Whether you have a mortgage or a rental, housing is probably your single largest monthly expense. With additional bills to consider, like your energy bills, that also go into your housing, it’s naturally the first place you should look when you’re trying to save money. While cutting back on bills in today’s economy is tough, you can manage with careful planning, tracking expenditures, and watching your budget on food, clothing, healthcare, personal insurance, and of course, housing.
To help you out, we’ve rounded up tips from personal finance bloggers, who shared their experience with us. How much can you save on a monthly basis? It does depend on your personal situation, area, home, and family size, but the savings can be substantial. We averaged out estimated savings based on following blogger tips to an impressive $675 a month.
So, here’s what our bloggers have to say.
Watch Your Debt to Income Ratio
One of the easiest mistakes to make is overestimating how much you can afford for your monthly bills. The personal finance bloggers recommend not falling into the trap, and instead, taking the time to work out the finances and make the right decision, so that your home mortgage payment (or rent) will fit into your monthly income. What are the right decisions? Here’s what they had to say.
Brian – Debt Discipline: “Keep your over budget for a housing at a max of 25% of your total income. This leave money for all the other things.”
Laurie – The Frugal Farmer: “When considering a housing purchase, work to keep your total debt-to-income ratio below 30%”
Pay as Large of a Down Payment As Is Possible
Large down payments mean coming up with a lot of money upfront, but is that a bad thing? These personal finance bloggers say no.
Laurie – The Frugal Farmer: “Never buy without putting at least 20% down.”
John & David – Debt Free Guys: “Have a large down payment, at least 20%. Don’t get talked into loans of convenience. This will reduce your interest payments and interest rate.”
Andrew Schrage – Money Crashers: “Also for homeowners, know when you can cancel your private mortgage insurance. You’re typically eligible to after you’ve reached 20% equity in your property. No one will do this for you and you are wasting money if you don’t take this step.”
Buying Might Not Be the Smartest Way to Go
Buying seems like the best way to go, after all, it’s a long-term investment that will continue to gain value well into the future, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The bloggers urged to be smart before tying yourself to a large investment, because it might not be the best deal.
Miranda Marquit – Planting Money Seeds: “Don’t assume you have to buy for the best deal. Depending on the market and your lifestyle, sometimes renting (and putting more money into other investments) can make more sense.”
Brian – Debt Discipline: “Rent. If you haven’t saved a down payment for a purchase, renting a place can be a good way to go.”
Gary Dek – Gajizmo: “Buying doesn’t always make more sense. Remember to include insurance, taxes, maintenance, and higher utility costs in your calculation when comparing renting vs buying.”
Make Sure you’re Not Overbuying
Most people like living in a big house, the question is, how big of a house do you need? Minimizing and downsizing will save you money everywhere else, so why not with housing? The average American home in 2014/2015 is 2,600 square feet, but you might not need all that space.
Melanie Lockert – Dear Debt: “Only rent/buy what you need.”
John & David – Debt Free Guys: “Don’t buy more house than you need. Buy what’s reasonable now. Most people have too much house.”
Liquid – Freedom 35 Blog: “De-clutter to simplify your living environment. Donate your unwanted items or sell them for cash. A less cluttered home also saves you time and money cleaning it.”
Lance Cothern – Money Manifesto: “Don’t start by looking at homes or rentals at the top of your budget. Instead, look and see what is available based on what you need. Then, if your needs are below your budget, consider saving some money instead of living more extravagantly.”
Kalen Bruce – MoneyMiniBlog: “Let’s be honest, we all have too much stuff. If you downsize, you’ll open more options, as you will be more comfortable in a smaller home, which will also reduce your utilities.”
William – Dr. of Credit: “Make sure you live in a house you can afford comfortably.”
Gary Dek – Gajizmo: “Buy a house that costs 20% less than the price you can afford.”
Lazy Man and Money: “Go Small. If you can live in a tiny house, you may be able to pay a mortgage off in just a few years. You have to think about how to live efficiently in a smaller space, but it can pay huge dividends.”
