When it comes to affording a home, it’s essential to tackle one thing well ahead of time: the downpayment. Long before you start searching real estate listings in earnest, take concrete steps to put aside funds. That way, you’ll be ready when the time comes to write the downpayment check for your new home.
First, set a goal. Decide on an amount of money you intend to save and when you’ll need to have it ready. Figure out what that means per week, month or year.
Even a modest down payment can be more money than many first-time buyers have ever put together in one place before. The median downpayment for first-time buyers is around 7%. On a $200,000 house price, that comes to $14,000, or saving $1,167 each month for a year — so, for most people, accumulating that downpayment would be a multi-year project.
Then track your progress. Once you set your goal and timeframe, post it on a chart where you track your progress. Check regularly to see how you’re doing. Pat yourself on the back for progress, but also note how much you have left and prod yourself to keep it up — and maybe dig deeper.
In theory, saving for a downpayment has two simple parts. Identify money you can spare and stash it where it’ll stay put. But how in reality, how to do that? Consider these suggestions:
- Put your savings where it’s not in the mix of your regular spending money. A separate savings account specifically for the downpayment can earn a little interest and keep the principal safe and government guaranteed.
- Cut back on frequent small luxuries like coffee-shop drinks. Small steps like this can be a good starting point for an overall strategy to build your downpayment capital.
- Make sure that savings go toward the downpayment and don’t trickle out unnoticed in other incidental expenses or an impulse purchases. For example, if you cut a daily $5 coffee expense, then every Sunday transfer $35 to your separate downpayment savings account.
- Analyze spending. Consider setting a budget for clothing or eating out. Check your credit card or bank withdrawals to get an idea how much you spend eating out each month. Decide how much you’ll cut back and bank the savings.
- Set up an automatic pay day transfer. Choose an amount you can afford and have your bank automatically send that to downpayment savings as soon as your paycheck arrives.
- Use a cash rewards credit card. Wait for the rewards to reach maximum dollars per point before you cash in and put the money in your downpayment account. Beware of the temptation to justify spending more with the card because of the rewards.
- Bank any windfalls — tax refunds, bonuses on the job, or cash gifts. If you get a significant cash gift, you’re likely to need a letter for your mortgage lender confirming that it’s a gift and not a loan.
- Consider moonlighting. Perhaps you could babysit, walk dogs, do yard work, even a take part-time job for a few hours a week — then stow those checks directly in your downpayment account.