How I Saved For My First Home

4 min to read

Before ever needing to save up for a big purchase, I thought having a thousand dollars in the bank was a big deal. I would put money away here and there from working random retail jobs during college or keeping some holiday gift money but not in any kind of systematized fashion. This method of saving, if you even want to call it that, continued this way until I got married and wanted to save for our first home.

Here’s the deal: Saving for a down payment on a house is hard. But if done strategically, it could be accomplished and turn you into a homeowner before you know it. At least that’s what saving was like for my husband and me when we first got married in our twenties.Whether you’re in the market for a home, already checking out places with a realtor or toying with the idea by watching house hunting shows on television, with a little planning you can save for this major purchase.

I’ll confess, at first I thought it was too difficult for us to save $10,000 to $20,000 on our first year teacher salaries especially after planning a wedding, honeymoon, finding a place to live and adapting to our first real jobs. It was close to what we just spent on our wedding but that seemed more manageable to pay for because it was spread out over time and came in the form of bite size spending chunks, if you will. I could put a deposit on a wedding dress, then pay it off.  I could also put money towards the reception, then pay for that as well. We could handle big purchases when they felt like installments. After speaking with a colleague who lived frugally, she suggested living off of one paycheck and banking the other one to accelerate our savings for the down payment.

Initially I wondered, “How am I suppose to do that?” I didn’t believe we could live on one salary. But we soon discovered that this savings strategy was easier to carry out than we thought. We never realized how much money we had coming in and where it went. When our direct deposit hit the account, once the bills were paid, that money was fair game and we spent it on whatever we wanted. Basically, we spent everything that we earned. Back then, our version of being good with money meant not overdrawing on the account by using the ATM card.

We finally crafted a sample budget, a real one, which quickly helped us reign in our spending. Once we figured out how much was coming in and going out, we were able to look at the numbers and better prioritize our goals. We realized a large portion of our money was going directly to the pockets of restaurant owners. We scaled back on eating our favorite carnitas plates, frequenting the salsa bar and drinking mojitos at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Although shopping sprees at the area mall came to a screeching halt for me, the walk-in closet from our rented condo had more than enough clothes in it so I really didn’t need anything new. We didn’t have to cut out restaurants completely. We just didn’t go as often. We actually appreciated the meal more because it became a treat. My husband was from California and going without authentic Mexican food for a long period of time was too hard of a habit to break at the time since he was a recent transplant to the East Coast. It also would have been too drastic of a change at the time since our combined “cooking skills” consisted of opening cans to make tuna fish sandwiches, boiling water for pasta dinners and pouring milk into a bowl of Cheerios.

After identifying where the money leaks were, we were able to adjust our spending and decide what we could and could not live without. Once we were able to free up enough money that would allow us to get the house within a year or so, we started to aggressively put money away and managed to completely bank one whole paycheck. We kept it in a separate savings account and didn’t touch it until we reached our magic number.

Like most people, the thought of coming up with a budget made me cringe. Looking back, it was vital to figuring out how to accomplish our goal and forecast a timeline of how long it would realistically take us to come up with the down payment. It aided our planning and helped us examine the numbers and kept our future spending habits in alignment with our goal. With a budget, a change of spending habits and a goal in mind, saving for a down payment was now possible.

Karen Cordaway is a teacher and writer who currently shares money saving ideas on her website, Follow Karen Cordaway on Twitter: