saving money

How to Buy Your Very Own Home

It has been exactly two months since Massimo and I bought our first ever house!! Needless to say, this was a dream come true for us. A dream we worked hard to realize. Like most adult things, houses do not just land in your lap. You have got to work for it. With a lot of grit, sacrifice, and reliance on God’s direction, we got our keys and finally have a place to call our own.

Owning your own home is not for everyone. Much like a college education, it is something that is quintessentially “adult,” but that does not mean it will fit in everyone’s lifestyle. For us, we knew we wanted a house as soon as we could afford it. We wanted the space, independence, stability, and opportunity for investment. For these reasons, we lived below our means in the four and a half years we lived on our own. We lived in small apartments that cost less. We saved aggressively and often. We had our eyes on the prize and got there just in the time we needed.

If you know a house is something you want someday, or if you even may want a house someday, there are things you can and should do now to help. Follow these steps for the smoothest, fastest path to home ownership!


House hunting involves a lot of flashlights and imagination.

If you want a house ever: Maybe next year? Maybe in five years? This is what you should do if a house is ever on the horizon.

1. Get organized.

In the mortgage application process, your lender will request lots and lots of paperwork from you, some from several years in the past. They may also need explanations of things like credit or income history. Later on, when you are running your own house, you should know where to find your insurance declaration and how much your last fuel bill was at the drop of a hat. It is a great idea to get in the habit of being organized now: you can get those documents to the bank in a jiffy when the time comes, and your life will be less complicated in general.

I have several binders with tabs to keep track of all our important documents: a binder for tax returns and all supporting documents from the last five years, a binder with paystubs, IRA paperwork, and other financial records in another, and a binder of bills (electric, cable, health insurance) in another. Some records I just keep digitally. And be careful: just because you signed up for electronic billing or statements, you should keep them all saved on your hard drive or cloud as well because some companies only allow you to access the last 12 or 24 months on their systems.

2. Become budget people.

You will need a budget to save up for a house, to determine how much house you can afford, and to actually run that house. There is no better time than right now to start a zero-based budget and stick to it. Make adjustments every quarter or six months, and honestly track your spending. Like tracking weight loss, it does no one any good to falsely report your spending to make yourself feel better.

We keep track of all our budgets in excel or Google spreadsheets. It’s great because I can update digital versions wherever I am, and make graphs to show progress. I have written about budgeting and the app I like before – check it out.


3. Start to imagine your home.

So, you want a house someday? What kind? How big? Where? These are critical questions to consider if you ever want a home. Buying a three-story colonial in California is a really different process than buying a modular home in North Carolina. Some goals take longer to achieve, and having your eye on a particular type of prize can help you stay focused and get yourself in order for when the time comes.

If you want a house within the next two years: We are ready. This is what we want, and we want it soon. Let’s do this!

1. Get a separate savings account.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to separate your savings from your spending money. It prevents you from accidentally dipping into money that is allocated for something else. It makes you feel like you have less money to spend, because you don’t see your growing savings account every time you pay a bill. It makes you really consider and slow down to access that money. It will take you 2-3 days to transfer your savings money to a place you can spend it, so you have time to think. Fun cheap or free says you should have 7 bank accounts for your family. I cannot manage that many, but I do have at least 4. My favorite place to save money is Sallie Mae Money Market (I have written about them before and their interest rates have risen since then.) This account has no fees, no minimum, and you can open it online right now. There is no excuse for co-minging savings and spending money – go do it now.


2. Save like it is a bill.

When you make your updated budget to get down to hard-core saving, determine how much you can realistically put aside every month. And then add a little to it. We make ambitious budgets that force us to find extra income and say no to extras. You do not need to do that, but commit to saving so much it scares you. In our case, we ended up saving approximately the same amount as our rent, so we were essentially paying two rents every month. Then set up automatic withdrawals to your separate savings account (like you already have, per #1, above). Every month, you will be forced to make sure there is enough money for that automatic withdrawal just like you make sure there is enough money to pay all your other bills. Pay yourself first, and do not think of it as an extra.

This changed everything in the way we saved for our house. At first, I was only putting aside whatever we had “left” as “bonus” money after paying all our other bills. By setting up automatic withdrawals, I was forced to treat this budget item just like rent and student loans. I owed myself that money. I did pause the automatic savings for a couple of months when we really needed to (like when we took time off of work when Theodore was born), but we also added extras to this account when we had a bonus or tax refund.

