Living With Kids: Natalie Olsen

By Gabrielle. Photos by Ashleigh of Red Aspen Photography.

Natalie lives in Portland, Oregon — she happily admits she moved there after it was cool, which reminds me of a friend who lives in Texas who always says, “I wasn’t born a Texan, but I got here as soon as I could!” — with her husband and their four children. Debt-free. No mortgage, even. I had to hear more!

She is an absolute delight to read, and I truly found myself nodding vigorously as she extolled the virtues of a debt-free life. It sounds so appealing!  Come see.

Welcome, Natalie!

Hi, everyone! We are a family of six. Comprised of a ballerina-rope-climber, robot-building-racecar-driver, gymnast-collector-of-interesting-things, a magician-filmmaker, HGTV Property Baron Personality, and a one-year old baby. Yes, I’m embellishing, but hyperbole aside, we are a family with diverse interests that celebrates individuality.

Zach’s 9-to-5 is at Portland’s own Columbia Sportswear. He is the best magician inexpensive gimmicks from Amazon can buy. His magician alter-ego, The Great Shahrivar, shows up for all our kids’ birthdays. His interests are as long as his attention span is short, including: podcasting, novel writing, songwriting, blogging, filmmaking, and a solid foray into a t-shirt business — that is to say he adheres to the long lost art of working to live rather than living to work!

I’m Natalie, a realtor licensed in both Oregon and Washington State. I daydream more than anyone I know – too bad I can’t get paid to dream! I am always coming up with new plans, ideas, and house renovations. My latest dreams have led Zach and I to start a new project making our own show on YouTube. We’re hoping to show what it’s really like to buy properties while at the same time dispelling myths and giving advice on how to make a good investment. I love real estate and personal finance, and Zach loves making stuff, so with our powers combined we hope to make some entertaining stuff and have fun in the process.

Our offspring, in order of appearance, starts with Jane, at seven years old. As the oldest child she has the most pictures of herself and the most saved pieces of art. We’re not sure if this has anything to do with her hoarding tendencies, but we sneak into her room when she’s not looking to throw away her ever-expanding collection of anything she gets her hands on. When she’s not collecting things she’s dancing, doing cartwheels in the kitchen, pirouetting in the hall, or balancing on top of the couch.

Up next is Michael at five years old. Give him a cardboard box, a bucket of crayons, scissors and tape, and you’ll have a race car/robot in no time. This one has no volume control and after listening to a song one time can sing all the words — on repeat, mind you. We’re excited to get him into choir — or anywhere out of earshot. We’re also thankful for the prestigious title Michael carries with him in our home of being The Good Eater.

Olive is four and doesn’t see the nuanced difference between monkey bars and our stair banisters. Some parents are proud of their kids’ artwork or their prowess on the soccer field — our Olive is really good at hanging off of stuff! In an age of parenting one-up-ism, we’ll take it. Seriously though, my mom is constantly timing her and she will hang for, like, five minutes! It’s really bizarre and also entertaining.

Nolan is almost one! As the youngest of four we plan on letting him get away with everything. Once he was born we knew our family was complete. And if we didn’t know it then, we definitely knew it when we tried to get four kids in and out of a van for the first time.

We moved to Portland, Oregon after it was cool to live here. (Sorry Portlanders for adding to the housing market and traffic!) They say the most important thing in real estate is location. That’s true, but it’s important to realize that location means different things to different people. Location for us means the ability to spend the most time together as a family. We are squarely in suburban Portland, but despite its suburbia feel we have everything close by.

The elementary school is in our neighborhood, a totally decent athletic club is behind our house (Literally…we have a gate out our back fence, which unfortunately limits our excuses for not getting to the gym!), Olive’s preschool is right behind the athletic club, Zach’s office is only two miles away so he bikes to work rain or shine. (Note: He is also fond of saying that misery in life is directly proportional to the amount of time spent in traffic commuting to work.)

So our unsolicited advice to you? Instead of the biggest house or the most valuable house, pick the house that is in the location that lets you walk your kids to school, ride a bike to work, and spend less time getting to where you’re going. Home is where you live and you don’t want to spend too much time getting there.

We were a two-income household when I became pregnant with Nolan. We were already pulling our hair out attempting to meet the demands of three kids ages six and under while working so I knew that the time had come for us to move closer to family and a full-time grandma — my mom. Zach considers himself a Coloradan, plus deciding to move meant deciding what to do with our current home and three rental properties. We went on a trip to Mexico with just the two of us to be alone with the topic and came back in agreement. We’re moving!

