Buying your first home is an exciting milestone, but saving up for the down payment can feel daunting, especially when living paycheck to paycheck. GOBankingRates spoke to Erin Hybart, a real estate agent and a blogger at ReErin, who found herself in that exact situation back in 2007. She and her husband dreamed of being homeowners but weren’t sure how they could afford it on their tight budget. Nevertheless, they were able to save for her down payment while living paycheck to paycheck.
Today, Hybart is a real estate agent and she shares her story to inspire other first-time buyers. She provided tips based on real experience showing that homeownership is possible even on a limited income. With strategic saving, bargain hunting and a bit of creativity, you can accomplish your homebuying goals. Here’s how.
We Made a Budget
The first step for Hybart and her husband was to get clear on the total amount needed for their down payment and closing costs. Before anything else, run the numbers to see what is realistically affordable for you based on your income and savings.
“The more clarity you have on the amount you need, the easier it will be to break down your big goal into smaller goals,” said Hybart. “Instead of aiming for some dream house, we went for something more in our budget so we could be really clear on what goal we were trying to achieve.”
You may have to ditch your dream-house vision and aim for something that’s actually in your budget. Once you know your target amount, break it down into smaller monthly savings goals that feel manageable.
Hybart added, “We wrote down every single thing we spent money on. It made us really think about where it was all going.”
This accountability makes you conscious of where your money is going and encourages mindful spending. With a concrete savings number, achievable monthly goals and diligent tracking, you’ll be shocked at how quickly your down payment account grows.
We Lived With Family
Hybart and her husband lived with family while they saved up for their down payment. This helped them save on rent, but also presented its own challenges. If it’s a possibility, living with family rent-free can help tremendously, but it also requires discipline to avoid lifestyle inflation with that extra cash.
Living with family while saving is not feasible for everyone. But there are other ways to reduce housing costs that make saving attainable. Consider getting a roommate or two to split rent and utilities, or rent a room in someone else’s house for cheaper than an entire apartment.
We Ate at Home
“We ate at home, trying new recipes instead of eating out,” shared Hybart. “We would cut coupons on the weekends while listening to great music and cooking. It was fun to see what meals we could create by only buying items on sale or with coupons.”
Cooking at home costs less compared to takeout and dining out. It can even become a fun hobby trying new recipes together. Get creative in the kitchen trying new recipes instead of ordering takeout. Potlucks with friends can also help scratch the eating-out itch without blowing the budget.
We Held Onto Our Trusty Old Cars
Hybart and her husband kept driving their older cars, and focused on keeping them running as long as possible.
Driving used, reliable cars and keeping up with maintenance is far cheaper than car payments on new vehicles. Learn to change your own oil and do basic maintenance, and put the money you would have spent on car maintenance into your house fund.
We Became Thrift Store Pros
“We got really into thrifting,” said Hybart. “Goodwill and garage sales were part of our life. We scored some great deals!”
Secondhand shopping takes more effort but pays off big, which can be a fun challenge. Turn bargain hunting into a treasure hunt. Finding great deals on household items and clothes can feel like winning the lottery.
We Asked For Discounts
“We looked for discounts on our regular bills and services,” said Hybart. “Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount.”
It never hurts to call providers and negotiate for lower rates. You can often get fees waived or rates reduced if you ask.
We Made Saving Fun
Hybart said, “My husband and I would challenge each other to see who could spend less in a week. I usually won. I did treat myself to a $0.72 happy hour Sonic drink on Fridays to celebrate making it through the work week.”
Together, Hybart and her husband turned saving into a game that they were determined to win. Make frugal tasks like clipping coupons enjoyable by doing them together and turning it into a contest.
We Rewarded Ourselves
“Celebrate your saving goals and reward yourself for your hard work,” said Hybart. “Attach a positive memory with your accomplishments. Perhaps a celebratory picnic in a park or a themed movie night would be memorable. You have to balance any lack you feel from having to say no to things with something that is positive.”
Remember that rewarding yourself doesn’t mean spending money.
“Vacations were more about free stuff, like hiking, instead of splurging on activities,” said Hybart.
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