How to save money for a house is one of the biggest challenges to homeownership. There are many schools of thought on the topic. The reality is that housing is one of the biggest expenses of the average American.
Housing cost accounts for 34.9 percent of the total annual expenditure in 2020, a 2.1 percent increase compared to the previous year. If you were house shopping last year, you would agree this expensive piece of real estate comes with a hefty price tag. In addition to a down payment and closing cost, you would also need extra cash to close during the bidding war. Therefore, it is essential to save for a house.
Saving money is everyone's goal, yet most fail to achieve it. If you struggle to fatten thy purse, here are 21 practical ways to save for a house that you can implement immediately.
1. Perform a Spending Habit Check
The first step of determining a cash flow leak is to inspect your purchase history. You might not like what you see, but it shows your overall spending pattern. Spend some time reviewing your credit card purchase history and analyzing any spending over one hundred dollars. You may also want to note down all the recurring payments.
The spending habits check will indicate where your money is going, your recurring payments, and your saving potential. I would recommend you do this with your spouse along with their purchase history, so you both are on the same page. After all, buying a house should be a mutual decision.
2. Setup Saving Goal
If you are looking to buy a home, you should already know how much you can afford. You can calculate the amount you need to close the house based on the house purchase price. It is your minimum saving target.
The other items you must include in your saving target are costs related to relocation, furniture, and essential appliances. Once you get your final saving target, you need to set a goal to save up to this amount within your time frame. Besides reaching the final amount, the saving goal should also outline how to achieve it. Your final saving goal should be achievable based on your income.
3. Create a Budget
For most, budgeting is daunting, and I'm not too fond of it either. But agreeing to a 30- or 15-year long-term loan is a lifetime commitment, and you can't go easy on it. Being a homeowner is an expensive title not just while buying but also for its maintenance.
The basic budgeting principle is spending money on essentials and cutting down ruthlessly on things you don't need. With spending habits analysis and saving goals checked, budgeting should come easy. You can also get creative with a spending budget (permission to spend) instead of a saving budget. Whatever you do, stick with your budget.
4. Avoid Impulse Purchases
Impulse buying has to stop completely. Compare me with your nagging mother, but you can't afford to spend money on things that don't make sense.
You'd be surprised to know that the average American spends $276 per month on impulse purchases, primarily for instant gratification, according to the OnePoll survey for Slickdeals. Think about your dream house budget next time you come across a sweet deal, huge discount, or store-wide sale sign. Take control of your personal finance by avoiding impulse purchases.
5. Hire a Reputable Real Estate Agent
A great real estate agent will not save you money directly, but s/he will provide you professional advice that will save your time. You might not have time to research and shortlist the perfect home out of hundreds of listings because you have a full-time job. A good agent will do that work and provide any professional information you need while you continue making money at your day job. The real estate agent also plays an essential role during house closing.
6. No Big Purchase for the House
I know you're excited about buying a house and want to get ready for a new bed, furniture, and appliances but let me stop you there for a while. Don't make any big purchases while you're in house contract and have not closed yet. Buy the house first and everything else later.
Debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is one of the factors that lenders evaluate on mortgage applications before approving a loan. Any big purchase made even after pre-approval can potentially jeopardize the deal. Therefore, don't make any big purchases before closing on the house.
7. Be a Wise Consumer
You become a wise consumer when you only buy what you need. Research before you make any big purchases. I'm not only talking about reading Amazon reviews. Most of them are paid reviews anyway. Cost comparison between different stores or online vs. in-store purchases can help save money.
Anything that comes in attractive packaging is expensive. Somebody has to pay the packaging price. Buy food in bulk only if you can refrigerate for an extended period. Research shows that 21 percent of the total available food supply gets lost at the consumer level. You should select long-lasting items over disposable products. It's best for the environment and your wallet.
8. Choose Where You Shop
Do you shop at Whole Foods Market, neighborhood Kroger or HEB? Do you mind traveling extra miles for shopping, or do you like to order everything online? Is Amazon Prime your favorite store, or do you prefer Walmart?
Where you shop matters. You may not break your bank with a one-time purchase, but you consume groceries and essential items daily. You may be paying 10-54% more depending on where you shop. Compare prices carefully and choose where you shop that gives a better bang for your buck.
