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How We Paid Cash for Our House

15 years ago, my husband and I got married and set an audacious goal for him to go through law school debt-free. They said we couldn’t do it, but we lived on $12,000 a year, beans & rice, and faith.

I wrote about this time period in a post in 2009:

Before my husband and I got married, we sat down and did a lot of calculating to see how little we could survive on. Our goal was to make it through Jesse’s six remaining months of undergrad and the following three years of law year without going into debt.

We had the money saved up and set aside to pay for school, but we didn’t have much more beyond that. We figured that if he worked part-time and I worked part-time, we could manage to make close to $1000 per month.

So that was the dollar amount we had to work with in making our budget. Considering that our rent ate up over half of that amount, we had around $125/week leftover to work with.

It seemed rather daunting to be able to pay for our utilities, transportation, food, and living expenses with that amount but we were determined to make it work. We knew we would have much more freedom if we weren’t making payments on law school loans for years to come.

And we knew if Jesse were to begin his legal career without the bondage of debt, it would give us much more of a foundation for achieving our long-term goals of owning a home debt-free, owning real estate debt-free, and being able to share abundantly with those in need.

Yes, we had some pretty big long-term goals from the get-go, and the only way to achieve those was by making short-term sacrifices. It would mean going without, saying “no”, and exercising lots of self-discipline. In short, it would mean experiencing some temporary discomforts in order to reap lifelong rewards.

The temporary discomforts during the law school years weren’t always easy, believe me. Both of us had moments when we just wanted to throw in the towel and throw our arms up in defeat.

There were many times when we wished we could spend money on this or that or enjoy some of the little luxuries in life it seemed everyone else was. But we plodded on and on and on–wearing the same clothes over and over, driving an old car, brown-bagging it, clipping coupons, forgoing dinners out, living in a cramped little basement apartment, and so

on–constantly reminding ourselves that it would someday be worth it.

And it has been every bit worth it. The little luxuries in life that we gave up–like eating out, making fancy meals, buying new clothes or things, driving a nicer car–pale in comparison to the freedom we now have living a life without payments.

By the grace of God, we did it — Jesse graduated from law school and we had zero debt of any kind!

We were so inspired and motivated by this success that, 11 years ago, we set another audacious goal. This time, the crazy goal was to pay cash (100% down) for a house.

I wrote more about this over on Get Rich Slowly:

We crunched a bunch of numbers and realized that, if we continued to live simply and frugally and worked hard to bring in extra money through side jobs, we could save enough over the course of five years to pay cash for a starter home.

It felt like a mammoth goal and we weren’t sure if we could do it, but we decided to go for it anyway. We figured that, even if we didn’t make our goal in five years, we’d at least be a lot closer to it than if we didn’t try at all!

Plus, from our calculations, we’d be in a lot better position to wait to buy — even if it took seven years to save up enough for a house — than if we were to go ahead and get 15-year mortgage and pay it off early.

We knew that we could buy a decent starter home in the area {Wichita, KS} where we were planning to move for around $100,000 to $110,000, so we divided $100,000 by 60 (since there are sixty months in five years) and set a goal to save $1700 every month. Because we didn’t have any debt or school loans, and because we lived simply and frugally, we were able to live on significantly less than we were making, thus freeing up a good chunk of money to put towards our house savings each month.

Once we set this goal and I blogged about it publicly, we were incredibly motivated to work as hard as we could and delay every purchase we could in order to put as much as possible into our house savings fund.

We used coupons, ate a lot of meatless meals, shopped at thrift stores, cooked from scratch, brown bagged it, continued to use our old and worn-down furniture, didn’t replace anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity, limited our going out to eat, only had one car, stayed home a lot, used gift cards from Swagbucks to buy any non-necessities, bought eye glasses from Zenni optical, learned to be content with what we had, and continued to live on a strict written budget.

Meanwhile, we also looked for ways to increase our income. I blogged, wrote ebooks, and took on freelance writing jobs. My husband did contract work, started his own law firm, and helped me running the blogging business.

