Building our nest: how we saved for homeownership

Read this piece by Katja Sperling, on how she and her husband build their dream home and family life with great financial planning, and with bunq.

February 22, 2024

Katja Sperling with family at dream house
Katja Sperling with family at dream house
Katja Sperling with family at dream house

Saving for a family home is a journey that starts with dreams of spacious living rooms and ends with the reality of debating between avocado toast and a mortgage payment. Sometimes, it feels like trying to catch a unicorn — elusive and mythical — leaving you wondering how minimal you can go without reducing your planned residence to a cardboard box.

Ok, jokes aside — it may feel this way, but it doesn’t have to. Owning a home is a significant milestone, a dream that requires strategic planning and disciplined saving. But before you start replacing all your date nights with budget meetings, Iet me share a personal account that may resonate with you. Whether you’re just starting to consider homeownership or actively working toward it, here’s the inside scoop on how we’ve turned attaining financial goals into our own personal adventure.

1. Set Clear Goals

Before we did anything else, my husband and I defined our homeownership goals. We considered the type of home we wanted, the location, and the ideal timeframe. Having specific goals helped us to create a realistic savings plan. We also came up with a few alternatives to our plan — you may need to compromise on some specifics, so establish what exactly you’re willing to compromise and what you can’t go without. Having clarity on these goals made building our home-buying plan easy.

2. Establish a Budget

This one goes hand in hand with number one, and if you’re anything like me, the budget may not match up with the desire for an architectural masterpiece on a big property in a metropolitan city. We created a detailed yet simple plan to understand our income, expenses, and savings potential. Like our goals, we had to decide where to cut back our expenses so we could redirect those funds toward our home fund. It meant resisting certain fashion pieces and letting the newest tech gadgets continue shimmering in the shop window. We decided that for us to find a home on a realistic budget, we would also have to leave the idea of restoring a Jugendstil villa and focus on a more recent building that required less refurbishment to make it our own. Once we set our clear goals and established our budget — and compromised on more space but less city life — our dream of homeownership became more attainable. But even so, we had to go back and forth many times before we had something realistic that still made us excited about owning our own home.‍

3. Automate Savings

An automatic transfer to our savings account at the beginning of each month helped us achieve our dream of homeownership faster than saving “what was left” at the end of the month. Treating our home fund like any other priority bill ensured consistent contributions. This was a game changer, as it meant we sacrificed something that resulted in immediate gratification — like takeout — rather than our savings. As we both tend to spend money when it’s there, this helped to prevent impulse purchases (so we weren’t wondering halfway through the month where all the money went). In the end, we barely noticed the difference in our day-to-day life because we simply weren’t persuaded to go out for a fancy dinner when the balance in our current account was kept to a minimum. So I guess you could say the savings account profited — and so did our waistlines.

4. Explore Down Payment Assistance Programs

We researched government and local programs that provide assistance for first-time homebuyers. These programs can significantly reduce the amount you need for a down payment. Incentives in Germany, such as the KFW Förderung, were interesting for us because they prioritize sustainability and assist homeowners in renovating and making their homes energy-efficient.

5. Cut Unnecessary Expenses

Whether dining out less, canceling subscription services you never use, or opting for more cost-effective alternatives, every bit saved counts. The running gag between us is a meme we once saw, where the husband notes his wife’s daily coffee specialty to go, which breaks the budget they had to save. I really lived the “cafe culture” available in Hamburg, and it was frightening to see the astronomical expense once we put it to paper. I didn’t cut it out entirely, but reducing it to one me-time coffee date a week helped.  

6. Use Interest to Your Advantage

We stashed our savings in an account that earned high interest, and while interest rates may not be astronomical, every bit of additional income contributed to our goal. There are also some banks that offer high savings interest rates that can be opened without a credit check. These may be worth looking into so you can start saving now and faster than with a standard checking account. And if you have high-interest debts, prioritize paying them off. This not only improves your credit score but also frees up more funds for your home savings.

7. Shop Smart

No, don’t drive yourself crazy with coupons. Sure, you can buy groceries for less here and there, but in this case, I’m referring to larger purchases. When spending bigger amounts, compare prices and look for discounts. Starting our journey to homeownership with kids on board meant we were not going to live off jam toast, nor were we going to put off traveling for the next ten years. Our saving goals are important, but we agreed that it shouldn’t come at the expense of creating a memorable childhood for them. Even without kids, putting off living life in order to attain long-term goals can be demotivating, and there are so many places to visit and things you can check off the bucket list without burning holes in your pocket.

8. Be Patient and Stay Disciplined

Another lesson we learned while saving for our dream home was that it takes time and discipline. Stay focused on your goals, celebrate small victories, and remain patient throughout the process.

Owning a home is a journey that requires dedication and financial mindfulness. Remember, every dollar saved is a step closer to building the foundation of your future. At the risk of sounding like my tax advisor, I must add that, with the right tools, a healthy mindset, and a pinch of creativity, you can really have fun with finances while saving for homeownership (or any other big goal, for that matter). This was possibly one of my biggest learnings, and although my husband is rolling his eyes right now because he wouldn’t dare use the term “fun,” he agrees that it isn’t nearly as intimidating as we expected, and through effective planning, banking, and saving, it even became enjoyable.

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