No question about it: Southern California is one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. And trying to save up to buy a home is a real challenge for many would-be owners.
In fact, a GOBankingRates.com study last August found that all but two of the country’s 15 worst cities for saving money are in California. “Expensive housing, higher-than-average taxes, and one of the most expensive states to fill up your gas tank make it very difficult to have leftover income after the necessities are paid,” the study stated.
People are still buying
Still, some 15,000 to 25,000 Southern California homes were sold each month of 2016, according to First Tuesday Journal. How are buyers doing it? Sure, some are move-ups who are able to use the equity their homes built over the years to get into a new mortgage.
But others have been coming up with creative ways to save for a down payment, even if it takes a few years of sacrificing in certain aspects of their lives. We wanted to find out what they’ve been doing to make their dream of homeownership come true, so we did some research. Here are several ideas that might work for you. If you have some ideas of your own, please share in the comments section below.
Look for jobs near where you want to live
Many of us would love to land a well-paying job at a large, stable SoCal company like Qualcomm, Sony, Western Digital, or Disney. Even if you do, finding an affordable home close to work is probably a challenge. If you’re planning to stay in California for three-plus years, buying a house is possibly more sustainable so long as a down payment is within your means.
Prices in much of San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties are well above the national average, but you might be able to find a place to rent for a while, with a commute. While you’re getting started and saving up, some apartments offer rent-free starter periods as an incentive. Just remember to bank those savings toward a down payment. If you’re determined to live and work in the region, devote plenty of time to furthering your education, updating your resume, and looking for a better-paying, more secure position.
Use public transportation, drive fuel-efficient vehicles
Consider public transportation as a way to avoid vehicle expenses such as monthly payments, insurance, and upkeep. Light rail is reliable in several Southern California regions, such as San Diego’s trolley system, and Metrolink in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, and Ventura counties. Monthly passes can save you a bundle. Bus lines are widespread as well. If your lifestyle requires a car, consider fuel-efficient or electric/hybrid vehicles. Use websites and apps like GasBuddy to help you find the lowest fuel costs in a given neighborhood.
Buy energy-efficient products
Just as many cities have turned to LED streetlights as a way to cut costs, you can save on utility bills by buying energy-efficient products such as light bulbs, air conditioners, furnaces, ovens, and washers and dryers. Some utility companies offer load-management and off-hours rate programs that provide additional monthly discounts on your bills.
Shop and dine wisely, and use coupons
Grocery shopping and eating out gobble up budgets quickly. But with careful planning and coupon clipping, it’s easy to eat well and cut a hefty grocery bill. Supermarkets provide plenty of opportunities to save via coupons and in-store discounts. Look for grocery and restaurant coupons in print, online, and in your mailbox, and use them whenever possible to leave more money in the down-payment fund.
Farmers markets are a great way to support the community, but high prices for fresh fruit and produce aren’t always ideal if you’re trying to save money. Instead, look for them at smaller chain stores like Sprouts or discount chains like Smart & Final. Quality fresh fruit and vegetables are actually cheaper in most of California than their canned counterparts, so balance price vs. convenience.
Besides food, many drugstores offer major weekly discounts on beauty, health, and hygiene products. For even deeper discounts and money back, drugstores offer reward programs, as well.
There’s no need to eliminate dining. Set aside a budget for eating out and stick to it. Many restaurants offer coupons and deals. Consider picking a day or two of the week for meals outside the home.
Southern Californians like to be stylish. But if you’re budget-minded, shopping out of season keeps you in style with a full closet. When winter clothing gets discounted to make room for spring and summer lines, shop the sales and store what you buy for the following year. Don’t neglect the clearance section, either.
Tradeoffs can help with expenses
People love Southern California because of the weather, job opportunities, and abundant extracurricular activities, so it’s no surprise that the cost of living here is so high. There are several tradeoffs to living in California that cut back on costs you may find in other parts of the U.S. For example, you can forget about updating your winter wardrobe every season. The mild temperatures mean you can do without heavy clothing except when the weather turns really nasty, which is rare.
Another great thing about living in Southern California is that you probably won’t have to spend as much on heating bills, either. Plus, your car engine isn’t likely to freeze overnight, so you won’t need to run out to the street or driveway a few times a night to warm it up, which is a real fuel-waster. And if you already have a home, you’ll no longer need to own and maintain a snowblower and other removal equipment. Tire chains will be a thing of the past as well, unless you plan to trek up into the mountains for skiing or vacations.
Start saving now
If your heart is set on a Southern California home, get in the savings habit as soon as possible. Once you make it a regular practice, tackling the region’s high prices will be a lot easier to handle.