Growing up, I loved listening to Paul Harvey’s, The Rest of the Story. He has an amazing gift for taking a great story, then finding the bigger story behind the headline. We paid cash for our first home. But this is the rest of the story. Because after 10 years of pinching pennies, it was one thoughtful, counter-cultural choice that brought us into this “work-optional” kind of life.
6 months before my 30th birthday, I signed the papers and bought our first home with cash.
I wrote about how we shouldn’t buy everything we can afford. It took 10 years of saving and investing by not buying all the things we could afford to save enough money to buy our first home. 10 years of saying, “This thing is nice, but we have bigger dreams.”
Finally, after 10 years, the time was just right. With stocks going up and housing prices crashing, we fulfilled a long-held dream and paid cash for our very first home.
In 10 years, we had gone from $50,000 in debt (student loans, credit cards, and medical bills) to $200,000 in cash and stocks on very modest incomes. (Combined, we averaged $15,000-$60,000 income.) Homes prices were at a low point. In that market, we could have bought a rather comfortable home in our area for around $150,000. Or a nice home for $200,000.
That would have been a responsible and respectable choice. To save for 10 years and buy a home we could pay for in cash. Maybe for some, it would have felt like the perfect reward for all our hard work and saying no all those years to the things we could have afforded. Get out of $50,000 of debt, save for 10 years, and buy a lovely $200,000 home for cash. But we didn’t do that.
Here is what we actually did: the rest of the story.
We bought the ugliest, nastiest home that would accommodate the family we were hoping to have and spent 5 years remodeling.
After we put in our offer, a horrified family member said, “Oh sweety, you aren’t really going to live here, are you?” The home was old, cramped, FULL of black mold, with a dug up dirt patch for a yard, and in a less than perfect neighborhood. A lovely sight, to be sure.
So why in the world, if we could have bought a NICE home for cash (easily in the definition of afford by any standard), would we choose this dump?
It was $50,000.
After saving for 10 years, we bought a home with just 25% of the money we had saved.
I just want to pause here for a moment.
Few people in America end up being able to walk away from their 9-5 jobs in their 30’s.
But few people would have made that choice.
Life presents us with a variety of choices. Trade-offs.
Instead, we could have done any of these other reasonable things:
- Bought a $150,000 house with cash and kept $50,000 in investments
- Put $100,000 down on a nice $200,000 home, kept $100,000 invested, and had a modest mortgage.
- Bought an OK $100,000 house with cash and kept $100,000 invested
Maybe those other options seem more reasonable than buying the ugly, nasty home we did. Then remodeling it every night after a long day at our 9-5 jobs. Working every weekend and holiday to fix it up. Work spanning 5 years!
Why? Are we gluttons for punishment? Do we TRY to make life harder? Oh, trust me. People asked me that.
Because it wasn’t like Chip and Joanna Gain or the Property Brothers were standing there holding our hands, promising a lovely home in 6 weeks. It was just me, steadying my hand by tightly squeezing Mr. Montana’s hand. We looked at this hot mess of a house, and armed with exactly zero skills or tools said, “I think there is a YouTube video we can watch. It’ll be fine. Really.” Neither of us fully convinced of this fact.
I need and want less than the average person because I need and want MUCH more than the average person.
Let me unpack this for a minute.
It’s not that I have this huge list of wants or needs I struggle to contain. I just don’t have that many because I have narrowed my focus to a few that I REALLY want.
I don’t need a nice car.
I don’t need a big office.
I don’t need to order an expensive menu item when I go out.
I don’t need to buy “good” wine.
I don’t need it. And I don’t want it because…
I need and want MUCH more.
I need and want the things that culture says are impossible and unrealistic.
I want time. I want freedom. I want to be true to my calling and passion. I want to be an exceptional parent. I want this elusive work/life balance. I want to create a legacy and leave the world a much, much better place for having been here. I want to help others be the best version of themselves. I want to do 3 hours of meaningful, high-impact work a day. I want to burn like a blaze of glory that is seen 7 generations later. I want the unreasonable.
