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3 Strategies I Used to Buy My First Home and Start My Own Business

  • I was born and raised in Toronto, which is notorious for its jaw-dropping home prices.
  • I wanted my own place, so I looked at much cheaper locations and safeguarded my money from risk.
  • Lower cost of living and lifestyle changes even helped me start my own business, too.
  • Read more from Personal Finance Insider.

I grew up poring over home design magazines when most kids were playing with dolls and toy cars. I would daydream about my future home and fantasize about floor plans in great detail. As an older millennial, I’m of the generation that assumed we’d have the same opportunities in life as our parents, namely homeownership and having children. 

I was born and raised in Toronto, which makes international headlines for its out-of-control housing market. Somewhere in my late 20s it became clear that I may never be able to afford to buy a house in my hometown.

After years spent living abroad, my husband and I moved back to Toronto in 2014. We worked hard to save for it, knowing that we might only be able to afford to buy a small condo in the city, even with our dual income.

We were on the path to homeownership, when my husband died very suddenly and those plans, like so much else in my life, were put on hold indefinitely. 

With so much about the future we’d planned together now out of reach for me, I put my head down and put all of my energy into my work and into healing from the loss. I eventually found my way back to my dream of owning my own home, although nothing in my life looked like I thought it would. These 3 money decisions helped me achieve my goal of homeownership.  

1. I got my money ducks in a row

The unexpected death of my husband forced me to learn how to manage my finances, and fast. I worked with an independent financial advisor to help me place my money wisely and develop a structure that suited my new single salary. I slowly started working toward my goal of homeownership.

About a year before I planned to start house hunting, I moved nearly all of my investments off the markets and into savings accounts to safeguard against market fluctuations and so that the funds would be accessible to me for a down payment.

I also created and funded an emergency savings account and a home repairs fund. I would use the latter in full within the first year of buying my century home. 

2. Location, location, location

I’d been priced out of the booming Toronto housing market years ago. I couldn’t even afford to buy a condo within an hour’s commute of the city. When the pandemic hit, my non-profit job went fully remote and I had one less reason to stay in a city that was effectively pushing me out.

I set my sights on growing housing markets outside of the city but still within reasonable commuting distance. I ultimately chose my location strategically, focusing on transportation links, its proximity to three major cities, stable tourist markets, and up-and-coming areas.

While I love my home, it’s also my biggest investment and it needs to earn its keep — so to speak. When I went for the final walk-through before closing on the sale with my realtor, she casually mentioned that I could not have afforded to buy this house on the market today.

So, it was a good thing I bought when I did — only two months earlier!

3. Lower cost of living and lifestyle changes helping me start my business

A few months into living in my new home, it became clear to me that I was ready for a new adventure in my career. At the time, I’d been working a permanent, salaried job at a non-profit for more than five years and was ready for a change.

I also had our eventual return to the Toronto office hanging over my head causing me anxiety about my new commute. I was happy working from home.

My new life in a small town, with a mortgage that was about half what I was paying in rent every month to live in the big city, meant that I could set out on my own and go fully freelance — another dream of mine.

The lower cost of living in my new home allowed me to take the financial risk of leaving my full-time job, starting my own business, and effectively eliminated the need to commute to the city. 

Against the odds, I was able to achieve my lifelong dream of homeownership by getting creative and focusing on the financial steps that would help get me there.