Our Journey Towards Saving 100% Down For Our First Home: Part 1

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.

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Saving 100% Down for A Home: Part 2

Stepping Out in Faith

I well remember the day we moved. All of our family helped us pack up our little apartment and drive up to Topeka to unload it in our basement apartment there.

It was a bittersweet day. We knew that this was how God was leading us. We were excited to begin the law school experience. But we were so sad to be leaving behind our friends, our family, our church, our community, our jobs — basically everything we’d known for over 20 years.

And we were scared. Our savings was nowhere near enough to live on for three years, so we were going to have to get really creative and resourceful, as well as come up with some sources of income pretty quickly. Since we were in a small town and knew no one, this was going to limit our options (in the past, almost all of our jobs had been offered to us without us even applying or even looking for them!)

But, since we believed this was God’s will, we knew He would provide. So we couldn’t worry about the next three years for long, because we had to dive right in and start figuring out how we were going to make ends meet in the here and now!

We settled into our little basement apartment, Jesse started his classes and I set out to find a job. I had worked as a mother’s helper before we got married and loved this, so I decided to advertise in the local homeschool newsletter to see if there were any families interested in this. Within a month, I was working for three families a total of four days per week, plus I had a regular babysitting job.

Jesse worked part-time virtually for his dad’s business and, between our two incomes, we made enough to just barely cover all our expenses. In the extra time I had while I wasn’t working, I started researching more about work-from-home jobs.

We were hoping we would be blessed with a baby soon and I knew I wanted to stay home as soon as we had children. So I figured now was the time to be preparing for this.

Soon after Jesse began his second semester, we were elated to find out we were expecting! The only problem was that I was soon so sick that I had to quit working. This cut our income in more than half and created quite a bit of anxiety since our outgo was suddenly much more than our income.

Jesse was able to get a job working part-time for an attorney so our income increased some — which was a huge blessing! — and I spent most of my days in bed with the laptop researching anything and everything I could come up with about ways to make money from home. I knew that I needed to come up with a way to make at least $200 extra each month in order for us to barely eek by and not dip into the law school savings.

As most of you who have tried to start a home business from scratch know, making a $200-per-month profit in the beginning is no small task! I’ve recounted my story of how I became a work-at-home mom before, so if you’ve missed that series, be sure to read it here. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I learned so much in the process!

During the last year of law school, we discovered this guy named Dave Ramsey. Jesse started listening to his radio show and kept coming to me all pumped about what he was learning. I really wasn’t too excited. After all, I stubbornly thought, weren’t we pretty smart when it came to finances? Did we really need some guru with a radio show to tell us what to do? I mean, c’mon, we were debt-free, we were living on a budget, we were living beneath our means, and we were giving–even on a very small budget. What more could some guy on the radio really teach us about money?

I drug my feet. I made up excuses. But Jesse persisted in encouraging me to listen to Dave Ramsey. So I finally gave in and said I’d go through Financial Peace University with him. I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything. And maybe, I’d learn something new.

Boy, was I ever stubborn and proud.

After the first week of Financial Peace University, I understood why Jesse was excited about this guy! Dave really knew his stuff, he thought a lot like us, and he was a great communicator. And believe it or not, I was getting a little hooked.

As we went through the next 13 weeks of classes, I learned all sorts of stuff I realized I had no clue about when it came to finances. Things like the various pros and cons of different kinds of insurance, what exactly mutual funds are, and how to wisely prepare for retirement.

But more than the typical financial terminology, I had a complete paradigm shift when it came to money.

I’d always thought it was great to live beneath your means and it was good to give generously, but I’d never really thought extremely long-term concerning money. Nor, had I ever had a strong reason for practicing frugality other than that we had to—or else get ourselves buried beneath loads of debt.

Dave Ramsey gave us a vision. He inspired us to think big, plan ahead, and dream big dreams. Most of all, we were motivated to get our family in the best financial shape possible so that we could bless and help others by being generous givers.

When we were finished with Financial Peace University, we sat down and made some big goals. In fact, the goals were so big, they seemed impossible to us at the time. But we decided to aim for the stars. After all, we figured that even if we didn’t hit them, we’d likely make more traction than if we hadn’t aimed at all!

