I have the keys to my new home now. I never thought this would happen.
Owning a home is part of the American dream. You get a good-paying job. You get married. You have a kid or two. You buy a house and work for forty years until retiring into the sunset.
The problem is the American dream no longer exists.
I finished college and entered the adult world in 2009, right in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime recession with no job, no job prospects, and no idea what the job prospects would be.
It took almost ten years post-graduation to have a consistent annual income over $30,000 per year. And for the first couple of years when I did, it was all through self-employment, so I was taxed as the employer and the employee. When my income finally exceeded that amount consistently, I stayed put. I didn’t let go of my freelance work. I accepted every freelance position available on top of my regular job.
So how am I holding the keys now?
Luck and privilege.
I grew up in a working class family in the rural South and was the first in the family to attend college. Despite the lack of higher education in my family, I got all A’s in school with little effort, so my whole family expected that I would continue getting straight A’s and go to college. I’m kind of white and straight and able-bodied if you squint (or ignore my name).
I finished college with about $30,000 in student loans, slightly over the national average at the time. When you consider that I went to a small private college, that amount of debt isn’t awful. Well, it wouldn’t be awful if I hadn’t graduated into the worst recession since the Great Depression. Numbers vary, but entering the workforce in a recession nerfs your lifetime earnings by about 9%. When you don’t know what you want to do (like 2009 Sushi) and you don’t have a support network of college-educated folks with the types of jobs you thought you could have who can show you how to get those jobs, you flounder. Or at least that’s what I did, back in my small town where working an office job where you got to sit all day was for rich people only, searching for anything that would pay me for the next year and even getting turned down for minimum wage jobs.
I moved out on a dream and a contracting job paying a whole fifteen dollars an hour, far more than I thought I’d ever make. It was enough, but not for long since an emergency or self-employment taxes could wipe me out. It took years to hold down a job earning a living wage for over a year at a time because most of those jobs were contract roles that ended when the company closed or when my contract role’s project ended, all made worse by the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career and therefore I was throwing job applications into the abyss for anything that sounded remotely relevant.
I spent most of my early career writing anything I could get my hands on; blog content, social media updates, and marketing spiels were my specialty. Despite my writing roots, I sucked at writing these things. There’s a big difference between writing for your no-fucks-given audience and writing for a specific brand trying to sell and promote a product or service.
It wasn’t until someone took a chance on me for a freelance technical writing role that I really found my niche. And with that, I broke into the field after one last non-writing job and knew I had found my career calling.
The pandemic meant job cuts and my eventual layoff, which turned out to be the best worst thing to happen in my career. Sure, I had lost my job. But if I hadn’t gotten laid off during the pandemic, about a year into the new job, I would have stayed there for awhile, maybe for years, with almost no raises. Whatever the case, I was finally able to pay off my old tax debt and student loans (only ten years later) and create a solid emergency fund right before pandemic shit got real.
But the increased pandemic unemployment payouts plus my freelance work plus not going anywhere meant I was still saving a little money during this time. And now that I had a few years of experience in my field and impressive achievements on my resume, I could go anywhere… and make more money.
It didn’t take long; I started a new role contracting for a big company through one of those placement agencies, which came with a 25% raise. I kept doing my freelance work over the next year since a social life wasn’t happening anytime soon.
With that, the savings started to grow.
2021 arrived and brought an attempted coup, my first pandemic birthday, vaccines, and then misery at the not-so-new job. My contract got renewed. No one on my product’s team had any idea where the product was going or what they needed my work for, or when. Heck, I was still using Microsoft Word, actively sending my career backwards in a field where docs as code is an essential skill.
So I started job searching, complete with a spreadsheet to track what I’ve applied to and see just how many interviews I was getting. As an unfortunate expert job searcher by this point, I had a gut feeling that my job response rate would be low, but gut feelings don’t do crap without data.
Three months later, I started a new amazing job as a direct hire with an intro interview rate of 33% (plus a few I turned down on the spot). Oh, and another raise.
At this point I was financially comfortable, debt-free, and finally feeling good about life. My emergency fund was quickly growing into something closer to a down payment fund even after saving for retirement. Now what? I was lucky to rent in the same home for over ten years, sharing the rent with a roommate for most of that time. When my then-roommate mentioned wanting to moving out of state, I started looking at the cost of homeownership. Despite the real estate boom, a modest condo in a nice part of town was within my budget.
So I went for it. Even though I was approved for the top end of my budget, no one pressured me into buying more home than I could afford, and I like to think I had realistic expectations through the whole process. I looked at six homes this spring and got accepted on my first offer without waiving anything outlandish, the one where I was standing in the home and told my agent “I want to put an offer on this”. That offer got accepted.
When I say luck and privilege, I mean it. Anything could have gone wrong. Offer after offer could have been rejected. Financing could have fallen through even though I was a perfect candidate on paper. The inspection could have revealed major issues and I could have backed out then. I could have lost my job halfway through the process.
But here I am now, sitting in a home where I can paint the walls, put as many holes in the walls as I want, and make a bookshelf door if I damn well please. (Yes, I’ve looked into this.)
And that makes me feel filthy fucking rich.