You’ve been thinking about buying a house for a long time or about getting a bigger place, but that 20-percent down payment idea is killing you. Don’t let it. You can do this. Here’s how to set the big and little goals necessary to achieve the dream.
First, decide now what your price range is, then set your down payment goal. Thinking about a $400,000 house? Easy math—you’ll need $80,000 in equity or hard cash to avoid paying private mortgage insurance for the life of the loan (and yes, do whatever you can to avoid PMI). If you already own a home, that journey’s a lot easier. If you’re renting, Step 2 is harder, but doable.
Second, establish a second savings account and then decide on either the set amount you’re going to put in every paycheck or a percentage of money earned. Don’t think you have room in the budget? Then you’re either never getting that house or you shackle yourself to PMI payments that you’ll never get back (and likely won’t even get tax credit for again).
Third, choose a percentage of every expenditure that you’ll put into that new savings account, too. Just spent 40 bucks on dinner? Put $4 into the account. Five bucks on coffee? Put a buck in the account. It’s a way to increase your savings or spend less on stuff because you know it’s going to cost you extra. Either way, you come out ahead.
When you think about it, there are only two kinds of people: Those who can grow things, and those who kill them.
They know who they are. They have the wilty plants with the yellow leaves scattered throughout their house and yard, and they claim they can’t grow a thing. Well, Mr. and Ms. Brown Thumb, yes you can. Take a couple of tips from the Green Thumbs around you, and soon you’ll be bragging about your yard instead of bemoaning it.
Mulch & compost. Organic mulch is for more than covering up weeds—it’s one of the most useful things you can have on hand for planting and replanting in your yard and house. Combine that with some organic compost, and you’ve got a one-two punch. Included in this dirty brew are peat moss, humus and good ol’ manure—anything that can add minerals and nitrogen to your soil. Use it as potting soil and to fill in holes around newly-planted shrubs, flowers, vegetable plants and seeds. The added soil mix provides a stable source of nutrition for your plants that will keep them alive and thriving.
Water longer and less frequently. Watering your lawn, shrubs and gardens isn’t always better, especially in hot weather. The key to successful watering, especially during dry spells, is to water for longer (at least half an hour per sprinkler station or spot in your yard) but less often. The greater water volume per sprinkling session allows the moisture to sink deep into the roots as opposed to sitting the surface and simply evaporating before it is absorbed by the plants.
For the first-time homebuyer, the biggest temptation is trying to find the perfect house with everything from A to Z. But, if you’re like most first-timers, your eyes are bigger than your wallet. So, instead of shooting for A to Z, simplify your list to A-B-C:
B. Should have
C. Would be nice to have
Your A-list might include things like “updated kitchen,” “three bedrooms, two baths” or “within 30 minutes of Rachel’s job.” Your B-list could have “updated kitchen” or “enclosed backyard.” Your C-list likely might have items such as “swimming pool,” “rec room” or “three-car garage.”
Whatever your priority list is, divide it up into these three columns so that when you are looking at homes, you’ve already agreed on what you have to have and what you can do without. It will give your search much more clarity, keep you focused on what you really value in a home and will end up saving you money when you aren’t springing for features you don’t really want or need. And, as a bonus, you probably won’t have to look at as many homes as you might have, simply because you’ll be able to weed many of them out with a quick scan on the computer.
So, take time to list your A-B-C’s. You’ll be so glad you took the time to spell out your priorities before you even start, and you’ll land what you’re really looking for that much faster.
It’s disorganized. It’s always dirty. It’s your kitchen.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
When you’re organizing your kitchen, don’t start with what you see, start with what you don’t—the inside of your cabinets. Chances are, you aren’t making nearly as good a use of that space as you could. And you could be storing items behind those doors that you now leave on the counter.
To do that, empty all your cabinets one at a time and ask, “What should stay and what could go?” If you haven’t used that waffle iron in a year, store it somewhere else. Keep weeding out countertop appliances, dishes, colanders and anything else you don’t use on a regular basis. Now, take any items that you normally leave on the counter and put them in the now-empty space in a cabinet. Then, replace the rest of the items with the least-used items in back and the most-used in front.
As a second stroke of reclamation, you may want to consider hanging some pots and pans that simply won’t fit in a cabinet on the wall or from the ceiling. Any hardware store can set you up with a solution that fits your space and budget in no time.
You’ve finally had it with the old Formica countertops and cabinet doors that won’t close all the way, haven’t you?
Well, even if you haven’t yet, you’ll get there; and when you do, a virtual kitchen design will save you a thousand and one hassles on your way to the kitchen you want but have been afraid to dream about. That’s because online tools like Planner 5D and Ikea Kitchen Planner make creating your real dream kitchen in a virtual space easier and more realistic than ever before.
Pick out everything from backsplash patterns to flooring to lights, and then fill it all in with the right appliances, plumbing fixtures and even wall colors, right from the convenience of your laptop. You can track your (prospective) spending along the way and even compare options, right there—and then save all of it on that site, too.
Virtually designing not only saves you the time and money you would have spent on an interior architect’s services, but it will also give you time to ponder what you really want your kitchen to accomplish: do you want it more for entertainment, to create a brand-new hangout spot for the family, mainly for cooking or a combination of those? While you’re envisioning what you most want your kitchen to look like, you can imagine what you most want it to be.
While obeying stay-at-home orders, you have a choice: sink into helpless lethargy or take advantage of the lack of other distractions to make some new habits. But what to do with all those wonderful entertainment options just two clicks away?