That first year, we didn’t always make our monthly savings goals. We had some unexpected medical bills and car problems that ate up a portion of our savings. But we kept plugging away, throwing whatever extra we could squeeze out of our income toward savings.

The few years of long hours and hard work I’d put into blogging previously started to really pay big dividends and by the second year, we were meeting and exceeding our monthly savings goals every single month.

As our house savings fund increased, we began to get so excited that we kind of went overboard and worked long, long hours in order to meet our savings goal even faster. I wouldn’t recommend putting in such long hours, missing so many social events, or sleeping so little, but the effort paid off because, at the end of two and a half years, we had met and exceeded our savings goal!

While our initial goal was to save $100K, as our income through blogging significantly increased and we continued to be able to live on around $30K per year (which felt like a BIG step up from the $12K per year we had been living on during law school!), we decided to up our savings goal to $150K.

By the time we actually bought our first house (it took us a number of months to find the “perfect” house), we had around $200K in our house savings! We never, ever dreamed that this would have been possible… especially back in those lean law school days when we were barely eeking by. But as we discovered, hard work, sacrifice, and being intentional with your finances pays off in big ways over time!

(You can read our entire story of our journey to pay cash for our first house here.)

After we paid cash for our first house, we continued on with the same mindset — living on significantly less than we made and using the extra income to give generously and save aggressively. We decided to invest in real estate and pour back into our blogging business.

We ended up buying two rental homes with cash over the next few years. Both of these became almost instant money-makers for us since we didn’t have to pay out mortgages on them and they stayed rented almost 100% of the time.

We also invested a lot back into, shoring up our business Emergency Fund, trying a few different business ventures, spending the capital necessary to build more diverse income streams and have a much stronger team and business infrastructure in place (so that I could work a lot fewer hours than the crazy hours I had previously been working!)

In addition, we were able to give generously to a number of local needs/individuals as well as invest in global issues that matter to us (such as the work we are involved in in South Africa).

In 2014, we made the BIG decision to move from Kansas (where I’d lived for all my life!) to Tennessee. Because we didn’t have debt and we were self-employed, we were able to jump out and take this pretty crazy leap of faith. It didn’t really make sense to us and it definitely didn’t make sense to others, but we felt it in our bones that it was what we were supposed to do.

(Read more about Why We Moved to Nashville here.)

The move has changed our life in so many, many ways. We needed to step outside of our comfort zones and do something pretty radical in order to grow and become healthier. And we’re so grateful — even though it meant going back to being renters again! (Read more about why we chose to rent here in TN.)

We rented out our house in Wichita, KS (the one we had saved up so aggressively to pay cash for) and said we would only commit to Tennessee for 18 months and then we’d re-evaluate. Within 5-6 months, we knew it was supposed to be a long-term home for our family.

So we started talking about what it would look like to buy a house with cash here in TN. Housing prices where we live are much higher than they are in Kansas and it felt like another HUGE goal to set.

We decided to sell all three of our rental houses (the one we had lived in + the two we had purchased as rentals) and then combine that with what we could set aside in savings over the next year or two in order to have enough to pay cash for a house here in TN.

Selling our rentals proved to take quite a bit longer than we had hoped, but they finally all sold and — 3 1/2 years after we moved to TN — we put a contract on a house here.

Y’all, I look around this beautiful paid-for home that we now have moved into here in TN and I feel so overwhelmed by gratitude. It took 15 years of intention, sacrifice, and hard work to get here, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Hard work pays off. Sacrifice is worth it. We have zero regrets with our commitment to be “weird” even when it seemed like we were the only ones on this debt-free journey.

We are humbled and grateful for this home that God has provided for us and our heart’s desire is to be able to use it as a haven of hospitality for many, many weary souls. We’ve already had the opportunity to welcome multiple people into it for meals or just to hang out and savor good conversation over a cup of tea. We can’t wait to see what opportunities lie ahead as we continue to commit to open our doors.

