It's always important to save money. We need to save for long-term goals and put money away today if we want to create secure futures tomorrow.
But saving becomes even more important when you're considering a purchase that creates a big impact on your financial life -- and there's no getting around the fact that buying a home might be the single biggest purchase you'll ever make. Don't let the idea of a down payment discourage you, though.
If you prepare now and save more money, you can reach your goal of homeownership sooner rather than later. Get started with this checklist.
1. Track what you spend
Saving more money starts with understanding your current financial picture. You won't know what changes you can make for the future if you're unclear about exactly what your money is doing for you in the present.
If you're not already tracking what you spend, take a month and carefully record every last penny that passes through your bank account. You can do this with an app like Mint.com, or you can go old-fashioned and hang on to all your receipts. There's no single right answer; it's more about what works best for you and what you can stick with.
Evaluating your spending may alert you to some obvious areas where you could cut back and save more. Often, when we don't track our spending, we don't even realize how much we spend on meals out each week, or on monthly services we don't really use that much. Cut the obvious stuff that no longer serves you or provides value, and move to the next step on this list.
2. Reduce discretionary expenses
Utilities, transportation costs, and groceries are all required expenses. But we all engage in discretionary spending too -- which is a fancy way of saying we spend money on what we want, not just what we need.
If you're serious about saving for a down payment, take a hard look at what you spend on luxuries. Most of us buy far more than we truly need, so practice mindful spending. Question yourself every time you go to spend on something that's really just a want: a new tech gadget, a pedicure, clothes and shoes ... before you make the purchase, ask why before you buy. If it's not something you truly value or need, put it back on the shelf and walk away.
Cut the clutter, financially and physically! The sacrifices you make will be worth it with each dollar saved. You can always turn saving into a game too, by trying a challenge like the no-spend weekend.
3. Trim fixed expenses
You can't completely eliminate your living expenses, but that doesn't mean you can't lower them. You can reduce the amount of energy you use to cut your utility bills. Consider changing up your living arrangements to save -- you may be able to move in with friends or family members, or take on a roommate or two while you're saving for your own place.
You can also call service providers to negotiate for lower rates or to eliminate fees associated with subscriptions and bills. Ask what options are available, or explain that you simply can't afford to continue your service at the current rate. Keep conversations polite and courteous. Don't make demands; simply ask. A few minutes on the phone could result in a few more dollars saved.
4. Automate transfers to savings
Once you've gotten into the habit of reducing your spending and cutting the clutter from your balance sheet, the next step is to automate a regular transfer of funds from your checking account to your savings.
All that hard work you did to free up money in your budget won't mean anything if it never makes it to your savings fund for your down payment! Track how much money you now have available to save instead of spend and transfer that cash straight into your savings account each month.
5. Make more money
- Sell possessions you no longer need, want, or use. List items on Craigslist or hold a garage sale.
- Try freelancing or consulting in your spare time if you have specialized skills or knowledge. You can also teach others by being a tutor, holding courses, or offering coaching for an hourly rate.
- Pick up a side gig. Go with traditional options like providing child care for others or offering to do some lawn work -- or use resources like TaskRabbit to find paying gigs.