How about both? To do that, though, you will need to start with a bit of disciple—a pain and reward system that hopefully will become self-sustaining.
Start with a chart, on your phone or good ol’ pad and paper. Write down one exercise in the first column and then an entertainment choice that will take as long as the exercise. Say you want to take a walk outside every day (an excellent choice). Then, write down your favorite rerun show next to it. You know your favorite show is 22 minutes long per episode and that you rarely watch just one. Set a timer for 45 minutes, take your morning walk and then watch your show. Keep track of each column. The show will give you incentive to walk, and your walk will make watching that much more enjoyable because instead of kicking yourself for not getting out and walking (again), you will have already done it!
Whatever your favorite activity—jogging, biking, pilates, old Jazzercise tapes—make it your goal to give yourself a reward each time you do it for added incentive. After three or four weeks of daily activity, your chart will be a habit.
Oh, productivity—so easy to attain when other people are watching, so hard to maintain when they’re not. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help yourself:
- Make lists. You’d be amazed at all the professional people who don’t take advantage of this tried-and-true self-disciple tool. And make it the night before, just to be sure you’ve done it.
- Set timers. Need help keeping deadlines? Set it up on your laptop or online calendar with staggered alerts along the way—one week out, one day, three hours, etc.
- Be early to meetings. Even if it’s only one minute before the Zoom meeting starts, make it a point to be the first one after the host to show up. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel during the meeting by not being late.
- Wake up one hour earlier. One of the greatest temptations of working at home is to fudge that wakeup time. Don’t do it. As a matter of fact, you’ll be more productive all day by getting started 30-60 minutes earlier than usual because you’ll have fewer distractions from coworkers and family members.
- Get up often. If you don’t have a standup desk, get up and stretch at least twice per hour. It’ll save back pain and keep your blood circulating better, which will keep you alert longer and, yes, more productive.
- Plan your breaks. Instead of wandering to the kitchen out of sheer boredom, actually be your own best friend and put those breaks on your calendar. That way you can look forward to them instead of letting them just happen.
While moving during the current coronavirus quarantine can be done fairly easily, there are some things you should consider:
- If your move date is at all flexible, put it off as long as you can. While rates of new infections are leveling off in many areas right now, new hot spots are emerging. So if you don’t have a lease expiring or an inflexibly close date approaching, see about putting off the move to give things even more time to cool off.
- Plan even better than you normally would. Use the free moving trip planner that some freight carriers or moving services offer and save yourself trouble (and possibly more contact with people).
- Organize and clean your stuff. Numbering boxes, keeping meticulous records of what should go where in the new place, disinfecting all your items and generally staying on top of the packing process (even if someone’s doing the actual packing for you) will give you a lot of peace of mind during the pre-move process.
- Check with local authorities about health guidelines. It could be that the area you’re moving to has much tighter local restrictions that the community you’re leaving. Make sure that your new town’s regulations won’t foul up your plans.’
Moving services, freight rental services and just about every other vendor you’ll need for your move is still operating through the current restrictions. Just be sure you know what all the proper guidelines are and what to expect when you arrive at your new home!
So, you’re stuck at home with “nothing to do,” but you know in the back of your mind—no, the front of your mind—that projects need to get done around the house. Here are some easy, do-it-yourself projects that you can do as soon as you put down the remote:
Garage shelves. A few 2-by-4s, some sheets of OSB and a big box of decking screws is all you’ll need (besides tools) to create a set of garage shelves that is long-lasting, sturdy and attractive. A lot of online tutorials can help you to build them, but one suggestion: Have in mind what you want to put on the shelves before you start. That way, you’ll have a much better idea how big they should be, where they should go and how much space in between each level you’ll need.
Flower boxes. Few things add more joy to the front of your home than flowers. And what better place to put them than their own boxes? Freestanding or bolted to the house underneath windows, flower boxes are easy to build and maintain and will last for years (provided you build them out of treated lumber and stain or paint them well).
Hanging yard lights. The easiest one. Pick a spot in your backyard, do the measurements and buy enough strings to enclose the best area in your yard to sit. Frew things add more charm to an outdoor sitting area than tasteful lighting.
See, was that so hard?
Whatever you do right now, don’t allow the reality of being restricted make you feel restricted. Here are seven things you can do to make the most of your time at home:
- Exercise every day. Inside or outside (outside is better), exercise at least 30 minutes each day—preferably at the same time. If it takes 21 days to create a habit, let physically exerting yourself be that habit.
- Read. Not only does reading keep your mind sharp and help to stave off dementia, but it also improves your current knowledge. Find a best-selling novel, that business book your boss keeps telling you to read or an old classic. And for good measure, read aloud to each other. It can be fun!
- Play games. Wonder why all the games are sold out at stores and online? People are discovering and rediscovering board games and the family time they engender.
- Pick a project. That bathroom ceiling isn’t going to paint itself. If you have to write it on the calendar for everyone to see, do it. But go to the hardware store (they’re open), buy the paint and finish that first project. It’ll feel so good.
- Plant a garden. Among the other things people are rediscovering, gardening has become the “a-ha” moment many people needed. Digging in the earth, planting, nurturing and watching things that you planted grow is one of the most therapeutic things a human being can do.
- Call old friends. Those high school classmates you’ve been following on Facebook are stuck inside, too. Give one of them a call. One of them is bound to have a birthday soon, if you need an excuse.
- Find a new hobby. Have you wanted to try painting, woodworking or guitar but never thought you had the time? Now you do. Watch a video or maybe order an instructional book online. Has there ever been a better or more needful time to learn something new?