Must Haves for Your Custom home

When you’re purchasing a house there is normally a list of “must haves” and a list of “deal breakers”.  For our first apartment our “must haves” list was very short. We wanted 2 bedrooms, <$700/month, and in a safe part of town. I’m not sure if we ever discussed “deal breakers” but active roach infestations would’ve probably been the entire list.

For our starter home (which we still have as a rental) our “must haves” and “deal breakers” lists were only slightly longer.

Dream home must haves

But for our dream home, where we hope to spend the next 30 years making memories, our lists got a whole lot longer.  Below are our must haves – Let me know if they become yours too!

Five Bedrooms

We could survive with 4 but 5 gives us options and room to grow. We want our kids to be able to have their own rooms when they’re older. Nearly all of our family live out-of-state so a guest bedroom is a necessity. Technically the kids could always sleep on an air mattress in the office, but if we’re building our dream home – why not making it everything we want?!

When you’re designing your dream home. Be sure to identify the numbers of bedrooms you’ll need in the future. Consider if you think aging parents will move in, if you’ll add children to the mix, or how often you have out-of-town guests.

 A Basement

My husband has wanted a basement home for a really long time. He has totally gotten me on the band wagon. I could go on for days about the perks of a basement.

Arizona is hotter than a ghost pepper pie. Basements are extremely easy to cool in sweltering summers and stay perfectly peachy all year-long.  It only took us one $600 electric bill to know an above ground 2 story was a DEAL BREAKER. If we could build the whole house underground we would probably consider it!

Must have basement ideas

Via the wow doctor


Basements can be used for so many purposes. Crafting, playroom, theater, paintball arena – the list is endless! Some areas don’t allow for basements due to flooding or the type of ground. But if you can fit one into your dream home plans, I highly recommend one.

Custom Kitchen

There are many beautiful and practical kitchens out there. Unfortunately they’re usually not both at the same time.  We have so many “must haves” for the kitchen that our dream kitchen will have its own blog post in the future.

Must have kitchen ideas

Via Craftsman Kitchens


But for now here’s a short list: 2 large islands, a farmhouse sink, a pot-filler, tile floors (it’s amazing how many people have wood floors in the kitchen), enough space to walk around someone doing dishes or looking in the fridge, and tons of storage.

Walk-in Pantry

Speaking of storage… We absolutely must have a butler’s pantry. Including counter space for appliances, a deep freezer, and a ridiculous amount of dry food storage space.

I’ve never lived in a house with a real walk in pantry. I can’t wait to organize it! Do they make custom pantry organizers like they do closets? If this isn’t a thing yet, it should be. By next year so I can get some!

Must have walk-in pantry

Via better homes and garden


Having a walk-in pantry will clear up cabinet space for dishes, cookware, and the like. It can also help keep your kitchen neat and organized. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who regretted that their home had one.

Walk-in Master Closet

We want an entire room for our clothes.  Our current bedroom always has clothes lying about and drawers half-open. I would say having a walk-in closet will fix that but honestly I will settle with it being out of sight and laying in the closet floor instead.

Walk-in closet must have

Via houzz


Honestly though, with both of us working, plus our hobbies of camping, running (me), and traveling we need a lot of clothing options and it can be difficult to pair this down to a regular closet. Plus I love having a place to store off-season clothing or being able to hide Christmas presents on the upper shelves!

Master Suite

Alright this should really be on the “because we can” list but since that doesn’t exist I put it here. We want a space to call our own that we can sneak away to when we need a break.  A small little sitting area in our bedroom will be just right – We aren’t even making it a separate room, just a space large enough for a love seat.

Master bedroom must haves

Via better homes and garden


A separate sitting room typically doesn’t get used. But a reading nook or window seat is just the thing to have a little space of your own. What would that look like in your dream home?

A Pool

I. Have. To. Have. A. Pool. Seriously. Spend a summer in AZ and tell me you don’t need a pool. Especially with kids.  We don’t have a pool currently. We spend all weekend cooped up inside because it’s literally (literal use of the word literally, rare occurrence now-a-days) too hot to do anything outside. I was not joking about the ghost pepper pie earlier.

Kids need activities they can do outdoors. I grew up with a trampoline and a swing set. I loved those! But it’s too hot here to use them all summer when the kids are out of school. Backyards should be functional and FUN! Other ideas to consider may be a sandbox (our entire backyard in the desert!), jungle gym, built-in splash pads, or sport courts.

A Grotto

I want the pool – the hubs wants a grotto in the pool. He’s kind of like a vampire in that he hates being in the sun. But he enjoys being near the water and relaxing. A pool grotto is just the thing! We will also have a covered patio for shade as well. It’s important to have several functional spaces in your backyard.

Pool must haves grotto

Via blue haven


If you’re an avid Griller, you may consider a custom grill area that includes a gas burner for a skillet, a sink for clean up, or even a mini fridge!

A Luxurious Walk-in Shower

With 2 shower heads. There is definitely a theme of things you can walk into on this list.  My husband and I are not bathtub people.  Many homes have outlandish Jacuzzi tubs and efficient but boring showers.  We want just the opposite.

Shower must haves

Via faburous designs


I think more of us use our showers over our bathtubs regularly. Why not make your shower luxurious? You deserve it.

Open Floor Plan

I like to cook. My hubs generally keeps the kids occupied while I’m cooking but I miss out on their shenanigans because there is a wall separating me and the fun.  Also when we have friends over either they hangout uncomfortably in the hard wooden chairs to chat with me or I miss out on the action again.

An open floor plan will allow for everyone to connect no matter what part of the great room they’re residing in. It will also help us keep an eye on the backyard from several positions as well.