Many of you have asked for me to share more about this part of our journey. Honestly, I hesitate to share it because our story is not your story. And I don’t ever want to come across as prideful or be hurtful to those of you who are struggling through years of the beans and rice budget.

However, my hope is that this will inspire you — wherever you are in life — that you don’t have to listen to the real-life or in-your-head voices that say, “You can never do that!”mWe’re living proof that it’s possible to prove them wrong!

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  • Christine says:

    Pretty kitchen! Congratulations! Paying cash for a home would depend on the region where you reside. Home prices in NJ are very high in addition to property taxes. We pay around $14,000 a year just in property taxes.

    • Diane says:

      Wow. I don’t think I can imagine taxes like that.

    • Jeanine says:

      I am so glad someone said this. We lived in NJ years ago, and while our taxes were not as high as that, our house was not large and cost 4 times what a house would have cost Crystal in Kansas. Luckily we had an opportunity to move to a less expensive area, but it can be disheartening if you live in an expensive area to read about people who live elsewhere and save money.

    • I’m all about doing what you can with what you’ve got where you are… Your story will definitely be different than our story, but I hope it inspires others to think outside the box and get creative — and maybe do things a little counter-culturally!

  • Anonymous says:

    What a beautiful home! We are paying cash for our new home this month, and I want to shout it from the rooftops, but I won’t. I’m happy to celebrate your beautiful – paid off – house with you.

  • I think it’s great that you shared this. It’s not discouraging to me; it’s inspiring. My husband and I recently decided to pay off our house that we live in. We had a baby, and we want to leave him a good financial legacy! So we made a 6-year plan. Reading stories like this really helps on those discouraging days. 🙂 So, thanks.

  • Diane says:

    Congratulations!! Being debt free helps so much. Beans and rice and rice and beans! I’m really happy for you.

  • Desiree says:

    I am one of the people who would probably get discouraged. Family of 4, one small income….$14.25/hr and a very NOT paid for house (though we did save enough to put 20%down!). Also, since my husband got a 50cent raise, we lost $200 of food benefits…which was more than the raise! So rice and beans for u, but thankfully we love them.

    Our income wont be increasing any time soon, so we just have to make the best with what we have. We are building back up our emergency fund this year ($10,000 goal), than we are going to attempt to pay off our mortgage in 10 years (Dh will be 46 then). These are very lofty goal for us, perhaps impossible in that time frame, but we will be better off for trying.

    I actually found your post very encouraging! I nver expect to have an income like yours, but you definitely just backed me down from the ledge of spending $300 on a ring. Yes! I am a jewelry nut and it is foing to be really hard to delete it from my cart…and my mind…but it would set us back nearly a month in our savings. Not worth it!

    Thank you, and I hope you will post a home tour for us soon. I love your style 🙂

  • dawn says:

    Stories like this are the reason I started reading your blog and they keep me coming back. I also find them very inspiring. I can get quickly overwhelmed with blogs that are “all deals, all the time” because I feel pressured to go spend! So please, keep entires like this and the “I paid cash” ones coming. 😀

  • Chris says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful testimony, Crystal. Any of us who have read MSM for awhile feel like we know your heart, and we know you give God the glory. And, people like me who have followed you since the beginning of MSM, remember so much of the history you wrote about, and we rejoice with you and your family. I sincerely hope you, Jesse and your family will have many, many good years together in your new home. I am just tickled to death for you. <3

  • Holly says:

    Crystal, I am so excited for you! I have been following MSM for 8 years and praying for your family along this journey. I have learned a lot as I am a few years behind you in marriage and parenting (married almost 9 years with a 4.5 year old and baby #2 due late spring). Thank you so much for your hard work and countless hours invested in blogging that has been so beneficial to all of your readers! I am so excited to see the pay off for you! CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!

  • Stacy says:

    Hi Crystal! I a m a brand new blogger and I signed up for your coaching program. I read this post and it gives me hope that by God’s grace someday soon I will have a lovely home like yours. I know it will be hard work but I’m am able and willing. Out of all the blogging community courses I wanted to learn from you. I am older than most at 50 yrs but I feel that you will be my mentor. I am excited for the future!!

