Don’t rely on the lottery to pay your mortgage.

Ready to buy a new home?I bought by first home in my mid-20s with the help of a $5000 gift from my mother. At the time I was saddled with debt from every department store happy to give me a credit card and my car loan payment was pretty hefty. My savings was minimal and my student loans were due. While I was sinking in debt my credit score rocked … high 700s! Apparently a mortgage lender thought I could handle even more debt so my mortgage was approved. What the hell was I (or they) thinking?

My first place was awesome! It was a one-bedroom loft condo next to the “L” tracks in Evanston (IL) in a former Nabisco cookie factory. Seriously. Cookies. It couldn’t be more fitting for my first place. The condo had 15ft ceilings, a wall of vintage brick (c’mon, who doesn’t love that?!), and huge windows with a nice view. It was perfect. From the minute I signed the settlement papers and moved in I loved every minute of that place. Then the first mortgage payment was due and reality set in. (Deep sigh.)

I was drowning in debt. I had a job that paid well, but after the monthly minimum payments were made there was no money left over for fun: No travel, new clothes, furniture, or going out on the weekends. My low point came as I was grocery shopping one day and all I could afford were Ramen noodles. Pitiful. I took the last dollar I had that week and bought a scratch-off lottery ticket. With anticipation I scratched the spaces and revealed I was a winner! It was only $50 but I was going to eat steak that night. Yay me!

While savoring each bite of my delicious steak I committed myself to getting out of debt. I swore to myself I was going to do whatever it took to pay off my bills and never struggle under mounting bills again. And I succeeded! I took on additional clients, worked harder and longer than imaginable, and I paid off my debts in about a year. Today I only have one credit card which is paid each month and my cars are paid off. The only debt I have is a mortgage. It’s very liberating. It was hard work but worth the effort and the great lessons learned.

Here’s advice for those thinking about buying a home:

  • Don’t buy more house than you can afford. Depending on your debt, sometimes focusing on reducing bills makes more sense than buying a home. A lender will be able to tell you how much your monthly mortgage payments will be. You can then decide if you want to move forward with a home purchase.
  • Just because a lender tells you you’re qualified to borrow “X” doesn’t mean you have to spend that much money. Spend what makes you comfortable and fits within your budget.
  • Work with a REALTOR that will help you stay within your budget. Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised how many agents will show you properties that are higher priced than you want to spend.
  • Your friends and family won’t pay your mortgage so don’t let them talk you into something you really don’t want or need. We love getting input from our loved ones, especially on a big purchase like a home. However, they won’t be living there. You will. So buy a home that makes you happy, not them.

Buying a home is one of the best long-term investments you can make and offers a sense of pride like no other. But a home purchase comes with a mortgage (unless you’re paying cash), as well as homeowner’s insurance, utility bills, and general home maintenance expenses. Take the time to evaluate your current financial situation before beginning your home search. If it turns out you have to wait a few months before signing the settlement papers, that’s ok. The perfect place will be waiting for you now or in the future. I promise.

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