A Place for a Garden

We like fresh produce.  I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t get our daily vegetables and fruits. (Seriously tho, I’m a dietitian, it’s actually my job to eat healthy!)

I’ve failed at a square foot garden twice.  I’ve decided to wait to try again until we have a permanent place to nurture the soil and really work at cultivating a thriving garden.

Must haves garden space

Via period living


Self sustaining homestead are also becoming very popular. Dooms day preppers need to be able to feed themselves. I fit in the previous category, my husband in the latter. But a garden fulfills both of our needs.

A Split Floor Plan

I love my mother-in-law. That doesn’t mean I want her to sleep right across the hall from me for 2-4 weeks when she comes to visit! (PS It’s okay if I say that, she reads my blog and still likes me) Having our master on one side of the house and our kids rooms/guest room on the other was definitely a top priority for our floor plan.

Many people enjoy a split floor plan for those exact reasons! I honestly don’t know why you would want all the bedrooms huddled together.  I can speak from experience that it can make hubby/wifey time a little trickier.

Well that’s our initial must haves list. As we go, I’m sure we will be adding details to it. I already can’t wait to move in!

What must haves would you add to this list? I want to make sure I don’t forget anything!


8 Vital Questions to Ask Before Buying Land

Buying land is one of the first steps in the dream home building process. This list will help you make wise decisions as you search for the perfect piece of property.  You may already own the land, but there are still things to consider when it’s time to start building.

Reviewing this list can help prevent you from ending up with land that doesn’t meet your needs or desires. Before we started our dream home building adventure I had never considered several of these!

8 land buying questions

Is it mostly flat or have a lot of large trees?  

Will they need to bring dirt in? Haul dirt out? This can raise the cost of your build. Are there a lot of trees, or if you live in the desert like us, saguaro cacti? Do you want to keep any of them? Check if there is a wash running through the property – if so this will have to be rerouted so heavy rains don’t cause problems for you. All of these things can add cost when it comes time to clear the land and prepare for building.

What direction will your house face?

Many people prefer to have north/south lots so their house doesn’t get direct sun light in the windows for the majority of the day.  Depending on your locale, this may be less important than it is here in the desert. This is also something to think about when you are planning your layout and where large windows or doors will go.

How much land do you need?

We wanted a full acre. This would give us enough space to have all the “wants” in our dream home. Our wants included a pool, a shop, a garden area, a mini farm, and a yard for the kids to play. Quite honestly a half-acre would accomplish that. However, due to the nature of my husband’s business we also needed room for work trucks and trailers to park and we prefer these aren’t cluttering up our driveway.

You may be searching for multiple acres to create a homestead or you may be more content with ¼ or ½ acre lot. Just keep in mind that many cities and counties have regulations on how close to the road and to neighboring houses you can build. Those restrictions could end up limiting the size of your house if you buy too small for your dreams. Do some research before deciding on lot size.

What’s your ideal location?

I grew up in Little Rock, AR. You could drive from 1 side of town to the other in 20 minutes or less.  If you drove 30 minutes any directions you would be in 1 or 2 different cities. The entire metropolitan area where I grew up is smaller than 1 of the suburbs of phoenix AZ.

Where we currently live it takes me over an hour to drive to work. When we move to our dream home location it will only take 40 minutes.  That will save me a minimum of 2 ½ hours a week in drive time! There is also only 1 main road in and out of our current suburb. Which means traffic gets backed up often. Although the city itself is wonderful, and if we worked locally it would be an ideal place to raise a family, it just doesn’t fit our needs well.

There are other important factors besides commute time. Things like: Is there an expected growth in the area they may increase the value of your home? Would that growth take away from your ideal spot? What type of school district will you be in? What types of resources and businesses are near?

Could city regulations affect your plans?

  We searched and searched for an already constructed home on county land. We want to have a garden, raise chickens, and even have goats. Many cities have regulations on having livestock in your backyard.  Some cities have noise regulations, building height codes, and other ordinances to familiarize yourself with. If you already have a builder picked out they can help you find this information. Otherwise, check with your city development department.

Does your land fall under a HOA?  

Home owners associations bring their own unique considerations to the table. Due to the nature of my husband’s business we needed an HOA free place to call home.  Most HOAs don’t allow things like having work-trailers parked in your driveway or have specific rules on work vehicles. Others don’t allow livestock (we want chickens and goats!). HOAs can determine how often you cut your grass, what type of decorations you can add, or even dictate the color you paint your front door! So you may want to review the HOA before signing the dotted line for a new plot of land.

Are utilities already setup and which ones are available?

If you have your heart set on a gas stove in your dream kitchen you’ll need access to the natural gas lines. Not all property or homes have this as an option.  Can you easily hook up to city water or will the land require digging a well? Have you factored in these costs to your budget? We found it can cost several thousand dollars to connect to city water services if your land isn’t already set up for it.

A previous lot we had considered did not have access to an internet connection. I found this baffling that it’s 2017 and there are still very populated areas that I wouldn’t be able to get internet in my house! Cell data doesn’t suffice for running a business out of the home.

A good tip here is asking your real estate agent to let you know the average utility cost in the area of similar sized homes to your dream home. When we were still searching for houses we found one where the water bill averaged $400 a month! That’s more than 4 times the amount we currently pay. The high cost of property taxes and utilities in that area is one of the reason we chose not to offer on that house and why we purchased land instead.

How long will it take to get your permits? 

Ask your builder or contractor how long you’ll have to wait before you can break ground. Many cities or counties are quick but some can take months to approve your permits. Don’t be caught off guard! We had to add 3 months to our timeline just for permit approvals.

Hopefully asking yourself these questions prevents future headaches. What other things should you consider when buying land? If you’re looking for ideas for your dream home you can check out our first set of revisions to see what ideas you might not have thought about yet.