One of the seemingly-impossible goals we made at that time was to buy a house debt-free within five years of finishing law school. It felt so far-fetched that we didn’t even have the courage to tell anyone else about it. However, we thought that if we really scrimped and saved, we might be able to squeeze out enough extra from our budget to buy a small, very basic fixer-upper home at an incredible deal within five years.

It was also during that last year of law school that our income increased a fair amount. Jesse got a better-paying part-time job working for our state’s Attorney General, and I was finally landing upon some work-at-home jobs which were actually producing a regular part-time income. For the first time in two years, there was actually money left over at the end of some months!

We started realizing that, once Jesse was out of law school and able to work full-time, there was a good possibility we’d be able to save a nice amount of money every month. So we began to talk about our post-law-school financial goals.

Changes After Law School

When Jesse finished law school, by the grace of God, we had no debt and we had a few thousand dollars in savings — thanks to our income increase over the last year of law school.

We were ready to jump in with both feet and start saving everything we could. But first Jesse had to pass the bar. It was a grueling six weeks of study. He took off work and we lived on our savings while he studied.

After the two-day intense bar exam, he went back to working part-time and we waited for the bar results. A lot was hanging on him passing the bar, as we didn’t really have plan B — or the funds to cover another round of studying and prepping for another bar exam if he were to fail the first one.

We were elated to find out about six weeks later that he had passed the bar! He was sworn in as an attorney a few weeks later and began his job as a full-time Assistant Attorney General in Kansas.

For the first time since we were married, we now had a full-time income coming in each month, in addition to the part-time income from my business. We were excited about being able to increase our budget some and start building back up our savings again. It looked like we were “set” for the next few years and it was an amazing feeling to finally be adding to our savings, instead of just depleting it.

In the middle of all this, we were thrilled to find out we were expecting our second child! We started looking at the possibility of moving from our little basement apartment to a duplex and we began thinking of how fun it was going to be to actually be able to afford to splurge on little things every now and then.

There was a very real temptation to want to significantly increase our standard of living. Hadn’t we lived on beans and rice for long enough? Hadn’t we spent enough time wearing secondhand clothes and driving old cars?

Instead, thanks to Dave’s encouragement, we decided to think long-term. Sure, we could easily blow the extra money which was coming in on nicer cars, expensive clothes, lots of restaurant meals, or extravagant purchases. But what would be the point of that?

We’d stopped worrying about impressing people a long time ago, we’d learned that money and things don’t buy happiness, and I really liked getting good deals at the grocery store and elsewhere and couldn’t bear the thought of paying full price for things.

In addition, we also considered the possibility that our income could go down significantly or we could have some major medical crisis. Wouldn’t we rather do all we could now to put ourselves in the best position financially while we had the opportunity?

So instead of going out and buying a house or even increasing our standard of living by much at all, we opted to continue our beans-and-rice budget and sock away as much of our income as we could into savings.

And that was a good thing, because God had other plans… plans much different than we could have imagined.

Just a few weeks later, much to our surprise, the Kansas Attorney General was defeated in the October election. In hindsight, I’m not sure why we never considered this outcome; I guess we were walking around on Cloud Nine, wearing rose-colored glasses.

Needless to say, this was a major blow. In fact, I remember standing there watching the concession speech with the biggest knot in my throat and the sickest feeling in my stomach. All our dreams, plans and hopes seemed to be dashed to pieces right then and there. Jesse didn’t feel comfortable working for the elected Attorney General for a variety of reasons, but that meant he was left jobless once the new Attorney General came into office.

The next eight weeks were a rollcoaster ride. Something would come up and it would look like a great job possibility only to have it fall through the next day.

Near the end of the year, we started feeling a little desperate. Nothing was turning up on the horizon and Jesse had already turned down the opportunity to stay on at the Attorney General’s office under the new administration (a decision we were starting to seriously question, even though we prayed about it and had felt strongly that’s what God wanted us to do!).

At the very last moment, a job opened up in Kansas City. It wasn’t Jesse’s first choice for a job and it looked like it probably would only be a two-year position, but it was our best option at that point. So, in a record five day’s time, we packed up our little apartment, found a rental in Kansas City and moved.