  • Wanda Polderman says:

    I have been following your blog for nine years now. It makes my heart so happy to see this post since I know it has been a long-term goal for you and your husband. God has truly blessed your labors and I’m thankful that you have in turn used it for good…to give and further His Kingdom. Praise the Lord! I rejoice with you 🙂

  • Ashley says:

    Congratulations! What an amazing thing to do for your family!

  • Mary Ensley says:

    Congratulations Crystal! What a noble and worthwhile milestone you and your husband have achieved. My only question (if you feel comfortable answering this of course!) is did you all decide to temporally forgo retirement savings while saving for your home or were you able to do both simultaneously?

    • We did the first time around (we basically put everything but basic essentials on hold for a few years). The second time around, we didn’t because we are older and we felt like it would be wiser to continue on with our investments while also saving.

  • 6SweetViolets says:

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s these stories that help keep me going as we’ve done the rice and beans thing for so long. 10 years ago we bought our first house, and were committed to me staying home with our 3 kids on our ministry income (not much!). We also decided we’d like to pay off our house within 10 years. 3 more amazing kids, all kinds of unexpected expenses, and so much sacrificing in the short term later, we are completely debt-free and just paid off our house! It’s been so hard, but we had so much joy as we worked and played together along the way. I can’t tell you how many times I read the Proverb “Better is a meal of vegetables where there is love…” It’s wonderful to see the results of it, especially how it’s blessed and taught our kids as we’ve made this journey. Thank you for the inspiration on tough days, and I rejoice with you on accomplishing your goal! God bless you!

  • Rebekah says:

    Thanks for sharing. We decided to get debt-free in January. It’d be nice if we’d started where you did since we financed hubby’s law school, part of my grad school and bought a house with a mortgage in one of the priciest regions in the country, but we’re excited about the progress God’s already granted, and how much more real and honest life feels, and your post was encouraging. We know we’re in this for the long haul, so I also appreciate many of your ideas about living cheaply. I’m going to need them. 🙂

  • megan says:

    We are closing on our first house soon (yay!) and are thinking about going ahead and paying it off as quickly as possible. It is a little scary to take money that took years and a lot of hard work to save and put it into a house, not going to lie! It makes sense, though, because of the thousands of dollars in mortgage interest saved.

    I love blog posts like this, congratulations on buying your home in cash! It looks beautiful

  • Gabby says:

    I am so grateful I found your blog when I was just starting out. It trained me into a certain way of thinking that has stayed with me even as I’ve moved past my rice and beans years into a situation similar to yours.

    It takes work, but it helped to have someone showing the steps in such detail. Thanks for sharing the process as a long term story, despite how difficult as it can be for you to share. It’s the lifelong change, not a set of coupons or deals, that really matters.

    Congratulations on the new house!

  • Carrie says:

    Thank you for this. My husband and I got married young and found ourselves in a lot of debt after making many little foolish decisions which added up over time. I would read blogs like yours with envy, wishing I could get there but not able to figure out how. We have five children and a limited budget, and it felt like it want achievable so wasn’t worth it.

    At the beginning of January, we made. Commitment to one another and god about paying this debt off. We made a specific and lofty goal with a plan of how to achieve it. God had been providing and for the last 2.5 months, we have been able to exceed our planned payment on our debt. If all goes as planned, we should be debt free by the end of the year!

    After that, we want to start saving cash to pay for a house. Right now we are in a very inexpensive rental, where my husband does the upkeep and repairs, in exchange for keeping the payments low. While it is smaller than what I’d like, as long as I don’t look around and start to compare, it is OK. My husband recently took the plunge to become a part-time minister, working toward full-time, and I know that if we don’t have a house payment, this will free him up to follow the call quite a bit. I think that the momentum we will gain from paying off our debt in a year will propel us toward the next step!

    Thanks for your inspiration and encouragement!

  • Kathy says:

    It makes me so happy to see someone who was worked hard and sacrificed much succeed. Thank you for helping me build my dream.