Fate was on our side and a job opened up at Columbia Sportswear for Zach that was a perfect fit. All of a sudden our timeline for moving had sped up exponentially. I was determined to rent a place first, get the lay of the land, find the perfect neighborhood, and then purchase. Then one night, I got a call from my mom, then a text because she just couldn’t wait — she was more excited than anyone of our decision to move closer — saying she found the perfect house for us online. It was a fixer upper and it needed a lot of work, but it was four bedrooms and really close to Zach’s work.

I didn’t think much of it. But when I got home, Zach, who doesn’t get excited about houses easily, came out and said, “Natalie I found the perfect house for us.” It was the same one my mom had just called me about!

We had my parents do a FaceTime call with us as they walked through the home. Based on our past experience of fix-up’s, I didn’t feel threatened by the idea of buying a fixer-upper without walking through it first; I know how to make a house my own, I just really hoped the neighborhood would be a good fit.

It was listed at $315k and we found out there were two other offers already on the table. Without seeing it firsthand we crossed our fingers for good luck, made an offer with an escalation clause, and got it for $325k. On top of that we’ve put approximately $50 to $60k into renovations.

Living debt-free is a lifestyle choice as much as it is a consequence of financial choices. There is such a thing as feeling satisfied from buying nothing. This approach is obviously not represented very often in advertisements and the media. But arriving at the other end of a gift shop with both hands still empty can be exhilarating. Analyzing extra payments on an amortization schedule to see the years evaporate from a 30-year mortgage is thrilling. It’s one thing to show up to the ski resort feeling cool in the latest, most expensive gear — a similar if not equally satisfying feeling is to show up wearing the stuff from many seasons past and having just as much fun.

Our interest in getting out of debt came to a head when we decided to move to Portland. We had, for the previous seven years, bought three rental properties and were living in our fourth purchased home. Each property was bought as a primary residence to avoid big down payments. (If you’re buying as an investor, you need to put down 20% to 25%. If it’s your primary residence, you can get standard 30-year loans for as little as 3% down.) Which means we had been moving every two years.

With the market soaring high, we decided that rather than being distant landlords from another state we would sell all four. So the decision needed to be made: what to do with the profits from the sales of our four properties? Ask any financial advisor and the rational decision would have been to roll the profits from the sales into more rental properties to avoid tax and take out another mortgage for the primary residence in Portland. With interest rates still at record lows in the 4% to 5% range, money doesn’t get any cheaper and the tax savings would have been considerable.

But for us, the value of being debt-free was worth more than the extra money. Instead of getting another mortgage we took our profits and bought our 1,800 square foot, four bedrooms and three bath house with cash…and swallowed the bitter tax pill. You may be shaking your head at me right now but for us, it’s a lifestyle — not a race to accumulating more. And quite frankly, it’s the nicest, largest house we’ve ever owned! We also have money left over for some down payments on rental properties, which we are excited to get back into.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you can internalize that quote you’ll get out of debt and stay that way. Being smart with your money isn’t just about gritting teeth and self-deprivation, but leads to a higher self esteem. It’s also fun. If using a library card was an Olympic sport, my husband would be a contender for the gold.

We’ve learned there are two ways to be rich: earn more or want less.

Since Zach and I have never paid for TV, I often go to the gym solely to watch HGTV. I LOVE HGTV. One Saturday I was walking on the treadmill watching Flip or Flop for the first time. I was blown away by the risk they were taking — buying homes at auction without seeing them beforehand! It was on a Saturday and Zach and I were on a date when I got a notification for a house that had just come on the market listed for $300k only a couple blocks from our current house at the time. I knew it right when I saw it that the price was at least $50k lower than it should have been, even as a fixer-upper.

I immediately requested a showing and became the worst date-night participant ever, checking my phone every minute to see if we got in. Then I couldn’t handle waiting anymore and ended up calling. I learned that they weren’t allowing showings until Monday. Since I was still on a Flip or Flop high, I had it my head that I didn’t need to see the property before I could make an offer. So I called the listing agent, asked if their client would entertain a full price offer without us seeing the house…and we got it!

We spent the next six (sweaty) weeks fixing it up before moving in. This was by far the best real estate transaction I’ve ever had. It felt like we were stealing! I can’t remember how much we put into fixing it up — I want to say between $30 to $40k – but we sold it a year later for $416k.

