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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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  • Dawn says:

    Thanks for sharing your amazing story. I am so happy for you and your sweet family. I can’t wait to read Part 2!

  • Lisa says:

    I love this blog and think you are great! I want to make a comment about having a mortgage, though. A mortgage can be a good thing, especially if you live somewhere where rent is high. We bought our house five years ago. It was a really great deal (fixer upper in a great neighborhood, interest rates were good, etc.) and our mortgage payment ended up being cheaper than our rent. Where we live, a small apartment rents for $500-$800, and our mortgage is around $600. Fast forward to now, when I’m home with the kids and we don’t have much money (we live on around $35,000 a year – though people are shocked to learn that since we have a great life thanks to being frugal!). Thank goodness we bought our house when we did! Now we have $50,000 or so equity in our house, where as if we would have kept renting we would have nothing. It’s nice to know we can always sell our house and have a nice chunk of change in our pocket. And that’s not including the tax credits we get. The problem comes when people buy houses outside of their means. If you can find a modest home in a good neighborhood, it can be a really really smart financial decision. We are in “debt”, but you have to live somewhere, so why not use the money as an investment instead of just giving it to a landlord? I really think in some cases, depending on where you live, buying is the right choice.

  • Tammy says:

    I was wondering what others were saying before saying anything..I think the biggest thing is I am like many others who are impressed that Jesse was able to pay for college and law school.Many people pay cash for a house but that comes after paying off school loans.How neat that you started out debt free at a real young age and still debt free while young.Looks like when you are my age you’ll still be debt free!

  • Sarah says:

    So happy for you. God is amazing! What a blessing!

  • Tim says:

    Dave Ramsey’s the best!!!

  • Bridgette says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I just found your website and I have enjoyed many of the deals. My friend just posted our “Dave Ramsey” story on her blog:

  • Whitney says:

    First, congrats on your accomplishment! We bought our first house in October and were thrilled to put 20% down. I can’t even imagine the incredible discipline to pay 100%.

    I haven’t actually commented before, but I check your blog everyday. I just wanted to tell you what a blessing and source of encouragement it has been to me to read about how God has worked in your life! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • LisainOhio says:

    WOW! I am so excited you are sharing this. We have 9 children so far and our oldest one is courting a girl. I am going to give them both a copy of this series of posts as it is so inspiring. They are both going to college and are trying to do it debt free. She wants to be a stay at home mom. They plan on getting married after college so they are both living at home so not to have that expense during college. With her degree she can work from home.
    I am also going to give a copy to several moms at our church with teens and would like as well to send a copy out to our homeschool community. I would post your site as to where they can learn more of your info. I have shared your site so many times when people ask me about saving money.
    Thank you so much for all your work you put into this site. You bless so many.
    Congratulations! How exciting to start looking for a house and what a time to be doing it. May the Lord bless you with an awesome house.

  • Dana says:

    Not law school, but I paid my way through school as well on what I made at Burger King. Everyone around me complained about the expense, the burden of student loans, how long it was going to take to pay for the education they were getting. But all I did is start saving from the time I got my first job at sixteen and work and study during college.

    We didn’t make buying a home with cash our goal, but our current goal includes paying it off in a few years. 🙂

  • Chante says:

    That is so inspiring because I am in debt upto my eyeballs!!!

  • Stefani says:

    Sounds great so far, can’t wait for part two.

  • socalgal says:

    Just out of curiosity, how much are homes where you are looking? I know homes cost different amounts in different parts of the country probably from bt 50k-500k for a starter home. Give us some idea of what 100% down on a home means to you? How many bedrooms, how much property, amenities, town house, single family house, trailer? We need more details please! It gives us something more concrete of a goal to focus on also! Thanks!

  • Deven says:

    I am amazed! Congrats to you and your entire family. We just had triplets in 2009; and we are ending the year with not adding more debt, current on everything, and owing ZERO to credit cards (first time since I was 18 and now 31)! 2010 will be such a good adventure for us. By the way, we began Dave’s plan in September 2006. Oh, I cannot wait to finish reading your story. The suspense is there.

  • LaVonne says:

    Don’t forget the first time home buyer credit of up to $8,000.00.Check for the cut off date.I am very glad for you!God Bless.

