How to Save for a House While Renting 

Saving for a house while renting can feel like a monumental task, especially for individuals or families navigating the tightrope between current living expenses and future home aspirations. Yet, with the right approach and understanding, homeownership can be within reach. In this guide, we’ll explore the essential steps to managing your finances efficiently to help you purchase your dream home.

What You Will Learn

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

1. Understand Your Financial Landscape 

The journey to homeownership starts with a clear picture of your financial health. Assessing your current financial status involves more than just checking your bank balance; it requires a comprehensive review of your income, expenses, and debts. This initial step is crucial in setting a realistic foundation for your savings plan.

Gather your important documents and information:   

  • Last two recent paycheck stubs  
  • ​Last W-2 and tax returns  
  • Recent bank and other asset statements  
  • Residential history for the past two years  

Figure out your household income before taxes:  

  • Include overtime, bonuses, and commissions
  • ​Calculate your monthly gross income
  • Estimate your ongoing monthly debts
  • Include car payments, student loans, credit card payments, etc. 
  • Do NOT include “bill payments” such as daycare, cell phone, or utilities
2. Calculate What You Can Afford 

After assessing your financial situation, the next step is to determine how much you can comfortably afford to spend on a new home. This depends on your total household income, monthly debts and expenses, and the money you can save for a down payment.

Estimate Your Down Payment 

Your minimum down payment requirement will depend on your specific mortgage terms. Below is an idea of how much you can expect to spend on a down payment depending on the type of mortgage you choose:  

  • Conventional Loans: Conventional loans include fixed and adjusted rate mortgages (ARMs). Generally, these loans can require a down payment as low as 3% to 5%, depending on the borrower's creditworthiness and the lender's guidelines. However, it’s important to note that if you put down less than 20%, you may have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), an additional fee added to your payments.   

  • FHA Loans: Backed by the Federal Housing Administration, these loans are popular among first-time homebuyers because they require as low as 3.5% down if your credit score is 580 or higher. 

  • VA Loans: Available to Veterans, Active-Duty Service Members and Surviving Spouses, VA loans are notable because they do not require a down payment or private mortgage insurance (PMI). 

  • USDA Loans: Designed for rural homebuyers and backed by the United States Department of Agriculture, these loans require no down payment. 

  • Jumbo Loans: These loans are for properties that exceed the conforming loan limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Down payment requirements for jumbo loans vary widely depending on the lender, typically ranging from 10% to 20%.

Learn more about types of mortgage loans here.

Estimate Your Monthly Payment 

You can use a mortgage calculator to help you estimate your monthly payment. This tool considers factors like loan amount, interest rate, loan term, and down payment, allowing you to calculate the overall mortgage cost and monthly payments. Remember that this is only an estimate and likely will not include all the items that make up your monthly payment (HOA fees, mortgage insurance, property taxes, etc.).

Estimate your monthly payment with our mortgage calculator.

Other Costs to Consider 

In addition to the down payment and monthly mortgage payments, consider these additional costs of purchasing and moving into your new home: 

  • Moving Costs: Budgeting for a move involves considering moving expenses like hiring professional movers, renting moving equipment, and other related costs. Anticipating these can prevent unexpected financial strain during the relocation process. 

  • Closing Costs: Closing costs include escrow fees, title insurance, and loan origination fees. Estimating these and property taxes is vital for a comprehensive view of the upfront costs of buying a home. 

  • Additional Expenses: Appraisal fees, home insurance, and Homeowners Association (HOA) fees are often overlooked but are essential in the overall budget for a new home. These costs should be accounted for in the financial planning stage to ensure a smooth transition to homeownership.

3. Create A Budget to Set Clear Savings Goals 

After determining how much you can comfortably afford to spend on a new home, the next step is creating an adequate budget. A clear and detailed budget helps you set realistic savings goals, ensuring that every dollar is accounted for and contributes towards your dream of homeownership.

Create a Budget 

Begin by listing all sources of income, including your salary, any freelance work, bonuses, and other consistent revenue streams. Next, outline your monthly expenses, categorizing them into essentials like rent, utilities, groceries, and transportation and non-essential costs such as dining out, entertainment, and subscriptions. The goal is to understand where your money is going each month.

Once you have a clear picture of your income and expenditures, the next step is setting a specific savings goal for your down payment. This goal should be ambitious yet attainable, reflecting your savings capacity after covering all necessary expenses. Allocating a designated percentage of your monthly income to savings may help you stay on track.

Track Your Spending 

Tracking helps you notice any differences between your planned budget and actual spending. These discrepancies can signal areas where you might be overspending or underestimating costs, allowing you to adjust your budget or habits accordingly. Budgeting apps like YNAB (You Need a Budget) or PocketGuard can make tracking your spending habits easier, but traditional methods like spreadsheets work just fine, too. Adjust as necessary to stay on track, and periodic budget reviews will help identify trends and opportunities for additional savings.