The best lesson learned (the hard way) is that before buying a house, you should ALWAYS talk to the neighbors. They know a lot about the house you are about to buy and have a lot of valuable information! We bought our current Portland house in June, completely remodeled it, then on Halloween night it down-poured and our house flooded! Turns out this house had known flooding issues that no one had ever fixed. Our neighbors knew all too well about these issues but we never bothered to meet them before buying. So, it cost us a new driveway with a french drain leading to the sewer line. We’re nervously waiting rainy season again to see how the new setup fares. That was a hard one to swallow.

No matter how much we try to make the basement the designated play-room, they have a tendency to migrate to the space within a three foot radius of wherever I’m standing. The kitchen counter, the coffee table, and the living room couch are all play areas from their perspective, and the furniture is constantly covered with their notebooks, crayons, coloring books, and handmade crowns and masks.

As much as the mess in the main living areas can drive me crazy, I try to remind myself on a regular basis that these are the good ol’ days. I love seeing out of the corner of my eye the kids playing house, re-enacting their parents’ conversations, and (occasionally) sharing. I know that the days they spend at the counter while I’m trying to make dinner and the hours spent huddled around my feet while I’m sitting on the couch are someday going to be some of my fondest memories.

Whenever we go on vacation we rent out our entire home on Airbnb. It helps subsidize, or in some cases, completely pays for our vacations/weekend getaways. The first reaction we get from people who learn we do this is, “Aren’t you worried about all your stuff?” We respond with the following:

1. We keep a closet locked where we stash anything really valuable (there isn’t much) or dangerous (old tax forms, prescription drugs).

2. Airbnb allows you to vet anyone who requests to stay in your place. You can see reviews from other places they’ve stayed at and ask them questions before you agree.

3. Did we mention it helps subsidize, or in some cases, completely pays for our vacations/weekend getaways?

Recently, we found out our friends are renting out a bedroom and bathroom in their basement and making over $1,200 a month. That’s crazy! Anyone can do that! So, we decided to give it a shot. We got the room all ready to go, posted on Instagram that we were going to list our bedroom on Airbnb, and then shortly after we got a call from my sister-in-law. Her nephew had lived in Portland with his family and then just a couple weeks ago relocated to Arizona. He was just about to start his senior year and wanted to be able to attend college in Oregon with instate tuition…so she asked us if we’d consider renting the room to him. We talked about it and a few days later he moved in!

So, we now have a 17-year old roommate. He is actually really great. Our kids love him, and he is a hardworking kid. We are renting it to him for $400… which is less than we could have gotten for a full time Airbnb, but that’s ok. When he moves out we’ll give renting out a room in our house on Airbnb another shot.

By the way, a lot of people think that only places downtown or in really neat and unique locations are worthy to be Airbnb rentals. Not so. People are looking for places to stay all over. So, if you are thinking about renting out a space, just do it! If you don’t like it, stop. It’s as easy as that. (Oh, and tell us about it!)

I am about as frugal as you can get. Only in the last year or two have I bought things that are a little nicer and pricier, but to this day I don’t think I have a single item in our house that cost more than $500.

Our leather couch in our living room is a $3500 couch that I got used on Craigslist for $500. Our dining room table was $300 from World Market and was an item they were closing out so it was super discounted. Our nightstands were hand-me-downs that my brother and his wife never liked. Our coffee table is a $60 Target table that was the right size for the space. I mean, everything we have was either used or we got it for a steal. But they are all items I really like and fit my aesthetic.

Everyone always says, why have nice things when you have kids? They’re bound to ruin everything. Which, let’s be honest, is totally true. I used to think that one day, when my kids are grown and out of the house, I would finally get nice furniture. Then it hit me, oh wait, by then I will start having grandkids. And I want them to feel comfortable at my house and be able to play and not be worried about breaking something. So, I’ve decided that I want to live in a place NOW that feels the way I want.

I’m not going to go out and spend $10k on a sofa, but I’m also not going to just have furniture that I hate for fear of it getting ruined. Clearly we don’t spend a lot of money on our furniture, but I do want each thing that’s brought into my home to bring me joy.

And if it gets ruined, I say, it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.

When we moved into this house in July of 2015, our tradition of Fancy Brunch was born. Every Sunday for the last year I’ve made fancy brunch. It’s always delicious but sometimes it’s something new and other times it’s a family favorite.

We get out goblet glasses for the kids to drink out of and we all eat on glass plates and have silverware and fabric napkins and play fancy music. It’s such a fun tradition that we’ve created and it’s something that our kids absolutely adore.

When the weather is nice it’s the rule that we have to eat out on the back deck. When we sit out on the back deck as a family during these times, Zach and I just look at each other and say “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” And we really believe that. This tradition, the time we spend with our kids and being out in the beautiful weather is truly what our dreams are made of.