9. Save Your Tax Refunds
You've received a big tax refund at year-end.
Deposit that money into a savings account. Yes, all of it should be going towards your home fund.
Let's review how you got that refund in the first place. You've worked hard throughout the year. The government deducts a tax from each gross pay. Whatever was left (paycheck) was deposited into your bank account.
You were comfortably living with your paycheck. You've never needed the extra (tax refund) amount just received; therefore, don't think about ways to spend it. Throw it all into a home fund and never touch it again.
10. Save Windfalls, Cash-Backs, Gifts & Lotteries
The same principle that applied to tax refund applies here as well. You never needed windfalls, cash backs, gifts, and lotteries to run your day-to-day life. You never needed them, but don't let it all go to waste when you receive them. Saving money is like building a brick house. You'll build the home one brick at a time. If you continue throwing away bricks you receive, good luck building a house. These forms of money are hard to come by; therefore, you should use them wisely.
11. Open a Separate Savings Account
This is one of the immediate things you have to do after you start saving for the house. You can call this a house savings account. You must keep the personal account and house savings account separate. Remember the ABCs of investing, don't put all your eggs into the same basket? It applies here too.
What happens when you mix these two eggs into one basket?
If there is a leak in one basket, all eggs are gone! Use your checking account for everyday shopping and paying bills. You can't mix your house fund with your account.
The separate account can be a high yield savings account or a money market account. Stock market investing is usually not recommended if you plan to buy a house in a year due to the risk. For a 5-year plan, you can invest in mutual funds or index funds.
12. Set Up Automatic Transfer to the House Savings Account
The federal government implemented payroll tax withholding, where employers withhold appropriate taxes and send money directly to Internal Revenue Services. This automatic transfer setup ensures funding to U.S. budgets. Similarly, one of the main reasons retirement accounts work is because you fund them through paychecks automatically. A similar principle should work in the case of saving for a house.
You can choose the minimum amount you want to contribute as per comfortability. The automatic transfer setup does two things. First, it will ensure you save a portion of your earnings for the house; this is paying yourself first. It will grow without you realizing it. Second, you'll learn to live comfortably with the remaining money.
13. Temporarily Halt Retirement Contributions
If you've been contributing to retirement plans, it is okay to pause the contributions temporarily. Retirement plan contributions are a lifelong process. Pausing it while you're saving for the house is completely acceptable. But make sure you turn it back on after you've met your target amount.
If you are comfortable contributing to your retirement and saving for the house, by all means, do both.
14. Side Hustle To Bring Extra Income
Not everyone has a high-paying full-time income; some might require an extra job to bring additional income.
Lucky for you, there are numerous side jobs available that you can get started right away. Most of them do not require advanced qualifications or specialty. Of course, if you have additional skills, you can leverage them and make money, but don't be disheartened if you don't have any.
Food and grocery deliveries, babysitting or dog sitting, renting your car, and reselling are some of the side hustles you can start with minimal skills. You can start tutoring, skillshare, teaching English, be a handyman, start a blogging business, become a YouTuber, or become a personal trainer if you have expertise. These are just a few out of hundreds, if not thousands, of side hustles available in today's market.
15. Renegotiate Internet & Phone Bills
Most Americans don't have a choice over internet providers. Even those who do, have access to discounted introductory rates only if signed up for an annual contract. You're motivated to turn on auto-pay. From here, it goes downhill because the rates go up by year-end, and if you're not vigilant, the new balance gets deducted before you even realize it.
Phone service is primarily a data game. Unlimited calls and texts are usually included in every plan. The good news is you have several cell phone service provider choices. Even though you're not required to have a service contract, wireless giants have come up with a strategy to have customers sign up for device payment plans along with extended service contracts.
Whether you choose the internet and cell phone service provider, you should always review and negotiate new fees. Sometimes a switch to a new provider will save you money; other times, the current provider might reduce new rates once they realize you might leave. Customer acquisition is always more expensive than customer retention.
16. Shop Around Auto Insurance
According to The Zebra research, the auto insurance rates have surged 28% to an average annual rate of $1,529 since 2011. The insurance company uses the customer's rating factor to determine the insurance rate. One of the biggest factors determining the auto insurance rate is your choice of insurance provider. Another important factor is how much coverage you need.
