Friday, December 26, 2014

We Saved $16,000 in Less Than 7 Months to Purchase Our First Home

In mid-November, we saved up $16,000 to purchase our first home after seven months of saving. You probably already know that I'm a huge fan, and sing their praises any chance I get. I know some people have much more student debt than we did and probably have saved up more than $16,000 in the same time frame that we did, but I still feel it's a huge accomplishment and am proud to share our story.

If you think it's impossible to pay down debt (any amount), I'm sure you'd learn at least something from our story, or be inspired to tackle the debt head on. I know it's not easy, and we certainly had a unique living situation during our time of savings for the house, but overall, we feel pretty good about being able to call this house our home.416

Note: The following post first appeared on the blog the day that we closed on our home. Check out my related links below for more info on how I used Mint to pay off our student debt and save up for the house.

How to Create a Monthly Budget—and Stick With it!
How To Pay Off $17,000 of Student Loan Debt in Less Than 18 Months
Finance 101: 7 Reasons Why I Love
Sell your crap. Pay off your debt. Do what you love.

I never thought I’d be days away from becoming a homeowner just one year after our move out of Austin, Texas. Last November, we decided to move to Houston, Texas in hopes of better jobs with higher salaries. We had struggled for years, yet always somehow managed to stay above the water in the financial sea that we found ourselves drifting in.

Below is my story on how my husband and I paid off over $17,000 of debt in less than 18 months, and saved-up to purchase our first home with the help of Mint.

With the help of our new salaries, we paid off my husband’s student loans ($17,000 in 18 months) in April of this year and I was then able to set my eyes on yet another goal: saving up for a house. I had no idea how much it would actually cost to buy our first home, but with the help of Mint, we started saving within a week or two of paying down the student debt. I took the payments I was making on the student loans and instead sent them directly to the savings account, upwards of $1,500 a month!

We had been living with my husband’s cousin since moving to Houston and we were paying him rent for a room in his three-bedroom home, saving hundreds each month in rent alone. As we continued to live frugally and save what we could afford, we began to discuss the possibility of expanding our family. I knew it wasn’t the ideal time (where would we even put the baby?!), but we announced over the summer that we’d be expecting our first child, due in February 2015.

That’s when things started to get real. I soon became obsessed with saving, slashing our budgets even further to accommodate the growing savings account upwards of $2,700 a month. Every purchase was up for discussion between my husband and I. We now had a true deadline that even nature would not allow us to miss. I called our realtor and mortgage lender to find out just how much we’d need to save to purchase a home, and was shocked to find out it was nearly $15,000 for the price range we were looking in.

Our pennies were pinched even further and we continued to save, as I knew we had to move out by the end of December to allow us time to unpack the towers of boxes stacked in my parent’s garage and “nest” before the baby arrived in February. Following my strict guidelines I had created for how we handled our money, we continued to stay the course and adjust budgets as necessary. By mid-November, we had reached our goal and then some. We saved $16,000 to purchase our first home in seven months, which would cover closing costs and the down payment. We had cut it so close, but we did it!

During the first day of house hunting, and the seventh home we viewed, we put in an offer on a 1,650 square foot home (perfect for our minimalist lifestyle) and short commutes to our jobs. We can’t wait to make our new house a home for our baby, Eleanor Jane, to grow up and make memories in.

I credit my success to a lot of self-discipline as well as technology like Mint. So if you’re feeling the burden of student loans or other bills like I was, I would encourage you to sign-up for Mint, and get on the path to living a debt-free life. It’s truly life-changing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Holidays Should Be About Presence. Not Presents.

I used to love gift giving. That was before we had a strict budget and financial goals to pay down our student debt and purchase our first home. And don't get me wrong, I do love to shop, too. However, my purchases now involve much more scrutiny and a longer thought process.

Do I really need this? 
Can I find it somewhere else cheaper?
Will this last long enough for me to get my money's worth out of it?
How long do I plan to keep this? 
Can these be used for multiple tasks?
Is it on sale?

I know, I sound crazy. But as you can see, I clearly overanalyze everything when it comes to spending my money. Something else I noticed was that I found myself dreading the holidays. I used to feel obligated to reciprocate gift-giving and receiving. I had to be fair. If I got something for so-and-so, I couldn't leave out this other person. How much would they spend on me, and what should I spend on them?

I quickly resolved all of these issues by declaring we wouldn't be participating in the holiday gift-giving before Thanksgiving had rolled around in November 2012. You see, this was the same month we decided to overhaul our budget and pay down our student loan debts. I just decided we would take the minimalist approach to the holidays. I was called a scrooge, but I didn't care! We had goals and I think it's more important to be near loved ones during the holidays,

So, this holiday season, or any season, for that matter, give your family your presence, not presents. I recently read that the number one regret on the top five regrets of the dying is that they wished they lived a life true to themselves instead of living the life someone else expected of them.Not one of the top five listed "I wish I had given a more perfect or expensive present!" So keep that in the back of your mind if you need some comfort or if anyone questions why you're being a scrooge. The latest gadget isn't going to be remembered by someone else when they reflect on their life. I'm sure they would be cherishing the moments you shared instead.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Living Rich—Saving More, Spending Less

I know, I know. It doesn't sound fun. AT ALL. Save more?! Spend Less? What is she talking about? Well, by doing just that, my husband and I paid down $17,000 in less than 18 months on his student loans. So, we don't have those to worry about any more. And the following week after becoming "student debt free", guess what we did? We started saving for a house. And seven months later, we had saved $16,000 for a down payment on our first home.

