Our downstairs neighbors had been trying to get us evicted.
It was September 2021. I was 22 and working as a paraprofessional at an elementary school in Boise, Idaho, earning $9 an hour. My wages didn’t go very far there, so I found a roommate to split the $1,900 monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment just outside the city. We had met one night when her dog, a Rottweiler mix, ran up to play with my dog, Gaspard, a Labrador husky. We were both students — I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in finance while she was studying medicine.
Things started out fine, but they quickly deteriorated in the way that commonly happens among 20-somethings who find themselves living with incompatible roommates.
Our neighbors initially had minor noise complaints, but things escalated when my roommate started having her friends over. They would get drunk, play rowdy games of Ping-Pong and blast music late into the night. My roommate would also leave her dog in a kennel for more than eight hours at a time, and the dog would howl for someone to let her out. Our neighbors were fed up with the situation and filed formal complaints with our management company to have us evicted.
I was also fed up with our living arrangement. On top of everything else, my roommate was often behind on her bills, and I had to draw on student loans to front over $2,000 a month to keep us current on our rent and utility bills.
In an attempt to plot my escape, I searched for a pet-friendly, one-bedroom apartment for under $1,700 a month on a rental listing website, but came up empty. On Facebook Marketplace, I found a room in a cute house for only $500 a month — but then I read the description and changed my mind: “Single male with one room available for single female aged 18-35.”
Envisioning the next chapter of my life helped me cope with the stress of my current living situation. I would spend hours browsing Zillow, looking at trailer homes, duplexes and “handyman specials” for sale.
There was no way I could afford to buy a house at the time. I wasn’t earning enough to be able to save meaningfully, and I had about $40,000 in student loan debt. But I scrolled through listings as if money wasn’t a concern, considering the qualities and trade-offs of each house. I also started using a banking app to check my credit score every week, which hovered around 750 — a score that I understood would help me get a good interest rate on a mortgage loan one day.
Little did I know that this day would come sooner than I had ever imagined.
During the Christmas holidays, I loaded up my car and drove four hours with Gaspard on an icy highway to spend time with my family in Idaho Falls, Idaho. When my two brothers and sister arrived on Christmas Eve, we played a game my mother invented, “the Bucket Game.”
The objective is to toss a beanbag across the room into a five-gallon bucket to win a scratch-off lottery ticket. When it was time to play, we gathered in the living room and waited for my mother to bring in the $150 worth of tickets she had picked up from a gas station.
After a few rounds, my stack of tickets was notably smaller than everyone else’s because I kept missing the bucket. When I missed again, my mother allowed me to take another turn, and when the beanbag made it in, I grabbed a $5 Silver Bells holiday scratcher and added it to my pile.
When all the tickets were accounted for, we all sat quietly and scratched at them. Occasionally, one of us would call out a $5 or $20 win. My Silver Bells ticket had five winning numbers at the top: 47, 44, 21, 41 and 39. If you uncovered one of the numbers, you would win a prize. It wasn’t until I got to the last row of the ticket that I uncovered the number 39. Just below the number was a cash prize of $50,000. I sat there quietly, rereading the rules.
“I think I won,” I announced incredulously to the room.
Everyone rushed over to examine the ticket and agreed that it looked like a winner, but to be sure, we all piled into a car and drove to the one gas station in town that was open on Christmas Eve. I walked up to the scanner and checked my ticket. In small letters on the blue screen was the word “Winner.”
I offered to share the money with my family, but my older brother said I should keep it. He and my family were genuinely happy for me — they didn’t want a dime of my winnings. With their blessing, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the money: buy a house.
I was given a check for $37,000 at the Idaho Lottery headquarters the following Monday, after I was told I could pay the taxes on the gambling winnings upfront.
The search for a house I could afford came next. All the time I had spent on Zillow in the previous months came in handy because I was familiar with the market. I knew I could afford a house between $90,000 and $150,000, but I wanted to stay on the lower end of that range. My goals were to pay the lowest monthly mortgage possible and to pay less than what I would normally spend on rent.
After broadening my search to include all of Idaho, I found three homes I liked in Pocatello, which I had visited a handful of times when I was child. It had a reputation for being one of the most dangerous cities in the state. A real estate agent on Zillow offered to visit the homes and give me a video tour. After he looked at the first house, he called me and said, “I will not let you live in this part of town.”
A tour of the second house was underwhelming. The third house was small, but it had a spacious yard and didn’t need any immediate repairs. It was listed for $120,000, and I told the real estate agent that I was interested.
The agent gave me contact information for a mortgage banker to get preapproved for a loan. The only difficult part of the preapproval process was income verification. Moving to Pocatello meant I would have to leave my job at the elementary school, which I loved. To meet the income requirements, I instead found work in sales at a call center for $15 an hour. With my credit rating, new source of income and down payment, I was able to get preapproved for a $150,000 loan.
When I went to Pocatello to see the house in person on a snowy day, I fell in love with it immediately. It was 100 years old and 700 square feet — a perfect size for Gaspard and me. The front yard and backyard were spacious, and the bathroom had a lavender tub. The floors were a little slanted, but the quirks made me want the home.
The real estate agent offered $117,000 with $3,000 in earnest money (a good faith deposit). My down payment was $23,000. A home inspector looked at the house to ensure it was sound. The banker I worked with spoke on the phone with me regularly and answered all of my questions. He explained that interest rates would be spiking in the near future, so it was good that I was buying now. My mortgage has an interest rate of 3.375 percent and a monthly payment of $591.
I gave my roommate one month’s notice that I would be moving out. She was upset and rebuffed my offer to help her find a new roommate, but it was for the best.
After moving expenses, I had $7,000 of my winnings left in savings, and I settled into my new house five weeks after winning the lottery.
I’m now 24, and I will graduate with a degree in finance and marketing from Idaho State University in the fall. I quit my job at the call center. Instead, I earn about $5,000 a month from the videos I make on TikTok, where I have grown a following by telling stories about my life.
It feels impossible for the majority of people in their 20s to become homeowners. The cost of living is far too high and it can be difficult for young people to get ahead no matter how hard they work and try to save. If I hadn’t won the money, it would have taken me years to buy a house and it’s hard to say whether I would have gotten a good interest rate on a loan or an affordable monthly payment.
Gaspard has a younger brother now: a 1-year-old Labrador husky named Garbanzo. We love living in Pocatello, where the people are kind and where there are beautiful hills, mountains and accessible trails. I never imagined I could feel so at home.