Watch Your Money: Expert Advice for This Family of Seven on How to Budget to Buy a Home | News


Name: Christina and Steven Garrett, married

Location: Montgomery, Alabama

occupations: Christina is a productivity coach. Steven is a hairdresser and pastor.

Salary: Nearly $100,000 worth of combines

The Garretts of Montgomery, Alabama are a God-loving, home-schooled, money-conscious family of seven.

Husband Steven Garrett prays and donates fades to earn a living, working as both a pastor and a barber.

Wife Christina Garrett teaches people how to “get things done” by working as a productivity coach and women’s wellness advocate with her brand, The Momathon Diaries.

She should know better than anyone: she is homeschooling the couple’s five children, a 14-year-old son, a set of 11-year-old twins (a boy and a girl) and sons aged 7 and 4.

“We’ve always made family a priority,” Christina said.

Steven earns $75,000 a year between his barber and pastor business, and Christina’s coaching business earns $2,000 a month. They have $4,500 in their emergency cash savings and $40,000 in investments, including an IRA. They have about $75,000 in total in student debt.

The 37-year-old spends $250 per semester on a homeschooling co-op for children.

They also pay children for reading – $5 per book – instead of a chores allowance. They pay up to $25 a month to the oldest three.

“It is to train them that the mind pays more than the work,” Steven said.

Sometimes the family travels with the father’s ministry across the country, which helps the children develop their social skills. Steven says he wants his kids to be good at networking because it can help determine net worth. Christina loves the kids “having a different level of conversation” from trips to conferences.

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Part of the reason the Garretts enjoy homeschooling is so the family doesn’t have to wait until summer to take a vacation. “If I’m stressed this month, I’ll schedule something in two weeks,” Steven said.

The family loves movie nights at home, watching Spiderman movies on Amazon Prime and not at the theater. The couple will splurge on new outfits such as suits for the boys for Christmas photos, running $500.

To save some time, Christina hires a home cleaning service for $200. Christina recently lost 30 pounds – she is training to run a 10k race – and often works out at home. Her husband goes to the gym and has a trainer, which costs $150 a month.

“We’re both looking for a six-pack,” Christina jokes.

Their food budget is $150 a week, enjoying meals of sweet potatoes, cabbage, chicken salmon, halibut and brown rice, and other delicious foods. Chicken Alfredo is a family favorite. For them, eating out costs $60 to $65, enough to feed the family for four days.

They have a seven-person minivan, which costs $340 per month.

Steven, originally from Detroit, wants to be sure that his children and his wife will always be taken care of. He invested very early in life insurance. He was never “in the street”, he says. However, he knows that as a black man, “a lot of statistics are against us.”

The tithing couple say there is “God Math” in their lives. “God Math” is when a financial blessing occurs without notice. For example, one of Steven’s hair salon clients paid his rent during the pandemic. Another time, a $25 gift card continued to work at multiple establishments, including a seafood restaurant, even when the bill was over $25.

The Garrets recently relocated from Tuskegee, Alabama due to the additional housing stock the Alabama capital offers. Their rent doubled to $1,350 in a four-bedroom home with the move. However, the independent couple want to become owners.

R.J. Weiss, founder of The Ways to Wealth, says he’s impressed with how much the Garretts have saved for retirement and finds they’re frugal when it comes to budgeting for recurring expenses like food. He suggests that when the couple find a home they want, they should live there for 10 years.

“The longer you live in a home, the safer it becomes as an investment,” Weiss said.

He wants the couple to have saved three to six months of emergency funds. Additionally, the couple may be able to spend up to $10,000 of their IRA savings on a home, if needed.

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Weiss says the Garretts should follow the 28-36 mortgage rule when looking for a home: The family’s mortgage payment should not exceed 28% of their monthly pre-tax income and 36% of their total debt.

Lauren Zangardi Haynes of Spark Financial Advisors, a fee-based fiduciary financial planning firm that specializes in small-business owners and dual-career couples, says the Garretts shouldn’t be rushing to buy a home.

1. The couple should save an emergency fund of at least $10,000 because “once you own, you have to deal with all the breakups,” Haynes said.

2. As self-employed, the couple will likely need to have at least two years of steady income through their business to qualify for a mortgage. Some banks are more comfortable with underwriting business owners than others, and they should inquire in their community.

3. It’s a good idea to go to and pull their credit reports to make sure there are no fraudulent accounts or incorrect information. If they don’t have strong credit ratings, they should talk to their bank/credit union about opening a secured credit card. A secured credit card requires you to fund a savings account and then offers you a credit card to use.

If you make payments on time and don’t go over the credit limit, it will help boost your credit. Having a good credit rating has a significant impact on your lifetime borrowing costs. It’s worth making sure your credit score is in excellent shape.

4. They may want to compare a standard mortgage with an FHA loan (for first-time home buyers). Some states also offer single first time homebuyers or other very attractive home buying programs. A knowledgeable mortgage broker can help.

It would be wise to shop around and compare with at least two lenders over two weeks. Pulling your credit multiple times in two weeks shouldn’t hurt your credit score.

5. Steven may want to check if his student loans are eligible for public student loan forgiveness because he is a pastor.

6. Once the Garretts figure out what monthly mortgage they think they can afford (remember – include loan payment, taxes and insurance costs), the couple should set aside the difference between their rent current and proposed mortgage in an online FDIC-insured high-yield money market account (see Marcus of Goldman, Ally, Capital One, Live Oak Bank) for six months. This will allow them to test their spending plan in real time and build a down payment or save money for closing costs.

Natalie P. McNeal is the author of The Frugalista Files: How one woman got out of debt without giving up the fabulous life.


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