Yes, we paid cash for our home, but we don’t think most people should follow in our exact footsteps.  While we hope to encourage and inspire you through our story to think outside the box and set big goals, we want you to adopt goals which are right for your own family — even if they are much different from our family’s. Every family is in a different situation with different needs, different circumstances and different longterm goals.
We think being debt-free and owning a home outright can be a wonderful thing, but there are many ways to get there and it’s going to look different for everyone. We chose to do something pretty counter-cultural and save up and pay cash upfront, but this was because we were in a unique position to do what we did. And it started way back when we were young…
A Wise Financial Upbringing
My grandpa had raised my dad that the only debt which he should ever have would be a mortgage on his house. My dad took this to heart and when I was very young, my parents, who had never had consumer debt, began working towards paying off their mortgage early. After they paid off their mortgage, they began saving to build a house debt-free.
When I was 10 years old, they sold our current paid-for residence and our family moved to a rundown trailer (which didn’t have heat, air conditioning or a stove!) while they built a house debt-free using the money from the sale of our paid-for house and the money they had saved. My dad was the general contractor and did a lot of the manual labor in order to save money. I recall going with my parents to store after store while they negotiated prices on everything from the trusses to the light fixtures to the toilets.
Within seven months, our home was finished enough for us to move out of the dilapidated trailer. And they had paid for everything in cash! Observing their commitment to live a debt-free life and the sacrifices and creativity they employed in order to accomplish it had a profound impact upon me.
When my husband was 11, his mom died after a long struggle with cancer. After her death, Jesse received a small sum of money and his dad wisely invested most of this money for him to use for college — which we are so grateful for! His foresight to do this is one of the main reasons our family is in the financial position we are today as that money, combined with what Jesse was able to save while working part-time through high school and college, added up to almost the exact amount needed to pay cash for law school ($35,000).
Jesse’s dad and stepmom also modeled careful financial stewardship: they always lived within their means, didn’t buy things they couldn’t afford and worked hard to pay off their house early. Jesse was inspired by this from an early age and started to hope he could follow in their footsteps when it came to finances.
Paying Cash for College
In his last year of high school, Jesse started applying for scholarships in earnest and he was able to get a full ride for the first two years of his undergrad. He also lived at home and worked part-time, so his expenses were very low and he was able to continue to save money.
He transferred to a private Christian college in Virginia in his third year. While he learned a lot from his year there, it cost an arm and a leg and he also wasn’t able to work much while going there. When he ran the numbers, he realized that if he were going to stay at the private college for his last year of undergrad, it would significantly cut into his law school savings. So he decided to move back home and finish out his final year at the state university he’d started at.
There was also another strong reason he chose to move back home: he was anxious to marry me!
Getting On the Same Page About Finances
When Jesse finalized his plans to move back home and finish his final year of undergrad at the state university, he started applying for scholarships there. We were thrilled when he was able to get an almost full scholarship again for his last year. He once again lived at home and worked part-time, enabling him to keep his expenses very low and allowing him to save money.
Soon after he moved back, we got engaged and started planning for our future. One of the things we spent a lot of time discussing and praying about was finances.
Since we had both had such an excellent financial upbringing and wise examples in our parents , neither of us had any debt, and we were very committed to living beneath our means. However, in crunching the numbers, we knew it was going to take some extreme creativity and frugality if we were going stay out of debt through law school.
Jesse had researched the costs of law school and determined it would likely be a little over $10,000 per year if he were to go to an in-state school and get a scholarship. He also had to add on the cost of books, which would be somewhere in the vicinity of $4,000 total.
All told we were looking at it costing right around $35,000 for three years of law school — which was almost the exact amount he had in savings thanks to the money his father invested for him plus the money the money he saved while working.
So we could pay cash for law school, but we also had to find a way to survive and pay our bills during those three years. We figured that we could live on right around $1,000 per month if we basically only spent money on the bare necessities. I had saved up $5,000 from working some part-time jobs before marriage, but we were hoping to keep that set aside as an Emergency Fund to use in case we had some crisis (and we did indeed end up using it a few months into law school when Jesse totaled his car!).
We were looking at having to find a way to come up with at least $36,000 extra in cash to pay for our basic living expenses for the next three years. That probably doesn’t seem like much to some of you, except we were hoping to start a family soon after we were married and we were committed to me being a stay-at-home mom once children came along. In addition, Jesse was limited to working only 20 hours per week per the law school rules (they limit students to only working part-time since the class load is so heavy in law school. And, in retrospect, I think anyone would be pretty out of their mind to try and work much more than that!)
We made a very barebones budget and we talked about every way possible we could come up with to cut expenses and bring in extra income. In addition, we discussed what sacrifices we’d be willing to make if it came down to it.
After much prayer, we knew this was the path God was calling us to; but it didn’t mean we weren’t scared or stressed sometimes, wondering how it was all going to work out. At the same time, though, we were excited to make a leap of faith and see God do miracles on our behalf.
Practicing Frugality From the Get-Go
We got married right before Jesse’s last semester of undergrad and we started practicing frugality from the get-go: we honeymooned in an old and inexpensive hotel in a small town in a neighboring state and splurged once to go out to eat at Subway. The rest of our honeymoon we ate food we’d brought from home or which we picked up at Dollar General while we were there!
Back from our honeymoon, we rented the cheapest apartment we could find and we outfitted it with furniture hand-me-downs we got from friends and family, plus a used couch we bought for $100. We both worked as many hours we could at our part-time jobs, we saved everything we possibly could and we learned that a strong marriage is not dependent upon how much money you spend, but on the depth of your love and commitment to one another.
Jesse graduated from the state university in May and we started making plans for our move to Topeka, Kansas, for him to go to law school. The real test of our faith and frugality was about to begin.