How one mom left her husband and paid off $80K in debt in order to buy her son (and herself) a five-bedroom, four-bathroom dream home—in up-front cash.

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When Kumiko Love left her ex-husband in 2015, she was determined to build a better life for herself and her son, James. She didn't know exactly how she'd do it. Back then, she was deep in nearly $80,000 in debt and struggling to make ends meet as an investment advisor assistant, making $40,000 a year. On top of that, she felt had lost herself in her now-ended marriage.

"When I left my husband, it was like I lost my identity. I was so caught up in being a perfect wife, a perfect mom," Love says now. "I left with hardly anything. But I told myself, I need to do this for me. I had to prove to myself that I am strong enough to do it." 

Roughly six years later, Love is completely debt-free. She doesn't even have a mortgage. In May of 2020, she bought her dream home—a five-bedroom, four-bathroom ranch on 10 acres of land in Spokane, Washington—in cash. Here's how she did it. 

She faced her demons. 

As a financial industry professional, Love's job is advising people on their money. When she was deep in debt, she felt like "a fake, or an imposter." she says. Carrying the shameful secret of her debt was keeping her from truly facing it. One day she got in her car, hopped on her Instagram story, and announced to the world the truth: She owed more than $77,000 in student loans, medical, and credit card debt. 

"I knew that if I stayed quiet about it, I'd never hold myself accountable," Love says. After opening up, she was able to really get serious about paying it off.

She built a budget her way. 

After trying every budgeting method under the sun, Love was about ready to give up. "The number one struggle I was having was I could create a budget all day long," she says. "But the thing people get wrong is that a budget is essentially an organizational tool. It's not an implementation tool." No matter how many methods she tried, there would always be something that came up: a birthday party her son was invited to or a dinner with a friend she hadn't seen in a while. Then, there were holidays—Christmas, especially, snuck up on her. 

It wasn't until Love started budgeting her own way by combining multiple approaches that it started working for her. She uses a zero-based budget and cash envelopes to control her spending. Rather than budgeting once a month, though, she plans her spending out for every paycheck. She also uses a budget calendar to plan for every expense that's coming up in a given month, using her real spending to inform how she sets up her budget. The big change came when she implemented what's known as "sinking funds," she says. This is when you save up a little bit each month toward larger expenses you know are coming: Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's day, etc. 

Finally, Love also implemented a checking account cushion so that when other smaller surprise events happened, she didn't need to tap her emergency savings. 

Little by little, these changes added up. Within about nine months, Love paid off every debt. She made her last debt payment in 2018. All the while, she continued sharing her journey through her blog, The Budget Mom. Soon, helping others implement her novel system turned into a revenue stream.

She always saved. 

Although Love's focus initially was getting rid of her debt, the dream of buying a house was always there. "Back when I was still working at my full-time job and paying down the debt, I was still saving for my house," she says. "But it was like $25 a paycheck, or $100 here or $200 there." 

Instead of getting discouraged by those amounts, she knew that one day it would pay off. 

She applied her personal finance lessons to her business.

As Love began seeing success with her personal finances, her blog continued to grow. "The drive with The Budget Mom was never revenue. When I started it I didn't realize it would be a business. It was about helping moms like me who were struggling to stretch every dollar," she says. 

As her income grew, Love's lifestyle and approach to her money never changed. Instead, she applied all the lessons she learned managing her personal finances to the management of her business. That meant tracking every dollar, and either re-investing it in her business or saving it.

"The Budget Mom is a 100% debt-free business," Love says. This has given her freedom in decision-making. She doesn't feel pressure to meet revenue targets or take on sponsorships because she has debt to pay. Being debt-free in her personal life and in her business has allowed her to use her profits for big dreams—like buying her home. 

She allowed herself to dream. 

Love always thought she would buy her home like most people do—with a mortgage. It wasn't until a meeting with her accountant in early 2019 that she realized a cash purchase would be an option for her. At the time, Love had $250,000 in her business account. Her accountant told her she couldn't just leave that money in her account; she needed a plan.

"From that moment, I named the account my 'dream fund,'" Love says. "I knew I was going to use that money to better my son's life, and that included buying a house." 

Love also dreamed of leaving her full-time job and focusing solely on The Budget Mom. But going from W2 income to entrepreneurship was terrifying; her business was still new and growing at the time, so Love worried banks would turn her down for financing without proof of steady income.

"I would lie awake and think, what if I don't make money one month or my business fails? And then I'm stuck with a giant mortgage that I cannot pay?" Love explains.

That's when she realized a cash purchase would solve many of her problems: Owning her home outright meant she would have major stability that would allow her to take the leap with her business. She wouldn't need to worry about proving to a bank she was worthy of a loan. It would also mean staying debt-free.

"Debt, at that time, still really scared me," Love says. "It would take much longer to buy a house in cash. But I realized I could do it."

She kept at it—and pivoted when she needed to. 

From many years of paying down debt and saving, all the healthy financial habits were already there. Once Love paid off her debt completely in early 2019, it was just a matter of putting her all into her house fund, which she invested in low-cost mutual funds with the help of her financial advisor. It was still hard, but by staying focused while constantly re-evaluating her progress, she was able to get there. 

In the beginning, Love's plan was to save $400,000 to buy land and build her dream home herself. But after finding land and getting estimates for the build, it became clear that doing a build herself was going to cost more than she could afford. So ultimately, she decided to buy a home that was already built. 

In May of 2020, Love purchased her home in cash—much sooner than she thought she'd be able to—after coming across a property that spoke to her. "I chose this home mostly for the land," Love says. "When I stepped into this house, it reminded me of my mom's farm. My best memories of my life were growing up on a cattle farm with my mom and stepdad. My son felt at home here." 

Today, Love is still using her budget. Now, she's applying her saving muscles to fund an early retirement. "A lot of people say to me, 'oh, it's easy for you because you have a successful business," Love says. "It makes me sad because I had this dream when I was making $40,000 as an assistant. And it was the small successes in the early days that taught me the habits I needed. Would I have bought my home in cash if I didn't have a successful business? Absolutely. I was going to fight for it no matter how long it took me."