We got married in July of 2010. Jessica was 19 and Curtis was 22 – pretty young to be starting a home of our own, but we believed, and still do, that it was God’s will for us to get married. However, neither of us had a very good grasp on how to handle finances, despite having taken classes on financial management previously.
Fortunately for us, we were advised against buying a house with no down payment and instead found a cute duplex for rent in a nice neighborhood.
We entered our marriage with 3 different debts – around $300 left to pay for the engagement ring (charged to a credit card), approximately $1000 owed for Curtis’ car (to be paid to his parents), and another $300 or so to pay fees for our honeymoon (owed to Jessica’s parents). $1600 may not seem like a lot of debt, but for a young couple with hardly any money to their name, it was huge.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for common sense to kick in and we knew we didn’t want to live the way most Americans do – in debt. My dad was a huge advocate of Dave Ramsey and we started asking him for advice. He of course seconded the no-debt mindset as well as pushing us to create a budget. We wrote down all of our expenses, breaking them into weekly payments to come up with a budget for our 2-income-household.
Miracle of miracles, there was money left over from our checks that wasn’t needed for our living expenses. (We were bringing home around $850 combined per week.) We immediately started paying off our debts. The credit card was first to go – and it never got swiped again after buying that gorgeous ring. It wouldn’t take us long to pay off our debts but we started developing some serious wants in the meantime.
For starters, we were eating at a borrowed card table, driving 2 not-so-dependable cars, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor. It would have been easy to rush out and buy all the things we wanted, but we also knew that being debt-free would be worth the few extra months of wobbly table legs. A few other things we restrained from buying were a TV (3.5 years later, we still don’t have one), life insurance, and decorations for our rented home.
By taking charge of our money we were able to pay off our debts and save enough cash for a brand new dining room table and chairs. (Looking back, we would do it differently. Although we negotiated with the salesman and got a good deal, we paid more for the set than we’d be comfortable paying today, knowing what we do.)
Our momentum was now fully charged and being debt-free, we started saving as much as we could. (A small raise increased Curtis’ paychecks slightly, but we rarely made more than $900 in a week.) We started socking away money for a future baby, an emergency fund, a new-to-us car, and a few other smaller things we knew we would need eventually.
We found small ways to cut back and earn extra cash that built up to help us out a lot in the long run. We dabbled in extreme couponing (we don’t recommend this anymore as a huge money saver because of all the cut-backs stores have made recently); we rarely ate out; we didn’t buy junk food, including soda; and we found cheap ways to enjoy entertainment. Curtis also worked 6 days a week as often as he could, getting a lot of overtime; he delivered pizzas on the weekends (after having a baby, neither of these options were worth it to us anymore, but as a couple, they were a good way to earn extra); Jessica became a Scentsy consultant and made and sold diaper cakes (we no longer do either of these things as well).
Our first goal was to set up a fully-funded emergency fund. At this point we wanted to start with $5000. It was hard to put this cash in money market account and try to forget about it, but we knew it was necessary in order to have peace in the years ahead. This was one of the most important steps we took, because it gave us the freedom to save for other things without worrying about unforeseen emergencies that might set us back.
Our annual income for 2011 was around $50,000. Toward the end of the year we had saved up $10,000 cash to buy a nice used car. We ended up negotiating and getting one for under $9000 after taxes and title were paid. After buying the car, we started putting our saved money (usually around $200 a week) toward a 20% down payment for a house. We estimated it taking us at least a year to save enough cash for a nice home (we wanted something for $100,000 or less), and we were ready for something of our own.
2012 was an exciting year for us. As we scraped and saved all we could for a down payment, our enthusiasm led us to tour many houses that were for sale to get an idea of what we liked and what we could afford. In July of that year (2 years after the wedding) we discovered we had a little one on the way! We were so excited, although there were also times we wondered if buying a house was still the right choice for us at the time.
We had previously decided that when we became pregnant, we would start setting aside all of our weekly savings for the baby. We estimated needing $10,000 and didn’t want to be in debt to the hospital. After a little figuring and refiguring, we found we could save a little more than we had been for the baby and still put the rest toward our house down payment. (We started saving $50 every week for a baby when we first started our budget so we already had a good head start.)
In November of 2012, we found our dream house. It was exactly what we were looking for that entire year and after getting our offer accepted, we were told the closing would be at the end of January of the next year. That gave us 2 months to save the rest of our down payment. And on January 24, 2012 we bought our very first house with a $23,000 CASH down payment! (Our purchase price ended up being more than $100,000 but we made sure we could afford it first.)
The feeling when you give someone a check for that much money is hard to explain. We were overwhelmed at being in the exact place we knew God wanted us to be, and a little sad to give away all that hard earned money. (After a year of living in our house, we’re not sad anymore!) Less than 2 months later Bronx Remington was born during an emergency C-section. We worried that the surgery would cause us to spend more than we had planned on, but after all the bills were received, we had way more than enough.
In those 2.5 years we learned so much about money and about each other, and we’re nowhere near done learning yet. We can’t wait until the time we can start teaching our children about handling money correctly and are excited about this new direction God is leading us in to help others with their own finances. If you’d like to learn more about how to apply these same principles in your life, consider joining our private Facebook group, created for people like you. We are dedicated to leading you to your own financial freedom.