I’ll be honest – it has taken me a long time to accept the cards I’ve been dealt in life. And by “long time,” I mean that I’m still working on it! I have spent a lot of time trying to keep up with the Joneses and create a happy-ending that doesn’t fit with my story. My husband and I both had to pay for our own college educations, and that landed us with a lot of debt. That was a card we were dealt. We had to pay for a good portion of our wedding, which used up a lot of our savings just as we were starting adulthood – a card we’d been dealt. We graduated during the recession, tried working abroad (didn’t quite turn out as planned), bounced from job to job where we were underpaid and overworked – cards we’d been dealt. And it was ignoring all of these cards that caused us to become the house-hunters who cried wolf. Not once, not twice, but three times, we have seriously pursued purchasing a home then changed our mind. And each time, we learned a totally different lesson in learning to accept the cards we’ve been dealt.
1st time we cried wolf
By January of 2015, we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in West Michigan and both working at part-time jobs. My husband was pursuing a job opportunity that encouraged us to want to “settle” in the area for awhile. We wanted a home that we could invite people into and a community we could invest in – valid desires! For various reasons, neither of us had been in a job for longer than three months in the past year, and our savings account was pretty dismal. Plus, we still had almost $42,000 of student debt left to pay. We figured that because of our good credit and ability to put a down payment of as little as 3.5% on a house, we could make it happen, so we met with a mortgage broker. Long story short, I left in tears, heartbroken that we wouldn’t be able to get the home we were hoping for and embarrassed that we thought we could. Yes, many of our friends were buying houses and new cars and even starting families – but they had different cards in their hand. So we upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment with an in-unit washer/dryer (can I get an amen!?) and accepted our cards.
2nd time we cried wolf
Fast forward to the end of 2015. The economy was on the upswing, and we had both managed to get full-time jobs. Our down payment fund was growing in hopes of putting 20% down on a house in the Spring. We decided to pay the minimum payments on our student loans, so we could get into a house, then we’d focus on the debt. We talked to the mortgage broker again, who was much more pleased this time around. We even walked through a house with our realtor. Things were getting serious. Then came the panic. I realized that once we got into a home, we’d be responsible for repairs, maintenance, updates, furnishings, decor, increased utilities, lawn care, property taxes, homeowners insurance…the list goes on! Then what if one of the “big ones” needed to be replaced, like a furnace or a roof!? It became clear that our little plan to buy a house then go hard at paying off our debt was a pipe dream. We decided to pay off the remaining $42,000+ of our student loans first and resigned the lease at our apartment for another year.
3rd time we cried wolf
2016 was a pretty exciting year for us because after using our house fund to knock out my husband’s loans then going after mine with gazelle-like intensity (as Dave Ramsey would say), we paid off our student loans just a few weeks before my 25th birthday in June! Unfortunately, due to our lack of priority in an emergency fund, we needed to replace our vehicle just after draining our savings into our debt. We got sucked right up in the American way and decided that rather than using the $2,000 we did have to buy a clunker that would last us until we could afford a better vehicle in cash, we used that as a down payment for a car loan so we could buy a nicer 5-year-old vehicle for a little over $10,000. We were happy to be without student debt, but that lingering car loan was like a little black cloud over our heads. Sure, the 6-year loan payments were small and still allowed us to put plenty of money into our resurrected down payment fund. But after reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, I was convicted that we needed to become debt free before purchasing a home. So, like any normal wife would, I put together a PowerPoint presentation to convince my husband that we should postpone buying a house and use our savings to pay off our car loan and build up an emergency fund. Because those were the cards we’d been dealt.
I wish I could say that the fates have rewarded us for our patience and diligence, and we’re now living in our dream home with a money-tree growing in the backyard. But alas, we’re still in that same two-bedroom apartment, saving up for what’s next. Making smart financial decisions isn’t always glamorous, but the relief of having no debt and a fully-funded emergency fund in addition to a growing savings account feels a lot better than going all-in on a bluff and discovering that your opponent was waiting to hit you with a Royal Flush the whole time.