I wish I had known that motherhood wasn’t always smiles and sunshine, that it’s one of the hardest jobs that you can ever have, that sometimes you want to crawl into your bed and hide the second your husband comes home from work. That each kid is an individual and as much as you you’ve figured it out, you haven’t. Because their needs are constantly changing.

Luckily there are enough wonderful moments to make it all worth it. No matter how hard it is, I would never undo any of the choices I’ve made that has landed me exactly where I am right now.


Loving the idea of Fancy Brunch, and totally on board with the concept of enjoying your decor now: “And if it gets ruined, I say, it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.” You’ve got the cutest way of thinking about living with kids, Natalie; you’re really speaking my language! Thank you so much for being here today.

So, debt-free? How many of you enjoy the same sort of lifestyle? How does it make you feel to not owe any money? How did you train your mind to stop consuming more than you actually needed? How do you leave Home Goods with not even one. little. pillow. You know I love your stories!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

66 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Natalie Olsen”

  1. It’s always refreshing to read about how others manage money: thank you for sharing :) For my husband & I, however, it’s important to us that my husband can retire ASAP and that means keeping our low-interest mortgage for the sake of using our extra money to invest in things that have greater returns or buying a rental property. With that said, we don’t have any other debt. All our vehicles are second-hand purchased with cash & my husband has the know-how and garage full of tools that allow him to maintain all our vehicles himself. The only thing we pay an autoshop for is mounting new tires on the rims and balancing the tires but we drive our vehicles fairly infrequently so we’ve only ever needed to do that for each vehicle once. To some it might seem excessive to keep 3 vehicles, but our camper van was over-hauled so we camp a lot more instead of vacationing via plane, our beater truck helps us haul yard trimmings & construction materials, and our compact crossover suv takes us to the mountains or the city most efficiently. Plus, insurance is very low since our vehicles are old!

    Learning to do things ourselves has been the biggest money-saver. My husband learned all his mechanic skills from reading manuals and watching youtube videos. We rarely go out to eat now because I’ve learned to make most of our restaurant favorites at home and I’m always finding amazing recipes online! Investing in proper tools so that you *can* do things yourself is also important to us. I think there is a distinction between spending for the sake of consuming and spending for the sake of investing in yourself or home: that can be hard to balance for some. Having patience for things also contributes to our frugal lifestyle. My husband shopped for tools for his garage partly through auctions and craigslist but that took patience to search and wait for things to come up.

    As for how I leave Home Goods without *something*… after reading Marie Kondo’s book and taking stock of everything I have, I’ve gotten better at picking out things that I know will truly spark joy or fill a need in my home :) It’s rare for me to find anything worth buying there now :D

    1. I need to get a lot better at buying used…it’s the patience part that I’m not good at. Also where we live, I feel like it is a total seller’s market. I often find things on Craigslist that I like, but buying new (on sale) is the same or only nominally cheaper. Maybe I’m just making excuses? I’m open to your tips, Ling!

    2. I agree, the sooner we can get to retirement, the better! I go through phases of frugality but some times with every purchase I calculate in my head how many hours Zach would have to work to pay for it. It’s definitely a way to think to keep that spending in check! Also, I think we ALL struggle with envy. I call this my J.Lo vs Granola. Luckily I have Zach who is a minimalist through and through and he keeps me in line :)

  2. Natalie, you have such a beautiful home and family. My favorite photo was probably the graphic you had about how you got where you are–such an inspiring story for all of us, and I look forward to perusing the Settle Up site to learn more.

    I have always been relatively frugal and a big saver, primarily because my family had very little when I was young (and I think it was a coping mechanism–perhaps not a 100% positive thing), but I have recently been inspired reading about different families’ journeys to financial independence/early retirement, especially by investing in real estate. Needless to say, I was more than a little excited to see something similar on my favorite blog! :)

    To answer Gabby’s questions:
    My husband and I are debt-free (ages 31 and 34), and I don’t think I fully understand the “free” part until it happened–it is absolutely so liberating to have zero debt. We started paying down our debt (about $55,000) right out of college and then saved another $40,000 for my husband to go to graduate school (which by the way, was the best investment we will ever make–his salary almost tripled after one year!). It is how I was able to be a stay-at-home-mom once we started having kids.

    As for how to leave Home Goods without one little pillow :), I just don’t go to Home Goods! I recycle any catalogs I get in the mail. I unsubscribe from marketing emails after I get the % off code I need. I decide what I need and then I buy that–not anything else. If I see something I want that is not on my list, I wait and come back later if I really still want it. Sometimes it means I miss out on stuff because they are out of stock by the time I come back, but it’s just stuff.

