Aspiration & Struggle

Buying Your First Home: How One Young Couple Made It Work

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Carolyn Kennedy, 29, and her husband, Ryan, both started saving money to buy their first home before they even met.

“I would have $200 taken out of my paycheck and put into another account,” says Carolyn, who worked as an English teacher in Massachusetts at the time. “There was no way for me to get this money without going to an ATM. I never really even counted it as my income. I knew it was there, but I never touched it.”

Saving for a Down Payment

The $400 per month Carolyn saved added up quickly, and she knew she was on track to having a down payment for a home. Then she met Ryan, her future husband, who had also been setting aside money for a down payment.

“We met at a time when we both wanted to buy a house and had been saving for a few years,” she says. “Saving wasn’t easy on a teacher’s salary,” Carolyn says. “Ryan works in the tech field, so it was easier for him.”

The couple lived near the border of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, but Ryan worked in New Hampshire, a state with no income tax. Carolyn worked in Massachusetts, where her paychecks were taxed.

Still, the couple pooled their money together and bought their first home via a Federal Housing Administration–backed loan with a down payment of just under 10 percent. They selected a house in New Hampshire, in a town that has relatively low property taxes.

“For this house, in particular, the taxes were more attractive than the neighboring New Hampshire towns,” Carolyn explains.

The Perks of Homeownership

The couple loves homeownership. “Your house reflects you,” says Carolyn. “It’s not just someone else’s house, where you feel like you’re staying as a guest. You can make it your own.”

Carolyn rented for several years before buying a home, and she has enjoyed putting her personal stamp on a place she owns.

“I wanted to be able to paint the walls. I wanted to decorate. I didn’t want to worry that my dog would ruin the carpet, and then I’d lose my deposit,” she says.

Managing Finances

Carolyn is now a stay-at-home mom, so managing the family finances is more important than ever, especially since Ryan accepted a job across the state border. This brought the family an extra expense: state tax.

“My husband just took a new job in Massachusetts, so now he’s paying income tax. It comes to $300 or $400 per month,” Carolyn says.

That’s roughly the same amount she had saved from her teacher’s salary each month when putting money toward a down payment, and this expense doesn’t go unnoticed. “When I’m going to buy things for the kids, I’m more aware that it’s not there,” she explains. Fortunately, Carolyn and Ryan’s taxes are still lower than they would be if they moved to another state.

Paula Pant is the founder of award-winning website and a journalist and blogger specializing in personal finance, real estate and lifestyle design. She has been featured more than three dozen publications, including Forbes, DailyFinance, Marketplace Money, Business Insider, Inc. Magazine, and many more.