Therefore, it is always wise to evaluate your insurance needs and shop around for the best price and reputable company. Staying with the same insurance company usually should lower the premium through longevity discounts. Most of the time, it does not if you don't ask.
17. Review Your Subscriptions & Be Creative
Based on the Research conducted by Westmore in 2021, Americans are spending on average $273 on subscription services monthly, a 15% increase from 2018. Most shocking is that among 2,500 surveyed in the Research, 100% of respondents were unaware of their actual spending. Their actual subscription expense was 4.5 times their first guess of what they thought they were spending on digital subscriptions.
Let's do a math exercise here. If you invest $273 every month with a 6% rate of return, you'll have $276K in 30 years.
One can argue that the $7 to $10 on subscription is not the end of the world. But when you put it in context, it becomes your primary source of money leak. It's similar to grocery shopping. Individual items cost less than $5, but your total bill is near or over three digits each time you shop. Now compare subscriptions the same way and multiply that with years of subscription. You are losing much more than you can imagine.
I cannot stress it enough. You've got to review your subscriptions. One-third of Americans pay subscriptions they don't need or are unaware of. You must cancel unnecessary subscriptions. Set up a limit and save yourself and your finances from subscription services fatigue. If you must, consider group buys or share accounts with family and friends! There are always cheaper, if not free, alternatives to everything.
18. Cut Down Bad Habits
I shouldn't have to be telling you this. Bad habits, as they sound, are bad for your health. I'm talking about habits that have grown into addictions. These include but are not limited to smoking, gambling, drinking coffee (Starbucks), and alcohol. These habits are hurting your health and wallet.
Bad habits not only hurt your finances due to consumption expenses, but they can also lead to a bigger health issue. It would be best if you reduced their consumption and ultimately eliminated them. The faster you can cut them down, the better you're off.
19. Sharpen Those Cooking Skills
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans, on average, spent $2,375 annually on eating out in 2020. That number declined from the previous year's $3,526. With COVID-19, it has consistently been an upward trend. Among the Americans who eat out, more than half of them dine out or order to-go multiple times a week. They spend over $60 on average in a week on dining or takeout.
I hope you understand where I'm going here. It is worth sharpening your cooking skills if you're serious about saving money. Forbes research shows it is almost five times more expensive to eat delivered meals than cooking at home. In addition to saving money, home-prepared meals are healthier than restaurant food since you have complete control over ingredients.
20. Replace Expensive Getaways with Cheap Fun Events
As the saying goes, “the best gift you can give someone is your time.” Consider this a no-brainer. You must avoid expensive getaways if you plan to buy a house within a year.
There are many alternatives to expensive getaways like backyard barbecues with family, hiking and camping in state parks, fishing, boating, bike riding, and the list goes on. While these alternatives may not sound sexy, they are budget-friendly compared to the great gateway and date night at the movie and grill.
21. Reduce Your Commute Time
Commuting is the time of least productivity because you're more focused on the road. According to American community survey research, the average one-way commute of an average American is 27.6 minutes. The commute time has been an upward trend per the research since 2006. The standard mileage rate of 58.5 cents per mile driven may consider vehicle depreciation and maintenance but does not include the drop in your productivity.
Not everyone can choose not to drive to work, but those who have alternatives like taking a bus, telecommuting, or carpooling should consider them. If you can maximize this rush hour, there is no doubt that you'll save money. It saves you an hour of your day dedicated to more productive tasks.
Keys to Saving Money
Saving money is only possible if you're intentional about it. All the above 21 actional items to save money will only be effective if you're diligent towards your purpose. You can have all the tools in the world; if you don't believe they'll work, they never will. If you're determined and stay on course persistently, nothing can stop you from saving money for any cause.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Ram is an Engineer by day and a personal finance blogger by night. He shares his tips and tricks on earning, saving, and growing money through his blog, Dollar for Cent. He uses his analytical and problem-solving skills to tackle money problems, find deals, and increase wealth. He loves his day job but believes our lives should not be location-bound and time-constrained. He documents his financial journey and hopes to reach financial freedom.