HGTV's "House Hunters" Finally Explains How Young Homebuyers Finance Fixer-Uppers

When you're just starting out and buying your first home, where do you get the cash to fix it up if it's not already in great condition?

Lots of first-time homebuyers find themselves in this situation: They're ready to own and they have enough income and savings to qualify for a mortgage, but they can barely afford the type of home and/or neighborhood they want to live in, and the home might need lots of improvements and renovations to fix deferred maintenance and outdated finishes.

If you watch House Hunters on HGTV, you've probably seen lots of homebuyers in this scenario. Something that's always bugged me is that the show doesn't explain how a cash-strapped young buyer can afford to renovate a fixer upper.

Finally, last night, I saw an episode called "22-Year-Old Seeks Victorian Fixer-Upper in Pittsburgh" that addressed this issue. The young woman said she had secured an FHA 203(k) loan so she could buy a fixer-upper. She had qualified to borrow $150,000, a sum that would have to both cover the purchase price and the renovations. She ended up buying a $70,000 home, which gave her plenty of funds to improve an old Victorian in an up-and-coming neighborhood.

The episode still didn't get into the details of how the 203(k) program works, so if you'd like to learn about a loan that can help you buy and renovate a fixer-upper, check out my recent Interest.com article, "How to Finance a Fixer-Upper."

Photo: revwarheart

Free Graze Box Promo Codes

Graze raspberry and coconut muffin snack
Would you like to get a free box of interesting, tasty snacks in your mailbox?

If so, you should try Graze. It's a snack company that will send you a box of four individually and attractively packaged snacks twice a month. I tried Graze after hearing an ad for it on Spotify and using a promo code to get my first box free. At the end of this post, you'll find a promo code so you can try Graze free, too.

I am a frugal person, and assumed that I would cancel after I got my first box for free, but I liked it so much that I've remained a subscriber. Here's what I like about Graze.

For $6.99 either once a week or once every two weeks (delivery is free), you'll get a box of surprise snacks in your mailbox. You don't have to sign for it and, while you don't get to pick your snacks, the surprise is part of the fun.

However, you can tell Graze what not to send you, so if you have an allergy, are on a diet, or just don't like, say, nuts, you can tell Graze that you don't want to get these items in your snack box.

Speaking of diets, if you're thinking that snack foods like dried fruit and nuts are calorically dense and not the type of food you want to eat a lot of, Graze has a solution for that: You can sign up for the calorie-counter box subscription. With the calorie-counter boxes, you won't get any snacks that exceed 150 calories. Plus, since the snacks are individually packaged, they offer a greater level of portion control.

Why do I like Graze so much even though I could seemingly get the same thing for a fraction of the cost by buying a few bags of dried fruit and nuts at the store?

1. The affordable luxury factor. Yes, $6.99 is a lot to pay for about 4 ounces of snacks. But it's a fun surprise in my mailbox every two weeks for a low price.

2. The uniqueness factor. Graze puts together interesting combinations that I wouldn't think of on my own, like the amaretti drops, raspberry-infused cranberries, almond slices and coconut flakes that make up the raspberry and coconut muffin snack. Even if I could think of this combination on my own, I don't know where, or even if, I can buy amaretti drops at the store.

3. The convenience factor. I can grab one of my Graze snacks on my way out the door if it's been one of those days where I've been so busy that I accidentally skipped a meal. They're also great to take hiking and on the airplane.

If you'd like to try Graze, you can get your first and fifth boxes free if you use the coupon code below. I get a free box if three people use my referral code, and then $1 for each referral thereafter.

Graze Coupon Code / Graze Promo Code: AMYF57G5B

How to borrow money to fix up a house

Kevin Quinn's 1866 home, before restoration
Have you ever been watching an episode of House Hunters where a young couple with a modest homebuying budget finds a fixer upper that's under budget and says they can use the savings to repair the house?

I've always wondered where they get that money from, since they probably barely have enough money for a down payment. Where would they find the cash to fix the hideous kitchen and the outdated bathrooms, or to replace the dingy carpet with gorgeous hardwood floors?

While House Hunters doesn't get into the details of homebuyers' finances, there are home loans available that will help you finance a fixer upper, and I've written about two of them for Interest.com.

Kevin Quinn, owner of Bartlett Home Improvement in Memphis, used one of these loans to fix up a house that was in such bad condition that he was repeatedly urged to tear it down and start over.

