If you’ve ever had the urge to start flipping real estate, there’s a good chance the inspiration came from Chip and Joanna Gaines.
The veteran hosts behind HGTV’s Fixer Upper spent five seasons turning derelict spaces into dream homes. Now, their renovation empire has expanded to include a magazine, furniture line, paint collection and even cookies.
But the couple’s road to financial success wasn’t a smooth one. In the past they’ve been thousands of dollars in debt, and one of them even ended up in jail.
Click to see some hard-earned lessons from the designer duo.
To cut costs in her home reno projects, Joanna Gaines uses what she’s got on hand.
Take cabinets, for example. “Instead of getting a whole new cabinet package, find ways to rework it, whether it be re-staining them or painting them,” the designer tells Insider.
“Use the stuff you already have and get creative with it. In the end, that’s the biggest reward, when you can take what was there and make it better.”
The same thinking should apply to upgrades in your personal life. Do you need a new car or computer when you might be able to swap out a few parts? Look for the potential in everything before it goes in the trash.
So simple on paper, so difficult in real life.
Chip and Joanna haven’t let success change them. They cut costs where they can, tending a home garden so they can make their own salsa. Chip has worn the same style of jeans and boots since the couple married in 2003, says HGTV.
If you’re having trouble resisting your spending triggers — or you don’t actually know where all your money is going — consider downloading an app that will track your purchases. You can even find one with an AI assistant that makes fun of you when you blow your budget.
It’s tough to build wealth for yourself or your family without taking risks, but you don’t need to take a blind leap to step outside your comfort zone.
“Not all risks will make a big splash. Some will be forged in patience, steady and unhurried,” Joanna writes on her blog, comparing her willingness to give Chip a chance to her faith in their home reno business.
“Chip and I had already proved in our own relationship what can happen when I let something grow on me instead of making a snap judgment or an unwavering conclusion at first glance.”
The stock market is risky, but a way to warm up to investing is by starting with a robo-advisor: automated software that will manage your investments for you. You choose a portfolio based on your tolerance for risk, without a nosy human pressuring you one way or another.
4. Don’t accept defeat
Chip and Joanna have found themselves in some piping hot water over the years. After the 2008 financial crisis left the housing market in shambles, the couple racked up $100,000 in debt.
Chip chalked up their recovery to the power of grit and creativity.
“When we woke up some mornings, realizing we don’t have the money to pay back some of these debts that we had accumulated over the years, we realized we were going to have to be very creative, very quickly, and really fight for this,” Chip tells Insider.
“We didn’t want to quit, we didn’t want to declare bankruptcy — some of those things were just literally not options for us.”
That’s the mindset you want when you run into trouble. Even people who are deep in debt have all kinds of options, including consolidation loans and debt counseling. Plus, free credit monitoring services will tell you which bills to pay off first so you can repair your dinged-up credit score at the same time.
5. Diversify your income
If you’ve ever heard stories of the couple’s early days, it becomes clear that they’ve always sought new ways to bring in money.
In their book The Magnolia Story, Joanna talks about getting to know Chip: “Every time I thought I’d heard it all, he would tell me about something else that he’d done to earn a buck. It was like every time he opened a door, he encountered another door, and another, and he just kept opening every door.”
Chip’s first ventures — including a wash ’n’ fold service, lawn care service and his fledgling home renovation business — took a lot of sweat and toil.
As their startups developed into a home and garden empire, the core principle of diversifying their cash flow remained the same. According to the magazine Inc, when Fixer Upper debuted in 2012, the couple’s company was focused solely on construction. After they opened Magnolia Market at the Silos — a landmark shopping complex spanning two city blocks in Waco, Texas — it was 80 percent retail.
Dabbling with new sources of income can help you discover amazing money-making opportunities or protect you against a sudden job loss. Plus, the apps and online marketplaces of today’s gig economy make it easy to find work whenever you have spare time.
6. Start an emergency fund
Today, the couple debates the worthiness of setting cash aside for emergencies — Joanna’s a saver, while Chip likes to invest as much as he can — but there was a time when it would have come in handy.
Over a decade ago, the Gaines family racked up around $2,500 in tickets when their neighbors complained about their dogs roaming the street. They didn’t pay, and Chip spent a night in jail. To make the $800 bail, Joanna was forced to drain the register and safe of her own small business. That moment, she says, opened her eyes.
“I think for me, the best lesson is always having a nest egg on the side,” Joanna tells Insider.
An emergency fund will cushion you against all kinds of unexpected expenses or even a job loss. It’s a good idea to put enough cash for at least three to six months worth of expenses in a cash management account or high-yield savings account. That way you can earn solid interest on your money while you aren’t using it.
7. Don’t let passion sweep you away
If you’ve ever gone shopping while hungry, you know it can wreck a grocery budget. Your stomach craves things you know you don’t really need.
The same kinds of triggers can be disastrous with bigger purchases.
“When you’re buying a house, somehow it becomes a wildly emotional decision,” Chis says in a live Q&A with Insider, advising people to “take that emotion out of the equation.”
House hunters should take things slow and assess their needs at every stage. Is a home’s charming trim distracting you from the fact it’s 20 minutes to the nearest supermarket? It has the deck you want, but is it too small for your growing family?
And once you’ve found your perfect home, don’t let your decorating dreams keep you from hunting for the best possible mortgage rate. Skipping that step can cost you nearly $52,000 over the course of your mortgage.
8. Go bargain hunting
When decorating a home, Joanna would save a ton of time by stopping at some high-end store and scooping everything off the shelves. But that’s not her style.
Instead, she digs for light fixtures and second-hand furniture at flea markets, antique shops, estate sales and auctions. The pieces she selects have character — and she saves a bundle on every reno.
Maybe you don’t want to spend your weekend scrounging around for antique clocks that match your mantlepiece, but you should definitely shop around when it comes to your major expenses.
And it doesn’t have to be that hard. Online tools make it simple to compare quotes for things like car insurance or life insurance. By taking a few minutes to look, you might realize you’ve been paying way more than you need to. Imagine how that adds up, month after month.
9. Build relationships with trusted pros
When times got tough, the couple relied on close partners to keep their reno operation running.
“Bankers, for us early on, were the key to our success,” Chip says in a live Q&A.
“Especially during the ’08, ’09, ’10 periods, things got really tough, really complicated. A lot of banks across the country had to pull back — and in Waco, Texas, we had bankers who were bending over backward to try to be creative, to give us the opportunity to have a little bit of breathing room.”
If you’re looking for trusted help with your own investments, make sure you speak with a certified financial planner who qualifies as a “fiduciary.” That designation means they’re bound by law to put your interests first and won’t give you whatever advice gets them the biggest commission.
The certainty that a pro has your back 100% will give you the comfort to make the right moves at the right time.
10. Build for the future, not for today
As a point of pride, the Gaines family refuses to do renovations that look good now but fall apart over time.
“I don’t want to jump into the quickest trends, or the quick fixes. I want to make sure that whatever you establish is going to serve our clients and their needs for a long, long time,” Chip says in an interview with Southern Living.
“When we buy houses built in the early 1900s, they are generally still in very good shape because the people that built them were building them to last for a lifetime.”
Though it’s hard to put today’s worries aside and think about the future, there will come a day when you’ll be glad you did.
With enough time, even a few dollars invested today can make a substantial difference at retirement. Feel free to start small with a micro-investing app that automatically invests your small change, then scale up once you see how successful it can be.