How to Find Awesome Ideas for Your Dream Home

How to Find Amazing Ideas to Start Designing Your Dream Home

                So you’ve decided to build your dream home – congratulations! Now its time to design your floor plan, room sizes, kitchen needs, and well – EVERYTHING!  Maybe you already have the perfect kitchen in mind or know that you just can’t live without an office for your home business. But do you really know what you want it to look like? Have you seen any of your ideas in person? Do you need to bring your abstract ideas into real world realities?  If so, then I’m here to help!

*This post contains affiliate links*

dream home design ideas

It can feel a bit overwhelming when you get started on building your dream home. There are a lot of questions to answer and decisions to make. Part of the process is to make sure you have a system of finding ideas and then a way to organize them once you’ve began gathering your thoughts. Below are some tips for getting ideas and then options for organizing them.

Visit Open Houses

Search Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, etc. for open houses. Ask your realtor to notify you of available ones in your area. Drive neighborhoods you’ve noticed have lots of houses for sale on Saturdays and Sundays; they will often have signs out directing you to the open houses. Visiting these homes will give you and your partner (if you have one) a chance to discuss details you both like or don’t like. This is a great step to finding ideas and must haves you can implement in your new home.  Same philosophy applies when you are buying a house: you should look at several options before deciding.  You never know what idea you might be surprised by!


Model Home Viewing

Head to neighborhoods that are still in the building stage. Often times they contain model homes that you can browse through at your own pace. Take pictures or write down ideas you find that you want to be sure to include in your dream. It doesn’t hurt to have a list of things you don’t want either. Be wary of trends that may or may not fit your style in these models homes. Take note of how big or small rooms are and if you think your furniture will fit or not. Many times these homes are staged so you can determine what type and size of furniture may be ideal. Check out these revisions we decided on for our dream home for additional ideas.


Utilize Search Websites

Zillow, Trulia, Realtor, etc. are great options to view pictures for houses in all sorts of price ranges; this will help you gather 100s of ideas. We found a couple of ideas in houses that were above our price range that can easily be implemented in a lower cost build. Houzz is another website worth taking a look at for ideas. When you find ideas you like, save them to your dream home board on Pinterest.



Speaking of Pinterest; It’s a great idea generator! Search for ideas from floor plans to color schemes to home hacks and more. You can find ideas for themes, decor, furniture arrangements, and pretty much any other idea that’s been thought of for home design. It’s also a great place to find blogs on home design and decor. Pinterest has definitely been my favorite way to find ideas and organize them for future reference.

Once you’ve gotten your ideas, you’ll need a way to organize them. Keep reading for tips on organizing your dream home on paper and online.


Essential Tips to Organize Your Dream Home Ideas

Take pictures

Then take more. I wish I had taken more pictures in homes we visited before we decided to build. It’s hard to remember everything after you’ve seen 20+ homes. This is a great tip whether you are building or buying (or still deciding). It will help you remember what you enjoyed most and keep track of your dream home must-haves.  After taking the pics save them to folders on your computer or to Pinterest boards. What’s that saying about pictures speaking a thousand words? When it’s time to share your ideas with your architect those pictures are really going to come in handy.


Measure Square Footage

Write down the type of room and how large you think it should be for your needs. We kept a notebook when we were tracking this for our dream home. They make a handy device to measure square footage and I highly recommend getting one if you are building.  We change the size of our garage and Master bedroom several times before our final floor plan was finished. A space looks much larger when its empty but once a king-sized bed is in there all-of-a-sudden you need a larger room! You may also take note of how long of a bar/island you want in the kitchen or the size of that amazing walk-in closet you visited.


Write Things Down

Carry a notebook with you to keep all your ideas organized. You want shutters on the windows or beams above the kitchen? Take little notes. There were a few pictures I took and when sorting through them later I had to rack my brain on why I took them. You can jot down color schemes you love or hate or window treatments you want to add. Write down deal-breakers or things you really don’t want in your dream home. This will help you to be sure to avoid them when designing or purchasing your new home. Don’t fool yourself into believing you’ll remember what the kitchen looked like in the first house you visited after seeing 5 more houses that day. They all start to run together.


Organize Your Pinterest

Create boards for each main room or area in your home. If you just use one board for every idea it becomes cluttered and difficult to sort through.Visiting my pinterest profile for board ideas. Consider these board options or pick ones that work best for your family and style:

  1. Master bedroom
  2. Master bath
  3. Kitchen/pantry
  4. Dining
  5. Living room
  6. Great room
  7. Laundry
  8. Guest room
  9. Boys room
  10. Girls room
  11. Mudroom (Ultimate Guide)
  12. Nursery
  13. Playroom
  14. Music room
  15. Office
  16. Foyer
  17. Exterior view
  18. Backyard
  19. Decorating Ideas
  20. Home Organization (How to Organize it all)

I would love to hear any additional tips you have for finding ideas for your dream home, please comment them below!

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How Debt-to-Income Ratio Will Impact Your Dream Home

 Debt-to-Income Ratio

What is it and why you need to know about it

Whether you are buying or building your dream home you need to know about debt-to-income ratio. This number, in conjunction with the size of your down payment, will determine how big of a loan (mortgage) you can qualify for.

Debt-to-income ratio is usually reported as a percentage. It is calculated using your monthly recurring debt and your monthly gross income. The equation: monthly debt/gross income x100 = percentage of debt-to-income ratio. Example: $2500/$6000 = 42%

What counts as debt?

