Couponing My Way To A Home

I used to be a really insane, Crazy Coupon Lady. You could find me in the aisles of the grocery store binder in the carriage with a toddler climbing in and out of it, constantly disrupting the carefully calculated tower of that particular week’s haul. It used to take about 2 hours in the store to get all the things I need, wait for my Dad who I always take with me, and for the cashier to ring out all of my items and coupons.
When I started doing all of this it was to help out my parents who had just taken in my brother, sister in law, and 2 kids. They had now 6 mouths to feed and only one person was working. Being 7 months pregnant myself I was also wondering where I would get the money to feed my own growing family. COUPONS were my answer. After about a year it really took on a life of its own. Couponing became a game to me. How can I get the most stuff for the least amount of money? I would watch TLC’s Extreme Couponing for inspiration. I would scour sites and print coupons, collect them from neighbors and family, and yes I even dumpster dived for them. It was all about the chase, the high I would get from walking out of the store and basically legally robbing them (you aren’t actually robbing them, use properly merchants are reimbursed the amount of the coupon plus 8 cents. Oh and that doubled one that the store “covers” can we say tax write off??). Couponing was an obsession. I can admit I bought things I did not use or need because they were cheap or free. I can tell you that its true from the bag of Mac & cheese sitting in my cabinet that expired in 2012. I did all of it for the little number at the bottom of the receipt. The phrase that told me “You Saved $150 today”!!! It was an awesome feeling, until it wasn’t. I had burned myself out in about a year and a half that I just didn’t want to do it anymore. So I stopped bringing in my pile of coupons and buying things I really didn’t need.  I still couponed, just not to the same degree.
The idea was planted in my brain one night that I wanted to buy a house. While I love the town I currently live in, I don’t love my neighbors so much. Coming home and never knowing if your parking spot is going to be open, who kids’ crap was strewn all over your yard was no longer my idea of “home”. I wanted out, and FAST! I wanted a home to do what I wanted and not have to play “Mother May I” if I wanted to paint my bathroom a different color.
I have been working on buying a home since 2012. I did the research on what it would take to buy a house. I started learning more about finances. I mercilessly educated myself in the whole process. The problem was I didn’t have the money to buy a house. I was barely making ends meet, paying on a car that was 6 years old, student loans, day care costs, and the sneaky little habit of traveling I have was loaded on my credit cards. I buckled myself down and payed off all my debt in about 8 months of working diligently at it. After I paid off about $16,000, I began to get laser focused on getting a home for my daughter and I. I couldn’t help but think there were down payment assistance programs available to single moms in my income range I just had to find them.
After a sleepless night or two I came across IDAs. These are Individual Development Accounts that are used for the purpose of helping out low or moderate income families in obtaining home ownership, a higher education, or a vehicle to get to work. There are federal versions and state versions, which you qualify for will depend solely on the state you live in and their guidelines. There were 2 local programs for me to choose from. I live on the line between two counties so the choice was mine on where I wanted to live. Depending on what county I wanted to live in determined which program I went with. Since I had lived in various towns of New Haven County, I elected to stay there. I knew many of the towns where I would be looking wouldn’t be super far from my job. That was important to me.
The way an IDA works is similar to a 401K, you put in money up to a certain amount and the program them matches your contribution. My program matched 2:1, so for every dollar I put in, they gave me $2 more. They would also match my contribution up to $1500 and I had 5 years to reach that goal. Well I wasn’t waiting 5 years, at most I wanted to do 3. I looked over my finances and determined that to meet my goal would cost me $20 a paycheck. But I still didn’t know where I would get that money from. Everything was so tight already.
I thought back to my crazy coupon lady days and how it had been such an “easy” way to “make” money. I could just save all my savings again. I had really slacked off in my couponing but could jump back into it. After all it was just like riding a bike. The IDA sets up a separate savings account for you and anything I saved I would just deposit into the account. That was the plan anyway.
I started the IDA program in September 2013 with just $20. I made that initial deposit and I was on my way to getting my house. Every week I went grocery shopping I would see the savings at the bottom of the receipt and then put it in an envelope to make a monthly deposit. Some months there were only a few dollars, but other months there was about $150. I had set up a direct deposit of $20 from my paycheck to make sure I would stay on track to hit my goal in time.
The bank that I had to use wasn’t very convenient for me, so I opted to make monthly deposits with all the extra money I would save from groceries. It was awesome. Every dollar I saved was the equivalent of saving $3. I started getting that couponing high again. I could see my goal being reached faster and faster. I was able to max out the full $1500 match by April 2014. In 7 months I was able to tuck away $1500 without drastically altering my lifestyle. I bought things I would normally buy, I learned my lesson from the last round of it. But imagine what I could have saved if I had been doing this all along! I saved $1500 and then grew it into $4500 just by spending a few hours clipping pieces of paper!! Where else can you see a 300% gain on your money like that?? All with practically no risk of loosing it.
In February I found a real estate agent, called some mortgage brokers and banks, and started the process of finding a house. I now had a small down payment that I could use with some of the First Time Home Buyer Programs that were available. Now I just needed to find the perfect house for us. We looked at dozens of houses, put bids on a few and were rejected. I was just starting to loose hope that I would be able to find a house in my price range. All the ones were had available really weren’t the greatest, but it was what I could afford. Finally in June after being on the market for about 3 days I looked at my house. I put a bid on it that night and by the end of the week I had a home!!
By taking the money I saved with coupons and putting it into another account that had a great return I was able to buy my 1st home. We are set to close on Aug 25th and I can’t wait to move in!!
Oct Update:  The mortgage product I used paid for my down payment and closing costs on the house.  I was also able to walk away from the closing with a check for $2678.  I financed 96.5% of my house and still was paid to walk out of the door…..oh that mortgage payment, $600 a month….I reduced my rent costs by $150!!

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