How to Save for a Down Payment

The tallest hurdle to buying your first home will be saving for the down payment. To avoid having to purchase private mortgage insurance, you’ll likely need to put down at least 20% of the purchase price, which will probably mean tens of thousands of dollars.

As a young adult, saving this much money may seem impossible — like climbing a mountain. When you climb a mountain, it looks huge from afar. But if you take one step, then another, pretty soon you’ve reached the top, and the view is great.

Figure out how much you need to save
No matter the amount you have to save, approach it as a challenge. First, figure out exactly how much house you can really afford with the help of a home loan calculator. The calculator uses your inputs (income, expenses, debt) along with local tax data to recommend how much home you can afford — and how much of a down payment you’ll need.

Figure out what you spend now
If you don’t know exactly what your monthly expenses are, track all your spending for a month and analyze it to see where you can cut back. Think realistically about what you can sacrifice each month to reach your savings goal.

Cut out the small stuff
By now you’ve probably heard you should skip the daily latte and brown-bag your lunch, but those are savings cliches for a reason: They really do add up.

Something else that can add up: using coupons for your grocery shopping. Get familiar with the BOGO (buy one, get one) days at your local stores. With smartphone apps, you no longer need to clip and save paper coupons to present at checkout.

To save money on entertainment, rent movies through a subscription service such as Netflix or, even better, check out movies from your library. Libraries also frequently offer lectures, book groups and kids’ programs. Look for other free community events at your local parks and take advantage of free-admission days at museums.

Find a high-yield savings account
Earning as much interest as possible will help ignite your savings. You can find high-yield savings accounts at Internet banks, credit unions or community banks. When you open the account, add an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck so you won’t be tempted to spend money earmarked for the down-payment fund.

Sell what you don’t need
You might want to declutter before you move into your first home, so why not start by selling stuff you don’t want or need? If your neighborhood puts on a community garage sale, join in. Or sell your unwanted stuff on eBay, Craigslist or via a Facebook “virtual garage sale” page for your area.

Enlist family and friends
No, don’t ask your friends to give you money. Instead, let them know that saving for the down payment is your No. 1 priority. If your friends want to go out for dinner, suggest you get together for homemade pizza or a potluck at home. Chances are you’ll have a much more memorable evening.

The bottom line
Saving for a down payment can seem like a high mountain to climb, but if you look at it as a challenge, it can also be fun. And just imagine the feeling of accomplishment when you’re relaxing someday in a home of your own.

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