Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The American Dream

For those who know me personally, you may know that earlier this year, B and I bought a house. I am immensely proud of this, an "American Dream" type of milestone that, for a while, I thought I could never reach. As a long-time, self-proclaimed homebody, home ownership is the single element of the American dream that I have most wanted to make a part of my reality.

A decade ago I was living in expensive Chicago and trying to enjoy my young, urban life, doing my best to decompress from 60+ hour work weeks, while trying (and failing) to keep my head above the waves of my personal debt, waves that had been ripping and swelling since I turned 18.

Although I had a job and a career that paid decently, I was always playing 'catch up' with my credit card bills, car payment, cell phone and utility bills, and chipping away that effing expensive student loan, the loan that made for damn certain I would start my adult life in 5 figure debt. My credit rating was pretty deplorable, like a D grade or something, and I think the only reason it wasn't totally flushed down the toilet was because I paid that damn student loan on time each and every month, the only bill I managed to never pay late thanks to auto pay, my only financial saving grace.

At this time in my life, several of my friends were starting that very grownup journey of buying their first homes, either with their life partner or completely on their own. Given my frustrating financial situation, I resigned myself to the looming reality that homeownership was likely never going to be in the cards for me, not with my ocean of debt and my difficulty reigning it in. I was envious of my monetarily stable friends, and shameful of my financial failures.

Still, I never threw in the towel on eventually getting my financial game on track. I finally got fed up enough with juggling my debt, so I read some books on personal finance, and I set up a strict monthly budget and excel spreadsheet to track my expenditures (it's actually the same spreadsheet that I still use today -- I tried Mint.com, but I am better with a more 'old school', self tracking approach). I scaled back on 'extras' and immediate gratification purchases, putting that saved money toward paying off each of my debts, one at a time (Thank you, Dave Ramsey and the Debt Snowball Method!). I started setting aside the tiniest amount of savings each month. Getting out of the red and into the black was my laser focus, and would be for the next few years. It sounds a lot easier than it actually was.

And then finally, a few years later, homeownership started to seem like not such an 'out of reach' idea after all. I had practically eliminated my credit card debt and car payment. I was still on track with that student loan (that I finally paid off not too long ago), and I even had some legit savings.

I'm proud that I cleared my personal debt, born from a combination of my young, stupid mistakes and sheer, unavoidable necessity. It took sacrifice, it took planning, it took hard work and sticking to my demanding (but ultimately well-paying) career path, and it took time (years!), but I persevered. I can't imagine if I'd be able to do it if I were graduating from college today, with the ever inflating cost of education, or if I had chosen a different, if not more noble career path, like public service or the arts. But, that's a completely separate topic, and one where I have MANY strong opinions.

Fast forward to today, and my financial life (and pretty much my whole life) is a different story. Now living in Minne, I'd describe my living situation as 'urban light' and the cost of living is much more sustainable than Chicago (but it's still a bigger city...). My survival budgeting and money saving practices born in Chicago days have become long-term, indestructible habits. B and I were able to pay up front and out of pocket for our very classy (IMO) wedding soiree in 2014, and last year I was even able to take a small break from the necessity of the 'corporate hustle' to re-evaluate my interests and goals (and perhaps surprisingly, it turns out I actually like a lot of aspects of the 'corporate hustle' and it's nice to discover that on my terms versus financial necessity). All the while, I saved funds to pool with Bs to put toward a down payment on the house we purchased together earlier this year.

My home. My little piece of the American Dream, one that I am so thankful to have, and that I will not take for granted.

Welcome to our house!

Closing day (2 days after my 36th! birthday!)

And...I even planted that little potted herb garden that I wanted so much. Next year we're expanding our 'farming' to include tomatoes and other veggies.

"Herbalicious!" Nothing smokable here, just basil, mint, rosemary & parsley.

And, don't get me started on the laundry list of cool house projects (mostly outdoor given the warmer months) that B has taken on! Turns out my husband is a pretty handy fellow, lucky (braggy) me!

Our outdoor movie projection screen. It's going to get a big work out this football season!

Our new firepit, designed and installed by B. S'mores, anyone?

B's first major project as a homeowner - staining the deck, matey's!

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