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Brooks Johnson column: I'm a millennial. I bought a house. Ask me anything.

The first step is to think it's possible.

Despite unspeakable student debt, a car payment, a neverending credit card bill and a few credit-damaging decisions of youth, my wife and I decided we could buy a house. No, we will buy a house. And soon.

The second step is to stop spending money.

To make this work, Caitlin became the family accountant. She took over budgeting, planning and saving. Because of this, we were able to save for a down payment, and I was able to sleep better and stress less about our finances. I might write a lot about money, but that doesn't mean I'm any good at managing it.

There were a few expenses we could rein in — rent, groceries and fun. I quit drinking, we got serious about sticking to a meal plan and eating out very little, and we downsized.

We first lived in a downtown apartment about the size of a two-car garage. It got the job done, and for $550 a month plus electric there was plenty of room to be saving. In Portland we had been paying $1,200 plus utilities for a one-bedroom.

Then we moved east to an attic-turned-apartment for even less — $500, all utilities included. Sure there was vermiculite insulation coming out of the wall, and the landlord had the nerve to take our whole deposit and then some, but we still squeezed more money into savings than we ever thought possible.

I also put my federal student loans in forbearance — after learning it would not affect my credit score — and all of that money went into savings as well.

So by January we had a little nest egg, and we felt comfortable dipping our toes in the market. Actually, we went straight for the high diving board and put an offer on the second house we looked at. It checked all the boxes and was right at the high point of our price range. After offering a little low, then relenting to the asking price, we received this text from our agent:

They accepted.

What a day that was. I felt like a new man — even though I looked like a boy, since I had bet my beard to a friend the Vikings would win the Super Bowl.

The ecstatic energy turned to existential dread when we started looking at all the extra money we need to close beyond a down payment. Though the seller was covering closing costs, we were getting worried about all the other little things that add up — financing charges and escrow and home inspection and title insurance and on and on. Then there was the specter of rising interest rates pushing our monthly payments higher than comfortable if we didn't lock in at the right time.

We asked to push back the closing date to to the end of March. Now we had just over two months 'til closing, biting our nails over every dollar. It was time to get extreme. Beer was out again, and so was eating out, although I briefly considered a return to my college-era indulgence of freeganism, aka dumpster diving (I'll tell you about that some other time).

Yet when the Day of a Thousand Signatures arrived, we didn't sweat cutting the check. We had saved just enough, plus we had a little buffer thanks to a gift from my parents. We took the cheesy photo of us holding the SOLD sign in front of our new home and, with our names still fresh on all those documents, crossed the threshold into something resembling adulthood.

A few mortgage payments in — only 357 more to go — it's obvious our sacrifices were worth it, and we're exactly where we want to be. I'm still not sure owning a home is essential to achieving the American Dream. But everyone should get the chance to try.

See Brooks Johnson's story about the local real estate market here.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

(218) 723-5329
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