How I Planned on Winning a Million Dollars for My New Home

published Aug 24, 2018
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

My fiancé and I found ourselves approaching the end of 2013 with two goals in mind: 1. Make it through the wedding planning process and 2. Buy our first home. For a 26-year-old, these were both two exceptionally expensive activities—especially in northern New Jersey where we lived. But we’d been living at home and saving since graduating from college and our parents were very generous in their contributions to our wedding, so these two expenses were somewhat doable. As two working professionals, my fiancé and I had been building a nest egg and went into the home-buying process with manageable expectations.

Still, we wanted some certainty in all the important decisions we were making, and so we sought the services of a financial planner.

Over a series of appointments, the planner took a deep look at all our accounts, projecting what we could and couldn’t afford on the wall of his conference room. We looked years and years into the future, his excel sheet a crystal ball forecasting every facet of our upcoming lives together—cars, homes, kids we would have to send to college. We talked about budgets for the house and he told us that many people buy at the top of their price range, even if it’s not the best idea.

At the end of one very frank meeting, my fiancé and I were feeling very shell-shocked by all the numbers.

“No worries, Erinn will just get on ‘Jeopardy’ and win a lot of money and it will be fine,” my fiancé said to lighten the mood.

“Well actually I had a client go on ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,'” the financial planner said, “He won $50,000.”


A couple of months later, we ended up finding a home we loved. It was not at the top end of our price range, nor was it a bargain. It had many things we loved—a modern kitchen, a large fenced yard, and a geographic location that bridged our two jobs. We placed an offer on the house and waited to hear back.

That same week, as I sat in the family room of my parents home, my dad came down the stairs.

“You got this in the mail,” he said, excited.

It was a slim postcard saying I had been added to the contestant pool for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” After our financial planner made that offhand comment, I went home and Googled how to apply to be on the show. I’d set up an audition in New York City a month prior. Apparently, I aced it.

My head spun. We had just found out that another couple also loved the home, and we ended up in a minor bidding war. I couldn’t help but want to escalate.

After talking to my fiancé, we decided to tack on an additional $3,500 to our offer. I mean, obviously I was going to get on the show and win a million dollars, so surely we could up our bid by 10 thousand dollars or so.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

But we were still outbid. Devastated, I moped around my parents’ house for a few days before our real estate agent called out of the blue. The other couple had withdrawn the offer, and the house was ours.

While we were getting our financial affairs in order, I got a call that I was selected to appear on the show and that my episode would film in August. I tried to manage my expectations but naturally a tiny part of me hoped that I would “Slumdog Millionaire”-style get a string of questions that only I knew the answer to, and earn enough to pay off our new mortgage in one fell swoop.


Come August, I felt bizarrely confident. My fiancé and my family sat in the stands watching and cheering me on, all more stricken with anxiety than I was. Part of my self-assuredness was that while paying off our mortgage would be awesome, we hadn’t purchased out of our price range, so I didn’t feel the pressure to perform. To me, this was “fun money,” and being able to see it that way was partially a result of our years spent saving.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The only pressure I felt was to be less boring than I was in real life. One of the questions that the producer I worked with coached me on before the taping was answering what I would spend my winnings on. The questionnaire I got explicitly said, “Do NOT say mortgage or student loans.” I tried to come up with something quirkier while deep down knowing that our down payment was looming, and our bank accounts were going to have fewer commas soon. A recreational runner, I answered that I would like to buy a treadmill and maybe run a marathon in Disney World. These questions never actually came up during the filming.

What did come up during taping was a lucky series of questions (including my favorite movie “The Shawshank Redemption”!). I hit the $60,000 mark, but then ran out of lifelines and reached a question I couldn’t answer. (Note: If you know a lot about world’s strongest man competitions please time travel and contact me back in 2013, so I can keep up my streak and become a millionaire.) I decided to walk away, which granted me half of my earnings. One month before closing on our house, and I had put almost a $30,000 cushion in our buying process.

But despite some friends and family urging us to make a big purchase or have fun with the money, the check went into the same account as everything else. Even if we hadn’t already committed to the home we’d chosen, an extra $30,000 is not a huge amount in the area that we were living in, where the median home price is close to $600,000. While the game show winnings did not change our real estate lives drastically, they did allow us to buy some nicer furniture and also have a bit of financial breathing room that many people lack right after such a major purchase (those Home Depot trips can really get you!). Luck rules so much—that the financial planner made that comment, that I knew the answers to questions, that we found a house that we loved. So much of buying a house is in facts and figures and serious decisions—it was fun to have a bit of our lives given over to hot studio lights and Cedric the Entertainer and his wide variety of hats.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The tidy colonial three bedroom we eventually moved into is the perfect size for our current family of three, but we will probably move eventually to a different town and a bigger house. But I’ll just have to make it on “Jeopardy” first.