3. Start your must-haves checklist and scan the internet for listings.

Remember the idea of a house you started in the first section? Refine that list. Look at options available in your potential price range and location. Think about why you want a house and what it needs to do for you. Our list focused on our family and my husband’s job. We knew we wanted kids, and that my husband wanted to run his guitar shop out of our home. These two requirements set the list for us. From there, we started looking on and, and  set up automatic searches based on our preferences. We were inspired and encouraged to find options that fit our list, and reviewed them together. We also learned what things we did not want by looking at these options.

4. Keep your job.

When applying for a mortgage, your lender is going to want to see at least 24 months’ history at your current job. Obviously, some circumstances are not in your control and you may have to change jobs. But if you are considering it and can have some say, try to get in a job you like and keep it at least two years before you want to buy. It will simplify the process and make you a lower risk for your lender.

If you want a house in the next six months: We have been saving, we are getting tired of this apartment, and we have a baby on the way. We see the finish line!


1. Find a realtor.

Get a recommendation from someone you trust and hire him or her. You may not know this, but in Connecticut, in most cases the seller pays both realtors out of his proceeds. You probably will not have to pay him or her, but you get the benefits of having a realtor. The realtor can help you decide if a price is right and how to frame your offer. She can get you into houses for tours, has access to the official property listings, and refers you to everyone you need: inspectors, banks, attorneys, etc. They also help coordinate and organize all the dirty details towards the closing. Realtors are very helpful.

2. Find a lender.

It is very helpful to go to a lender first, give them your basic financial information, and get a prequalification for a loan. This will give you a very good idea of your ideal home price. You can also learn about other types of loans besides a traditional mortgage, such as construction or renovation loans. They can help you have confidence in how much any given house would cost you, and a prequalification letter can strengthen your offer if there are multiple parties looking at the same property.

A tip when talking to your lender: let him or her know exactly how much money you have to spend. They may look at your bank account and see $20,000.00, but be honest and tell them you want to keep $6,000.00 after this house purchase as an emergency savings account or to help pay moving expenses. They really, really need you to be honest and it makes every thing easier to be on the same page.

3. Keep looking online and reviewing those automatic searches.

Your realtor is great, but she may not see something you happen to. In my experience, it works well when both you and your realtor are looking for places. The more properties you review together (either in person or online), the more you both know about what you want in a house. Both Zillow and have automatic searches that send you emails with new properties which fit your specific needs: location, price, etc.


4. Save like never before.

You have been working hard and scraping and saving and you finally have enough for your down payment. Guess what? It’s not enough. In Connecticut, where I have closed dozens of mortgages and just purchased my own home, there are plenty of extras. There are loan and inspection costs – about $1,000.00. There are closing costs – add at least $7,500.00 to your down payment. There are also moving costs, which vary depending on how far you are going. There are also things you will have to and want to buy for your first home: curtains, rugs, smoke detectors, a snow shovel. In this final stretch, eat out at little as possible, get side gigs, and move in with relatives to save even more if you have to.

Pro tip: with most mortgages, the first payment is not due the first month you are there. We purchased December 16, and our first payment was not due until February 1 – they build in a whole month where you have no mortgage payment and possibly no rent. Use this month to your advantage, but be prepared anyway!


It’s our’s!

People always ask me: how much do I need to save for a down payment? To save the most money in the long run, you will want to put down 20% of the purchase price. This will pretty much guarantee that you do not need to pay private mortgage insurance. But 20% is a lot of money, and that may sound insurmountable to you. So keep a few things in mind. (1) If you are a veteran, you may qualify for a house with a 0% down payment. I do not recommend it, but it is possible. (2) There are basically five types of mortgages: 3%, 3.5%, 5%, 10% and 20% down. They each have pros and cons, and different fees attached to each one. My advise is this: shoot for 5% or even 10% down (plus extra for closing costs and some in reserve for your extra savings), and you will be very well-positioned to buy.

And you do not need to have all of that to start looking. It will take a while to find the right place, so start shopping now. For us, it was seven months between touring our first house and moving into our very own home. For most people, it takes even longer.

Happy home-buying! I hope you found this advise helpful and that you can implement some of these tips to become a home-owner in no time at all! It is a big, big dream, but if you want to own your own place some day, I say go for it! It took us about two years of hard-core saving to buy our house – a blink of an eye in the long run. And now we have this adorable, perfect home in which to raise our family and run our businesses. Truly, a worth-while sacrifice.

-D. E. Barbi Bee


Favorite of the Moment: thredUP

I saw the ads and thought to myself: “90% off top brands? There must be a catch,” and moved on.


But then my cousin sent me a referral to use the site (by the way, referrals to friends get you each $10.00 credit when the friend places her first order. But watch out – the credit does expire!), so I knew it had some credibility because my very intelligent cousin could not have been swindled.