Little did we dream what difficulties lay just ahead of us in Kansas City.

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Saving 100% Down for a Home: Part 3

A New Job in a New City

Jesse started his new job the beginning of 2007 with high hopes. 2006 had been a difficult year of finishing law school, preparing for the bar, taking the bar, waiting for the bar results, morning sickness and then spending a few months not knowing whether he was going to have a job at the beginning of the year or not.

We were very ready to get back into a “normal” routine after months of upheaval and uncertainty. And we were excited to start saving in earnest after years of depleting our savings.

But within the first month at his new job, Jesse realized this job was going to be a lot harder than he had anticipated. The learning curve was steep, the hours were long, the work was stressful and the office environment was tense.

It begin to wear on Jesse and within a few months, he was almost continually exhausted and stressed. More big projects arose and he had to put in longer hours. Jesse, the always easy-going, fun-loving guy, was so overloaded at work that he rarely smiled or enjoyed life anymore.

I knew it was becoming too much for him and I felt powerless to help him. I tried to make our home a welcoming haven for him, I tried to encourage him as best as I knew how, but the pressure he was dealing with at work was enormous.

He was working so many hours and was so focused on keeping up with his job that he wasn’t home much anymore. And when he was home, he wasn’t very “present.” It was a hard, hard time. He hated being “absent” from our family, but he also had to keep up with things at work lest his job be in jeopardy.

The stress trickled down to me and I began neglecting my own health. Soon I started experiencing issues in my pregnancy. I became very anemic and ended up in the hospital for five days when I was 34 weeks along. They were worried I was going to have to be induced early since my hemoglobin and platelet counts were so low. But God intervened and I was able to carry Kaitlynn to 38 weeks before being induced.

These health issues felt like the last thing Jesse needed to be dealing with. And I felt so bad that I was adding extra burdens to his already-overloaded plate. But God used it for good, because it was a wake-up call to both of us to realize something major needed to happen in Jesse’s job situation, or he needed to quit.

The thought of him quitting scared us though, as we desperately needed the insurance benefits from his job — especially now that I was having so many health issues. It was a vicious cycle and we felt trapped.

We prayed and talked about it a lot. More and more it felt like it was the right thing for Jesse to turn in his resignation. And yet at the same time, what about our financial goals and hopes and dreams? Wouldn’t it be completely shooting ourselves in the foot to voluntarily cut off most of our income?

And how would we survive if Jesse wasn’t able to get a new job right away? We had been working hard to try and save money, but after all the medical bills from my health problems, we only had enough in savings to live on for a few months. And my income from my online business was certainly not enough for us to survive on.

It seemed like it would be foolish to resign just because a job was too stressful, so we tried to come up with ways to restructure things in our home and lives to relieve as much stress as we could. We figured if we could just ride this out for a few more months, things would probably get a lot smoother.

But then very unexpectedly, Jesse was asked to resign. While this came as a complete shock to us because no one had any idea we were praying about him resigning, we took it as God’s clear direction for us. But we didn’t know what the next step might be, or how we were going to live if Jesse didn’t find a job very quickly.

So without much warning, we were left without our primary income source — in a new city with little support, few friends and even fewer business contacts.

At first, we were pretty confident finding a new job wouldn’t be too hard. After all, we were in a big city and Jesse had his law license. How hard could it really be to find something which would pay the bills?

Well, apparently it was a whole lot harder than we’d initially envisioned. The days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.

We applied for just about every job under the sun. We prayed harder than we’d ever prayed before. We contacted anyone and everyone who might have a possible job lead. We followed up with every application and did our best to leave no stone unturned.

And yet, no one was even calling to offer Jesse an interview, let alone a job.

I wish I could say that I kept a cheerful attitude through all of this. On the contrary, I woke up every morning with a sick feeling in my stomach wondering how much longer things would go on like this. And I’m very ashamed to admit it, but I often found myself angry at my husband.

I felt alone, scared and stressed, and I took out my frustrations on my husband — which was the last thing he needed at one of the lowest points in his life. Our marriage started feeling the toll, and during those months of unemployment, there were times when it was only hanging on by a thread.

