Note: This post contains affiliate links. Read my policy here.
Saving for a house is both exhilarating and terrifying. Your home’s down payment will probably be the biggest check you ever write. How on earth do you save that kind of cash – month after month, year after year?
These five actions are essential to getting you the keys to your new place.
1. Make a plan.
Putting aside the kind of major dough you’ll need requires need a two-pronged plan of attack.
First, you need a budget.
You can set one up any way you want. Sketch out a basic list of your income and expenses with pen and paper. Grab your laptop to crunch the numbers with Quicken or Excel. (Click here to download my free, comprehensive budget workbook.) You can also out your smartphone and try one of the many budgeting apps available today.
Once you choose your tool, map out your income and expenses. Don’t forget these easily overlooked expenses in your calculations.
Now figure out how much money you can sock away toward your homeownership goal without depleting your emergency fund or sacrificing your retirement savings and debt repayment. Using your numbers, figure out a reasonable time frame for your big purchase. You’ll get to closing day sooner the more money you can set aside for your goal.
2. Be flexible.
Life rarely goes perfectly according to plan. Build a buffer into both your spending plan and your timeline for owning a home.
Your car might break down. You might fall victim to a layoff. You might wind up with a surprise baby!
My husband and I inadvertently built our home during one of the worst winters we’ve seen. Our construction plans came to a screeching halt during five months of endless snowfall. As a result, we had to extend the lease on our current place and watch mortgage rates climb before finally getting into our new home.
Even if your life is running smoothly, plan for paperwork problems, inspection issues, construction delays, and freak winters.
3. Keep your finances healthy.
Before long, mortgage lenders will be peering into the nooks and crannies of your financial life. Now is not the time to max out your credit cards and stop paying your bills. When you’re planning for a home purchase, it’s never too soon to pull out all the stops in maximizing your credit score.
First, know your number. Many credit card issuers allow you to access your FICO score for free. Discover actually allows anyone – even if you’re not a cardholder – to view a free score.
Bankrate.com reports that you’ll run into trouble getting a mortgage if your score is less than 620. However, lenders will be knocking on your door if you can boost your number up to 740.
Second, do some work to raise your credit score. Pay your bills on time, reduce the amount you owe on your cards, spread your balance across multiple cards, and – surprise! – consider opening new cards. By using less of the credit available to you, you’ll look more attractive to lenders.
4. Save more than you think you’ll need.
Most lenders look for you to make a 20% down payment on your new home if you’re going to skirt the extra cost of PMI. However much you intend to pay upfront, assume that you’ll actually need more.
Closing costs can run several thousand dollars and include everything from appraisal costs to mortgage points, title insurance, survey costs, and more. You won’t know exactly how much they’ll be until the closing date nears, so use an online calculator to get an estimate and talk with your realtor.
You’ll also need to spend money upfront to finance your move. Hiring movers, purchasing packing supplies, and journeying to your new abode can add up to a hefty bill.
Also, think about the new items you’ll need at your home shortly after moving in. For instance, if you’re relocating to a house in the suburbs from a city apartment, you’ll likely need to spring for either a lawn service or the tools you need to tame your jungle.
5. Learn how to live well on less.
Saving for a big purchase doesn’t mean that you can’t still have fun!
Find creative ways to entertain yourself and your friends on a budget. Try a matinee instead of a pricey evening movie. Pick up ready-to-go foods or make a mouth-watering meal from scratch in lieu of paying for an expensive dinner out.
Splurge every once in a while on a special treat to celebrate your progress toward your goal!
What’s critical to your saving success?
This post was republished by The Huffington Post on August 29, 2016.