Budget wisely for your biggest expense – the roof over your head
For many people, adding up their expenses is the most challenging part of creating a budget.
But we all need a roof over our heads. So, housing tends to be our biggest monthly expense and easiest to put at the top of the list. That’s usually your mortgage or rent.
After that, though, there are other expenses you have to factor in when creating a personal budget. Some are fixed, such as the mortgage or rent. Others are variable, which makes budgeting more challenging.
Owning a home creates a lot of other expenses, property taxes, for example. For many homeowners, their mortgage company spreads the property tax collection over the year in the monthly payment. That way you don’t get hit with a big payment when the tax bill comes due, and it gives you a fixed expense.
But a surprise can pop up if the mortgage company didn’t collect enough and adjusts your monthly payment higher to cover the difference. Keith Newcomb, founder of Full Life Financial in Nashville, Tennessee, said having sufficient savings to cover surprise expenses is key.
You could choose to pay the taxes directly rather than including it in the mortgage payment. That requires budgeting differently to save the money. A way of doing that is setting up a different bank account from your main checking account that you deposit money into only for paying taxes.
If you have an adjustable-rate mortgage that is ending soon, then it’s time to refinance. Otherwise, that mortgage payment will adjust and go higher and put pressure on your budget plan.
Newcomb said that refinancing should always be a consideration, even if you have a fixed-rate mortgage. Interest rates may be lower than what you’re paying now. You do analysis that looks at the time value of money, he said, in which case you may end up with a lower monthly payment.
But there is a caveat to that analysis. “Sometimes a lower monthly payment is more expensive over the lifetime of the loan,” Newcomb said.
If you are renting and your rent is low relative to what a mortgage payment would be, he said continuing to rent may be a better option than putting pressure on your budget with a mortgage payment.
“There are times when the rent is so good, that you’re better off staying put until you absolutely need a house,” Newcomb said. “Owning a home is a lot more expensive that people count on.”
Continuing to rent may be particularly important for younger people who are dealing with student loan debt. Living a Spartan lifestyle until those debts are paid down or off before buying a house would be a good strategy, Newcomb said.
Renting also has the benefit of someone else fixing the plumbing or roof or whatever repairs are needed. Perhaps the property owner handles the lawn care if you’re in a house or a townhome. Those are expenses you must handle and account for in a budget when owning your own home.
Lawn care can be a fixed monthly expense if you choose to pay to have that done. But you can save that money by doing it yourself.
A Home Owners Association fee is another fixed expense whether you live in a subdivision or a townhome. There are HOAs that handle your lawn care and landscaping as part of the monthly fee. Some pay all your utilities as part of the fee. Newcomb said to investigate the services an HOA fee covers when you’re looking for a new home. You may pay a higher monthly fee but save on other expenses.
Home maintenance can be where unbudgeted expenses pile up. You need to ensure you have savings built up in case a repair pops up and you have to call in a professional, especially if it’s big, such as a new heating and air conditioning unit in your home.
But one way of saving money is being able to do basic repairs yourself. The cost then is your time and supplies, which is still an unbudgeted expense but not as taxing on savings as if you pay someone to do the work. According to home improvement magazine The Family Handyman, there are a lot of repairs you can handle.
Buying a new home doesn’t generally have much need for improvement. But if you bought an older home, then you likely will need to budget for home improvements.
There are different goals in mind with improvements. You may plan on staying in the home forever and resale isn’t the goal. Instead, the improvements you’d like to do are more for personal tastes and enjoyment. You still need to set a plan and save toward that goal, deciding whether you will do most of the work or pay someone else. The latter will require a bigger savings plan.
Many homeowners, however, are looking to increase resale value because they don’t plan on staying in the home long term. You still will have to save and budget for these improvements as you would if you were in your forever home.
But it’s a matter of choosing the improvements that will get you the most bang for the bucks you’ve socked away in savings. According to HGTV, a minor bathroom remodel tops the list of best home improvements, followed by landscaping. Remodeling magazine has an annual report that looks a cost versus value down to the city.
As with the property taxes, one way of budgeting for home improvements is to create a separate savings account for just home improvements.
For most of us, housing is our biggest expense. Since the biggest portion of our housing cost is the mortgage or rent, it is the easiest expense to identify for a budget. Other housing costs are more challenging and require planning. And those are important for protecting your biggest investment – the roof over your head.