BECKY WOLFE ON FINANCIAL FREEDOM
I recently sat down to talk with Becky Wolfe, a physician’s assistant, blogger, and mom from Ohio. Besides her experiences as a home buyer, she is also the author of Frame to Freedom, a blog about achieving a debt-free lifestyle. In addition, I talked with her about her experience of building wealth with real estate.
Becky began by describing her experience of buying her first home, which she did “without much thought” even before she and her husband Greg were married. At the young age of 24, she “jumped right in” to the decision to buy a home with a 30-year mortgage. Not surprisingly, Becky says she didn’t really understand the home buying process at this age.
One of the most important things that Becky has learned since those days was that there are actually “many different mortgages and different types of interest.” She had always been told to go with a fixed-rate mortgage, but her advice now to younger people is to at least consider a shorter-term mortgage. She also says it’s important to think about the neighborhood and the school system. After their marriage, Greg advised her to switch from a 30-year to a 15-year mortgage.
The appeal of a 30-year fixed rate mortgage lies in lower payments, which allow the purchase of a nicer house. But Becky cautions that there are other things to think about. “The house is just a house,” she says. “What do you want for your life ultimately?” Unfortunately, this is a difficult mindset for people to get into when they are young and are in “home shopping” mode. There is more to life than being stuck in a payment, but it can be difficult to keep things in balance when shopping for a home. Often, it can be very disappointing to have to settle for a more practical home.
Becky emphasizes the importance of balance and less overall stress when making decisions about home buying. It’s better to have equity in a home right away rather than having it decline in value. Although the value will go up over the long-term, there will always be cycles.
Becky suggests a number of tools to help couples who are thinking about buying a home. There is a website which is helpful for gathering information about the school system and the neighborhood, as well as comparing houses and prices. You can even calculate your taxes and your mortgage payment. The local county auditor’s website is also a great source of information. For real estate investors, a site called Bigger pockets can help you calculate what you will need to set aside for capital expenditure. It’s critical to determine how much you will need to save each year in order to take care of a home.
Becky and Greg now own six homes, which they use as a source of income. She describes how she and Greg began that journey by purchasing a home that had been foreclosed on. The property had been on the market for two years, but couldn’t go through FHA because of a dilapidated shed. A contractor came to look, and advised them that although he would take down the shed, the house itself was fine. The seller agreed to lower the price on the home, and their offer of $27,000 was accepted. They now rent out the house for $700 a month.
Becky says that a major turning point for her was in was in 2014 when she and Greg decided that they needed to come up with a solid budget as they realized that the way they spent their money did not reflect their vision for the future. Becky and Greg made a commitment to paying off their debts and succeeded in paying off $100,000 over a two-year period.
During this process, Becky realized that they had been engaged in a “vicious cycle” of living on their credit cards and then using all their money to pay them off every month. They began paying cash for everything instead. Becky also changed jobs, resulting in more earnings, but still kept to the same strict budget, allowing them to save. They got rid of their car loans in order to have fewer bills to pay every month.
Now, Becky and Greg still live in same house she bought when she 24. Although they sometimes think about buying a larger house, they are comfortable with the schools and the neighborhood, so it would have to be a “really good deal.”
I asked Becky about her recommendations to friends who are thinking about buying a home. She says she advises her friends to think about what they can afford. She is able to help them figure out what their expected mortgage payment would be. Then she reminds them about other bills: the taxes, the insurance, and the money they would need to save every month to pay for repairs on their home. Many people don’t understand that taking care of their home will also represent an expense.
I asked her what percentage of someone’s income should go towards a home mortgage and still ensure that the person can afford other things. Becky says it’s very personal. Although banks recommend a percentage of 40%, she feels that this is very high. She advises instead that a house payment should represent no more than 20% of your take-home pay and stresses the importance of paying off other debts first. Banks are only concerned with failure rates, but it is up to individuals to make choices with balance.
Becky told me about her blog, Frame to Freedom. The idea for the blog came when she and Greg began framing their financial accomplishments on the journey to become debt-free. This was a way to hold each other accountable.
Becky says that budgeting has greatly impacted her life and her marriage. She and Greg have a “budget meeting” every week and she found that she began to look forward to that meeting. It made her feel that she and Greg shared a vision and a goal. “We don’t fight about money,” she says. “We are on the same page. It’s made our relationship a lot better.”
In closing, Becky advises finding a mortgage that’s well within your budget, and consider opting for a 15-year mortgage instead of a 30-year. Taking these steps will reduce stress on your early family life and marriage.