Do all your monthly bills get included? Just certain ones? I’m glad you asked! Debt in this equation includes the following:
– Mortgage payment
– Car payment
– Student loans
– Credit cards (unpaid balances)
– Any other loans/financed debts you’ve accrued

What if you already have 1, 2, or 10 debts you are paying every month? Consider paying down your debt using this advice or debt snowballing. Try these 11 strategies to save money while you pay down your debt. Reducing your debt will increase the amount of money the bank is willing to loan you for your dream home. If you have significant debt you may need to start the process of eliminating debt at least a year before you purchase or start building your dream home. Don’t wait until you are ready to start looking at house to take a look at your debt!
One reasons we try our best to pay cash for cars and live below our means is so when it’s time to qualify for our construction loan we will be approved for the largest amount possible under our income bracket. We have been consciously avoiding debt and saving for a down payment for 4 years. Planning for your future is crucial and never too early to start!

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Ideal debt-to-income ratio

What’s the goal debt-to-income ratio? To qualify for a conventional loan banks will want your debt-to-income ratio less than 36%. Some may have stricter levels or more lenient ones depending on the type of loans you can qualify for. Typically the highest percentage you will find approved is 41% for special FHA loans. Also, the amount of down payment you can provide and your credit score may affect approved loans for you. Talk to a lender to learn more about the special requirements in your area.

You can google to find a mortgage calculator to determine the monthly payment on a home in the price range you’re planning. A good mortgage calculator will include total home cost, minus the down payment, interest rates, and the option to choose 15 year or 30 year payback periods. Add the monthly payment to your other monthly debt (or replace your current mortgage payment to a larger one) to determine if it will fit in your debt-to-income ratio.

Planning for your dream home

Start planning ASAP! You will need to determine what your dream home looks like in vague terms: How big? Fancy editions? Track home or custom design? Lot size? These will effect the total price of your house. Once you have your initial dream home idea you can then determine the size down payment you will need and how much debt you will need to pay off to reach your dreams. You may also need to look at ways to increase your income. You can search Zillow or visit open houses in your area to get an idea of the housing market there.

Bottom line. When it comes to obtaining your dream home – debt is your enemy and planning is your friend!

What are your best tips for staying out of debt?

10 revisions for our first set of Dream Home plans

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Our first set of plans arrived last week! At first glance it seemed perfect and that we would have very few revisions.  Then we viewed some houses and measured room sizes using this Bosch laser tool, reviewed floor plans, and paid special attention to how house spaces were set up. All of a sudden we had a whole list of revisions we wanted completed. If I were doing things over again I would have started measuring and viewing houses differently from the get go (since it took us 6 months to determine we wanted to build instead of buy!)

Learning moment: If your home will be two stories (either with a basement or above ground) the ground level plans must be completed first. This makes complete sense I just didn’t think of it initially. Ground level walls and supports have to be finalized before rooms can be added above or below. When working on a multi story home plans to allow an extra 2-4 weeks for the plans for the additional stories to be completed!

While our architect did an amazing job with our initial floor plan. He also forewarned us he averages 10 sets of revisions. So for our first set of revisions we ended up with 10 major changes.

1) 5+ revisions for the master suite

Everyone agrees the sitting room will never be used so we are adjusting that a bit. The master bedroom itself will become larger and we can add seating if we choose.

Our closet was pretty perfect. However from the bedroom the view looked through the bathroom and into the closet (see below). This made me think of seeing all our clothing which would make me want to organize the closet which would make me realize I needed to do laundry and thought it just wasn’t the view I wanted to see getting home from work every day.

walk-in closet

Awesome walk-in closet
Not an awesome view

We determined we don’t want to look directly in it from the bedroom after we saw some of these amazing showers:

walk-in shower in master

Master bedroom view into master bath

master walk-in shower

Beautiful focal point shower

Bathtubs are not our thing, instead we really want a nice walk in shower as our focal point in the master bath.  Now that we have seen these amazing shower focal points that are in the direct line of sight from the master bedroom there is no turning back. We fell in love with the idea and will be implementing it in our dream home.  So our architect will be going back to the drawing board (literally!).

Instead of having a bathtub in front I am thinking a bench like in this bath I found on Pinterest.

We also don’t want our his and her sinks on a shared counter space.  We either have to have a divider between sinks or have totally separate sinks (which we already knew but forgot to mention to our architect – our bad!). My husband is a messy shaver – I’m seriously considering buying him this to help with clean up.  My hair Items (brush, dryer, straightener) cover my counter top.  We need this separate space. (Auto-correct just typed superstructure instead of separate space – maybe it’s on to something?!)  I’m a believer that bathroom habits are a cause of marital strife so I’d like to keep them to a minimum!

2) Revisions for the great room

A new trend is a long great room that has kitchen – dining – living space in an open room pretty much in a row.

great room floor plan

Initial Great Room Plan

We don’t like the idea of the dining room sitting between the kitchen and living spaces. It’s very “in” right now but we just don’t like it. I imagine kids pushing the chairs away from the table and forgetting to move them back. Also, that’s a big open area for blueberries to roll away to; and while it looks pretty in pictures it just doesn’t seem to translate to real life very well.. We’ve decided we would rather have the dining off to the side – like a giant breakfast nook.

This determination required several revisions to the kitchen. We are leaving the nuts and bolts (ha!) to our architect although we did come up with several possible scenarios. We are anxiously waiting for the next set of plans!

3) Bigger garage/shop

He measured doors and storage spaces and workshop areas in several garages.  We needed to extended the RV shop back another 10 ft! Also, we decided to add a few feet between the garage doors and add larger doors. Wow, our garage alone has 3-4 revisions by itself!