By thoughtfully creating and managing your budget, you’re laying the groundwork for successful savings towards your future home. This disciplined approach brings you closer to the goal of homeownership and instills healthy financial habits that benefit your overall economic well-being.

4. Pay Off Debt to Boost Your Credit Score 

High-interest debts, such as credit card balances, are costly and can hinder your ability to save for a house. Prioritizing these debts for repayment can significantly reduce your interest payments, allowing you to put more toward your home savings.

Student loans and car payments are often featured in the debt portfolios of many potential homebuyers. Navigating these efficiently through income-driven repayment plans or refinancing strategies can lessen their impact on your home-buying capabilities.

Paying off your debt can also help you qualify for a mortgage later, decreasing your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI (how much you owe each month compared to how much you earn). The lower the ratio, the more likely you will get a favorable mortgage rate from the bank.

Boost Your Credit Score 

A strong credit score enhances your eligibility for better interest rates and increases your appeal to lenders. Here’s how you can actively manage and boost your credit score: 

  • Regular Checks: Make it a habit to regularly review your credit reports from the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). This helps you catch and rectify any errors or fraudulent activities that could negatively impact your credit score. You can check your credit report for free each week at 

  • Timely Payments: The most effective way to boost your credit score is by consistently paying your bills on time. Payment history accounts for a significant portion of your credit score calculation. Setting up automatic payments or calendar reminders can help make sure you never miss a due date. 

  • Credit Utilization: Keeping your credit card balances low relative to your credit limits can demonstrate to lenders that you manage debt responsibly. Experts recommend using less than 30% of your credit on any card.  

  • Long-term Good Habits: Maintaining older credit accounts can benefit your credit score by providing a more extended credit history. Unless there's a compelling reason, such as high fees, try to keep older accounts open and active with small purchases you’ll ultimately pay off. It’s also important to avoid opening new credit accounts too frequently, as each application can cause a small, temporary drop in your credit score.

5. Reduce Costs to Achieve Your Budget 
Downsize Your Current Residence 

If you find that a significant portion of your income is toward rent, it might be time to consider downsizing to a more affordable space or relocating to a less costly area. While conventional wisdom often suggests allocating no more than 30% of your monthly income to rent, the right percentage for you might vary based on your other essential and discretionary expenses. Rent is typically one of the most significant chunks of your budget, so keeping your rent expenses to a minimum can free up more money for your home savings. Alternatively, sharing your living space with roommates or renting out a room can divide the burden of rent and utilities, significantly speeding up your journey toward home ownership.

Shop Smart for Groceries 

Grocery bills can add up quickly, but with careful planning, you can reduce them significantly: 

  • Meal Planning: Plan your weekly meals and make a shopping list. Stick to this list to avoid impulse buys and unnecessary purchases. 

  • Coupons and Discounts: Use coupons, shop at discount stores, or buy store brands instead of name brands. Consider buying in bulk for non-perishable items, which can offer significant savings.

Limit Unnecessary Spending 

Examine your spending habits and cut back on non-essential expenses: 

  • Cut Back on Subscriptions: Evaluate your ongoing subscriptions and memberships. Are there services you rarely use or streaming networks you no longer watch? Cancel these subscriptions to avoid draining resources that could be redirected towards your savings.  

  • Limit Luxury Purchases: Luxury items that are more of a want than a need should be reconsidered. Ask yourself if these purchases align with your long-term goal of homeownership. Cutting back on such expenses might be wise if they don't add meaningful value to your life. 

  • Budget Entertainment: Entertainment doesn't have to be expensive to be enjoyable. Set a realistic budget for leisure activities and stick to it. Look for cost-effective or even free entertainment options. Many communities offer a variety of free events, such as concerts in the park, art exhibits, and festivals that can provide great enjoyment without the hefty price tag. Additionally, consider hosting game nights, potluck dinners, or movie evenings at home rather than going out. These alternatives save money and allow you to spend quality time with friends and family in a more intimate setting.  

Think Outside the Box 

Traditional cost-cutting methods are a great start when saving for a home, but sometimes, you need to think outside the box to find innovative ways to stretch your budget further. Here are a couple of unconventional strategies that can make a significant impact: 

  • Debt Consolidation: Managing debt efficiently is crucial when saving for a significant goal like homeownership. If you're juggling multiple sources of high-interest debt, such as credit card balances or personal loans, consolidating these into a single loan with a lower interest rate can simplify your payments and reduce the amount you pay in interest. It's essential to carefully consider the terms of any consolidation loan to ensure it truly benefits your financial situation in the long run. 

