On the path to home ownership, few tasks seem more insurmountable than having to save for a down payment. The median asking price for U.S. housing in 2018 was just over $206,000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. For that price, competitive buyers are expected to put down between $20,600 and $41,200—no small chunk of change for most people. Stagnant wages and student loan debt have made it more difficult than ever before to save for a down payment, but plenty of people do it with careful savings plans. Read on for some actionable down payment advice, including 11 ways you can start building up the capital you need.
How much do you need to save for a down payment?
You may have heard that 20% is the gold standard when it comes to down payments, but in fact, many of today’s buyers are putting down closer to 5% or 10%. And if you’re a first time buyer who’s willing to take on the added cost of mortgage insurance, you can even get away with putting down just 3% of your total home’s purchase price as a down payment.
Keep in mind that the amount you need to save for a down payment varies greatly by your lender and your credit qualifications. To get a feel for your own situation, reach out to a mortgage broker. They’ll be able to pull your true credit score (not the one you see on a consumer report) and based on their expertise tell you how much you’ll likely be expected to put down.
How to save for a down payment
Whether you’re putting down $1,000 or $50,000, you’ve still got to figure out how to save what you need. Incorporate one or more of the following tips into your savings plan to start saving faster.
- Open a new savings account that’s just for your down payment
Create a separate account with no linking debit card or checks that you can use solely for the purpose of saving for your down payment. Try to transfer a certain percentage of all incoming money into the account—every little bit makes a difference.
- Use cash instead of credit
As much as you can, rely on cash for your everyday spending instead of a credit card. You’ll be more conscious of how much you spend and less likely to splurge on unnecessary or overpriced things, in turn helping you keep more money in the bank that you can put toward a down payment.
- Set achievable goals
Again, even small amounts add up. Instead of focusing on one big number that you have to get to, break it up into smaller, more manageable amounts. Try to save just $100, then another $100, and so on. It will put things into perspective so that when you do manage to set aside $10 or $20 toward your goal you’ll actually recognize it for the accomplishment that it is.
- Create a budget
One of the best things you can do for yourself when actively saving money for a down payment is determine just how much you have left over after necessities. This is the money you’ll be able to save from, after all. Set a budget that takes into account all of your monthly payments in order to help you make smart choices about how you spend the leftovers.
- Sign up for automatic saving plans
Many banks will help you automatically save by rounding up the dollar amount on purchases you make and putting the extra into a savings account. It’s a no-fuss way to save money without having to even really think about it.
- Dedicate any extra income to your down payment
Put any bonuses or cash gifts aside for your down payment instead of spending them as they come in. Even that $20 your grandma sent for your birthday is worth holding on to.
- Think, then spend
Trying to save for a down payment doesn’t mean you have to completely stop spending money on things you enjoy, like clothes or concert tickets. But it does mean that you want to put more thought into buying those things that take you a few steps back from achieving your goal. For any purchase that isn’t a necessity, give yourself 24 hours to think about it and decide if it’s worth it. If it’s a really big purchase, give yourself a week.
- Put your spending into context
It’s much easier to save money when you consider purchases in terms of how hard you had to work to pay for them. Is a designer bag really worth a week’s worth of work? Probably not, but a house certainly is.
- Remove temptation
If you’re subscribed to marketing emails from your favorite brands or stores you’re baiting yourself to spend money on non-essentials. Click “unsubscribe” so less temptation ends up in your inbox and you can focus more on the purchase that matters most to you.
- Make shopping lists (and stick to them)
Stores work hard to get you to buy more than you came for. Beat the system and save a ton of money by creating a list of what you need before you go and actually sticking to it. Yes, even if that means forgoing the oh-so-tempting dollar section at Target.
- Sell stuff you don’t want or need anymore
Chances are you have plenty of things in your home that you never use. Put unneeded belongings to good use by selling them for cash online or with a yard sale. Not only will you make some money, you’ll also have less to pack up when you do finally save enough and make your move—a win-win!
Don’t look at a down payment as an impossible hurdle to jump over. Break it into small, digestible goals so that you can see your progress in action, and never lose sight of the reason you’re working so hard to save. If owning your own home is truly important to you, it will be more than worth it to pass on the expenses that bring you immediate gratification but take you further away from what you really want. Be smart in your spending and realistic in your home buying budget and you should be able to save up what you need.