4) Mudroom hallway is a must

One house we saw a while back had an awesome mud room. However when coming in from the garage you had to turn right to drop off any items/shoes before proceeding in the opposite direction. Our initial plans were drawn up similarly. We figured out the more steps required, the less likely things will get into their respective places. Our revision request is asking for a “hallway” mudroom (like this one I found on Pinterest) straight off the garage that we have to pass through before getting to our next destination.  Check out my Ultimate Guide to Creating the Perfect Mudroom for tips and ideas.

5) Easily accessible pantry

One of our must haves is a giant pantry that allows for food storage. Current plans had the door to the pantry outside the kitchen around a corner. We learned of the triangle kitchen set-up for prep, cook, and cleanup. Having to take 20-30 extra steps to retrieve something from the pantry will waste time when cooking. We are going to add a door straight from the kitchen prep area and keep the door in the hallway off the garage.

revisions for house plans

6) Separate work and personal life better

Initially the office was next to our master bedroom. We both agreed very quickly we would prefer any one visiting my husband’s home office not be that close to our personal space. Turns out the laundry room and the office would be an easy swap and also allow for our next revisions.

7) Home office revisions

My husband’s home office needs an outside entrance and separate walk way. He has staff, contractors, and other professionals that meet with him frequently. Having a door they can enter into with their muddy boots and sweaty clothing straight into the office seemed like a much better option. Many homes we’ve visited have this implemented and we love it. It will also allow my husband to separate work and home life a little better.

8) Windows vs. sliding doors in great room

One trend that’s very popular in Arizona are the huge sliding doors off the great room that turn your indoor living space into and outdoor living space by opening up the entire wall. While they’re beautiful they don’t really fit our lifestyle. We aren’t fancy entertainers. It’s often too hot to open windows/doors in AZ. Plus the area we are moving to is desert landscape and that means there will always be a lot of dust ready to blow in our home. The final “nope” came after seeing the dirt and leaves and other trash collected in the tracks of the doors at a house we viewed.

But we still want large windows in their place for the amazing view and natural lighting. So the overall design in that area won’t change too much.

9) We want a 2nd dishwasher.

Hear me out. First I read this post on 40 time-saving tips that are well worth the cost and joked about it to my husband. But after discussing it, the idea really caught on for us; just not exactly how it’s described in the post – I fully intend to actually unload the dishwashers, at least occasionally! This is totally a luxury addition for first world problems. But it is my DREAM house so I get what I want! Right? I constantly have dishes sitting in the sink because the dishwasher is clean and I don’t have time to unload it and reload it.

Case in point. Loaded and ran our dishwasher Saturday night after dinner. Sunday we had an early start to our day and I didn’t think to give myself an extra 15 minutes to unload this dishwasher and reload it with breakfast dishes. All the breakfast dishes went in the sink so I could get myself and 2 little girls ready for the day.  I was TIRED after getting home after 8 hours out and about. Looked at the stack of dishes in sink and noped outta there.

Therefore dinner dishes also went in sink. I told myself I’d do the dishes “tomorrow”.

Monday night after work I hit the grocery store, got home and put the groceries away, then we sat down to finalize house mods to turn into the architect while lasagna baked in the oven, I had an hour+ worth of work to do to finish a presentation I was giving at work for the next day, and then suddenly it was 9pm.

Dishes are still in sink and I’m in bed….  I need that 2nd dishwasher. Because each time the task gets bigger I get a bigger reason to ignore it until my sink is so full I have to empty the dishwasher and then I completely fill it back up and the cycle starts over.  #firstworldproblems

10) A patio off the master suite.

Since we are tossing the sitting area we decided to extend the patio to the master and have a backyard door added. This revision seemed like a no-brainer after looking at the house plans. Plus when we go for a soak in the hot tub in the cooler months we can quickly get inside to change clothes.

What revisions do you agree with? Have you remodeled parts of your home? If you could change 1 thing about your current home, what would it be?

Build or Buy? 5 Questions you must ask yourself first

Buying a house is a huge decision! But building a house is a gigantic decision!  So how do you decide?

We didn’t know nearly 4 years ago when we started our money saving process that we would build our dream home. In fact, at the time we actually planned to buy one! We even went as far as to make an offer on what we thought was our dream home. Thankfully, we wound up purchasing a starter/rental home instead.  Knowing what I know now compared to then I’m glad we didn’t get that house; at the time I was a bit disappointed but decided to trust God and choose wisdom over wants.

But we still thought we were going to buy our dream home.

After a little more than 3 1/2 years and living in 3 different houses (technically one was an apartment) we made the decision to build. We spent 6 months searching for our dream home and finally realized it didn’t exist. We would have to build our dreams from the ground up to get what we desired in our forever home.

Several things also fell in place to make building a reality for us:

My husband started a new business in 2015 and it has done well and he now makes more than $13/hour! However, because his business is still in the growth stage, his salary is still relatively minimal. I got a new job just under a year after we moved that was also a raise for me.

My grandmother started an investment account for me when I was a child that grew into enough for a 20% down payment on a modest starter home (If you can do something like this for your grandchildren, please do!).

Living frugally and practicing money saving habits has become part of our lifestyle. We purchased a flip that we ended up moving in to for 2 years which will help us pay off our dream home faster. Plus, we had roommates for a year. After all this and months of searching we finally decided to build.

Below are the questions we asked to determine if we could make our dream into a reality.

build or buy your dream home

What will you decide?

