A Dream Come True: Paying Cash for Our First Home

When we walked into this house, we both instantly fell in love with it. It was everything we were looking for — and so much more! Best of all? It was in our price range.

While we both were a little antsy to go ahead and put a contract on it, we wanted to research out everything more thoroughly, think it through, pray about it some more, sleep on it overnight and bring both of our dads to investigate it again with us to make sure we weren’t missing anything which we needed to be aware of.

There were already quite a few showings scheduled, so we felt it was best to not piddle around. We scheduled a time to come back and look at the house the next day with our dads and then we went home to pray and think.

Once home, we researched flood plains, tax appraisals, register of deeds documents, homes in the area which had recently sold and how much they sold for and we spent a long time praying for wisdom. We wanted to be 100% sure God was leading us to put a contract on this home. We really didn’t want to practically clean out our entire bank account for something which was not His will for us!

And the more we researched and prayed, the more the lights turned green. Based upon the prices of comparable houses in the area which had recently sold and based upon what we felt the home was worth, we decided upon what we wanted to offer.

The next day, we went back to look at the home praying that if there was any reason we weren’t supposed to put an offer on the house, God would make it very clear to us. Well, in going through the house with a fine-toothed comb again, we only came to like it even more. And our dads really liked it as well and felt the offer we had decided upon was fair.

So, with great excitement, we signed the contract. And within a few hours, the sellers accepted!

We had a hard time believing it was really and truly for real. After talking, dreaming, working and praying towards the goal of paying cash for a house, it felt rather surreal that it had actually happened.

A few weeks later, we drove Old Blue Van into town and signed our names on the dotted line to become home owners. We were chuckling while driving there about how crazy it was to be driving a clunker to pay cash for a home. We felt a little out of place when we drove up to a parking lot full of shiny almost-new cars.

But, in a way, it seemed so fitting. Being content with a clunker instead of upgrading to a newer car was just one of the many reasons we were in a position to pay cash for a house.

After signing the contract and getting the keys, Jesse and I headed over to our new home. It is hard to describe the feelings which washed over us when we pulled up into the driveway. To see our dreams come to fruition. To see the sleepless nights and long days of working and saving pay off. To see the realization of years of scrimping.

It was far from a fleeting momentary giddiness; it was a deep fulfilling feeling in the bottom of our souls. By the grace of God, we had paid cash for our first home.

And we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that God is good. We stepped out in faith and obedience at the beginning of our marriage to follow His leading to be counter-cultural and follow the Biblical principle of “owing no man anything” (see Romans 13:8). It has been far from easy and there have been many times when we’ve wanted to give up and give in. But as we’ve stayed faithful and obedient — even when the going got very tough — He has blessed that obedience and faithfulness far beyond our wildest imaginations.

Without God’s blessing and provision, we would never have been position to pay cash for a home. But He has seen fit to bless us with a spacious home that meets and exceeds all of our expectations. And it’s a testament to His goodness and graciousness to bless His children with good gifts. It is our heart’s desire that we be wise stewards of this home He has entrusted to us.

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House-Hunting: Could this be THE house?

Last week, I left you hanging after we’d been house-hunting for six months and were getting kind of tired of hearing the question “Have you found a house yet?” We were also becoming a little lax in our finances because we didn’t have a big goal to work for. So, we sat down and had a Money Meeting to make new financial goals for the following year.

One of the things we talked about seriously at that Money Meeting was “How long are we willing to wait to buy a house?” Meaning, is there some point in looking for a home when we’d feel like it was time to lower our standards and just go ahead and get the best house we could find in our price range at that time instead of waiting it out for something better?

Our reason for contemplating this was because we’d looked at two different houses that week which were both in our price range and in an area we liked. But both of the houses were far from ideal. There were so many issues with both of them that we didn’t like and they’d both need some pretty extensive work before we moved in. We wondered if this was going to be as good as it got. They were adequate and we could make them work, but we certainly didn’t like either of them.

Maybe we were being too particular? Maybe we just weren’t going to find what we were looking for in the price range we’d set?  We really wanted to get a house we both loved, but were we being unrealistic? Perhaps we should just settle for something less-than-ideal, even if both of us really didn’t like it. After all, we’ve rented plenty of less-than-ideal places before and been perfectly content!

At the same time, we both didn’t want to fork over pretty much our entire savings account for something neither of us really liked. Something just didn’t seem right about that!

So we both agreed that we’d wait it out another six months and then re-evaluate how things were going. We also prayed together — for the umpteenth time! — that God would give us specific and clear wisdom and direction in this process.

Less than two days later, a house went on the market which met a lot of our criteria. It was in our price range and in an area we really liked, it had three bedrooms on the main floor and a master bathroom.

The bizarre thing was that there were no pictures posted online. We’d never looked at a house that hadn’t had pictures posted online, but for some reason this one caught our eye. And in a very uncharacteristic mode, we went and drove to the house to check it out. And as soon as we saw it, we both almost squealed: it was beautiful.

Surely there’d been some mistake. A house this beautiful couldn’t actually be in our price range.

So we figured there must be a reason there were no pictures online. It must have been gutted on the inside or something. But we still both just had to wonder if maybe this was THE house? However, we had no idea what the inside looked like nor did we have a clue whether the kitchen was anything decent so we tried our best not to get our hopes up until we’d actually seen it.