So I dove in, and it is my new and irreplaceable source for clothing! I have already placed several orders with thredUP, and the completely online store came into my life at the most perfect time: as a new mom, I have no interest in packing up myself and my son to spend hours shopping in a brick-and-mortar only to find limited styles and high prices! Online is the only kind of shopping there is, as far as I’m concerned.

So here it is, broken down for you. Here’s the skinny on the self-proclaimed Largest Online Thrift Store and Consignment Store: the good, the bad, and the 100% my opinion.

THredup main

What is it?

I’ll tell you what it is not first. ThredUP is not Wish (an app that sells clothes, electronics, makeup, and accessories at apparently deep, deep discounts because they are actually Chinese knock-offs.). I was afraid that is what it was at first, because their claims seemed too good to be true. But it is not.

ThredUP is an online thrift and consignment shop: they sell clothes, shoes, and accessories for women, children, and babies at discounts way below their retail price. You can even get a “clean out” bag to send them your own unwanted items to add to their stock.

I cannot vouch for the authentication techniques for their designer and luxury brand goods (I know that is very important to collectors, I just don’t really go there), but I can tell you that this site sells actual, brand-name clothing at great discounts. And although it is called a “thrift shop,” not all items are used. Some items are brand-new, and labeled as “new with tags.” If you sell items on their site, you either get paid when you give them your unwanted items, or on consignment, receiving a commission when they sell.

LL Bean shirts

The Goods

My favorite feature is the user interface.  The first time I used it I exclaimed to my husband how nice it was to see a site actually built for the on-line experience! Most e-commerce sites started as in-person stores, and build a site after to go along with it. This is the opposite. It is so easy to add filters, see comparable sizes, and even similar brands. The best feature is that you can save your size and brand preferences, and when you search they automatically filter the results for your size every time! You can turn this off, and see all results, too. But, man, what a wonderful feature.

Another cool feature is the Dressing Room, where they give you recommendations based on your favorite brands and past purchases. They even save all your past orders and show you them in “My Closet,” which also has items similar to or that can be worn with the pieces you already bought.

Can we talk for a minute about their prices? I do not go around buying clothes brand-new, but if I did, I would be saving hundreds on my clothes every time I buy them through thredUP instead. Pretty much everything I get is less than $20.00. I love that I always know I am getting a good deal, instead of hunting through the clearance sections of my favorite stores. And I have never, ever had an issue with their quality. Every piece comes perfectly clean, not stretched out, and feels brand-new. They also almost always have some kind of sale going on, and you can usually get great discount codes in your email inbox.

I love shopping at thrift stores, because they save me money, they are good for the environment, and they are full of unique pieces that aren’t in every window at the mall. But the problem with going to Goodwill and others is the endless searching through racks and racks to try to find something from a good brand. I just don’t have that kind of time right now. With thredUP, I can search for specific brands (L.L. Bean, Ann Taylor, Calvin Klein, Anthropologie), or something I need in particular (a white button-down shirt, a black shift dress, a floral romper) and save tons of time from both going to a store and searching through the racks.


The Less Goods

There is always, of course, room for improvement. One thing you may not be used to with thredUP is the way the items are presented. Clothes are put on a mannequin and photographed very well, but it is not the same fit and presentation as when a brand photographs it on models. ThredUP adds thousands of items everyday, and you can imagine that when they are trying to post inventory so quickly, they don’t have time for custom photoshoots. So sometimes the shirts are ill-fitted on the mannequin, or the dresses haven’t been steamed thoroughly. It is just something to get used to, but it never affects how the item looks in my hands.

Something else to be aware of is that they don’t have Amazon’s two-day shipping. In fact, their shipping takes a little while. It is strange how quickly I have become accustomed to free two-day shipping, when catalog orders used to take four weeks to get to your door! ThredUP isn’t that bad, my most recent order will probably take about ten days to arrive from when I placed my order. These things are not coming from China, so it is not months, but it also not Amazon Prime fast. Just be aware when placing your order for a special event.

You can’t let items linger in your cart for days. Because everything is one-of-a-kind, you can’t put something in your cart to leave it and think about it for a few days. In fact, the site only promises to reserve something for your cart for 24 hours. So you can save it, but after that period someone else could snag it. It makes sense in a thrift shop, but it is a habit I have with other sites I can’t really do on this one.