[Just a short side note: A few months after all of this took place, God really convicted me of how wrong my attitudes were during this whole experience and I went and humbly asked for my husband’s forgiveness — which he graciously gave to me, even though I didn’t deserve it. I’m thrilled to report that our marriage is much stronger today as a result of all of these trials and I believe beyond any shadow of a doubt that I am married to the most wonderful man in the whole wide world! He has stuck by me through thick and thin and loved me no matter what. I’m so blessed to be Jesse’s wife!]

Gratefully, we didn’t have any debt and we were still living on a strict budget, so the job loss didn’t plunge us into complete financial ruin. I can’t even fathom what it would have been like had we piled up a bunch of debt in law school or followed the advice offered by many following law school: to go buy a house and live extravagantly now that my husband was officially a lawyer.

While our marriage was in bad shape, we did make one good decision — to be as creative and resourceful as we could in order to avoid dipping into our Emergency Fund unless we absolutely had to.

At this point, I had an online bookstore and a small personal blog which I’d slowly been growing. I had recently written a course on Supermarket Savings and we decided to experiment and run a big blow-out sale. We set up an affiliate program for the sale and notified as many of our online friends and companies about the sale.

By God’s grace, the three-day sale on our ebook package earned enough money for us to live on for a few months. We could hardly believe it! That was a huge bright spot in the midst of tremendous discouragement.

We started to really think outside the box when it came to our income: Jesse took on some contract jobs, we got a newspaper route and I continued to bring in some supplementary income through the online bookstore.

It was also during this time that the idea for MoneySavingMom.com was born. There weren’t any blogs listing weekly deal match-ups for drug stores at that point and many people who had purchased my Supermarket Savings ecourse were writing and asking for more help and counsel.

I’d learned a lot about blogging and monetizing a blog over the past few years and I figured starting a frugal, money-saving blog might be a great opportunity to test some of those ideas out. Jesse was excited about the idea, so we brain-stormed a name and set up the site.

At that point, I was hoping the site would provide a place for me to practically help people learn to live on less by sharing things which had allowed our family to stay out of debt and live on a beans-and-rice budget. Little could we have dreamed that MoneySavingMom.com would someday soon be earning a full-time income and help us be able to save and pay cash for a home!

Unbeknownst to us, while it seemed like we were getting nowhere in the job search, God was doing some pretty amazing things behind-the-scenes to lay things out for our lives to be turned upside-down — in a very wonderful way!

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Saving 100% Down for A Home: Part 4

A New Beginning

After three months of unemployment (which felt more like three years!), Jesse was offered a contract position at a large law firm in Kansas City. It was by no means an ideal job: the work was monotonous, the commute was long and there was no guarantee how long the position would last. But it was a job nonetheless, and we were very, very grateful and relieved.

As soon as his first paycheck came, we immediately began saving again — this time with the goal of having a six-month Emergency Fund in place. We were highly motivated after Jesse’s unexpected job loss to get this financial goal done as soon as we could!

Since we knew Jesse’s contract position was short-term (likely two years or less), we began praying about what God wanted us to do long-term. Both of us had been hoping since Jesse graduated from law school, that we could eventually move back to where we grew up and both of our families lived. It was hard to be a number of hours away — especially now that we had two young children.

The more we prayed about moving back, the more we felt that’s what we were supposed to do. How it would work out, we had no idea.

We continued scrimping and saving and working hard. By combining the extras we could squeeze out of Jesse’s budget and the increasing side income from MoneySavingMom.com, we were able to fully fund our Emergency Fund in March of 2008.

Reaching this financial goal in a fairly short amount of time gave us serious momentum, and after running a lot of numbers, we felt there was a good possibility we could actually save up enough to pay cash for a modest starter home in three to five years. We decided to go for it full-force!

Instead of focusing on this audacious goal though, we broke it down into baby-steps and set specific savings goals for each month. Jesse, being the numbers “nerd” he is, created a detailed spreadsheet outlining where we were and where we needed to go. We’d updated this spreadsheet every month and it was so encouraging to see our progress.