I’m not above hard work, struggle, or gross if it means I get a shot at those bigger, more impossible things.
I’m just not. Never have been, and never will be. Growing up poor taught me I might have to work twice as hard, twice as long, and put up with more crap just to make half the progress. And I said, “OK.” If that’s the price of admission. I’ll pay it.
One of the most annoying things I hear people say is, “Oh, I would NEVER…” Well, you know what? I would. I’m not above it, or better than, or embarrassed by, or too good for whatever it was that offended their senses so much. I’m the kind of person that just does what needs to get done. Even if it’s hard, or uncomfortable, or is a knock to my ego.
Because I want MUCH more.
So I bought the $50,000 ugly ass house.
And then we bought rentals. And kept money in investments. And quit my 9-5 job. And adopted 3 kids who really needed an amazing family. And Mr. Montana left the 9-5. And now we have enough passive income to cover all our bills and $650,000 in net worth.
We get to devote all our energy and time to those crazy impossible, and unrealistic things that we feel a burning calling towards.
And I say, “Oh, I would never….” Here is how I finish that, “Oh, I would never…. trade my biggest dreams, impact, and legacy away for something I never truly cared about just to be a little more normal.”
I pack my lunch.
I lived in an old camper so we could pay down debt faster.
I drive a beater car.
I pulled moldy sheet-rock out of my basement and cleaned up the back-upped sewer…4 freaking times.
But I won’t trade away the things DEEPLY important to me.
Culture and society’s job is to push us into the middle.
To keep everyone as close to average as possible.
And my job is to push back enough to make sure I’m doing my most important work.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
― George Bernard Shaw,
We all are going to trade our energy, time, and money away for something. I bought the ugly house because I wanted the unreasonable more than the comfortable. If we had bought a nicer home, we could have adopted those 3 kids OR left the 9-5 jobs.
But not both.
I wanted both. And was willing to pay for it, quite literally, with the blood, sweat, and tears we put into this house.
There is this verse from the New Testament, in Romans 8:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Buying that ugly house, that “suffering” is so small, so insignificant, so barely worth mentioning when compared to all the amazing things that flowed from that one choice. Being able to adopt 3 special need kids, having both of us home when we added our sweet baby #5, leaving our 9-5 jobs, taking a 6-week trip last summer, being able to buy 2 rentals and have that passive income, or being able to travel to the beach for 2 weeks this month just because I had an urge to sit quietly and gaze out at the ocean…. the “glory,” the reward, is 1000x bigger than the pain of fixing up this house ever was. In light of that, it hardly feels like a sacrifice or trade-off because we chose something much, much better than what we were giving up.
We tend to want to weigh the struggle or sacrifice in the moment. But we forget to measure the reward as well. Sometimes, if we weigh the reward accurately, we see that it is SO much bigger than the current sacrifice.
We made 1000 frugal choices to help us save $200,000, and 1 REALLY important one when we bought our home.
If you know what matters to you, what really, really matters: be unreasonable. Do unreasonably hard things. Run unreasonably fast towards those things. And when everyone says of your choices, “Oh, I would never…” Just think to yourself, “Yeah, I have a, ‘Oh, I would never,’ as well.” They can have theirs. You have yours. Maybe their life will never be bigger than granite countertops and a guest bath on the main floor or a new car every 4 years. Your wants and needs might create an impact that lasts 7 generations. What you are “giving up” will seem so small and insignificant compared to that, it will be hardly worth mentioning.
- Does anyone else miss Paul Harvey?
- I have a love-hate relationship with House Hunters, yet I still watch it while working out at the gym. I do like Property Brothers, but why do they have to spend $100k+ on renovations? Any HDTV rants and raves?
- Fun fact: in our area of about 100k people, there was only 1 other offer on our house. We actually offered $50,100 as our “biggest and best” offer. We spent 5 years and $30,000 on renovations. Our home is now worth about $185,000.
- Ok, enough stalling on my part…what do you all think?