  • Do you already own property or have enough money to purchase a lot? You have to own the land you plan to build on outright (that means no financing the land). Property costs differ greatly across the country from <$10,000-$250,000+/acre. So reach out to a local real estate agent and find out the cost of lots in your area so you can make an educated decision.
  • Are you in a hurry? Building takes time, this is not a great choice if you want to be moved in and comfy in the next 6 months. First you have to find an architect and general contractor (aka builder). Next your architect will create the plans, then you will spend a while finalizing everything (1-3 months). Once complete, you have to submit for permits. All before even breaking ground! If you are planning a fully custom home this process can take even longer! Depending upon your area home building can take 9 months to 2 years (or possibly longer if unexpected occurrences pop up).
  • What’s your budget and is it flexible? Building and buying can be comparable or one may be much more or less expensive than the other depending on your area. We had to add the cost of land to our home budget to be able to build; which meant our total budget had to increase by about 20%. Does your budget allow you to build or is it better to buy in your area?
  • How good are you at making decisions? Because you will have to make a million decisions over the next 1-2 years during the building process. If you aren’t confident in your decisions and you change your mind later in the process that can increase cost and eat up your budget. The decisions range from picking a floor plan to bedroom sizes to flooring types to paint colors to appliances to should you do things that add resale value or take away value and on and on and on and on (no this isn’t journey singing, it’s your home building process ringing in your ears). Knowledgeable builders can help answer questions surrounding some decisions but others you will just have to make yourself – and all before you move in and get a feel for the space.
  • Do you enjoy the details? Because there are a lot of details. Like where to place outlets or how deep you want your cabinets. If you are detail oriented home building may be exciting for you, but if you feel lost in the details it may become frustrating. This is a good place to mention attention span as well – the excitement of buying a new home is quick and can feel rushed and euphoric. While I’m hoping for that on our first night in our new home – I have to realize that’s nearly 2 years away and there is a lot to accomplish between now and then.

After considering these 5 things and lots of discussion we decided to look for property.

Our first day searching for land we visited 3 lots and were very unimpressed.  We stopped by my husband’s office and we discussed our lack of options with some of his business contacts. They had another lot they recommended to us so after lunch we drove out to see it.  It was our lot! We didn’t know right away but we couldn’t find anything we didn’t like about it. After 6 months of searching for a house we found land to hold our dream home on our very first day. If that doesn’t show you some things are meant to be, I don’t know what will!

Property for building home

Doesn’t look like much right now.

So what do you think, is buying the right choice for you?


12 Items to Purge before you Move

Declutter Before Moving

*This post contains affiliate links. If you chose to purchase items I’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you.

In approximately 18 months we will move into a home that has an additional 1500 sq feet than what we have now. We already live in a rather large house. I am going to have so much space! Our house will probably look and feel empty for a while because we want to only bring things into our new home that we love. So why am I talking about purging? Why purge when I have more space to fill?

I’m not bringing anything in to my dream home that I don’t love, need, or find useful.  I hope you feel the same. If so, this list will help you find ways to declutter your current home and only fill your dream home with things you really love and use.

Which brings me to a goal I have for the next few months: I want to get ride of a trash bag of junk a week. Because I know I have a ridiculous amount of stuff in my house I don’t use or need. It’s cluttered. I refuse to start my new home off as a cluttered mess.

One thing I love about moving (which I’ve done 3 times in the past 4 years and 10 times in 10 years) is purging junk I don’t need.  It’s so freeing!

So here’s my list of items to unburden myself with and purge over the next few months

12 things to declutter

Toss it before you move:

1) Clothes You Don’t Wear

I swear by the hanger trick. I’ve done it every year for the last 3 years and ended up getting rid of 20-40 articles of clothing each year! I still own clothes I owned 10 years ago, but it’s definitely a step forward.  I still have the suit I wore to my first job interview, maybe its time to purge that…

If you don’t have time to wait for the hanger trick to work. There’s always options such as the Konmari Method. What tricks do you use to clear out your closet?

2) Old Textbooks

Two years ago I sold some text books and made a couple hundred bucks.  I wish I had sold more at the time because now I have about 10 books I can’t make any money on and that I haven’t cracked opened for 2 years.  Time to find a place to donate these.

I was… okay I am, a total nerd. I love learning. I’ve had this thought that I would probably need to look something up one day in my textbooks that I’d forgotten and I could save someone’s life or at least wow a colleague.  Guess what? I’ve had my masters for 4 years and have not needed them once.  Not once!!  Take it from me – sell your books while you have the chance. Don’t move them to your dream home – purge them while you have the chance.

3) Magazines

I moved an entire tote of magazines 3 times.  These included professional journals that I keep for continuing ed purposes, however I don’t need to keep them after I’ve read/used them. New plan: if I don’t use them after 1 year for continue education they get recycled. I’ve already recycled the first batch. But I need to scour my house for more. I’ve seen them lurking on the bookshelf, end tables, and, let’s be honest, the bathroom. Also, in the future I’ll be sticking to electronic subscriptions that way I don’t waste so much paper and I don’t have to continuously purge old magazines from my dream home.

4) Toys Your Kids Have Outgrown

Thankfully my kids are used to this. We do it together. They given away toys to their younger cousins and we donate the rest. With the exception of the amazing rocking horse my mother-in-law made for our oldest; all the baby/toddler toys have been removed. Plus – my kids don’t even play with half of their toys! What about yours? Make it a family affair. Get your kids used to purging items that go unused and unenjoyed.

5) Duplicates

I had 2 food processors for a while.  Does it help that they were 2 different sizes? *insert cheesy grin*. I also had 2 rice cookers for a bit.  These got new homes this year. Recently I found that we own 5 calculators… Time to purge them since nowadays we just use our phones for that anyway.  I will be keeping my eyes open for other duplicates. Are there any unnecessary duplicates in your house?