Downsizing your house actually makes smart financial sense and in more areas than one. With cheaper insurance premiums, lower heating and cooling bills, and less time spent cleaning, it’s a win-win all the way around, so long as you have enough space to be happy.
Compare Different Locations
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘location location’, and you can trust that realtors hear it too. Whether you’re renting, or buying, nearby amenities cam add a lot to your monthly bills. But that doesn’t mean taking the worst location you can find, the bloggers had some smart advice on location too.
Kalen Bruce – MoneyMiniBlog: “Study your area. It may make more sense to rent; it may make more sense to buy. You’ll only know what’s better by studying the demographics in your area. A recent change to the local economy could have cause rent or mortgages to go up or down.”
Melanie Lockert – Dear Debt: “Compare costs between different neighborhoods. Sometimes moving even just a few blocks can save you lots of money.”
Lazy Man and Money: “Move outside of the city. The further away from big cities you live, the cheaper it gets. The drawback is a longer commute and increased commuting costs, so think about this decision carefully. Typically, where you live involves many factors, not just the cost of living.”
Make Sure It’s the Home for You
You can always fix a home up, but if you’re planning to buy, you might want to consider if it’s for the long-term or not.
Laurie – The Frugal Farmer: “When considering buying a house, ask yourself, “Could I live her forever if I had to?” Don’t assume you’ll only be there for 5 or 7 years. Instead, assume you had to live there forever. Would you still buy the house?”
Think Outside the Box and Rent or Sublet
Most of us think of college when we think roommate, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re short on housing funds, or just have to save money for bills or paying off debt, then a roommate may be the best idea.
Brian – Debt Discipline: “Get a roommate. Renting a room to someone can bring in extra cash.”
Kalen Bruce – MoneyMiniBlog: “Considering renting out a room. If you have more space than you need and it’s not the right time to downsize, try renting out an extra room to a local college student or friend.”
Stefanie O’Connell – TheBrokeAndBeautifulLife: “Get a roommate. Sublet your space while you’re out of town. Rent out a spare room, storage container or parking space.”
If you’re not sure about what your room rents out for, consider poking around on websites like Trulia, Zillow, or even Craigslist to see what rooms in your area, in similar sized homes are going for. If you find a roommate, just make sure you be smart and ask for references, and do a background check before you sign any paperwork.
Be Smart With Your Mortgage
Your mortgage is one of your biggest bills, approach it with caution, consider your options, and remember to evaluate your interest and options on a regular basis. While you probably know things like paying your mortgage off faster means that you pay less interest, the personal finance bloggers mentioned a few more things you can look into.
Liquid – Freedom 35 Blog: “Go for the 5-1 hybrid adjustable rate mortgage.”
Lance Cothern – Money Manifesto: “If you haven’t refinanced your mortgage in the last few years, take advantage of lower interest rates today. Just make sure you don’t extend the payoff date of your mortgage!”
Andrew Schrage – Money Crashers: “One way to save money on housing is to shop around for your mortgage, whether buying a home for the first time or refinancing your loan. Interest rates and closing costs do vary from lender to lender. Use the website Zillow for help”
– Gajizmo: “Complete a cost-benefit analysis comparing your down payment to interest rate. If you can increase your down payment and lock in a lower rate, do it if the pay back period is less than 5 years.”
Lazy Man and Money: “Get a great mortgage rate. I celebrated my 5.87% mortgage rate that I fought very hard for in 2005. A few years later, I refinanced at a little over 3.5%. You can get the best rates by doing two things: 1) Having great credit and 2) Going with a 15-year fixed option. You’ll pay more with the 15-year option, but you’ll also be mortgage free 15 year earlier (my old math teachers would be proud of me).”
Commit to a Longer Lease
If you’re planning to stay in the same house for a long time, then there’s nothing wrong with a longer lease. Just ask Lance from Money Manifesto.
