Our debt-free dream home

by Lindsey Ralston

I can remember so many times in my life when I have been in the middle of a project and thought it might never be over. It may sound odd, but something I have always found comforting in those situations is that I can’t stop time. If I could, I might just say, “Time out! This is too hard. Forget it.” 

For example, in college, it never failed that professors would give us all of our semester projects to do at the same time. It was almost like they had a meeting to coordinate the day they would drop this big load on us. I would comfort myself by remembering that I can’t stop time. The end of the semester was going to come and there was nothing I could do about it. I would chip away at those projects little by little each day and soon they would be completed. 

This theory also held true when I was having my three children. I gave birth to the first two med-free. (I actually had our son in our living room with a midwife in attendance.) My thoughts about time brought me comfort then, too. Those babies were coming whether I was ready or not. (In case you’re wondering, Baby No. 3 was not born med-free. I loved every minute of that epidural.)

The debt-free home that Lindsey and Timothy Ralston built in the Sherwood area.

During the summer of 2016, my husband and I found ourselves embarking on the biggest task we had ever set our minds to. After looking for the perfect piece of land in Central Arkansas for years, we had finally found it. It was five beautiful wooded acres near my husband’s work and we were going to build our dream home on it.  

We had been socking away money for years and planning for this very moment. On my blog, I have written about how we didn’t eat cheese or meat as we saved money (they cost more than rice and beans, you know). We did a lot of things that some people might consider “radical” to save money, but it was going to pay off (pun intended). Not only were we going to build our dream home, but we were also going to build it debt-free. 

To make our hard-earned savings go further, we decided to be our own general contractors. We had never built anything before, but we had this wild idea that we could pull it off. I mean, can’t you accomplish anything by just Googling it? Well, just about. We did Google A LOT, we read good books about building, and we were blessed with people who gave us sound advice. (As a side note, we were building out of city limits, so we didn’t need a contractor’s license.)

Now, I know general contractors work hard. There are a lot of things, people and materials to coordinate when you are building a house. However, we would have spent a lot more money had we hired someone else to coordinate those things for us. We estimate that we saved more than $65,000 by being our own general contractors. 

One thing all of our research didn’t talk about is the job of “That Guy.” As we were coordinating subcontractors to work on parts of our house (i.e. concrete guys, plumbers, framers, roofers, etc.), things would come up. For example, the electrician told us the plumber was supposed to install the drier vent, but the plumber said it was the electrician’s job. 

Also, we bought a tubular skylight to be installed in the stairwell. The roofers installed the part that goes on the roof, but who is the guy that installs the tube through the attic then cuts a hole in the Sheetrock so the light can pass through to the stairwell?

As these things came up, my husband and I would say, “Who’s the guy that’s supposed to do that?” Then, one day it hit us, WE are “That Guy.” So, in case you’re wondering, I climbed up into our tiny attic over the stairwell, crawled like an inchworm around the air conditioning unit and installed that tubular skylight myself.

We got a quote of $5,000 to do the interior painting. So, I did it myself. I read a book and learned how to tile the showers. My husband and I did the stonework around the front door. We also installed all the interior doors and stained the cabinets. 

As I sit here today, writing to you and watching my sweet children play in our living room, I can firmly say, “It was worth it.” Now, I’m not going to lie to you. Being your own general contractor takes some grit and determination. I feel like I spent endless amounts of time on the phone coordinating sub-contractors or on the phone with my husband as he coordinated sub-contractors but it was worth it. I’m glad I couldn’t stop time and give up! We have a lot of pride in our home (as well as a lot of blood, sweat and tears), we learned a lot and we saved a ton of money. To quote Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”