Saving for a home deposit is one of the biggest hurdles on the ladder to home ownership, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of suggestions for how first time buyers can pinch their pennies to push their funds that little bit further.
But not all advice is created equal. I road tested some of the most commonly suggested savings techniques to see what can actually help you pump up your savings.
Finder.com.au’s consumer advocate Bessie Hassan said their 2016 Savings Survey found that 13 per cent of all Australians were saving for a home deposit – with 26 per cent of Gen Y actively saving.
‘You’ll usually be required to have at least 10 per cent of the total purchase price of the property to use as your deposit,’ she said.
But knowing how much you need to save is not enough, Mortgage Choice chief executive John Flavell said.
‘For those trying to save for one particular item or goal, it is important to first look at your whole financial situation and see whether or not there are simple adjustments that can be made to help you save money,’ Mr Flavell said.
‘Things like bringing your lunch to work every day; going out for dinner just once a week; and/or cutting unnecessary costs like pay TV can all help bring your spending into line and boost your savings,’ he said.
Ms Hassan recommends setting aside your savings first, monitoring your bills, increasing your earnings, shopping around for good deals and selling unused household items to get ahead.
Overall, trying out a few of the tips allowed me to save $54.90 a week. Provided I could stick to it, extrapolated out that’s $2854 in a year. It’s not exactly going to buy a home any time soon, but it certainly comes in handy in addition to other savings being made on a regular basis.
Tips I didn’t try out included moving back in with my parents or taking on more work, both of which are not currently viable.
Here are the changes I tested out, and their varying levels of success.
Not buying a daily coffee. Saving: $22.40 a week.
Everyone has their own poison and mine is coffee. The idea of going without buying it from my favourite morning cafe, even for a week, is fairly painful. All up, with every coffee I don’t buy, I’m saving about $4 a day. Given my habit has spanned out to multiple coffees in work hours, I decided to give up buying at least one extra cup a day.
I admit to cheating a little bit with this – we now have free coffee in the office and I have a fancy coffee machine at home that doesn’t get nearly enough of a work out, so I’m never far from a good low-cost brew.
If I make it at home, such as on the weekends with my coffee machine, I’m using OXFAM’s fair trade coffee beans that I buy for $29.95 a kilo. At about 10 grams a serve, that’s 30 cents a cup. A carton of Bonsoy costs $4 and it lasts for about a week costing me 50 cents a cup if I made it every day myself. Often I’ll now opt to make one in the evening, rather than heading to our local Starbucks.
At 80 cents a cup, it’s a saving of $3.20 a day. And that’s before calculating my habit of pouring any change I usually get from the cafe into the barista’s tip jar. Seeing the savings makes it worth it, but I do admit to missing the luxury in the morning.
Selling unwanted items. Saving: $13.15 (once off).
I really tried hard at making some money out of my old stuff. I listed anything I no longer wanted or needed but was still in good condition on buy/swap/sell pages through Facebook. When that didn’t work, I went to the traditional site for selling: eBay.
I managed to sell a dress for $15.50 with about $8 in postage and handling. But given eBay charges close to 10 per cent fee on the combined item sale price and postage and handling, I only walked away with $13.15 after the $2.35 invoice. Not fantastic. Even worse when you consider what I initially bought the dress for. On the plus side, it is extra cash on something I would have thrown out.
Given the time it took to upload the item, including ironing it, taking photographs, writing a description and setting up an eBay account, I’m not convinced by this approach. I tried listing a few other things, none of which sold.
Luckily, I combined the drive to the post office with a package that needed picking up so there wasn’t the extra petrol cost.
If you have lots of items to sell, particularly of higher value, you might have more luck. Otherwise, the old-school garage sale approach might be more successful.
Cancelling unnecessary subscriptions. Saving: $12.50+ a week.
I’ve already cut back in the past and subscriptions and membership costs definitely isn’t an area where I spend a lot, with no gym memberships, magazine subscriptions or other major expenses. But I did manage to find some areas to cut back.
While I draw the line at cancelling my Wi-Fi, I did cancel my iPad plan, saving $50 a month. I also looked into reducing my mobile phone bill, but given I use it for work and leisure, claiming some back on my tax each year, it wouldn’t be worthwhile.
One area my household has become over-subscribed for is for on-demand movies and shows – we subscribe to both Stan and Netflix and like both for different reasons. At some point we will have to make a decision to cut back on one of them (potentially saving around $10 a month). Until then, making a conscious decision not to cancel has made me more conscious about cutting back on entertainment in other areas – reducing renting films on iTunes, easily costing $4.99 a film, and from the local movie store.
Taking leftovers for lunch. Saving: $20+ a week.
A sushi roll or two for lunch may not seem like a big cost, but even this is upwards of $5 every work day. Replacing this with leftovers saves both time and money, particularly as I am a chronic over-estimator when it comes to cooking.
Despite the container, anything liquid-filled tends to leak and food with avocado goes brown fast, so it also depends on what we’re eating for dinner as to whether my leftovers can go the distance. It can get a bit boring to eat the same thing for several meals and lunches in a row, and it’s nice to have lunch with colleagues, so I admit to falling back into the habit of buying lunch on the odd day.
Conservatively, this reduces my expenses by $20 a week. But if you’re buying expensive lunches then you could save a lot more.
Four rules to consider There are four things to remember if you want to pump up your piggy bank.
1. Shop around (and with a purpose)
There are certain unavoidable expenses – cat and dog food, kitty litter and cleaning products come to mind – but there are many things you can likely do without. The trick is to know the difference between the two.
When most people grocery shop, they add non-essentials into the trolley as they see them. By writing a list, when heading to the shops you’ll go to the aisles only where those items are. If you don’t see the chips on special and the ‘new exciting product’ then you won’t buy it. To make a list also involves planning what you’re going to eat that week – and sticking to it – which helps with avoiding waste at home as well.
2. The ‘seven day’ rule
A trick that has saved me countless dollars is to never buy non-essentials straight away. Instead, I wait a week before deciding to purchase. Often by the end of this time period, I’m no longer that interested in buying it at all.
Add the item to the basket on the account and see how much the total is, with the shipping cost added to the total. Then think about it for seven days. This has saved me from numerous instances of ‘buyer’s remorse’.
3. Be accountable
Another lifestyle change worth making is to be accountable to someone else for your money. If you have a partner with whom your finances are tied, particularly a frugal one, it is worth committing to telling them about what you spend each day.
But you don’t have to be loved-up with a financial guru to find a great accountability buddy. Even a budget diary that you keep to yourself will keep you accountable, because no one likes to realise just how much they spent on magazines or bottled water in a month. Or you can speak to a good friend with similar goals.
4. Understand your savings account
Many avid savers will have their funds in a high-interest savings account, but few actually understand the quirks of each account and what fees they may be paying.
For instance, some accounts require you to deposit a certain minimum each calendar month and make no withdrawals to get a high interest rate. For some, making a withdrawal can bring your interest to 0.01 per cent, with a charge for taking the money out. This means being over-zealous with deposits and then needing to take money out when things get tight is a bad approach for this type of account. Plan ahead carefully to get the most from your savings account.