  • Deanna says:

    I have been thinking a lot about attempting to pay off our house and saving more for our children’s college fund. This post definitely gave me the inspiration I needed to get started. Thank you, Crystal!

  • Valerie says:

    Crystal, I love this story! I started reading when you were first saving for your house in KS, and I found it inspiring.

    My question for you is: you ran yourselves ragged the first time saving for your house. Was that worth it? You say you would do it all again in a heartbeat, but also that it wasn’t a good idea to go so overboard/workaholic. What is your advice to others on this? I struggle with the single focus/workaholic in order to achieve financial independence, cash house, etc. alongside wanting to work a lot LESS to spend time with my family, my kids, etc. What would you counsel others considering decisions like these?

    • Just to clarify: I wouldn’t do the crazy hours EVER again. I would do the sacrifices for years all over again — I would just add on another year or two so that we could have paced ourselves more. 🙂 And that’s what we did the second time around. We paced ourselves and didn’t go crazy with adding on a bunch of extra work projects that would have brought in more $$ but would have meant we were exhausted and had no life. We were a lot more realistic and less rushed.

  • Priscilla says:

    I think if your income is 250K plus or greater, then you can buy a house cash in the west or east coast with frugality in mind. Living in other parts of the country with a lower income, buying a house cash is possible too with frugality in mind as well. It’s all about the mindset. Thank you for sharing your cash buying house story second time around.

    • D says:

      Not sure about the East Coast or West, but we know several people who earn a LOT less than $250,00 who have paid cash for their home or paid it off in a few years. I think it is important to do as Crystal recommends… what you can with where you are….and be willing to make sacrifices.

      • Ruth says:

        The main takeaway that I always get from these type of posts is to do the very best that you can with what you have. Our situation is very different than someone who’s in the position to pay cash for a home, but I find these type of posts very inspirational.

        The first 12 years of marriage, we’ve made anywhere from 30-46K per year in income while I stayed home with our children. We struggled to get by. Almost two years ago, we decided that we’d had enough. We started working a plan to become debt free, save for a full emergency fund, and eventually have a decent down payment. We got on a written budget and eventually were able to become completely debt free, as of April of 2017. We then started working on our fully funded emergency fund. Each month, we continued to put aside more money and watch our savings grow! Our goal was 10K in emergency funds.

        On November 9, 2017, my husband was unexpectedly laid off from his job of 18 years at a Christian printing company. Because we had made it a priority to become debt free and to build our savings (At the point of lay off we had about $7,400 in savings and no debt at all), we knew that we’d be okay. We started praying about our next step and dramatically tightened our already conservative budget, so that our severance would go as far as possible and we wouldn’t have to use our savings any sooner than necessary. Also, because we were financially okay, we had the option to look elsewhere in the country, rather than just limiting our search to local options.

        I blindly sent my husband’s resume to a Christian printing company in East Tennessee that supposedly had no openings. The owner called him back on the next business day and talked to him for an hour. Apparently, they had a need that they hadn’t publicized. My husband’s skills from his 18 year tenure at his previous employer were a perfect match to their needs!

        2 days later, they called him back again and asked if my husband could come down and work with them on a trial basis. My husband started the trial period on December 4th. On December 6th (just 27 days after getting laid off), they hired him. His base pay was more than $7,000 more per year than the job that he had just lost. With overtime, it’s probably more like $12,000 more per year! Just 18 days later, on December 24th, we moved our whole family to TN! We received our final severance check from his prior employer on the 26th and he began work on the 27th!

        All in all, we came out much further ahead financially by losing the job than by keeping it. Between severance, moving reimbursement, and everything else we finished our emergency fund of 10K about 2 months ahead of schedule.

        We are now working aggressively on building our home down payment. After years of living on a much lower income than we currently have, we’ve learned the tools that we need to manage the raise that he’s received and are saving very large chunks of his income for our future.

        All of our paths are so different. I love that we can come and encourage one another in being the best steward of what we have, however that may look for us. 🙂

    • Thank you for your encouragement!