  • Great job! I am currently saving for a duplex, not paid in full sadly. Right now I am debt free but I will have the mortgage to pay for when I get the house, but that’s why I’m planing to rent out half the house.

    Its great what you did so far and can’t wait to read the rest!

    – Matt

  • Lauren says:

    Oh – don’t stop now. I’m on the edge of my seat just waiting for more!

  • Cindy says:

    We are living the opposite of you and it’s horribly hard. Neither one of us received much financial training in our homes growing up. I have now learned many lessons and so has my dh. But it will be a very long time before we can even hope to be debt free. The one thing I am doing though is teaching our children about the blessing of paying tithing and not accumulating any more debt. Many people complain about their credit card debt. We have none of that thankfully! We have business debt and a home mortgage. I am constantly reminded by people like you that how we train our children is VITAL! Your parents were so wise to teach you these basics that our parents left to the wind.

  • I’m so glad you’re sharing this story. It is such an audacious goal to be debt-free and save for your first home – I’m excited to learn more about your experience.

  • katie says:

    Congratulations! Hope you can find a place quickly and take advantage of the 8k tax credit from first time home buyers……good luck!

  • Jen says:

    You have a very inspiring story and I love your website. However, I am wondering exactly HOW you could save enough for ungrad AND law school while in high school. I also was a big saver at a young age but no jobs you can get at that age provided anywhere near enough to finish college debt free!

  • Brendal says:

    I really cannot wait to hear more about your savings adventure! This is my first real attempt at living more frugally and you are such an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! I will be reading your blog from now on. I’m glad I found you!

  • Lisa says:

    Crystal, thank you for sharing. My husband and I are in a big financial hole right now, and Dave Ramsey’s name keeps coming up, most recently here in your post. We’re taking that as a sign we should check out what he’s got to say. I hope it’s not too little, too late for our present situation, but even so, I think it may help us going forward.

  • Melissa says:

    I have been following your blog for at least two years now…my husband and I are followers of Dave Ramsey. I think I stumbled upon your blog by searching something about living on a tight budget. I found your site and it totally inspired me and our family. We are a debt free family living in Northern Indiana…actually the home of the Irish…if you are a fan. 🙂 I just want you and Jesse and the kids to know what an inspiration you have been to our family, even if you don’t know it. I make comments daily about Money Saving Mom you are a household name here. Thank You.

  • Crystal, you are such an inspiration. I just love coming here and reading your successes. Best wishes to you and your family for 2010 – stay safe and healthy!

  • Jennifer says:

    Wow, that is an amazing goal!! My husband and I found Dave Ramsey a couple of years back. We were way in over our heads at that time and just couldn’t breath. We have since paid down over $60,000 in debt and are $4500 from being DEBT FREE except the house. I am so proud of you guys…no matter how many people call you crazy, no matter how many people think your goal is crazy, just stop and look at the mess this country is in and remember YOU are not the one who is crazy!!! Keep us that gazel intensity!!!

  • Jenna says:


    This is an exceptional story. If you don’t mind how did you ever decide you had 100% for a down payment? Based on about what cost in a home ( I mean since homes start at $25K in some parts of the country and go upwards of millions and millions) What brackets made 100% down payment for an average family ?

  • What an amazing story.
    We all love reading about this particular part of your money-saving journey – Thanks!

    And here’s to Dave Ramsey;)

  • Tsh says:

    I’m so glad you’re going in to such detail here, Crystal. The stories you tell about your upbringing and early marriage days always give me the shivers. 🙂

    I think the part I love most about this post was your not growing up with a sense of entitlement. That is HUGE in this era. Your parents are to be called blessed by you guys. We so want this for our kids.

  • JLP says:

    WOW. It took a lot of discpline for you both. It has paid off. I can’t wait to read the rest of the story. I wish we would have done this when we were justr starting out. God bless you both.

  • Tonya says:

    Don’t know much about Dave Ramsey but my hubby and I have been married for 10 years and the only debt we have is our house bought 5 years ago. We both have a college degree that we paid for plus 4 kids and I stay home with them so of course only one income. Wonder if we are doing what this Dave guy says without even knowing it?! Can’t wait to read part 2 of your story to find out if you actually paid 100% down.

  • Laura says:

    I love Dave Ramsey and I don’t feel that we have been poor with our finances but I love Dave’s enthusiasm

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