How to make the most out of thredUP

  1. Use discount codes. They often offer 20% percent off, or free shipping. But you can sign up for emails and wait for a 40% off deal! They come around often, so just be patient.
  2. Know the brands you like and your size in that brand. Every item has detailed measurements so you can check the fit, but it is best to know your size ahead of the purchase, to avoid any fit issues (There are free returns within 14 days with most items, for store credit.). While I love discovering new brands, I also love snagging items from labels I know and trust. That is the beauty of thredUP.
  3. Be aware of what the “savings” numbers mean. Every item has a thredUP price and a strike-through estimated retail price. They also compare the two and tell you how much you are saving from retail. Just be aware that although I have never seen any estimated retail price that didn’t seem accurate to me, they are just estimates of a comparable item from that brand, they may not necessarily be what the original retail price was.
  4. Look at the Condition. Every items has a condition description, in addition to the measurements and fabric. I have never had an issue with the condition of items I have bought, but you can get something that “looks brand new,” “is brand new with tags,” or “has minor signs of wear,” among other descriptions.
  5. Buy special items. ThredUP is not where you should buy your plain black socks and white tank tops. It is where you should buy maternity clothes, a dress to go to your roommate’s wedding, and a fleece pullover.

I hope you enjoy the frugal, high-end options available at thredUP and all it has to offer! I am a big fan, as you can tell, and love helping you save money!

Happy Thrifting!

D. E. Barbi Bee

How I Built a Professional Maternity Wardrobe Without Breaking the Bank

In the first several weeks and months of my pregnancy, I was so anxious to know the baby was growing well, that any weight gain and hint of a baby belly was a welcome discovery. Sure, my clothes fit a little tighter and my key professional pieces got less comfortable every time I wore them, but that was exactly what was supposed to happen.

Now in my sixth month, there are only a few non-maternity articles still in rotation (including my suit I bought when I first became an attorney, and before I lost twenty pounds of “Bar Exam Weight”; it is 2017: what’s old is new again!). Every day, getting dressed is a new challenge; it is hardly even useful to lay out an outfit the night before, because if baby decides to flip overnight, it may not fit any more!

Desperately searching the great Internet Library for wardrobe ideas, I was disappointed that most maternity wardrobe advice fell into two categories: (1) Wear leggings, t-shirts,a and elastics on your jeans all the time; or (2) Spend all your money on a completely new wardrobe you will use for the next ten months!

We all want to look like Amal Clooney, but what is a young professional to do? I have to look grown-up and put together, but I am not interested in investing hundreds or even thousands into clothes I will only wear for the next six months! Couple my budget constraints with the fact that many clothing lines simply do not offer enough options for female attorneys in general, let alone specific maternity wear, I had to get creative. Although I still have a lot of growing to do, I have already learned a few tips and tricks you might find helpful when building your professional maternity wardrobe, while staying within a reasonable budget.


You can be surprised by the versatility of some non-maternity items in your closet – or someone else’s! This open blazer looks sharp without putting pressure on your ever-growing torso by foregoing a button closure. Via Kohl’s.

1. Accept hand-me-downs with gratitude.

I have the joy and pleasure of having a close friend who’s pregnancy slightly overlapped with my own. She just had her baby girl two weeks ago, and has been graciously sharing her maternity clothes with me as she outgrows them or simply doesn’t have a use for them any more. She was especially helpful because she worked in an office during her first pregnancy, so she supplied my first pairs of dress pants and blouses for the office. Even though some pieces I may not find useful because of fit, style, or the particular season, many of her hand-me-downs have helped fill critical gaps in my wardrobe and saved the day when I was waiting for purchased clothes to arrive in the mail! I have been so blessed by her generosity and look forward to the day when I will get to pay it forward by sharing my clothes with someone else.


2. Shop at home first, and then slowly.

In my experience it is a good idea to wait and see what you will need as you go along, rather than filling the online (or real) shopping cart as soon as the test turns blue. In fact, when I looked in my own closet first, I found at least a half-dozen shirts that will work well during every month of pregnancy, two skirts that will probably fit up until the end, and a couple of pairs of leggings that will be well-worn during this period. After I bought my first round of maternity clothes and wore them for a couple of months, I began to notice where there were gaps in my collection. In my first maternity haul, I focused on dresses, thinking they would be a versatile all-in-one outfits. However, after a few weeks of, “Getting dressed would be so much easier if I just had a pencil skirt,” I knew buying that one piece would go far! I realized that although my work dresses were helpful, I needed a few more bottoms so I could mix and match for even more outfits. If I bought too many dresses at first, I would have wasted money on things that did not turn out to be as useful as I thought.


Stores like Target and Old Navy update their collections often with each season, so check back frequently for styles that go on sale. This slightly less summary top may not be what you want at a barbecue, but it is perfectly work appropriate in your air conditioned office! Via Target.