  • Ruth says:

    Good for you! How awesome that you were able to hit that goal!

    We just moved to TN from MI and are aggressively saving to have a decent down payment on a house. Our total minimum goal is to have $25,000 in the bank, 10k for our emergency fund and 15k for our house down payment, so that we can buy a 100k house. (East TN real estate market is pretty cheap) Our original goal was to save for a 75-80K house (MI real estate is a bit cheaper than TN), but my husband was laid off from his job and we got a new job offer from a company in TN within under 4 weeks, so we relocated to TN.

    We have our full emergency fund and have gotten a good start on our down payment fund, but our savings goal feels like climbing a mountain, so it’s so encouraging to read about others’ successes!

    We’re moving towards our goal, bit by bit!

  • DM says:

    Crystal, I’ve been reading your blog since before you paid cash for that first house. You inspired me then, and you inspire me now. Way to go! I know it was not easy. You’ve seen the fruit of your sacrifices! Thanks for sharing this story!

  • Congratulations!!! What a lovely home, and how much more enjoyable knowing it’s 100% paid for!!! Every dollar counts!!!

  • Sara says:

    I love this story. We paid off our house 4 years ago just a two weeks before we had our son. Paying off our house has allowed me to stay at home with my son. I have had a few part time jobs since then to save up for vacations and cars, but left once we hit our savings goal. The freedom we have gained from not having a mortgage is huge. We are currently saving up for home renovations. What kind of savings account did you use for your large savings or did you invest some of your savings?

  • Deanna says:

    Yay!!! Congrats on your home. It’s absolutely beautiful. Love hearing stories like this.
    We live in Oklahoma (super affordable housing but we don’t exactly have high paying jobs either) and saved hard to put 30% down on our first home. We paid it off in 6 years (which was two years ago) and it was SUCH an incredible feeling! I was very pregnant with our third child at the time and there were all the emotions. 🙂 We are putting little bits into house savings each year so hopefully if we ever move or purchase a larger home hopefully we can do it in cash!

  • Amber says:

    Awesome story!! I am curious what your family does for health insurance since you are self employed? I apologize if you have ever mentioned this and I missed it. Thanks!

    • We have had private health insurance for years since we’ve been self-employed (or Jesse was in a contractor position) for going on 11 years, if I’m counting correctly. We now have a business plan and offer health insurance to our employees (and pay for half of their health insurance costs). It’s a little more $$ for our own health insurance costs, but it means that it costs less for our employees than they could get elsewhere (which is really important to us).

  • Gretchen E. says:

    You are an inspiration and the motivation a lot of us need!! You never come across as prideful-just humble and kind. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

  • Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for your openness about this journey. It inspired me and it will inspire many others.

    And, congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Thanks so much for sharing this, Crystal! I loved reading it and was so encouraged. Living debt free it possible!

    Honestly, it was largely you sharing your story way back when you first started blogging about this that motivated us and helped us to have the courage to become debt free! (Our only debt was our mortgage which we paid off in 5 years). And then, like you, doing that was so inspiring to us that it continued to make us want to live debt free. We bought our current house 1 1/2 years ago without going into debt and are in the process of trying to put my husband to school without going into debt- with the only income for our family of 6 being what I earn with my blog. It’s meant a lot of sacrifice, a lot of watching how God provides and a lot of hard work, but it’s been so worth it!

    So, thanks again for sharing your story! We’re forever grateful!

  • Marie says:

    Great story!! For me, the savings part is easy. How do you determine where you’re forever house is going to be??? The Lord hasn’t yet told us where that’ll be! I keep praying, and I’m So excited you know!!

  • I loved this story, Crystal—thank you for sharing! My husband and I are currently building our first home (a cottage farmhouse on a little piece of land we purchased), and we hope to have it paid off in the next year or two. We’ve been renting since we got married almost 4 years ago, and have been saving like CRAZY! We are so ready to be in a home of our own, but I know it will be worth the wait! 🙂

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