6) Old Makeup

I recently went through my makeup drawer. Why did I still have makeup from 2010 in there? Who knows?!  I wear 3 things on a daily basis: compact powder, blush, and mascara.   Pretty sure I do NOT need 46 types of eye shadow. Even for special occasions I could probably down size to about 10. I might need help with this one. How do I know which ones to keep or which ones to purge? *leaves to go look for makeup guides on pinterest*

7) Old CDs, VHS tapes, and Books

Are you ever going to listen to, watch, or read these again? Be honest.  Because I have several I’m not going to use again.  I have 2 bookcases to sort through. I need to make room for these collectible book editions on my wish list.  Luckily we already purged our VHS tapes and most of our CDs.  Most of my books will come from the library (or my mom *wink*) in the future. We use Netflix and Kodi for movies. The internet should suffice all my music needs. Can you do the same?

8) Trash

Before you say “what? I don’t have any trash lying around” hear me out. It’s amazing how much garbage my family accumulates. From receipts, to lidless Tupperware (or if your from the south old sour cream and cool whip containers), to broken crayons, to socks with holes in them, to broken appliances, to, well you get the picture. I walked through my house 2 weeks ago and filled an entire trash bag with random trash I found. Embarrassing but I bet I’m not the only one who could do this.  It only took me about an hour – see if you can beat my time!

9) Furniture

We are giving my MIL our current bed frame so she can re-purpose the wood. It’s old, broken, and ugly.  It has matching night stands and a dresser that will probably end up in our guest room. I have dreams for our new master suite and it doesn’t include our old set (hand me down from MIL initially). Time to make our home more our own style. We re-purpose or reupholster a lot of our furniture but if that’s not possible and it doesn’t fit our style it’s not coming with us.

10) Excess Items

We have 100 blankets.  Okay, not really, I’m exaggerating to make a point. We actually have 33 if you combine blankets and comforters into 1 category (yes I counted).  Still way more than we need or can use. They aren’t all coming with us to our forever home. Granted about 10 of these are for our 5th wheel camper, but still. We don’t need over 30 blankets.

When we moved to AZ from AR I had about 10 scarves. Guess how many times I’ve worn a scarf since? Not 10. Maybe once when we were on vacation to Chicago 3 years ago.  I had lots of cold weather gear when we moved.  I’ve been slowly purging these down to 1 tote full. I’d toss it all but we actually do camp and visit our family out-of-state both of which means cooler weather. Also, the longer you live in Arizona the colder you become when its 60 degrees out.

11) Things You Haven’t Used in the Past Year

If you haven’t used it in a year, you probably don’t need it. This might include: appliances like that waffle maker that’s still in the box, that special face cream you got to fight wrinkles and now you have more wrinkles and a still full bottle of face cream but it stinks so you don’t use it, shoes you NEVER wear. Walk around the house and look in drawers and cabinets that hardly get opened, you might be surprised at the things you’ve forgotten you own. If you forgot about it, purge it!

12) Items That Don’t Bring You Joy

I actually own Marie Kondo’s book The Art of Tidying Up. It’s a great read and has a lot of useful advice. It wasn’t 100% applicable to me but I do encourage those trying to downsize or purge to give it a read. I really like her philosophy that everything should have a place. Now if only I could get my kids and husband to read her book…

Items to purge before moving

Please comment with items I’ve forgotten so I can purge them before we move!

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11 Ways to Start Saving for Your Dream Home

Start saving for your dream home today!
Even if its 2, 5, or even 10 years down the road

*This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase items from the links I’ll get a small commission at no extra charge to you*

Our frugal beginnings

In 2013 I had just graduated with a master’s degree, I had less than $1,000 to my name and I was 7k in debt with student loans. My husband (boyfriend at the time) and I decided to move across the country from Arkansas, where I was born and raised, to the wild west of Arizona. The reason of the move was simple, he needed to be closer to his daughters from his previous marriage and I was ready for an adventure and new beginnings.

We started out by renting a 900 sq. ft. apartment. We weren’t sure where we wanted to live, if this relationship would even work out, and didn’t have the means to fly out more than once to look for houses so for the time being it made sense. It was 2 bedrooms and 2 baths.  However, 1 bedroom we used entirely as a storage room. So I often joke we actually only lived in a 700 sq. ft. apartment with a large storage room attached.

Small apartment layout

Our first home together:700 sq ft of living space

We didn’t want to pay to rent a separate storage building because we were saving money and knew we would only live there for a relatively short period of time.

I had a job offer and plans to start work about 6 weeks after our move. The Hubs (BF at the time) didn’t find a job until the following January, making a whopping $13 per hour as a paramedic (I could go on a rant about how underpaid emergency responders are but that’s not our purpose here). He had had a house in Arkansas that he sold before we moved and I had shared a rental with my sister.  We wanted to save as much of the money he made off his house as possible for a down payment on our first home together. He paid for our moving expenses and our first 2 months of rent. Then I became his “sugar momma” for the next year and a half – $20 dollars an hour is a lot compared to $13!

Our combined gross income was $70,000/year our first 2 years in AZ. Yet we were still able to save over $10,000 in our first 18 months and I paid off my 7k student loans in the first 9 months of starting work. How is that possible?  Glad you asked.  Here are 11 ways we saved:

Money Saving Tips

1. Skip the storage unit

We made do with basically a 1 bedroom apartment because it was cheaper to rent a 2 bedroom for $650/month and use 1 room as storage than to rent a 1 bedroom for $575/month and also rent a storage unit.  We could have also sold items before we moved to make a little extra cash and save space but we didn’t know what all we would need in a home and knew we wouldn’t be making enough money to buy new furniture any time soon. However, for many people it makes sense to just get rid of their junk!

We didn’t use much of the items in storage for a whole year – if you haven’t used something in that long, it makes you think twice if you really need it or not! So we ended up purging about half of that storage room when we bought our starter home.

