Jason Robie: Savvy Savings Strategies

Before the turn of the century (Sweet Moses, that sounds awful!) I lived in Portsmouth with two roommates. For reasons that have left my memory at this point, we all participated in a “fast” for an entire week. This meant nothing other than water and tea for a full five days. (We weren’t about to cramp our weekend style!) There were two prominent lessons we all seemed to pick up from this experience. First was how easy it was. Sure we were hungry through the first 36 hours or so, but after that the hunger dissipated. The second lesson was how much extra time we had in the day. Removing shopping, cooking, eating and cleaning from the day freed up at least two to three hours. In the end, we learned more about what we could live without and gained a ton more respect for those who don’t go hungry optionally.

As I write this article today, there are a solid number of great properties for sale throughout the region. There are homes in every price range, every style and varying sizes of associated land to go along with them. Interest rates are still fantastic and operators are standing by! OK, that last part was a joke, but it really is a great time to buy. Today, I’d like to talk about how you can be ready to buy much sooner than you think. While you may not be ready to throw down 10 grand and have your agent toss you the keys to your new home today, that doesn’t mean you can’t start taking steps to get there in the coming months. Let’s look at a few ways you can “fast” in different parts of your life to get you ready.

It is safe to assume that you are renting now. Rent, for the vast majority of us, is the largest line item on our budgets. (If your Smurf collection is taking more money each month than your rent, you can stop reading. I can’t help you.) The options for chipping away at your rent are pretty wide open. The most obvious is taking on a roommate. This is an option that I avoided like the plague, but living in Portsmouth was (and still is) insanely expensive. Having roommates allowed me to live in the heart of the city (right across the street from the Rusty Hammer) and only pay a couple hundred dollars a month. “We are fortunate to live in a very beautiful and desirable location,” notes Badger Realty agent Roland Turgeon. “Finding suitable roommates is rarely difficult and you have the advantage of screening them ahead of time. It’s a great way to save money and most likely make a friend for life,” he continued.

There are other options that can help with the rent that don’t include you opening your home to strangers. I have often provided services to my landlords in exchange for diminished rental payments. Everything from mowing lawns, painting the exterior, cleaning the basement, painting other apartments and helping with cleaning out apartments when other tenants leave have all been easy ways to cut my costs. When we were little kids, I distinctly recall my parents being superintendents of the apartment building we lived in down in Amesbury, Mass. I was too little to be involved in finances at that time, but there’s no doubt in my mind they got a break just for the service of collecting rent and managing the building. Not a bad deal.

Along the same lines of chipping in and helping your landlord, if that is not an option look elsewhere to pick up some extra cash. Even while saving money by having roommates in Portsmouth, I was still motivated to get my own place. I was working full time in an “office job,” but ended up befriending the landscaping guy that kept our office clean and kept the grounds looking great. He ended up hiring me to help him do landscaping on weekends and even some evenings. Before that I had picked up a couple of shifts per week washing dishes in a local restaurant. It is critical to understand that neither of these jobs was intended to be long-term. They were both a means to an end and that fact alone allowed me to swallow my pride, scrub the pans and weed wack the parking lots.

For those of us working to keep those couple extra pounds off, the trick is to burn more calories than you consume. It truly is not rocket science. The exact opposite is true when saving for a home. The key is to spend much less money than you are earning. We’ve noted a couple options for increasing your income. The next step is to minimize the out-go! This is done, in very simplistic terms, by thinking about my little fasting experiment from above. We learned very quickly how little we needed to sustain ourselves and live a normal life. The same is true of your budget. We need to scrutinize every little expenditure and evaluate it based on “need” versus “want.” I promise this is mildly painful, but the payoff is well worth it.

There are two things I started doing to make myself more aware of my spending habits. The first is to stop carrying around my debit/credit card. I only had the ability to spend what was in my wallet at any given time. This forces you to walk away from that purchase and typically sleep on it before making your way back to the store. You will be amazed at what you can talk yourself out of after a good night’s sleep. The second was simply to actually LOOK at my monthly statements. This can also be a scary exercise when you realize how much money you waste at restaurants, coffee shops and other entirely unnecessary “things” we purchase.

I learned this lesson the hard way about a year or two after I left Portsmouth. I was living with my girlfriend at the time, making the most money I had ever made in my life. I had a Miata, a truck and a motorcycle. We ate at restaurants multiple times a week and never missed a weekend at the club or some other dining/drinking establishment. Looking back at that time, just a couple of years later, I had absolutely nothing to show for it other than a beat up liver and an empty bank account. Learn from my ignorance and cut out those silly expenditures now. You will thank yourself as you are moving into your new home.

Find ways to cut out every tiny little expense that is not critical to your very existence. Yes, "Game of Thrones" is awesome, but that extra monthly cost is not helping you on your way to home ownership and building your own empire! I mentioned this before but it bears repeating and reminding yourself of this while you are saving: All of these sacrifices can be temporary. The goal is to save for a down payment and get yourself ready for home ownership.

Once you are established in your new home you can consider those extra expenses and maybe even quit that second job. On the other hand, you might enjoy the savings and the extra income!