Gary Turk inspired me to permanently delete my Facebook. I did, and I haven't looked back since. And then I saw his other video: Live Rich (below).

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Seek Respect, Not Attention. It Lasts Longer.

Photo credit | Kush and Wizdom

For some reason, when I read the quote above, it made me think of Facebook. My husband recently deactivated his account. I haven't been shy about the fact that I also permanently deleted my account in late August 2014. Why? Because I was tired of updating everyone on the really not important things in my life. Like what I was eating. Or what I thought of the latest movie I had seen or vegan dish I had eaten. People were probably tired of hearing about my veganism (that was so 2012, Kelsey!) and I was sick of crafting carefully worded status updates.

I also spent a significant amount of time scrolling. I swear my right thumb was probably tired of the upward flicking motion I was make as I scrolled through hours worth of news feed. And why? I had pared down my "friends" list to only 96 people, which only included close family members, a handful of coworkers, and a dozen or so close friends. That's still a lot of people to impress daily. Hell, some people even update a few times a day.

So what were they posting? About their kids, what they ate for dinner, or the random, "Oh. My. God! I can't believe that just happened," without further detailing what the hell just happened! This will cause a cascade of "OMG, what happened? Text me!" responses. Attention. Pure attention. It's what we all crave, right? I decided to hop off the attention bandwagon and pay attention to the latest development in my life: baby Eleanor Jane, who I had conceived over the past summer.

I had just shared the news of my big announcement maybe two weeks prior on Facebook. But, guess what? Half already knew because I told friends and family in person or on the phone as soon as we found out we were pregnant. And what did I learn since cutting myself off from the digital world? That I only really need to pay attention to the important things in my life, like say, my pregnancy, my husband, and my career. It was time to stop looking for attention and start earning the respect that I strived for.

Just because I think it's that important, I'm going to share the original video that inspired me to disconnect, along with the instructions for how to free yourself from the never-ending and unsatisfying cycle that seeking attention will cause.

So, I ask: When will you begin to look up?

Have you been thinking about permanently deleting your Facebook? Here how:
1. Download a copy of your photos, videos, and more before switching off.
2. Disconnect all third-party apps so you won't be auto-logged and therefore null and void your deactivation. Note: Be sure to manually click the "x" to the right of each app to remove your data.
3. Permanently delete.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Kolaches (Dough + Filling) Recipes

I had been begging my mother for two and a half years to make me some vegan kolaches. My family heritage is Czech, and I grew up watching my grandmother and now my own mother bake large batches of kolaches in the kitchen. I'm Texan and this is a big deal down where I'm from. I finally planned a full day to attempt a batch of vegan kolaches, and these have been given the stamp of approval by my Czech grandmother (who still speaks Czech!). She gobbled them up and when I said they were vegan, all she said was, "Ain't it?"

Special thanks goes out to Helen Pitlik of for giving me permission to share her own dough recipe that I slightly modified. Thanks again for a wonderful recipe!

Vegan Kolache Dough
yields 4 dozen small kolaches

2 cups lukewarm non-dairy milk
2/3 cup sugar
2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups flour, divided
4 Tbsp. vegan butter

1. Add sugar to lukewarm milk and stir in yeast in a large bowl. Let sit for a few minutes until foamy.
2. Stir in oil, 3 cups flour, and salt and mix until combined. Stir in remaining 3 cups of flour.
3. Shape into ping pong–sized balls and place on a greased baking pan about 1 inch apart. Let rise until more or less doubled in size (about two hours).
4. Press down centers on "wet" side that was facing down on your pan with your thumb and fill with desired filling.
5. Let rise again for another hour.
6. Brush the tops with melted vegan butter and bake at 350° for 15–18 minutes.

Filling options
1 can poppyseed filling
1 package Beyond Meat Grilled Chick'n
1 package Tofurkey Roast Beef
1 package Daiya Cheddar or Swiss cheese
Cream cheese with popsika (instructions below)
1/2 can cherry pie filling

Cream Cheese Filling
yields filling for 20 kolaches

1 package Tofutti Better Than Cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla

1. Soften cream cheese in microwave for 30 seconds.
2. Blend together cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla.
3. After following steps 1–3 for the kolache dough, press down centers of the risen dough with a spoon to create a small "bowl".
4. Add filling mixture and top with popsika (directions below).

Now onto the topping for the fruit kolaches. This was always something my grandmother let me do, and I honestly have no idea what popsika even translates to. My cousin calls it "The Crumble", so whatever works!

Popsika (The "Crumble") for Fruit-Filled Kolaches
yields topping for 3 dozen fruit kolaches

1/4 cup vegan butter
1/8 cup sugar
1/8 cup flour

1. Blend ingredients together with a fork until it begins to crumble. Continue to add equal amount of sugar and flour until crumble is achieved
2. Sprinkle over the top of the fruit-filled kolaches.