Lance Cothern – Money Manifesto: “Ask your landlord if you can get a cheaper rent amount if you commit to more than a year lease. Some landlords prefer to know you’ll be staying a longer time and will give you a small discount.”
Watch Your Energy Bills
Energy bills are a big part of your housing budget, so don’t forget about them when you’re trying to cut down on housing costs. Everything from your insurance to your electric usage habits to your walls and insulation affect your bills, and you should be paying attention. The bloggers had a number of tips to help with reducing your energy bills, or making sure your home is conserving energy.
Grayson Bell – Debt Roundup: “Get a home energy audit from your power company. Many will offer free or discounted audits and provide you with a wealth of information on where your house is inefficient.”
“Purchase a programmable thermostat with the ability to edit the schedule per day. This is one of the smartest and cheapest ways to save money around the house.”
“Inspect and make sure you have adequate insulation in your attic. Many homes are inefficient due to a lack of proper insulation. While it can cost money upfront, you can consistently save money each month.”
William – Dr. of Credit: “Ensure it has good insulation to avoid on heating/cooling costs.”
Liquid, Freedom 35 Blog: “Use energy efficient appliances and unplug anything you don’t use.”
Deacon Hayes – Well Kept Wallet: “A great way to save money is to install a programmable thermostat. This will help regulate your heating and cooling so that it runs only when you want it to and will reduce your monthly utilities bill. Making sure that your home is well sealed is another way to save money. Go to every window and every door to make sure that there is no air or light coming through at the cracks. If there is, you may need to run to the hardware store to get some supplies to seal up the exposed areas. This could be a huge savings as well over time.”
Andrew Schrage – Money Crashers: “To save on heating and cooling your home, schedule an energy audit though your provider. A rep will come to your house, do an inspection, and give you a complete list of ways to save.”
Don’t Be Afraid of a Fixer Upper
Most of us want to move into a nice house, and it is nice if you can find exactly what you want for the money you want to spend, but that might not be the best idea. In fact, several of our bloggers suggested buying a house that needs work and just keep working on it to increase the value over time. If that sounds like it costs money, keep in mind that you usually pay as much as 100% more for amenities in a house than you do to install them yourself.
Deacon Hayes – Well Kept Wallet: “Another way to save money on housing it to do small repairs yourself. Often times someone has create a YouTube video to solve any repair issue you may be facing. If you are handy and feel confident that you can figure it out without hiring a professional, this may save you thousands of dollars throughout the years.”
John & David – Debt Free Guys: “Make home improvements over time. Buying the “perfect house” or making the “perfect house” immediately typically includes too much up-front cost that is often put on credit.”
Gretchen Lindow – Retire by 40: “Think outside the box: We purchased a HUD home and put approximately $10,000 of work into it and it now appraises for 3x what we bought it for. Oh, and our house payment? $188/month! Always check craigslist. Whenever we’re remodeling or just improving our house, we always shop Craigslist first!”
After hearing all of the tips from the personal finance bloggers, we asked them how much they thought the average person could save. As always, the exact amounts depend on individual circumstance, but you could be saving a lot, even if you’re living on your own.
Grayson Bell – debtroundup.com – 7%-30%
Liquid, Freedom 35 Blog – $200
Melanie Lockert, Dear Debt – $400
John & David, Debt Free Guys – $2000
Gretchen Lindow, Retire by 40 – $400
Stefanie O’Connell, TheBrokeAndBeautifulLife – $500-$1000
Deacon Hayes, Well Kept Wallet – $300
Kalen Bruce, MoneyMiniBlog – over $1,000
We averaged that out to around $755 per month. No it won’t be easy, yes you will have to work for it, but that’s a lot of savings any way you look at it. If you still have the ability to choose your home, you can reduce your bills a great deal by making a smart purchase decision, but if you already own or rent one, then you can reduce your monthly expenditure in other ways.
Good luck! If you have more tips of your own or you want to share your experience with the experts, write us to: firstname.lastname@example.org