  • Volunteering vs. Donations: Charitable giving is commendable and enriching, but if regular cash donations strain your budget, consider alternative ways to support causes you care about. Volunteering your time can be just as valuable as making monetary contributions and provide deep personal satisfaction beyond financial giving. This approach allows you to stay actively involved with charities of your choice without impacting your savings plan. Once you've achieved your goal of homeownership, you might choose to resume financial donations, potentially in a more substantial way.  

  • Take Advantage of Unused Gift Cards: Did you know American consumers have an astonishing $21 billion of unspent funds in unused and lost gift cards? Gift cards are a favorite choice for birthday and holiday presents, but many people leave them sitting in their purse or wallet, waiting to be redeemed. Next time you feel the urge to indulge in a quick meal out or a small luxury, check your gift card stash first. Utilizing these cards for everyday purchases can reduce your out-of-pocket expenses, allowing you to allocate more towards your savings goals, like that down payment on a new home.

Pick Up a Side Hustle  

Embracing a side hustle can increase your savings and diversify your income streams, providing additional financial security as you work towards your goal. Here are some practical ways to enhance your earning potential: 

  • Freelancing: Leverage your existing skills to offer freelance services. Whether it's writing, graphic design, web development, or consulting, the digital age offers abundant opportunities to market your talents. Platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr make it easier to connect with clients looking for your expertise. This flexibility allows you to work according to your schedule and charge rates that reflect your professional worth.

  • Part-Time Jobs: Explore part-time job opportunities in your local area. Retail stores, cafes, and recreational facilities often seek part-time employees, especially during peak seasons. These jobs can provide a steady additional income and sometimes come with employee discounts, which can further help reduce expenses.

  • Find a New ‘Gig’: The gig economy offers many options for making extra money tailored to your lifestyle. Driving for a rideshare company, delivering food, or performing tasks through apps like TaskRabbit can seamlessly fit into your schedule gaps. These jobs typically offer immediate payment, which can quickly add up and significantly enhance your home savings fund.

Your Journey to Homeownership Begins Here  

Taking control of your finances is a pivotal step toward realizing your dream of homeownership. A well-organized financial plan is the foundation of making informed and effective decisions. By diligently tracking your income and spending each month, you can pinpoint areas for potential savings and fine-tune your budget to serve your goals better.

At Shea Homes, we understand everyone’s path to homeownership is unique and filled with challenges and opportunities.

If you are ready to take the next step in the home buying process, it's best to contact a lender and get pre-qualified. By getting pre-qualified, your loan originator will help you assess what you may qualify for and give you payment examples to ensure the numbers align with your monthly budget. Once you receive your pre-qualification, your search for your dream home can begin!

Connect with Our Shea Mortgage Team 

FAQ: How to Save For a House While Renting
How Can I Save Money While Paying Rent? 

To save money while covering rent, first make sure that your rent is manageable, ideally not exceeding 30% of your monthly income. Look for ways to reduce monthly expenses, such as minimizing discretionary spending and utilizing budgeting tools to track where your money goes. Additionally, explore sharing your living space with roommates to split the cost of rent and utilities. 

How Much Money Should I Save For a Down Payment on a Home? 

The amount you should save for a down payment will vary depending on the price of the home you intend to buy and the type of mortgage you seek. Typically, experts will advise you to save between 10% and 20% of the home's price for a down payment. However, various mortgage options, such as FHA loans, may require less, which can go as low as 3.5%.

When Should I Start Saving for a House? 

Start saving for a house as early as possible. Even if homeownership seems far off, saving early will give you a financial cushion that can alleviate future stress. Starting early also allows you to take advantage of compounding interest on your savings and provides more flexibility in managing financial challenges. Learn more about when to buy a home. 

How Much of My Paycheck Should Go Towards Rent? 

A common rule of thumb is the "30% rule," which suggests that no more than 30% of your gross monthly income should go toward rent. This ensures you have enough remaining for other essential expenses, savings, and discretionary spending. However, this percentage might need adjustment based on your financial situation and goals. 

Is Renting Forever a Good Idea? 

Renting for your whole life has its pros and cons. If you’re the kind of person who likes to move a lot and doesn’t want to be tied down by property ownership, then renting is a great option. However, if you’re expecting to live in one area for many years, purchasing a home may make the most sense. Once you pay off your home, you won’t have a monthly housing bill. Learn more about the pros and cons of renting vs owning.  

Is Renting Cheaper Than Owning a Home? 

It depends. Many renters think that they can't afford a new home. When considering the after-tax equivalent, they are pleasantly surprised that a house payment is comparable to their monthly rent. Initially, most of a new house payment is made up of principal, mortgage interest, and real estate taxes (up to 90% of the monthly payment in some cases). Because these are tax-deductible, the actual cost of the after-tax equivalent mortgage payment is much less than you think. Your specific tax situation determines the exact amount. Sometimes, you can also take advantage of falling interest rates for lower monthly mortgage payments. 

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