29th August 2017
Brighton-based blogger, homeowner and self-confessed interiors addict Fifi McGee gives top tips on getting your foot on the ladder.
I bought my first home in Brighton (with my fiancé) at the age of 22. At the time, my modest salary of £18,000 per year was enough to help me save half the deposit I needed to purchase a 1 bedroom flat in Hove, when properties were at an all time high. We paid £223,000 for our flat in 2015, and have since earned enough equity on the sale of that flat 2 years on, to buy a 3 bedroom house in Brighton.
In the years I saved for our first deposit to become a first time buyer, there were times I felt like my financial targets weren’t achievable, and there were times I thought I couldn’t keep up with the acceleration of property prices in Brighton – I often thought I would never own a house of my own in such a sought after city. But I was determined and strategic in my saving efforts, and in today’s post I want to pass on 10 saving tips you can implement if you’re in a similar situation looking to become a first time buyer and save a deposit as big as you can.
*Side note, the tips I’m about to share will be particularly helpful if, like me, you’re a woman who’s partial to Topshop splurges and buying make-up you don’t need! If you’re a guy reading this, bear with me as some tips are still suitable which will hopefully help you to reconsider any unnecessary spending habits*
I know people who could spend their whole salary at Topshop & Zara (aherm, me, before I got serious about what I wanted to save for long term). I used to spend almost £100 per month on clothes that were cluttering my room. So bar the exception of a wedding, graduation or a special birthday, when I was trying to save for a deposit I cut back on trips to Churchill Square on my lunch break as I knew that if I saw something I liked in a shop, I’d buy it in an instant. Since I stopped, I saved £1200 towards my deposit savings in 1 year.
While I’m not advocating spending the next few years with holes in your jeans – if you need something, you need something – it is important to recognise whether you’re about to spend money on something you need vs. something you want. Also recognise what habits you have that encourage this unnecessary spending. For me, I curbed my lunch time trips looking around the shops for a walk in Preston Park (which was near my office at the time). To prevent me getting bored of the things I wore day on day, I searched deeper in my wardrobe and challenged myself to wear something I hadn’t worn in years which felt fresh.
Similar to splashing the cash on clothes, as a nation we overspend on cosmetics. Period. By cosmetics I mean make up, skincare, nail polish, hair dye, hair cuts, waxes, spray tans etc, in my opinion, most of this can be unnecessary cost.
I own one face wash, some moisturiser, sun cream, basic make-up essentials like foundation, mascara, one eyeshadow palette and a lipstick and rotate these when things need replacing every 6 months or so. And that is more than I need. Everything else is a sacrifice that is a lot easier to make than you might think. The best thing I ever did was ban myself from going to Boots and Superdrug on those lunch breaks as I would easily spend £20 here and there on products that I ended up being overwhelmed with when I didn't get use out of them.
What did I do with the money instead? I put it towards my deposit. It’s remarkable how it’s the little things that add up.
We are incredibly lucky to live in Brighton, with it’s well mapped cycling routes and the city centre being pretty much within walking distance from a lot of residential areas. At the time of saving a deposit, I lived a 40min walk from my office and my walking commute quickly became the highlight of my working day. Setting my own pace and not being dependent on bus drivers in traffic in the morning was so refreshing. It was a healthier and environmentally friendly option and you might notice it could even make you that bit happier getting a bit of exercise and time to yourself in.
If you live a little bit too far away to walk/cycle, if you live in Woodingdean, Rottingdean, Falmer for example, you could try to make your saving by buying annual bus or train tickets.
Prior to implementing my saving strategies I spent almost £100 per month on bus tickets. This was soon invested into my deposit money the minute I gave up public transport and started walking everywhere with my podcasts as my entertainment for the road.