    BUT it is still hard for me to not envy what others have and still want those things, even if I work hard to not buy them. I really think it is more of a shift in your perspective and lifestyle that involves feeling more and more grateful for what you DO have–not in that “oh yeah, I’m so lucky I even have a car” while deep down you wish you could afford your friend’s new BMW. It’s a change of heart kind of thing, and I’m still working on it. :)

      1. Thanks, Ling. I do read MMM–still working thru the archives. Other FIRE blogs I recently discovered are and (specifically the stock series). Also I’m totally new to this idea–I just happened upon it a month ago, and I find their approach and philosophy on life refreshing. I started down the debt free and financially responsible road with Dave Ramsey’s philosophy, and though I think his baby steps are fantastic, and I love that he has helped so many people (including me!), something never sat right with me. I’m realizing now that it was the idea that you delay gratification so that you can buy buy buy later. The environmental and religious parts of me are much more attracted to the idea that you actually never needed any of that stuff to begin with, so why not “buy” time to do what you want in life?

      2. Life changing website and philosophy. We’ve always been frugal, so it’s been great to find this community and support….and realize we’re not crazy for wanting to live minimally and retire early!

      3. Ling, I thought you sounded like a mustachian. :) I recommend MMM to everyone all the time, so it’s nice to see someone else doing it for a change.

        Also, excellent home tour for so many reasons. So beautiful. I love glimpses into other people’s successful financial lives.

    1. I agree, the sooner we can get to retirement, the better! I go through phases of frugality but some times with every purchase I calculate in my head how many hours Zach would have to work to pay for it. It’s definitely a way to think to keep that spending in check! Also, I think we ALL struggle with envy. I call this my J.Lo vs Granola. Luckily I have Zach who is a minimalist through and through and he keeps me in line :)

  3. Fun story – but readers should be aware of the zoning in their neighborhood or Home Owner’s Association regulations regarding short-term leasing (ie Airbnb) or basement apartments. Also, research if your current homeowners insurance covers short-term leasing and what taxes you may owe to your municipality (similar to a hotel tax). Thanks

  4. I love her life and money philosophy….we are working to pay off our house ASAP. As a Portland native, I miss pre-housing bubble, pre-horrific traffic old Portland.

    1. Thank you Jen! I was born in Portland, but grew up in Vancouver and spent 8 years in Colorado. But I’m back! Ha. I can’t believe the traffic here, it was never like this growing up. But we do love it here and the greenery can’t be beat :)

  5. So great to see young people who REALLY GET IT. I didn’t have that kind of financial sense in my 30s. My husband really pushed the savings/investment notion though and b/c of his foresight we paid off our mortgage in our 50s, I retired at 50 and he retired at 59. We never carried any debt other than the mortgage. If we wanted something big like a car or couch, we saved and paid cash. We paid our sons’ college educations so they could start out debt-free. It really is an amazing feeling to be so FREE! Stories like these are proof that it CAN be done. “Earn more or want less”: genius. (Oh and I live in an expensive place-Seattle-and our house has quadrupled in value in 25 years.)

  6. I’m debt free and I have been my whole life. I LOVE it. Right now, we have have housing provided with my husband’s job, which means that I have exactly one bill every month (internet) that I’m contractually obligated to pay. We have enough cash reserves that when anything happens–car breaks, medical bills, etc.–we can just pay for it. It is so very nice not to worry about money. We’re also saving up so that we can either pay cash for a house someday or at least have a sizable down payment.

    I don’t spend a lot of money either, and I’ve gotten really good at telling myself no. I sit on things a lot and talk myself out of them. I usually rarely buy things just because–it has to fulfill some sort of need and then it has to meet a very strict price point I have in my head. I live in an isolated place where shopping is nonexistent, which helps. And I like to be organized and not have a lot of stuff in general. Being frugal is simply practice and self-control, like a whole lot of other stuff in life.

  7. We used to be debt free (except for house and cars), then we had a couple of years of random expenses and not enough savings sneak up on us. It feels like we can’t get out from under the $10 K in debt we have acquired. I do the pay as much as we can each month, but it doesn’t seem to go away (an expense here, a situation there). Help!?

    1. Normally I don’t offer advice on these forums, but since you asked:
      Read the book Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and actually do everything he says. His plan sounds counter-intuitive at first (given all we are taught about debt in America) but if you really want to be debt-free, it works. The very first step is to build an emergency fund so that when “an expense here, a situation there” inevitably arises, your entire savings plan doesn’t get derailed.

