Even if you’re a “live in the moment” type of person, you’ve probably given some thought to what you want to accomplish in the future and how you’re going to pay for it. Whether you’re building out a one, five, or 10-year plan to guide you through the next decade, there’s a chance that buying a home is somewhere on your timeline.
We know saving for a down payment can be intimidating if you’re a first-time buyer. But whether you hope to move in a few months or a few years, the sooner you start socking money away, the better. Begin by incorporating these five savings strategies, and when you decide to move into a house of your own, you’ll be happy to know your savings has been growing all along.
#1: Know how much money you need at closing
You’ve probably heard a 20% down payment is a requirement to buy a house — but that’s not necessarily true.
While 20% is generally a smart amount to aim for, you may qualify for certain loans that allow much smaller down payments. For instance, a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan lets you put down as little as 3.5%.
Researching different types of mortgages and lenders will give you a better idea of what you should plan to put down.
If you do put down less than 20%, you may be required to purchase private mortgage insurance (PMI), which will add to your monthly mortgage payment. But if you’re able to pay at least 20% at closing, you could potentially save yourself thousands in interest charges over the length of your loan.
Keep in mind: Closing costs typically include additional fees that run between 2 and 5% of your purchase price — so make sure those expenses are factored into your savings goal.
#2: Create a budget you can stick to
Once you have a goal and timeframe, it’s time to put a savings plan into action. One trick to saving is smart spending, and that begins with a budget. If you’re building a budget from scratch or making room for extra savings in your current budget, make sure that you’re realistic. (Because a budget that’s tough to stick to can be discouraging and no one needs that.)
Need a little help creating a budget that works for you? Try the 50/30/20 plan — it’s simple and flexible and great for beginning budgeters as well as savvy savers.
If you follow the 50/30/20 budget plan, 20 percent of your monthly take-home pay will go to savings and paying down debt. If you have a lot of high-interest debt, it may affect your credit score, which can make applying for a mortgage more difficult and saving a struggle. So make paying off debt from credit cards, student loans, etc., a priority.
Pro tip: Don’t budget blindly. Ally Wallet Wise offers a free course on budgeting with resources and tools to get you started on the right track.
#3: Make room for saving
When you want to purchase a home, you may need to trim costs here and there to sock away extra savings.
Examine your current monthly expenditures, and try cutting out little luxuries you can live without for a while (like cable, gym memberships, or meal kit subscriptions). Individually, these small expenses may not seem like big costs, but added up, they can eat up more of your money than you realize.
You could also consider booking a side hustle. In today’s gig economy, it’s easier than ever. Doing so can be a smart move, especially if you’re swamped with paying off student loan debt, live paycheck-to-paycheck, or otherwise struggling to come up with cash to divert to your home savings. Whether it’s dog walking or driving for a ride-share service, there are plenty of opportunities to squeeze in a couple extra hours of work each week.
#4: Dedicate savings to your future home
Once you’ve established a budget and are finding ways to carve out savings for your future home, it’s a good idea to keep that money in a savings account dedicated to your purchase. A high-yield savings account, like our Online Savings Account, which offers a competitive rate and interest that’s compounded daily, can help you build your nest egg.
The next step? Automate, automate, automate. Set up recurring deposits that will automatically transfer a portion of your income from your checking account into a savings account. When the savings process is invisible, saving is virtually painless — plus, you avoid the temptation to spend the money on other things.
Make sure any windfall money (birthday gifts, tax refunds, or bonus checks) makes its way into your down payment savings. If it’s money you aren’t used to having, you won’t miss it if it’s stashed in a savings account.
#5: Don’t forget flexibility
When you’re saving for a house, you may feel like you have to put saving for other things (like that trip to New Zealand or your emergency fund) on pause. But it’s important to remember to take your goals, your timeline, and what you can afford to put aside into consideration when making your savings plan.
If you want to make a down payment on a house in six months and are just starting to save, you may want to divert less of your income to your vacation or emergency funds and more to your home fund — but only for the time being.
On the other hand, if you plan to save $20,000 towards your down payment over the course of five years — you’ll likely have more wiggle room to continue saving for other wants (like vacations) and contribute to an emergency fund while also putting aside money for your house.
Remember: There’s no magic dollar amount you should save depending on your age. General benchmarks may help guide your savings goals, but when it comes down to it, your financial plans depend on your personal priorities.
Now is as good of a time as ever to start thinking about your financial goals — both the short- and long-term ones. If you want to buy a house sometime in the next 12 months, now is the time to put these five savings moves into action. By defining your goals and timeline, you’ve already taken the first step toward making a down payment. Congrats!