).

With moisture issues, the cement floor and any outside wall repairs should take top priority. But Mike, I wouldn't delay Kim's demand for simple enjoyment to rush a guestroom that's been years in the making.

I'm concerned about a contractor who's only available for a short amount of time. I'm always apprehensive when a tradesperson offers such a short window to complete your task. Maybe you need to shop around.

Think back to why you both wanted your recreation property: Fun and relaxation were likely the goals. Mike, I recommend compromising with the basement basics, save the rest of the reno and Champagne for next year and share a glass of wine and some warm bubbles with your overworked wife.

Kelley Keehn is the host of W Network's Burn My Mortgage.

Financial fight

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