      I was totally against this plan at first, but I read the book and agreed to doing it with my husband before we were married. We’ve since put me through grad school with zero loans, purchased a small apartment in cash, and managed to save money every single month despite my husband also being in graduate school. It takes a lot of effort at first but once you get going it is totally addictive and FUN!

      Best wishes Jill! Also thanks to Gabrielle and Natalie for putting this post together. I am so inspired and am off to check out Settle Up right now!

      1. Yes! Total Money Makeover is a great starting point. I really enjoyed that book! The only thing I disagree with, he suggests waiting til you have 20% to put down on a house. Of course it’s fine to do that, but had we waited til we would have had 20% we wouldn’t be in the position we are now. We are currently in an appreciating market so every year you are saving towards your 20% downpayment, house prices are also rising making it feel forever out of reach. I do think you should absolutely be smart and buy within your means though :)

        Thanks Shannon!!

  8. I love this tour and family philosophy!
    My life opened up so much when I decided to be intentional in my use of money. Your words and images show a life of abundance, and inspired me to plan some time to map out my families goals for the next few years. We also have young kids and went down to one budget (only possible through very strategic spending) but it’s time to stop being scared of that drastic cut and be proactive and creative. I’m excited to check out your site and learn more!

    1. Hi Salley! Thank you! Planning, and having goals front and center is what makes frugal living do-able and exciting! We have always lived off of one income, so when I was working, my income went towards the house renovations and or savings. Because of that, when we moved here, I was able to take a year off and just enjoy my baby. I admire when people go from a two income to a one income family. It takes a lot of sacrifice but I’m sure you are loving that extra time with the kids :)

  9. My husband and I are 100% debt free but still rent & the thought of owning our own home let alone three rentals to generate money seems like something that will never be within our reach. I love the feeling
    of being debt free & live very frugally. I just wonder how people accomplish this starting from scratch with no outside help? Totally not being snarky. It just seems so impossible.

    1. Hi Kristin!

      I started writing a reply with all our details, but then thought it was too boring! Our first house was right out of college when we were living on Zach’s income of just under 40k a year, and right out of college… we had managed to save 10k before graduating and that’s what we used for our first down payment. Our first house was also a fixer upper and it was actually a townhome for only 102k. I believe fully that you have to start slow to go fast. You guys are already doing awesome by being debt free… maybe there’s a way to cut costs even more to save up for that down payment? I’m happy to talk if you want to evaluate what could be done :) The first two houses are the hardest, then it gets easier!

      1. I suppose that one question I have is this: Is most of your savings tied up in real estate, or do you also have IRAs, 401(k)s, and so on? Looking at buying new a house soon, and wondering how much to put into it!

        1. Hi Nathan!

          The majority of what we have is in our house. We have a duplex under contract (so in about 2 weeks we won’t be debt free anymore!) and will be putting 25% down on that. We also have your normal 5% of my husbands income going into a 401k (that’s then matched 4% by his company) and I put $300 a month into an IRA. Which I know isn’t a ton. We put most of it into real estate because it’s a lot easier of a concept for us to understand. We do the 401k thing because we know we should diversify and we believe in not putting all our eggs in one basket. Against what Dave Ramsey says, I always say you should put the least amount down on a house as possible so that you can have more money in your pocket for emergencies or fix ups or… your next down payment :) Let me know if you have any other questions! Where are you located? If you don’t have a Realtor I’d be happy to hook you up with someone to help you get started!

      2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I guess one of our problems is affordability of the city we live in. Starter homes are not to be found under 200k. We would have a down payment close to 20K and still live in a dump…LOL. We love the house we rent which is another reason we don’t own.

        In the financial talk I forgot to mention how much I really do love your home aesthetic. Best wishes!


        1. I totally get that! We lucked out and graduated college in 2008 so we were purchasing in a major buyers market. We definitely had things in our favor in that way. Good luck in your future endeavors!

    1. And you should!! Seriously. I want to help you :)

      Those are $20 decals off amazon and a homemade (out of tissue paper) garland… so for about $25 you can decorate the same as my daughters room. Ha!


  10. Love this series so much in general, but this particular one resonated with me.

    This quote in particular:
    We’ve learned there are two ways to be rich: earn more or want less.

    As parents to the first grandchild on both sides, we have had to fight hard against four grandparents’ urges to spoil our little one silly. I myself have felt moments of weakness at the toy store. But in the end, it’s the time spent together and those beautiful memories you’re creating at the table that matter most.

    So many bits of this made me say “yes!”