But he's a big believer in historic preservation, and wanted to restore a crumbling 1866 house.

The before and after photos you see here show what home renovation loans make possible.
Kevin Quinn's 1866 home, after restoration

If you're interested in buying a fixer upper, too, but don't have enough cash to make both a down payment and all the improvements, you can get the details on how these loans work and how Kevin used a renovation mortgage in my Interest.com article, How to finance a fixer-upper.

How to Get the Best Value on Grocery Store Meat

The best way to stretch your grocery budget when buying meat is to buy inexpensive cuts like bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and tough cuts of beef and pork that you simmer in the slow cooker for hours.

At least, that's what I thought. I was wrong.

After months of blowing our grocery budget, I decided it was time to get back on track to my goal of spending just $285 a month. (If this sounds really low, it's because we go out to eat a few times a week.)

The best way to stretch the budget for two people who like to eat meat at almost every meal turns out to be purchasing boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale.

You'd never think that a cut of meat that requires more labor--someone, or some machine, has to butcher the bird, remove the bones, remove the skin, and trim off lots of fat and gristle--would be the most economical. But I've found this to be true.

A local, low-budget grocery store puts this cut on sale for $1.59 a pound every few weeks, and we stock up then. We cut all the unsavory parts that remain off the breasts, which takes about 40 minutes for 12 pounds of similar sized cuts of meat that will cook in roughly equal amounts of time. We then freeze them in bags containing 1.5 pounds each, since that's how much we like to cook at one time. Cooking weeknight dinners becomes really convenient, because we now have premium, perfectly trimmed pieces of meat at a fraction of the cost.

But the trimming process leaves about 1-2 pounds of fat with pieces of meat mixed in. We used to toss this out, figuring that we were still coming out ahead overall, and that the time it would take to cut the meat more precisely wasn't worth it (the 80/20 principle). But I've discovered that I can toss all of the scraps into a crock pot on low for a few hours, melt the fat away, and be left with mostly usable scraps of chicken breast that are great for mixing with a sauce or putting in omelets, quesadillas, enchiladas, or any other dish that's good with small pieces of meat. I still lose whatever I paid per pound for the chicken fat, but I lose less than 10% of what I purchased, or about 16 cents per pound.

Bone-in, skin-on chicken legs, on the other hand, cost me 69 cents a pound on sale, and I lose a whopping two-thirds of that in bones, fat, gristle and skin that gets thrown out (maybe you like to use some of these things for stock, but I don't). I have a kitchen scale, so I actually did the math--I'm not just eyeballing it. That means I'm effectively paying $2.10 to get one pound of useable meat, still doing plenty of labor to separate out the edible meat, and getting a less healthy product (though dark meat simmered in its own fat in a slow cooker certainly is tasty!). The same goes for pork shoulder, which might cost $1.69 a pound and similarly loses 2/3 of its weight after subtracting skin, bones and fat.

Would it be cheaper to eat rice and beans, or quinoa, or other vegetable sources of protein? Maybe. But we like meat, so we find ways to make it as affordable as possible.

Photo: quiddle

Don't get stuck with a tough-to-sell condo

Photo: The Pug Father

Condos are great if you don't want the maintenance hassles of a single family home. They can also be a more affordable option.

But condo life isn't part of most people's long-term home ownership plans. The National Association of Homebuilders says that more than half of condo owners move within six years of purchase.

If you're shopping for a condo, you'd be wise to think about its resale potential before you buy. Do you know which floors, bedroom counts and layouts are the most desirable? Which amenities buyers care about most? Which locations within the condo building your should avoid? My new Interest.com article, Don't get stuck with a tough-to-sell condo, has answers to these questions and more tips for making the best condo-buying decision.

How to replace your front door

Photo: Ken Doerr

Did you know that replacing your front door is one of the most effective ways to increase your home's value? Your front door is part of your home's curb appeal, and it will influence what people expect to see when they enter your house. In other words, making a good first impression is valuable.

Front doors come in three materials: fiberglass, wood, and metal. You'll also need to decide what color to paint it, whether to add a storm door or a metal security door, and whether to repair or replace your front door yourself or hire a pro.

For help making these decisions and more, see what the real estate and home improvement experts I interviewed have to say about making smart choices for your front door in my Interest.com article, How to replace your front door.