Will Homeownership Derail Your Retirement Savings?

Spending too much on a home could limit your ability to save for retirement. And that's a problem.

Maurie Backman
Maurie Backman
Feb 25, 2017 at 2:26PM
Investment Planning

Though owning property comes with certain costs that renters aren't required to bear, homeowners tend to come out ahead financially overall. GoBankingRates.com reports that owning a home is cheaper than renting in 42 out of 50 states. But if you're not careful about how much you spend on your home, you could get into trouble elsewhere -- especially when it comes to saving for retirement.

According to Bankrate.com, 37% of homeowners say that having a mortgage has had a major impact on their ability to save money. This is consistent with data from the MacArthur Foundation, which found that between 2011 and 2014, 52% of Americans had to make at least one major sacrifice, including delaying retirement savings, in order to afford their housing payments. Whether you're planning to buy a home soon or are already a slave to your mortgage, you should understand the impact your housing costs have on your future -- and rethink what you're willing to spend.

"Sold" sign in front of a house for sale


How much house can you really afford?

Just because you're approved for a mortgage doesn't mean you can actually afford to be spending that amount on a home -- especially when you consider the many costs associated with homeownership. Take property taxes, for instance, which run $2,127 on average, but in some parts of the country, can be double, triple, or even 10 times as much. There's also homeowners' insurance, which costs an average of $952 per year, but, again, can increase depending on the size of your home and where you live.

And don't forget home maintenance, which typically translates into anywhere from 1% to 4% of a given property's value for run-of-the-mill upkeep and repairs. If you own a $300,000 home, and your property is on the older side, you could hit the high end of that range and spend $12,000 on predictable maintenance expenses. And if you encounter a series of major repairs, you could see your costs skyrocket.

That's why it's important to consider not just your mortgage payment, but the actual cost of owning your home month over month. Most financial experts agree that your housing costs shouldn't exceed 30% of your take-home pay, and while that number is meant to encompass your mortgage payment, property taxes, and homeowners' insurance, it typically doesn't include maintenance and repairs. But if you want to ensure that you have ample room for savings in your budget, your best bet is to make certain that your housing costs in their entirety don't exceed that 30% mark. In other words, figure out what it will cost to maintain your home, add that to the sum of your mortgage payments, property taxes, and insurance, and keep that number to 30% or less of whatever you bring home per month.

Furthermore, before you buy your home, make sure you have a fully loaded emergency fund with enough cash to cover three to six months of living expenses. This will serve as your safety net in case you encounter a significant and unanticipated repair.

Get your priorities straight

Of course, the less money you spend to own a home, the less likely you are to see your long-term savings suffer. Most Americans are behind on retirement savings, and if you ask them why, many will claim that their everyday living expenses, including housing, don't leave enough room to fund a 401(k) or IRA. But if you don't save independently for retirement, you risk running out of money at perhaps the most vulnerable period of your life.

Most seniors need 70% to 80% of their previous income to pay their living costs in retirement. Because Social Security will only replace about half that amount, you'll need to save on your own to come up with the rest. Spend too much on your home, and you won't have the option to save for retirement -- which will come with a world of unfortunate consequences.

Parents beware

While more than one-third of homeowners on a whole struggle to save, parents are especially likely to point to housing costs as a major savings impediment. And it makes sense -- on top of their mortgage payments and related costs, parents must also dedicate their limited financial resources to extra food, healthcare, clothing, and entertainment. If you're a parent, be especially careful to keep your housing costs to a minimum. And if you're already in over your head, whether you're a parent or not, it may be time to consider downsizing or buying someplace more affordable so you can carve out room for retirement savings.

While owning a home comes with certain tax benefits, make sure your housing costs don't monopolize too much of your income. Otherwise, you risk coming up short when retirement rolls around.