    1. That’s a hard one! We tend to request experiences instead of gifts from grandparents… Like memberships to the Zoo, Children’s Museum, or something fun for the kids. Sometimes they ignore and get what they want, and other times they gift us with the experiences and I love it! Congrats on the first grandbaby :)

      1. This is a tough one! We’ve semi-successfully steered grandparents to gifts like shoes and craft supplies(I keep an amazon wishlist for this purpose) and memberships (kids museum etc), and the best is deposits into savings/college accounts!

  11. I’m curious about the color of the floor to ceiling cabinets in the kitchen?? Love the contrast with the white cabinets! Thanks!

    1. Hi Kimmy! So this is not an IKEA kitchen, but it is an IKEA pantry system! They have a whole cabinet line in that gray. It comes in all different shapes and sizes and we got it bc it comes in a 15″ deep cabinet which is what we needed for that space. I do love the color of it and we get lots of compliments :)

  12. I love your philosophy on life Natalie! Beautiful family and home! This is off subject, but what is your home’s main paint color? We are mid reno and it looks like what I’m looking for. Thank you!

    1. Hi Emily, thank you!! The paint color is Dolphin Fin by Behr at Home Depot :) we’ve used it in 4 houses bc I can’t find anything I like better! Hope the reno is going wonderfully smooth!

  13. Nice profile… They have done well. Being debt free and not having a house in a place like Portland or anywhere can be dangerous. (For the debt free commenters….) Just ask the renter crowd there…. On the other hand, home ownership does not always equate to a win either. We lived in a highly desirable Portland suburban neighborhood until last year. People definitely do not always make $$$ on the homes they live in and take care of when the time comes to sell. Also, the neighborhood school is a huge concern in terms of your home values. Portland was “cool” when we left, but if your neighborhood is not deemed “cool” by the hipster crowd when you need to sell, don’t expect to retire by any means. We lost a ton of $$, but I console myself by the fact that we lived where the schools were some of the best. Cute family!!!

  14. Wow…I find this super interesting to read. As a real estate developer of new residential area’s, I share Natalie’s passion for houses and personal finance. Love to see that you are planning with the future in mind, with determination!

    I read this from a European perspective. And I am just wondering….how? How is it possible that you acquired 4 homes in your early years of marriage? Was the first house fully paid off before you started buying (and lending for) your second home? Or did the bank let you borrow for another house, whilst the first one wasn’t fully paid off yet (but rented out)?

    We have lived in the States for 2 years during our working life and those 2 years were the only years that we weren’t able to save. We weren’t raised with credit cards/loans (other than home mortgages) etc.

    Well done, both you house and lifestyle! Nice family…

    1. Hi Lucia,

      So here in the States you can have up to 4 loans on primary residences at only 3-5% down. Each of our first 4 houses we bought, we had mortgages on, and none were paid off, but then we sold all of them and purchased our fifth house in cash. We lived in each house for 2 years (with the exception of the 4th house… only one year there). after 4 properties you have to put 20-25% down (even if it’s a primary residence). However, there are rules with how much equity you have to have in order to qualify and we were doing this all in an appreciating market, so that definitely helped! rules changes regularly as I’m sure you know :) But after buying the second one we had rental history and that helped buy the third and fourth!

  15. Thank you Natalie for sharing your lovely family and way of life with us. We did the Dave Ramsey financial university a couple years ago and took care of most of our debt but just bought our second home and it has a big mortgage. Definitely inspired to get back to the goal of living debt free after reading your story. Thank you thank you!

    1. Isn’t that how it goes? I feel like I’m always in phases when it comes to getting serious about retirement funds or investments and other times I really just like letting loose and buying things I don’t need :) good luck getting focused again!

  16. Beautiful Home and family. Your quest to live with less and only to buy things you really love definitely resonates with me. However, I have to say I wouldn’t encourage other people to put down less than a 10% down payment and buy multiple homes at the same time. Unfortunately thats in part what caused the housing meltdown in 2007/2008 during which people lost everything/had to file for bankruptcy. Clearly your timing has been very good (as has been your choice of location), and you’re a smartly frugal person, but its anyone’s guess what next year might bring for the economy/housing. The reason why Dave Ramsey and other financial advisors recommend 20% down, is so that god forbid there is a housing price correction, and god forbid you are forced to sell your home, that you then don’t end up owing the bank money. Debt in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Used prudently it can clearly help you achieve your life/financial goals. Which is why having a mortgage on your primary residence (w/ a >10% downpayment) especially given the rate environment is usually recommended by investment advisors (tax savings). But not if you are heavily levered on multiple homes and have don’t have other diversified streams of savings. Investing in housing post 2008 has been a windfall for many, but please always diversify.