They weren’t allowing showings for a whole entire week because they were painting the inside. So what else was there to do but wait?

Never before in the house-hunting process had I felt like I was on pins-and-needles, but that whole week, I couldn’t seem to focus on anything else. I was terribly anxious to get to go inside the house, or see pictures or something. It was an excruciatingly long week.

Finally, the day arrived. I tried hard to prepare myself for the worst as I didn’t want to have my hopes dashed.

However, I could have hardly prepared myself for what the inside of the house looked like. In fact, I almost felt like crying: it was utterly gorgeous.

And then I walked into the kitchen. And I, who am usually terribly composed and rarely get dramatic about anything, had to suppress a squeal. The kitchen was amazing, just amazing.

The whole house was absolutely perfect. Everything we’d said were essentials, everything we’d hoped it might possibly have, all the little things that we’d always thought would really nice to have, but never expected we’d actually find in a house in our price range — this house had it all.

It felt like a dream and I was about ready to burst with excitement.

But of course, we had a few more hurdles to cross… so I tried my best to contain my excitement before it was really real.

To be continued next week… (I was hoping I could finish the story in one post, but alas, there’s too much to write!)

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House-Hunting: Patience Pays Off!

We purposefully waited to look at houses until we had saved 100% of our goal for our house-fund. Because we were committed to staying out of debt and paying cash for a house, we didn’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we looked at houses, fell in love with one and then were tempted to go borrow money in order to buy it (yes, we’re unabashedly weird like that!).

So we waited until we were completely ready and our house fund was fully-funded. And when we finally hit our goal at the beginning of the year, we’d been renting for seven years. Most people expected us to go right out and buy something almost immediately since we were finally ready to do so.

But we weren’t in any big rush. Sure, it would be nice to move to something a little better suited to our needs than our current rental, but we wanted to wait and find something we really liked and knew without a doubt was THE house for us.

We were initially thinking we’d find a house within a few months — if not sooner — but we quickly learned that when you’re paying 100% down on a house, you’re not in a big hurry to part with that money until you know you’ve found a house which you love.

So we waited, we prayed and we continued to look at houses.

After about five months of looking, I was getting a little tired of people asking “Have you found a house yet?” In fact, sometimes I felt like that mother who is pregnant and past her due date and people keep coming up and saying “When are you going to have that baby??”

I also was finding that we’d worked so hard for this big goal and now it felt like we were in a holding pattern. Going nowhere, getting no traction and without purpose. It wasn’t that we weren’t still saving money, it was just that we’d put a lot of our financial goals on hold until we found a house — since we wanted to have extra padding in our house budget to account for the additional expenses which might present themselves (necessary costs, moving expenses, work which would need to be done to the house, etc.)

When I talked to Jesse about this, we decided to sit down and map out a specific future game plan for our finances — even if we hadn’t found a house yet. We needed purpose and drive and goals. Without them, we were feeling a little aimless and slacking in sticking with the budget.

So we laid out specific dates for other financial goals and started working towards those. And almost immediately, the momentum was back and my frugal zeal returned!

And would you believe it? Within days of our “money meeting”, THE house went up for sale. And we signed a contract on it within 48 hours!

I guess you could say that we weren’t in a hurry until we found THE house — and then we certainly didn’t dawdle. How it all came to be is a bit of a wild story and still has us shaking our heads and pinching ourselves. But I’ll save all those details to share with you next week.

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House-Hunting: A Realtor is Priceless

In hunting for a house, we’ve found a realtor to be invaluable. Since we’ve never bought a house before, despite doing a lot of research, we feel like this has been a whole new world that we know nothing about.

How We Found a Good Realtor

1. We did initial research online and offline.

When we knew it was likely we were going to be looking for a house soon, we started investigating potential realtors in our area. We paid attention to which ones were successfully selling homes and which ones were selling homes in the areas and price ranges we were looking at. We also discussed specifics of what we were looking for in a realtor.

2. We asked friends and family for recommendations.

Once we’d done our initial research, we started asking for recommendations of good realtors from friends and family. We were looking for a competent realtor who had our best interests in mind — not someone who was related to someone we knew. (Unfortunately, you can often get burned if you choose Uncle Jim just because he’s your uncle instead of because he’s really competent and the best fit for you.)

3. We “interviewed” potential candidates.

After narrowing down the field to a few potential candidates for our realtor, we called and/or emailed them to ask them a few telling questions we’d prepared. How they responded, how professionally they responded and how quickly they responded helped us to make our final decision of which realtor to hire.

4. We prayed for wisdom.

Last but not least, we prayed for wisdom in making the decision. We believe wholeheartedly that God cares about all the details of our lives — from the big things to the little things. So we asked Him to give us wisdom and direction in this process.

It might seem like we went to a lot of trouble to choose a realtor, but our efforts paid off as our realtor has been absolutely wonderful. She’s honest, very hard-working and we have 100-percent confidence in her. She’s been an amazing asset to us as we’ve navigated these previously-uncharted waters — and we truly feel like we would be lost without her help!

Stay tuned over the next few weeks as I’ll be sharing more about our house-hunting and house-purchasing adventures. (And yes, if you’ve not caught onto my subtle hints over the last few weeks, we bought a house! More on that soon!)

Have you successfully hired a realtor before? If so, what advice would you give someone looking for a good realtor?

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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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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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