When my husband and I got married nine years ago, we had an audacious dream of paying cash for our first home. At that time, it was very much a far-off dream — we were just trying to survive the rigors and expenses of law school without going in debt. That alone was a seemingly gigantic feat.
But after three years of law school, my husband did graduate without debt, passed the bar, and we started planning for the future. Since we'd been renting for almost four years, my husband had a good job, and our second baby was on the way, pretty much everyone expected that buying a house would be in our immediate future.
I mean, after all, isn't buying a house the responsible thing for a young couple to do? Well, maybe — or maybe not. We didn't have much money in savings, and we weren't sure how long we would be living in the town we were in, so we chose to go against conventional wisdom and continued renting.
Setting a goal
Within the next six months, my husband lost his job, we relocated to another city so he could find work, I had some significant health problems in my pregnancy which resulted in numerous hospital and doctor's bills, and we had our second baby. Needless to say, we were incredibly thankful that we hadn't taken out a mortgage and then had to deal with the headache of trying to sell a house at the last minute — especially since the housing market was poor in our area.
It was around this time that we were first introduced to Dave Ramsey. While we didn't have any debt and had always lived on a strict budget, going through his Financial Peace University Class fired us up to set big financial goals and work hard to accomplish them.
One of the big goals we decided to aim for was paying cash for our first home. 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 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 we'd put into blogging 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 paid 100% down on our first home!
Even though I wish we had given ourselves a little more breathing room and margin while saving, it was thrilling, fulfilling, and exciting to achieve this goal — in half the time we had initially planned. And we are thankful we chose to take a counter-cultural route and pay cash for our house. Not having a mortgage payment has freed us to continue to save aggressively toward other goals, increase our spending in areas that really matter to us, and give generously to needs in our community and around the world.