3. Sales Sales Sales – have I mentioned Sales?

I am not one to pay full price for anything, anyway, but that is especially true when shopping for what will turn out to be – let’s face it – a temporary wardrobe. I know I will continue to wear these after the baby comes for several months, but ultimately I will look funny in pleated shirts and ruched dresses. My go-to place has been Old Navy, but I have also gotten a few pieces from H&M. Old Navy has insane sales and you can practically steal clothes with the deals and discounts they always send to your inbox. I don’t usually like Old Navy for key articles because they are not known to endure for the long-haul, but that is perfect when I am only looking for clothes to last me six months or so! So far, I have spent about two hundred dollars in total on maternity clothes, which has gotten me:

  • two court-appropriate work dresses
  • three slightly less dressy but work-appropriate dresses
  • black dress pants
  • black pencil skirt
  • floral printed t-shirt
  • maternity tankini top
  • sleeveless plain top
  • sleeveless patterned top
  • wireless bra

Twelve items for two hundred dollars means each item cost an average of sixteen dollars. Am I a genius, or what?


You cannot go wrong with a little black dress – especially this one, which has a button opening to assist in nursing. Via Old Navy.

4. Get the most wear out of every purchase. 

For professional women like me, our “around the house/running errands/weekend” clothes are the exception, not the rule. Maternity jeans, leggings, and flowy sweaters are not going to cut it in court, closings, and client meetings – as comfortable as they may be! It is a challenge, but I have to resist the comfy, casual maternity clothes that are so easy to find. Instead, when at home and on the weekend, I have opted to wear the things I already have (even though they might not fit the best), hand-me-downs, and the few articles I bought that work well for both the office and home.


This is exactly the kind of dress that is casual enough for a throw-on and go Saturday, but I can also wear with the right accessories and cardigan at the office. Via Old Navy.

A couple of dresses I bought are casual enough that they can be worn to my sister’s birthday party, and then dressed up with accessories and a blazer for the office. It is worth it to me to spend money on the pieces I will wear from 9-5 every day, and then hack it for the rest of the time.


The mandarin collar on this top is just enough to make it interesting, and the bright color exudes confidence and sophistication. Via H&M

5. Style is in the details: collar, color, and cut.

The most polished look one can wear is a tailored suit, but there is no way I am spending hundreds on a dry-clean only suit, which – if tailored properly – will not even last me through my pregnancy! I needed to switch to stretchier fabrics, but remain polished. How does one fake the tailored look? The details: collars, colors, and cut. A collar or bow on even the loosest-fitting shirt looks instantly more groomed. You will be surprised by the casual brands that still carry shirts with a mandarin collar, a lower-maintenance version of the traditional. If your tops don’t have a collar, add the structure with an open blazer (even a non-maternity one without buttons will provide the collar effect with comfort).


A shirt like this will take you far, with it’s classic look and color, even without a blazer. This is all-cotton, although it is a denim weave, providing additional structure. Via Target.

As for colors, I like to stick with solid black on the bottom and a bold shirt. This not only makes the shirt more memorable (making it easier to re-wear the bottom even the next day), but the contrast adds a bold confidence. I like sophisticated patterns like stripes or large floral. Otherwise, I tend towards colors that are timeless and serious: maroon, white, and light blue are appropriate for every season.


This bold print makes the outfit interesting, even without heavy jewelry. A solid pant or skirt and white or light blue cardigan complete the look. Via Old Navy.


Just like your non-maternity wardrobe, you will need basics to mix and match. I prefer a boot-cut to the slim ankle, because my ankles already tended to be too large for them before pregnancy. Via Gap.

Finally, cut. It is shocking to me that anyone would design a short maternity dress. As if I want one more thing to worry about while navigating pregnancy, let’s add, “Don’t flash everyone!” to the mix. This is something to be particularly aware of when buying from budget brands: they tend to take short-cuts (literally) on length. I do not buy dresses that are described as hitting “above the knee.” I similarly do no buy maxi-style dresses online, because if they are not quite long enough, they look too juvenile.

As for body-con versus empire waist, it depends on how loose the particular dress or shirt is made. I cannot wear a spandex bandage to court, but a billowy sack would also not send the right message. My favorite professional look has been somewhere in-between: an empire waist, but a slightly more fitted skirt. It provides a nod to my pre-maternity favorite (pencil skirt), without being too stuffy or tight. The fabric is key here: a jersey cotton is not going to give you the structure that a polyester blend can.


This is a fantastically bold color and the cut is perfect: just long enough. The detail at the waist makes it slightly more fitted, without being shockingly tight. Via Old Navy.