Like many of you, I suspect, I love watching HGTV house hunting shows. It's fun to guess how a wedding calligrapher and Frisbee golf instructor can possibly buy a $1.5 million house. When my husband and I decided to buy a house, we did not have a $1.5 million budget. But what we did have was a sizeable down payment.
That's because we decided to skip the big wedding and take the cash we would have spent on the big day — the average wedding cost was around $20,000 at the time — and use it towards our dream of buying a home instead.
Because we made the right financial choices for us, the wedding and the home both happened, and both were exactly what we wanted.
How we chose a house over a wedding
We hadn't bought a house or been married before and needed to figure out what we needed and wanted in both.
In thinking about weddings, we found that we'd rather have familiar foods instead of tiny placards describing miniature appetizers. And we also realized we didn't even know 200 people. That helped us settle on a smaller wedding of less than 50 people with barbecue and simple flowers. We were both 29 and our parents didn't contribute. We set a budget and stuck to it.
The choice to have a small, casual wedding left us with most of the money we'd been saving — $25,000 — to confidently throw into a down payment on a home. It's not a fortune, by real estate standards, but it was a lot for us. We wanted to stick to a budget where that $25,000 would be a sizeable down payment.
House hunting was initially difficult as our realtor tried to bump up our strict "we have enough for a down payment" price range. But sticking to our guns on the budget turned out to actually make things easier, as our options were limited and made us more realistic about home features. It meant we learned to love white laminate instead of granite. It meant we might not have a brick house, but we could have a brick front.
Ultimately, we found our home, although it was a bit more than we saw ourselves spending. Our down payment got us 15 percent of the way there (below the 20 percent needed to avoid paying mortgage insurance) so we closed with PMI in place.
Being smart about money — from the moment we booked the barbecue vendor for our big day — meant that we weren't house poor. As soon as we closed on the house, we worked hard to remove the PMI payment that added several hundred dollars to our mortgage payment. We closed the gap from 15 to 20 percent equity quickly, and once we had done that, we worked on paying off the mortgage entirely. It happened within ten years.
Why I would do it again
Just as every dating and marriage relationship is different, our experience choosing a small wedding and down payment had its ups and downs. But choosing home ownership over a big wedding was a choice we would say "I do" to again and again.
Our choice meant we had a simple wedding — but it was no less beautiful or meaningful to us. And we got the greatest gift: To come home to our home at the end of it all.
Apartment Therapy's My First Home series puts the "real" in real estate. We asked people from all across the country and all walks of life to share their stories on how they made their first home purchase happen.