In the Summer of 2008, an attorney who owned his own law firm back in our hometown, offered Jesse the opportunity to office-share with him. Jesse had always wanted to start his own law firm, but we’d anticipated it would be a long time down the road, if ever.

Now that this door opened up though, we started seriously considering it, running numbers and praying about it. We knew Jesse’s contract job would likely be ending in the not-too-distant future and the more we prayed about it, opening our own law firm seemed like a very viable option for us.

We had enough in savings to live on for almost a year now, MoneySavingMom.com was bringing in a good income, and by office-sharing, Jesse could set up and run his law firm very inexpensively. Plus we were overjoyed at the thought of moving back home where most of our extended families and many lifelong friends lived.

At the same time though, it was a big jump. What if the law firm completely flopped? What if this turned out to be a big setback to us financially? What if we had to give up our big goal of paying cash for a house because we were just trying to put food on the table?

There were many, many unknowns, but we both felt a peace about moving forward. So we packed up our house (while I was in the middle of morning sickness with our third child. Morning sickness and moving seem to coincide frequently around here!), found a rental back home, moved back and Jesse opened his firm the beginning of October 2008.

We could have never guessed the miraculous surprise which would be right around the corner, allowing us to gain more financial traction in the next year than we could have ever imagined.

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Saving 100% Down for A Home: Part 5

Moving Back Home

After we moved back to our hometown and Jesse started his law firm, things were a little shaky for the first few months. We’d already started a few businesses in the past, so we knew somewhat of what we were up against in opening the law firm. But in another respect, this was a completely new ballpark.

We had experience in online marketing, but developing a local business — especially when there are strict rules and regulations regarding how you can market yourself as an attorney — was a huge learning curve.

But Jesse was motivated, focused and driven, in spite of the many different obstacles and setbacks which came his way. And it was so wonderfully incredible to see my husband throw himself into building his business from the ground up. He spent hours researching, reading and listening to audiobooks on entrepreneurialism, marketing and starting a business. He tried many out-of-the-box ideas and slowly his business started to take off.

And then, God had a big surprise waiting for us.

Only a few months after Jesse started his practice, the attorney he was office-sharing with approached him about an opportunity. Another local attorney, who’d had his own practice for many years, was getting ready to close up shop and was looking for someone to take over his phone lines, phone book ads and client base.

It seemed too good to be true and we were definitely interested! The only catch was that we had to be willing to take over the payments on the phone book ads. As a brand-new business owner committed to staying out debt, the costs of these phone book ads were pretty significant. Once again, we prayed about it, crunched a lot of numbers and finally decided that the costs involved with this were worth it.

So Jesse accepted the offer and assumed the phone book ads and phone lines of this well-established attorney. Within a few weeks, we began to discover just how huge of a break this was for Jesse: the phones were ringing, the clients and appointments were lining up and Jesse was starting to have more work than he could handle on his own.

I began helping him out for an hour or two each day from home (typing up letters, handling administrative details, etc.), but it was quickly becoming too much for me to keep up with. It was a little daunting to consider hiring an assistant so soon after beginning the law firm, but we realized that there was no other way he was going to be able to keep up with things at the rate it was growing. So we were very thankful when he found and hired a full-time assistant soon thereafter.

It’s been amazing to look back and see how God has blessed the law firm from the get-go, far beyond our wildest dreams. In fact, from the first month, it has turned a profit. We’re humbled by God’s goodness.

It’s also been so thrilling to see Jesse succeeding in his work and loving what he does. Having your husband find great fulfillment in his career is wonderful to witness. I feel like God taught Jesse much through those first few years of job difficulty, all of which prepared and equipped him for his business now.

In addition to God blessing Jesse’s business abundantly, God also continued to bless MoneySavingMom.com. The traffic steadily increased, and along with that, the income from the site increased.

Because we didn’t have any debt and were able to keep our expenses low, the good income which was coming in from our businesses allowed us to be able to save a significant percent each month towards our house fund goal.

We’d set a big, hairy, audacious goal of saving our 100% down goal by the end of 2009, but truthfully, we didn’t ever expect we’d actually hit that goal. And as fall rolled around, we were still quite a ways off from it. That was okay; we were happy with the traction we’d made and excited about the direction things were moving.

