It wasn’t all that long ago that my wife and I were scrimping and saving to come up with the down payment we needed for our first home.
What an exciting time! You’re about to make your first big purchase together and finally establish yourself as responsible adults.
But coming up with that 20 percent down payment? If you’re in that situation now, I feel your pain!
Thankfully, there are a lot of tricks that young couples who are just starting out can use to find the funds they so desperately need.
Here are 9 great ways to help you save up for your first down payment.
1. Get Your Budget Together
When my wife and I first started funding our goal, we knew the best way to get there was to set a little bit of money aside each month. But how much is acceptable? $100? $1,000? The only way you’ll ever know is by setting up a budget and getting a handle on how much is going out versus coming in. When we tried this, we found a number of things we could live without because they weren’t as high of a priority as purchasing a home.
Another thing we did that really seemed to help was to take contributing to this down payment fund just as seriously as paying any other bill. Every time we were tempted to skip a payment for the month, we’d simply remind ourselves that once we had a real mortgage payment there would be no skips!
2. Eat Out Less
I love going out for a good meal! But when we’re in “saving money mode” for something important, sacrificing those $50+ restaurant tabs is an easy place to start.
As an alternative, one thing we’ve come to appreciate more is cooking at home. The price for the ingredients you’ll need will be a fraction of what they charge at the restaurant. For example, two plates of pork chops with potatoes and salad will set you back less than $15 as opposed to $40 at a restaurant. You even can get fancy and add a bottle of wine for $7 that will pour into 4 glasses. Beats paying $7 for a single glass at the restaurant!
Health bonus: I love that just about anything we cook at home is less fatty and lower in sodium than what you can find in a restaurant.
3. Stay Local
We live in a small town, where nearly everything feels like its 30+ minutes away. As much as we like going into the nearby bigger cities to look for something to do, we know it would be a lot smarter to save on the gas and just stay local.
Side benefit: As it turns out, when challenged to find things to do in your own town, you might just discover some new and interesting things to do that you never knew about before! One spring we did this and learned there is a farmers market downtown every Saturday morning. What a great excuse to get outside and go for a nice walk!
4. Open an FSA or HSA
If your work offers you the opportunity to participate in a flexible savings account (FSA), then, by all means, take advantage of it. FSAs let you set aside money for dependent care and medical expenses tax-free. We’ve been using them for years and saved thousands of dollars on both.
Be forewarned: FSAs work on a “use it or lose it” system. If the money you’ve set aside does not get used in that calendar year, then there is the possibility you will forfeit it. We generally handle this by being conservative with how much we decide to contribute.
As another option, if you’ve got a health insurance plan with a higher deductible, you may qualify to use a health savings account (HSA). HSAs, again, offer you the opportunity to set aside tax-free money for your medical expenses. But the great part is that you don’t have to use up all the money – it’s always yours!
5. Save Your Bonus
Does your work pay you an end-of-the-year bonus or profit sharing? If so, you’ve got a golden opportunity to really bump up your savings.
My former employer used to pay a bonus every January. As much as we wanted to blow it all on splurges, we’d put a big chunk toward our savings goal (and maybe spend just a little bit on fun stuff).
6. Save Your Tax Refund
Do you get an IRS tax refund? If you do, just like a work bonus, it’s another great way to add a couple of hundred (or thousand) dollars to your mortgage down payment fund.
7. Divert Your Raise
One of my favorite ways to save money is to try banking the difference between what you were making before and your new salary when you get a raise. I like to think of it this way: You were probably fine last year on your old wage, and so why not put the extra earnings toward something more sensible?
8. Take on Side Jobs
If you’re looking to make a little money on the side, then look no further than your own computer screen. As a blogger myself, I can tell you that I personally have paid people to write my articles, create graphics, and manage my social media accounts. How do you like that? You even can get paid for posting on Facebook and Pinterest! For more side gig ideas, check out this helpful list here.
9. Borrow from your IRA
If all else fails, and you don’t know where else to turn for down payment funds, then I can tell you that you do have the possibility of borrowing from your retirement accounts. For example, if you’ve got a traditional-style IRA, the IRS will let you borrow $10,000 penalty-free for your first-time home purchase. If you’re married, then each of you can use this for a total of $20,000.
If you’ve got a Roth IRA, then the rules are slightly better in your favor. You can make a withdrawal of up to $10,000 penalty-free for a first-time home purchase. If you need more, or this isn’t your first home purchase, you technically can withdraw any of the “contribution” portion of your Roth savings because you’ve already paid your taxes (so long as you’ve met the five-year rule).
Just remember that every dollar you take out of your retirement fund is one less you’ll have in the future. But then again, you always can use these tricks to build back up your retirement funds, too!
What clever ways have you used to save up money when planning to purchase a home?
DJ Whiteside is the author of “Save BETTER!” as well as several other personal finance e-books. He is also the blogger behind the sites My Money Design and 1,000 Ways to Save; two places where you can learn a ton about how to optimize your saving and then use it to achieve financial freedom.