Homeownership has long been hailed as the American Dream, and there are certainly some neat tax benefits associated with owning property. But countless workers are struggling to buy a place to call their own, and the generation that's having the hardest time isn't the one you'd expect it to be.
Although millennials are the most likely to earn the lowest wages and have student loans hanging over their heads, Realtor.com reports that it's actually Gen Xers who are having the hardest time becoming homeowners. Specifically, 47% of Gen Xers say they're having trouble saving for a down payment, compared to just 23% of millennials.
In some regards, this news is hardly shocking. Gen Xers today are plagued with child care expenses and credit card debt, and many are not yet free of their student loans. Throw in the fact that 75% of the overall workforce currently lives paycheck to paycheck, and it's no wonder so many folks in their 30s and 40s can't manage to make the leap from renter to owner.
Still, it's a frustrating scenario to be in. If you're stuck in it, here are some options for accumulating that down payment faster.
1. Create a budget
Most Americans don't follow a budget despite the fact that it's one of the easiest way to manage money and improve savings. If you're living without a budget, create one immediately. All you need to do is list your recurring monthly expenses, factor in one-time expenses (like the insurance payment you make once a year), and see where your money is going. From there, you'll have an easier time identifying savings opportunities.
2. Cut expenses
Saving up for any milestone, whether getting married, going to college, or buying a home, is all about choices. If you want the money to achieve a major goal, you'll need to stop spending money elsewhere. It's a very basic concept, yet some folks have a hard time following that advice. But if you're really intent on buying a home, it probably means you'll need to cut corners somewhere in that budget you just created.
Which expenses should you slash? That's really up to you. You might prefer to make small changes, like canceling your cable package, eating out less frequently, or buying lower-end clothing for work. But if it's the small luxuries that help you enjoy life, you might instead opt for one larger change, like getting rid of a vehicle or downsizing your rental space to free up more cash for savings. The choice is yours, so do whatever impacts your lifestyle the least.
3. Get a second job
Liberating as it might be to march into your boss's office and demand a raise, chances are, if you want to increase your earnings, you'll need to work a second gig. The good news? If you're willing to take on a side hustle temporarily, you can turbocharge your savings and reach your goal of amassing a down payment more quickly. After all, if you're used to living without those secondary wages, you should have no problem sticking them directly into the bank.
Be sure to save that 20%
If you're eager to become a homeowner, you may be tempted to ignore the conventional advice of saving enough to put 20% down. Don't do it. If you fail to come up with that 20%, you'll be hit with private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which will not only make your monthly payments more expensive, but make it harder to establish equity in your home. PMI will generally equal anywhere from 0.5% to 1% of your home loan's value. On a $400,000 mortgage, that's $2,000 to $4,000 more per year you'll be spending on top of your regular payment. And that could spell the difference between managing your new expenses and failing to keep up.
One final thing: Before you buy that home, be sure to have at least three months' worth of living expenses tucked away safely in the bank. Though homeownership can be a wonderful thing, it can also unearth costly surprises, and the more prepared you are financially, the less stressful that prospect will be.