    1. Hi Bianca! I definitely see where you are coming from. I don’t think people should just go in and buy up as much as they can (and yes we were the product of good timing and location) But I think if each purchase is made with a long term plan that it’s still ok to buy with minimum down. My reason for this, is that if you can hold onto a house forever, as long as you can manage the monthly payments and don’t get in over your head, you can keep making those payments in the event the market is crashing (payments stay the same whether or not it’s market value is 100k or 300k). If you lost your job or something like that, even a hefty down payment wouldn’t save your house. I don’t recommend going into things with a plan to sell like we did. We only sold bc the timing felt right with our move. But our plan when purchasing was to own them forever and have the rent be our retirement. I think as long as people go into it with a long term business plan, small down payments are the way to go. I do understand why some people disagree with me :) And that’s ok!

  17. So much good information. The youtube videos were great! I look forward to being debt free and staying that way. Please continue with chronicling your journey for us Natalie.

  18. Natalie, you are such an insightful and funny writer! I love your philosophy and your beautiful home!

    A couple of cautionary points to other readers:
    – before you go completely debt free, much sure you have a robust emergency fund and are saving for retirement (compound interest!). While it will be incredibly freeing to not have a mortgage, you want to make sure that if an emergency happens, you’re not relying on credit cards – or worse, need to sell your house to pay for an emergency.

    – carefully assess interest rates on your debt. For example, I graduated from law school with loans at 2.5%. I wanted to pay those loans off as soon as possible because they felt like a gorilla on my back. Instead, a financial advisor friend encouraged us not to sacrifice our emergency savings and retirement in our quest to pay down the school loans. Investing in retirement in your late twenties/early thirties is going to have a bigger pay off than another 3-4 years of paying off low-interest student debt.

    That said, I know that for many, going debt free is a lifestyle choice, and even a philosophical and spiritual practice. I would just encourage people to think strategically before you do. It sounds like Natalie is a great example of someone who has made a debt-free lifestyle a really smart financial decision, as well as a conscious lifestyle choice. Well done, Natalie!

  19. A thousand times yes to this: “Instead of the biggest house or the most valuable house, pick the house that is in the location that lets you walk your kids to school, ride a bike to work, and spend less time getting to where you’re going. Home is where you live and you don’t want to spend too much time getting there.” We live in Chicago, and when our first kid was born, everyone started asking “when are you moving to the suburbs?” Our answer is “never, if everything goes our way” — we’d rather spend the time with our kids than commuting, and our neighborhood school is wonderful — a block away!

    1. Oops, accidentally wrote a new comment and didnt “reply”

      Hi Jane, I love the name… it’s my oldest daughters name :) The first year of life after college we lived in the suburbs of Denver and it was ROUGH. We didn’t like it at all. We hated how much time was spent in traffic (45min-1hr). Since then we’ve either lived where Zach can bike to work or ride the bus easily (15-20 min). For our family… this is just what works best for us. Now that we’ve experienced both, we could never go back to a commute. It’s worth it to have a smaller house, hands down.

  20. Hi Jane, I love the name… it’s my oldest daughters name :) The first year of life after college we lived in the suburbs of Denver and it was ROUGH. We didn’t like it at all. We hated how much time was spent in traffic (45min-1hr). Since then we’ve either lived where Zach can bike to work or ride the bus easily (15-20 min). For our family… this is just what works best for us. Now that we’ve experienced both, we could never go back to a commute. It’s worth it to have a smaller house, hands down.

  21. We’re on track to be debt free and retired by 40, which sounded old when we first developed the plan (at 22 & 24) but now (at 35& 37 yrs old, seems really young). We have always had a two income household but made the conscious decision from the beginning to live off only one income and save/invest the rest. It has allowed us to purchase rental properties, homes, and land which have in turn led to more passive income generation, etc.
    Love the line “earn more or want less” – I seldom go shopping. Easier to just avoid the whole inner debate. :)

  22. We still don’t have our own house, we still rented and I have now 3 children. I don’t know if it will happen, having our own house. But if ever I will include the different cake stuff like wedding cake stands or simply cake stand to my kitchen and start a wedding business like this one

  23. Wow. I’m so impressed by all of you out there who are living debt-free. Truly. Natalie, I really enjoyed your story and walking through your beautiful home. I read the comments and saw that you might be open to chatting privately. Would it be okay if I email you? Oh! And I love the green “Mountains are Calling” sign. Would you mind sharing the source?

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