Understand Your Finances
How we made our financial dreams come true—in our 20s
Teamwork and smart planning sets a couple on path to homeownership
This story is part of "Real Money/Real Talk," a series which people share stories of how their personal finances have evolved. In the story, a Minnesota couple—Lauren Scott, a marketing professional and Eric, a paramedic—share insights on their financial balancing act. It is presented by Chase Home Lending.
Early on, my parents taught me a lot about the importance of spending wisely and saving. Especially for the big things, like college. When I was 12, I had a paper route, and they helped me open a bank account to start a retirement fund. I guess you can never start too young!
When Eric and I got engaged, we didn't really know the status of each others' finances. It was kind of a free for all. We were trying to balance each other with one of those, "You pay this, I'll pay that," arrangements, which can be hard.
Between the two of us, Eric is more money conscious. He helps a lot in managing our money, especially since we got married and joined our bank accounts. We also combined our IRA's and now have more of a retirement fund than we did before—which is a priority for both of us.
Working as a team
It's a lot easier now to plan for bigger things. If we have a vacation coming up or want to do renovations on the house, we can see where we stand financially, and quickly.
With our money combined, we also have a lot more stability. Money comes in four times a month instead of two, so we're able to save, and have a security cushion. Case in point: when one of our cars broke down, we were able to pay for the repairs in cash.
We also live for experiences—material objects don't give us much satisfaction. We're big into national parks and right before our wedding, we went to Yellowstone for a week. After our wedding, we spent two weeks in Hawaii.
We also have a general rule that if something is going to be more than $200 or $300, we will discuss it, whether it's for the house or for ourselves.
It's all about understanding where your money goes, and what you can plan for. Before a trip, we'll spend less on going out to eat and buying clothes or on stuff we really don't need. That way, we can stay at a nice hotel and spend a couple of days unplugging.
Searching for a home
Eric is an hourly worker, and I am a salaried employee with a few freelance jobs on the side. Our combined income is about $100,000.
I bought the house when we were engaged, so the mortgage was originally in my name. I received $5,000 in down payment assistance from the government through a first-time homebuyer program, along with an additional $1,000 I provided. I had to show proof that the money came from my bank account, and that it was not gifted to me.
We looked for a house that would be sustainable by one income. Even though we were a double income, we wanted to have extra money for unexpected expenses. We also wanted a house we'd be able to stay in if one of us lost our job.
Buying a house wasn't at the top of Eric's priorities, but when we found the right home at the right price, he knew it was a smart decision.
I've seen quite a few of my friends buy at the top of their price range and then struggle with some of the everyday expenses. A lot of people say, "Hey, 'I've been approved for a $180,000 mortgage!'" and then they start looking for a $180,000 home. We realized we couldn't buy that high, maintain our lifestyle and take vacations.
Finding a fixer-upper
We found a really cute fixer-upper in a nice neighborhood. We painted the walls, replaced the carpet, renovated the bathroom and refinished the hardwood floors. It turned out beautiful. It's still a work in progress, but the house just needed a little extra love.
Young people think that you have to rent until you are ready to stay somewhere permanently. But that's not the case. We know this isn't our forever home, but we also know that it can be lot cheaper to buy a house and rent it. And you get a lot more out of it.
You don't have to keep renting until you're ready to settle down and start a family. In fact, you don't have to have a family at all. You could be a single person and own a home and use it as a strategic step towards your next one.
As a young couple, it helps to be on the same page and prepared for unexpected life events. It builds a stronger relationship and helps to avoid a lot of contention. I know a lot of young couples who are really intimidated by money talk. But when you get married, you can't avoid it.
The key is to find a plan that works for you. Some couples might prefer separate bank accounts, while others—like us—prefer to keep our money together. But the truth is, you have to be willing to talk—really talk—about money.
As for the future, we want to build up our savings and continue to plan for retirement. We want to be financially stable, but also enjoy ourselves. We still treat ourselves to a nice dinner, but we now know what we can and can't do.
Lauren Scott, a marketing professional, and her husband, Eric, a paramedic, are Chase contributors living in Minnesota.