Most high school seniors take the money they get in graduation cards and use it to help pay for college, outfit their dorm room, or take a great summer trip. Ashley and Ashton Carthans had a different idea. They bought a house.

As college freshmen at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill., the twins shared a “really cheap” apartment—and hated it.

“We weren't happy with that at all,” Ashton says. “It was throwing our money away.”

A year later, they were both working as managers at their jobs—Ashton working as a branch manager for a bank and Ashley managing a cell phone store—and making decent money, so they went looking. Even knowing there would only be two of them in the house, the Carthans say they wanted a minimum of three bedrooms for the resale value. They wanted a big kitchen with an island because they both like to cook. And they liked the idea of buying in a developing area because they would get more house for their money, and it would appreciate later on.

Like many first-time buyers, they initially looked at existing homes, but didn't want to spend all their spare time and money fixing a house up.

“With both of us working 40 to 45 hours a week and being full-time students, we didn't have time to fix up a house,” Ashton says. “We wanted a brand-spanking-new house.”

They qualified for an FHA loan and combined their high school graduation money with withdrawals from their respective 401(k) accounts—established when they started working in high school at companies that automatically enrolled their employees—to cover closing costs. In November 2005, they moved into a 1,906-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath house from Lennar in the Summerfield neighborhood in Minooka, Ill. They got their big kitchen with an island and stainless steel appliances.

“My kitchen, oh my goodness, it's just so beautiful,” Ashton says. “My cabinets are amazing.”

She also loves the loft area—that's where she and her sister do all their homework—and she thinks it's “really neat” to have a washer and dryer upstairs. They turned one of the guest bedrooms into a workout room. It's much more house than she ever thought she'd have at such a young age, and she's thrilled with it.

“We were just looking for a plain house so we wouldn't be throwing our money away on rent,” Ashton says. “When we found all the things we wanted in a dream house at an affordable price, it was very exciting to us.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.