But then, November and December came and our earnings ended up being much, much higher than usual because of a couple of unexpected business opportunities which arose due to the Christmas season. We were absolutely floored and thrilled to actually hit our 100% down goal by the end of 2009.

We started looking for houses in earnest at the beginning of 2010 and continued saving while we did so. Five months later, we found the “perfect” house. It was much nicer than we were expecting to purchase, but the price was exactly within our budget and it had every single feature we were looking for, plus a number of other things we had always thought would be really nice to have in a house.

We prayed about it, researched everything we possibly could, got a second and third opinion and felt like this was “the” house. So we put in an offer, the owners accepted our offer, and six weeks later we brought a cashier’s check into the realtor’s office, signed the contract and paid 100% down for our house.

It was the most amazing feeling — and it still is. We know that there is no way we could ever be debt-free, house and all, were it not for so many factors: the wise financial foundation our parents laid for us early on; Jesse’s dad investing the money from his mom’s death so we could pay cash for law school; discovering Dave Ramsey, a man who motivated us to dream big dreams and set big goals; our commitment to stay out of debt during law school which fueled our creativity and entreprenuerialism, which then resulted in two businesses which provided good income to allow us to save.

And ultimately, we give all the glory to God. For some reason, He chose to give us the parents He did, the financial upbringing He did, and to put us in the financial position He has. We don’t deserve any of it, and He could take everything we own away from us tomorrow. It’s His money and His house and we want to be wise stewards of what He has entrusted to us, for as long as He chooses to entrust us with it.

I write all this not to bring glory to ourselves, but to inspire you. We’ve made many mistakes along the way. There have been many struggles. But we have seen so clearly in our own lives that making short-term sacrifices in order to accomplish long-term goals can be so rewarding. And I’ve shared the details of our story in the hopes that it will encourage you — in whatever financial situation you’re in — to set goals, stay focused, think outside the box, be creative, and reap the fruits of your efforts and diligence.

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House-Hunting: It’s Hard Work!

We spent years talking about owning a home and 21 months earnestly saving for one, but I guess I didn’t ever realize the work involved in actually buying a home. In fact, after the very first week of house-hunting, I asked my husband sarcastically, “Can you just find us a house and then surprise me?”

It’s not that I didn’t care, I was just beginning to realize the magnitude of time and effort house-hunting involves. My life is already quite full as it is, how was I supposed to carve out a number of extra hours each week for poring over online house listings and Google maps, driving around looking at homes, discussing the pros and cons of potential homes with my husband, scheduling viewings (and babysitters for those viewings!), and then actually going and walking through different homes?

It felt like I was practically taking on another full-time job!

(As a side note, I now have tremendous respect for those of you who are somehow managing to look for a new home and sell your current home at the same time — wow!)

We slowly have found our “groove” when it comes to house-hunting. And we’ve found that it’s helped tremendously for us to stop trying to look at every possibility out there and narrow down the search field. Here’s some criteria we’ve decided to use:

1) Location — We picked three locations we’re interested in. If a home is not in one of those three areas, we’re not even looking at it at this point.

2) Features — We picked three features which were most important to us: a good-sized kitchen, three bedrooms on one floor and a Master bathroom. When we look at a listing online, we first look to see if the home has these three things. If not, we don’t even bother looking further. (Our “most important features” might seem silly to some, but we’ve live in enough different rentals to know what works best for us!)

3) Pictures — A picture speaks a thousand words–especially when it comes to a potential home to buy. If the online pictures don’t “wow” us, we don’t pursue the house. I mean, if it looks ugly and ill-suited for our family online, I can’t imagine that it’s going to look ten times better in person.

If a house meets the above criteria and is in our price-range, than we’ll look at it. Otherwise, we pass it up. By following this method, we’re looking at fewer homes, for sure. But we’re saving a lot of time since we’re only looking at homes which are really good possibilities.

Just for fun: If you were to choose three non-negotiables you must have in a home you’d buy, what would they be? I’d love to hear!

Coming next time: A Good Realtor is Priceless

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