Forking over the down payment on a house might seem like the largest amount of money you’ll ever have to scrape together. But for many consumers, other milestone events like weddings, new cars and college can be even more expensive.
The median cost of a house is about $200,000 and the average down payment is about 6 percent. So a 6-percent down payment on a $200,000 house would be about $12,000. Here are three popular expenditures that cost more.
- Four-year degree ($26,000 annually on average, public university)
- Wedding ($33,000 on average)
- New car ($31,000 on average)
For folks on a budget, affording all of these things can be tough, if not impossible.
The challenge is twofold: first, coming up with a down payment to buy a house and second, getting the house and struggling to keep up with costs.
Lynn Ballou, a certified financial planner and regional director with EP Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, California, recalls the money crunch she and her husband experienced when they were newlyweds buying their first house.
“We literally broke piggy banks to come up with the down payment. Then we got the house and realized we didn’t have any money, so we had a yard sale and sold the wedding gifts we didn’t need. We made it but it was a huge lesson: cash flow is key,” Ballou says.
Here’s how to curb expenses on three popular purchases that can add to total debt and hinder homeownership:
1. Reduce or avoid college loan debt
Higher education has become a $1.5 trillion collective debt burden for more than 44 million Americans. The idea that a college degree is the key to a more prosperous life isn’t much solace for those who aren’t earning enough to keep up with monthly loan payments.
Student loans can cripple financial health and make homeownership impossible. If you have to take out loans to finance that degree and you have other goals, such as owning a home, then approaching college practically is the best way to avoid a long-term debt situation.
“Pick a major that allows you to get a job when you walk out of college. When you go to a college that costs $60,000 or $80,000 a year, you probably don’t want to major in sociology unless you’re already rich,” Ballou says.
Junior college is a less-expensive option that the college-bound tend to overlook. Students can often achieve the same educational and career goals while spending less money by starting off in a two-year college or associate’s degree program.
People don’t think about how student loan debt will affect their quality of life down the road, says Lindsay Antonowicz, financial planner for Westview Investment Advisors. This is something Antonowicz sees often in her line of work.
“I work with a person who has $200,000 in student loan debt. She’s going to max out her income, so she’ll either have to live with that debt for the rest of her life or she needs to make arrangements to get into a student loan forgiveness program,” Antonowicz says.
Before you get a loan, explore scholarships, grants and even jobs that will help finance your degree.
2. Saying I don’t to a lavish wedding
Getting married isn’t just a landmark occasion in many people’s lives, but one of the most expensive ones. Today, the average cost of a wedding is about $33,000. This is quite a bit of cash for Americans when you consider that the median savings is about $12,000.
If a new couple adds homeownership to their list of goals, then they should carefully consider how much they spend on their I dos. People often react emotionally when it comes to spending money on their wedding. They may justify spending money they might not have by assuming gifts that they haven’t yet received, and this often leads to poor financial decisions.
“If you’re trying to foot the cost of a big wedding while trying to save a money for a house, that’s when you turn to credit cards, personal loans and unfortunately 401(k)s. I’ve seen a lot of people do that,” Antonowicz says.
Couples should articulate their financial and lifestyle goals beyond the wedding. Start by asking questions like: is that expensive wedding worth high-interest credit card debt in the future? Is it worth postponing buying a home? How will it affect our quality of life?
“Couples absolutely have to have a plan. There are wants and there are needs. The needs are food, shelter, clothing and retirement savings. A big wedding is a want, so you need to make sure your needs are met first,” says Don Grant, a certified financial planner and principal at Fortis Advisors in Wichita, Kansas.
Like all major purchases, a wedding budget is essential if you want to manage future debt.
3. Don’t drive off the lot owing more than you can handle
Unless you live in a commuter-friendly city, chances are you need a car to get around. Although transportation is what Ballou considers a benevolent expense, that is something that you need and will help you in life — it can also become a huge debt burden if you don’t stick to your financial plan.
For homebuyers, determine how a car payment will impact saving for a house or paying for a house once you buy it. Simple math may save you years of debt.
Antonowicz points to her own experience buying an expensive car right out of college as a lesson in financial mismanagement.
“I was 25 years old and making $75,000 per year. I had a paid-off Jeep Liberty and thought I needed a new car. I ended up with a $497 monthly car payment. I regret it now; I could’ve been saving all that money,” Antonowicz says. “If you’re going to take on that car payment then you have to ask yourself what you’re giving up.”
Another factor to consider with a new-car purchase is the insurance payments, which tend to increase with more expensive cars. Put the numbers down on paper, this can help you put emotion aside and look at your situation more clearly.
- How much home can you afford?
- Programs and grants for first-time homebuyers
- Use this free mortgage calculator