If you’ve started saving already you might notice how it’s put pressure on your social life. You get invited out with friends but because you’re tightening your purse strings you’re inclined to say no – sound familiar? This was a big problem for me in the beginning. I knew I wanted to save money but I didn’t want to sacrifice my own happiness, youth and memories with friends. So I got creative. I listed ways to enjoy time with friends (albeit frugally) and offered alternative suggestions for things to do. Like a walk on the Sussex Downs and a picnic, or bringing a kite up to Stanmer Park, or paying a visit to Brighton Booth Museum or a walk along Brighton Pier. Not only was I saving money, but I started doing things that I never usually would do with friends. We were having a great time and they were glad of our days out saving money for them too.
...and start bringing snacks and lunches to work with you. Before you tell me you can’t possibly give up McDonalds for any longer than a couple of weeks, let me explain. When I first calculated how much I spent monthly on the odd coffee trip to Starbucks, a cheeseburger in McDonalds, a meal deal in Boots, I quickly realised how much it was adding up to. What felt like really cheap throwaway transactions on my card were adding up to £75 per month, and I wasn’t feeling any healthier for it. In a bid to save money but also eat healthier, I researched packed lunch options online and often brought lunches to work with me. I also invested in a gorgeous Keep Cup travel mug to have my morning coffee in rather than throwing my money away in Starbucks.
This has made the biggest impact on my savings and it’s something I will continue to take forward in my life, even now that I live less frugally.
I used to do several trips to supermarkets during the week, usually spending about £25 per trip. I experimented and instead of walking into a supermarket, not knowing what I wanted for dinner that evening, buying a 4 pack of pies or a whole bag of chicken breasts when I only needed one, and wasting food and money during the week, I meticulously started to plan my meals so that the ingredients I bought would be used and money saved.
I won't pretend I'm an expert in banking. I only know the very basics from a quick google here and there, and what my findings have always told me is that investing money into an ISA can help accelerate your saving once you're well on your way there. You benefit from tax relief on your money (depending on the amount in the account). If you save into a general savings account, or you keep your savings tied into your current account alongside your living money, it could be worth researching which bank options are right for you and moving your money so you don’t miss out on tax relief. If you’re the type to get tempted into spending your hard earned savings, signing up to an account which gives you limiting access to your funds is also really sensible.
..and save every penny of what you earn from it. The beauty of living in Brighton is how supportive and well connected the freelance creative scene is in our city. If you have a skill to offer there’s almost always a meetup or someone in Brighton who can help you become known and ultimately earn an income for it. If you're a great photographer, could you set up your own business shooting bands and earn a side income? If you're a blogger and a whizz at content creation and social media, could you try approaching companies to guest post or manage their accounts? Be creative with the ways you can make a tidy little income on the side of your full time job and your earnings could even be your new disposable income if you felt like you were saving too much.
This is particularly tough to do at Christmas, when all you want to do is shower your loved ones in gifts and chocolate to show you love them. But there are ways you can show how much you care with unique gestures and experiences at the fraction of the cost, or no cost at all. Thinking creatively with low cost gifts like handmade cards and "A hot chocolate + a film night at my new place once we're moved in" voucher will save your pennies and people will love the experience that little bit more knowing your thought and crafty skills were embedded into it.
Budget and record everything that is going in and out of all of your accounts including your savings account. Record it all then work out what your very lean disposable income is (i.e the smallest amount of money you need to live modestly once all your bills are paid, then save the rest). The real plus with recording everything is the motivation it can give you when you start to forecast how much you can potentially save in the next year or two years. that's when savings start to become a bit more purposeful and gamifying. You can start to set yourself monthly goals and give yourself rewards if you exceed them.
Those are 10 savings tips that really helped me to live frugally for the short term so that I was able to invest in the grand vision I had for the long term. While my tips might seem strict and it doesn’t leave much room for fun, living life and social gatherings, one of the most crucial aspects of saving is finding the balance between sacrifice and comfort. If you aim to save the amount that’s right for you which recognises what’s important to your quality of life, and save the rest, you should strike a balance which makes you happy and working towards your goals.
If you're ready to start your property journey today, contact our friendly estate agents for expert advice.
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