My parents have rented a storage unit for as long as I can remember. With all the money they have spent on storing items they could have bought all the items brand new and still had money leftover. Wasting hundreds of dollars a year on storing items you may never use again or won’t be using within the next few years is just throwing your money away. Skip the storage unit and only keep items you need. Already have a storage unit? Sell items you don’t need and put that money towards saving for your dreams.

2. Stop eating out so much

It’s way cheaper to eat at home. I had a $75/week grocery budget for our first year.  I’m a dietitian – we eat healthy. It’s doable on a small budget. We limited eating out to twice a month and even then – we were choosy about where we went and skipped drinks, appetizers, and desserts. This also meant not buying snacks/drinks at gas stations or drive-thrus during the week, skipping the $5 coffees, and putting items back at the grocery store that weren’t on sale that week. All it takes is a little planing ahead. Search pinterest and you can even find pre-made meal plans at whatever your current budget is and for your family size.

3. Do-it-yourself more

I colored and cut my own hair for a year. My husband is pretty handy with car repairs and home projects. I’ve made a lot of handmade Christmas gifts over the past few years. I rarely painted my nails, but when I did – I didn’t go to the salon. My mother-in-law happens to be handy with reupholstery and DIY’ed our old couch set from this to this:

DIY and starting saving

Old pattern on love seat. New pattern on chair

Now I have plans to DIY for items I want in my dream home such as one of these murphy beds from Your Modern Family for our guest room or this head board from Home Made by Carmona for our master bed (I just found these links searching pinterest – these bloggers don’t know me!). The possibilities are endless. We washed our own cars, cleaned our own home, did not wear things that needed dry cleaning, etc.

4. Pay cash for cars

I cannot express how important this is, for several reasons. a) No car payment = lower monthly bills = more money to save. b) Debt to income ratio matters when you are trying to qualify for your new home loan! c) When you buy a new car you lose anywhere from 3-10k as soon as you drive it off the lot. It’s called depreciation.

We eventually bought a new-to-us USED car for my husband’s business needs 2 years after we moved, but up until that point we paid cash for all our cars and drove “clunkers”. I still drive a 2006 ford Taurus that cost us under 3k.  I’d rather have a nice home than a nice car.

5. Get rid of cable

And other non-essential bills. We haven’t paid for cable since we moved to AZ 4 years ago. There are so many options now-a-days that are way cheaper! Netflix or Fire TV | Streaming Media Player and more! You could have 3-4 different options and still pay less than cable TV cost.

I’ve been tempted many times to buy subscription boxes or sign up for cheap magazine sales – but skip those too! At least for now when you are in saving mode. Not only do they cost $$ they also add clutter that you will have to either get rid of or move into your dream home one day. I could go on – give your bills a good look – what are you paying for that is non-essential?

6. Combine bills where possible

We moved our cell phone plan to my dad’s.  That whole add a line for $9.99 really pays off (by the way, I love puns!).  We pay my dad each month instead of the phone company and it has been saving us more than $50 a month, or $600 a year!

Another option is to combine all your insurance plans into as few plans as possible. Find a company that will give discounts for auto, home, life, etc. wrapped into one policy.

7. Pay off your debt

If you are paying interest on anything you are paying more than the item is worth. Thankfully we didn’t come into our relationship with a ton of debt.  My husband had a clean slate but I had 7k in student loans.  I realize compared to most, we had a very small amount of debt. However, the same philosophies and tips can apply to all debt.

The second goal here would also be to create less debt! Now is NOT the time to start financing items if you are saving for your dream home. Remember that debt-to-income ratio I mentioned earlier? Check out this post on how it can effect your ability to purchase your dream home.

8. Live below your means

We searched for a moderately priced apartment that had all of the essentials but none of the bling on purpose. We paid $650 a month in rent instead of $950 because we CHOSE to live with less; saving us over a thousand dollars by the end of the year just by choosing a lower end apartment.  Yes we could have had bigger rooms or a kitchen that more than 1 person could be in at a time but we didn’t NEED those things to be happy or healthy. I shopped at Wal-Mart instead of Target and Ross instead of Nordstrom. We did with less so we could have better in the future. Here’s another post on living below your means and why I buy low cost clothing to save money.

9. Consider roommates

My sister and brother-in-law lived with us for a year. We bought a bigger house (that we plan to flip for more $$) which meant a bigger mortgage payment but both families ended up saving money. It worked well for us and our situation but I could see why this wouldn’t always work for everyone.

10. Try a spending freeze

Don’t spend anything outside of the necessary bills for a month. You might be surprised at how much extra you have at the end of the month and how hard this actually is to accomplish. When we first moved to AZ and I hadn’t started my job yet and he hadn’t even found a job yet, we had several spending freezes out of necessity. We found free community events and spent a lot of time at the library checking out new books and movies for free! Saving always seems easier when you’re broke. If you’re interested on my pinterest search yield: Here is additional info about spending freezes. 

11. Make a budget

… and follow it! When we first moved we opened a joint account for all of our essentials and bills. Then we tried to be a frugal as possible for 3 months. At that point we went through our bank account and created a budget. We could tell the average amount we were spending on gas, food, bills, etc. each week and used this as a starting point for our new monthly budget. It also gave us realistic savings goals.

Our joint budget was about $1500/month for bills and necessities.

$650 for rent. $150 for utilities. $300 for food/home supplies. $300 for gas. ~$100 for fun or unexpected expenses. We also hoped to save about $500/month in our joint account for our future home.  Some months this worked well – Some we were buying new tires or plane tickets to visit family. We both put $1000/month in our joint account and anything leftover went into our personal accounts. This worked well for us but might be different for you depending on your circumstances.

I would love to hear your tips for saving money and living frugally. Please add your suggestions in the comments.


 11 money saving tips





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