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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.

Celebrating a Major Financial Milestone!

Early tomorrow morning our family is flying to California to visit some special friends of ours.

We're very excited about this trip for many reasons: we're looking forward to a vacation as a family; we can't wait to hang out with some incredible people; and we're anxious to get to introduce our children to what a real beach is.

But this trip is about much more than family, friends, and fun; we're taking this trip in celebration of reaching a huge financial milestone in our family.

If you've been reading my blog for more than a few months, you know that we got this weird idea to pay cash for a house and we set a big goal at the beginning of 2009 to have fully-funded our house fund by the end of the year. We started the year at 33% and it seemed very far-fetched to think we'd actually make our goal.

But God had other plans. He worked some miracles, moved some modern-day "mountains", and by His grace and enabling, I am thrilled to tell you that we are ending 2009 at our 100% goal! We're already seriously pursuing house-hunting and hope to have purchased a home debt-free by the end of April 2010, if not sooner.

Truly, "with God, all things are possible!"

This huge financial milestone did not happen instantaneously. It was not something we just up and decided to we'd aim for a few weeks or months ago. In actuality, our journey towards saving to pay 100% down for our first home began before we were even married!

On Thursday, I'm going to be sharing the nuts and bolts of our story and the struggles, lessons, difficulties, and victories we've encountered along the way. No matter where you are in your financial journey, I hope and pray our story is an inspiration to you to dream big dreams, set audacious goals, work hard, and not give up when the going gets tough. You just never know where it might lead!

Have you written down financial goals for 2010? If not, be sure to check out Simple Mom's post on the subject to nudge you in the right direction.

My Pantry Looks Different Than Your Pantry

Are you planning to join in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge? If so, you'll definitely want to check out this excellent article by FishMama on the importance of tailoring this challenge to the needs of your own family.

Remember, this is not a competition; this is an individual challenge and you get to make your own rules! Everyone's Eat From The Pantry Challenge should look different. Do what works for you.

For the record, I don't even have a pantry. Maybe someday, but for now, I'm happily using a metal shelf in our basement laundry/storage room. It works well–even if it's not some beautifully organized closet!

(Photo shown above is Myra's pantry. Read her post here on her Eat From The Pantry plan.)

Eat From the Pantry Challenge: My Goals and Plans (and come link up yours, too!)


It’s so easy to think we have to go to the store every single week (or maybe even more often!), but I’ve found that when I challenge myself to make do with what I already have on hand, we can usually eat pretty well. Plus, we can save a lot of money in the process!

In recent weeks, I’ve been feeling like we have all sorts of odds and ends in our pantry, refrigerator, and freezers which need to be used up. But with the busyness of the Christmas season, I didn’t have much creative juices or energy to come up with ways to use this random assortment of items. Thus, the Eat From the Pantry Challenge idea was born.

I’d been contemplating how I wanted to pull it off, when FishMama wrote and asked if I’d be interested in doing an Eat From the Pantry Challenge in January since she was also feeling like her cupboards were bulging. I guess great minds think alike, huh?!

So we brainstormed for a few days and decided we’d co-host an Eat From the Pantry Challenge on our blogs January 1-31, 2010. We’re attempting to avoid grocery shopping as much as possible and will be blogging what we’re feeding our families, creative recipes we’re concocting, and how we’re pulling this whole thing off.

To be perfectly honest, I’m still not exactly sure at this point how I am pulling this off because I’ve never done something like it before. Let’s just hope it doesn’t royally flop seeing as there’s no such thing as backing out now!

The good news is that I have all of you and FishMama so if I get in a bind or run out of ideas, I’ll know just where to turn. Whatever happens, I know it will be an adventure!

Now, let me say right upfront that I am not going to completely avoid buying any groceries for a month. We like to have fresh eggs, milk, and produce, so I plan to buy those at least three times during the month.

So here are our family’s goals for the Eat From The Pantry Challenge:

1) Stop at the store a maximum of three times in January.

2) Only buy dairy (milk, eggs, cheese, etc.) and produce (fruits/vegetables).

3) Spend a total of $75 or less on groceries during the month of January.

4) Donate the extra $85 leftover (or more) that we would usually spend on groceries to Gleaning the Harvest.

Now for some caveats: we usually have dinner out once a week as a family (this comes out of our “Dates and Eating Out” envelope and is separate from our grocery money) so we plan to continue that. We also often eat a meal at our extended family’s house at least once per week and we plan to continue that, as well. Plus, we’ll actually be in California for the first few days in January visiting FishMama and her family so we aren’t going to officially start our Eat From The Pantry Challenge until we get home.

You can see FishMama’s goals and plan for her family here.

Would you like to join us in this Eat from the Pantry Challenge? We’d love to have you along! However, I want to encourage you to make your own rules according to what works best for your own family’s needs. Don’t feel obligated to do things the way we’ve decided to do it; do what works for you!

You can join in the entire month, or for two weeks, or just a week–it’s up to you! It’s not a competition, we just hope to encourage you to get creative and save money by wisely using things in your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry.

So, set goals for your own family for the Eat From The Pantry Challenge. And, if possible, consider setting aside the money you save by participating in this Challenge and either applying it towards debt, putting it into savings, or donating it to a worthy cause.

This is a simple way that you can squeeze a little extra out of a tight budget to help meet a financial goal or give to someone in need. It’s not required that you do this to participate, it’s just something I’d encourage you to consider.

At the end of each week in January, we’ll have a post with a Mr. Linky for you to share about what you ate from your pantry the past week and how the Challenge is going for you. You can also interact with others participating in this challenge on Facebook or follow along here on Twitter with the hashtag #pantry.

If you’re participating in the Eat From The Pantry Challenge, post about your goals and plan and then come back here and leave a direct link to your post below so others can read about it and be inspired. If you don’t have a blog, you can tell us about your plan and goals in the comments section of this post.

Eat From the Pantry Challenge–coming January 2010


I've been spending lots of time the last few weeks reflecting on this past year–the triumphs and struggles, the victories and failures. While doing so, I've been making out a list of concrete and realistic goals for 2010.

And I'm excited about what this next year holds–some of which involves this blog! I'll be sharing more details about some of my goals for 2010 and unveiling new features and additions to this blog (including a complete blog re-design!) over the next few weeks.

In the mean time, though, I wanted to tell you one big thing FishMama and I have up our sleeves. Instead of hosting another Freezer Cooking Day in January, we're going to be co-hosting a month-long Eat From the Pantry Challenge.

We realized in inventorying our cupboards, refrigerators, and freezers, that we have lots of food stocked up and many odds and ends which need to be used up. So during the month of January, we'll be challenging ourselves to stay out of the grocery store unless absolutely necessary and feed our families from what we already have on hand.

I've done this for a week or two at a time, but never for an entire month so it should certainly be an interesting adventure in creativity! We'll be blogging what we're eating, recipes we're concocting, and how we're pulling it off.

While no one is required to participate, we'd love to have you join us–whether for a week, two weeks, or the whole month!

Stay tuned for more details on the Eat From the Pantry Challenge coming early next week. If you're planning to participate, you can sign-up on the Facebook page here.

A broken tea cup, a humble manger, and the best deal I’ve ever gotten

A few weeks ago, my rambunctious two-year-old accidentally knocked and broke a very special tea cup of mine. As I was sweeping the pieces of glass into a dustpan, I realized this was something one could easily find themselves upset over.

But instead of frustration, I found myself feeling grateful. Our lean law school years–when a hot cup of tea in my special tea cup was one of life's few luxuries–had taught me a profound lesson: things don't buy happiness.

It's a trite phrase, to be sure, but when you've found much happiness in spite of the lack of things and the lack of money to buy things, it seems anything but cliche.

There are likely many reading this right now who are experiencing financial difficulty. Maybe your husband is unemployed and there are no job possibilities on the horizon despite your incessant knocking on doors. Perhaps you have no idea how you are going to pay your rent or your mortgage and you're beyond tired of eating endless varieties of beans and rice.

No matter your current financial struggles, you can have happiness. In fact, you can find the very same kind of happiness I had when we were living on $800 a month in a little basement apartment in a new town with few friends.

You've likely read here about a lot of deals I've scored over the past few years, but today I want to tell you about the best "deal" I've ever gotten–one which changed my life forever and gave me lasting happiness and peace.

Two thousand years ago, in a humble manger in Bethlehem, a little baby was born. This baby, Jesus, would grow up to be the Savior of the world.

When I was 11 years old, I committed my life to Jesus and He become my personal Lord and Savior. Since then, my world has been turned upside down.

Where once I lived in constant fear and worry, I now have lasting peace. Where once I had emptiness, I now have true fulfillment.

Is my life perfect? Far from it! But I am loved unconditionally by the Creator of the universe. And that, my friends, is worth more than all the money in the world. He is what brings me true happiness.

As I swept up those pieces of shattered glass, I realized I wasn't upset over my favorite tea cup breaking because I have something which pales in comparison to a thousand expensive tea cups–I have Jesus.

The things of this world will fade, crack, break, and die. Jesus is Eternal. He will never leave me or forsake me. And someday, I get to spend Eternity with Him!

This Christmas, my prayer is that you also know Jesus, too. If not, don't delay another day until you get to know Him and commit your life to Him. (Go here to read more about Jesus and how He can change your world, too.)

I promise, this will be the best deal you'll ever find–worth more than all the money in the world can buy!

Merry CHRISTmas!