It might feel impossible to save a down payment while renting. After all, rent is expensive! And it’s not getting any cheaper. The national median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,349 in the summer of 2023.1

So how in the world are you supposed to save a down payment big enough to buy a house when more of your money keeps going toward rent every year?

Don’t worry. It is possible and you can do it. Here’s how.

How to Save a Down Payment While Renting: 9 Tips

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the best ways to save for a down payment while renting:

  1. Follow a budget.
  2. Pay off debt.
  3. Get a roommate.
  4. Move to a cheaper apartment.
  5. Cut unnecessary spending.
  6. Sell stuff.
  7. Start a side hustle.
  8. Save bonuses and raises.
  9. Avoid rent-to-own.

Let’s dig deeper into each of these.

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1. Follow a budget.

Budgeting shows your money who’s in charge (that’s you). It gives you the power to tell your money where to go instead of you wondering where it went. It’s how you make any money goals happen—like saving for a down payment.

Here’s how to make a budget that really works:

  • Write down your monthly income.
  • List your monthly expenses—including your monthly down payment savings goal.
  • Subtract expenses from income.
  • Track your spending (all month long).

Then, when a new month begins, rinse and repeat! (You’ll want to make a new budget each month since your needs change from month to month.) If you’re new to budgeting, it might take a few months to get it right. But hang in there. Soon, you’ll be a budgeting pro. And you’ll be amazed at how much you can stash away each month toward your down payment savings goal.

2. Pay off debt.

Get this: On average, close to 10% of Americans’ monthly income goes toward paying off debt.2 That’s a 10th of your income wasted paying for stuff from the past instead of going toward your future home!

Let’s say your monthly take-home pay is $5,000. According to that statistic, debt would swallow up $500 of that each month ($5,000 x 10%). So what if, instead of continuing to throw that $500 out the window every month, you put saving for a house on hold for a year or two while you worked really hard to pay off your debt?

Then, once your debt is gone, you could put that $500 toward saving for your down payment each month—which adds up to an extra $6,000 over a full year!

Plus, adding a mortgage and other homeownership costs (like repairs and taxes) on top of debt can be a big financial burden. So be patient and keep renting until you’ve paid off 100% of your debt and saved a full emergency fund worth 3–6 months of your typical living expenses.

If you want to pay off debt for good, the best way to get started is joining a Financial Peace University (FPU) class. FPU is our nine-week class that teaches you how to budget, save for emergencies, invest for the future and—of course—become debt-free. Here’s the best part: On average, people who go through FPU are debt-free in two years or less. That can be you too! You just have to get started.

3. Get a roommate.

If you’re single and living alone in an apartment you rent, this tip is for you. Remember how we said the national median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was at $1,349 in the summer of 2023? Well, that’s not even $200 more than the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment ($1,177).3

See how much house you can afford with our free mortgage calculator!

So, instead of living alone, why not upgrade to a two-bedroom apartment for that extra $200, get a roommate, and split your rent costs in half? Based on the medians we just looked at, you’d go from paying around $1,200 on your own to paying about $675 with a roommate—a difference of $525 a month or $6,300 a year!

4. Move to a cheaper apartment.

Moving is never fun—especially if you move away from a cool area to . . . well, one that’s not. But what if doing that meant paying cheaper rent and adding thousands to your down payment savings in just one year?

Take our imaginary bachelor friend Joel, for example. He currently lives in Franklin, Tennessee. He’s living his best life about 20 minutes from the live-music scene of downtown Nashville, but he wants to buy a house—and it’s hard for him to save while paying the higher rent prices that come with living in such a popular area.

So Joel packs up his two-bedroom Franklin apartment and moves further south to the less crowded, more rural city of Columbia. Joel goes from paying a median rent of $2,750 in Franklin to paying $1,850 in Columbia.4 He can now save around $900 a month—nearly $11,000 per year—toward his down payment goal

Sure, Joel has to drive a bit further to visit his favorite Nashville hangout spots. But he also discovers some things he likes doing in the smaller towns near his new apartment. Who knows, maybe he’ll meet a lucky lady in his new area, get hitched, and buy that house sooner than he thought!

If you’re like Joel and are renting in a popular (aka expensive) neighborhood, consider sacrificing some razzle-dazzle to live in an area with cheaper rent. Then, put the extra cash you pocket each month toward your down payment savings and watch it explode with growth!

 

5. Cut unnecessary spending.

Another way to boost your down payment savings is to temporarily cut back on expenses you don’t need. After you’ve reached your down payment goal, you can add those things back into your budget.

Here are some ideas on how to cut spending:

  • Eat out less and buy generic-brand groceries.
  • Replace vacations with staycations.
  • Avoid buying new products and shop for used and reusable ones.
  • Cancel some of your streaming services and stick with one or two (or even use some free ones).
  • Trade your gym membership for free at-home workouts on YouTube.

6. Sell stuff.

No doubt there’s a bunch of junk you don’t use anymore that’s lying around your apartment or rental home—so sell it! If you live in a high-traffic area, you could have a garage sale. Or you could sell online using platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or eBay. 

Here are some ideas on what to sell:

  • Clothes
  • Jewelry
  • Books
  • Blu-ray discs, DVDs and CDs
  • Toys and games
  • Home decor
  • Furniture

7. Start a side hustle.

If you really want to hit the gas on your down payment savings, pick up another job on the side. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You won’t be working there forever. Choose something simple you won’t totally hate doing after your day job.

Here are some side hustle ideas:

  • Drive for Uber or Lyft
  • Babysit
  • Dog walk or pet sit
  • Clean houses
  • Sell products on Etsy
  • Become a tutor
  • Give music lessons
  • Do freelance work on Fiverr
  • Wash and detail cars
  • Mow lawns or do yard work
  • Shovel driveways

8. Save bonuses and raises.

Do you have opportunities for bonuses at your job? Maybe you’re in a role where you can increase your commissions the harder you work. Or you might be due for a raise. Whatever your job situation, another great way to save for a house while renting is to dedicate any extra money you earn at work toward your down payment goal.

Avoid the temptation to fall into the trap of lifestyle creep whenever your income increases—instead of using the money to increase your standard of living, throw it all into your house savings.

9. Avoid rent-to-own.

Before we wrap up, we have to shift gears here to warn you about rent-to-own homes. A rent-to-own home is a house you agree to rent for a few years before you buy it. The point is to lock in a house you want even if you can’t afford it yet.

You might be tempted to choose this option, but rent-to-own homes come with fees and other costs that wind up making them more expensive than traditional homeownership. That’s why our final tip for saving a down payment while renting is to avoid rent-to-own.

For example, with rent-to-own, you’ll pay a nonrefundable fee called option money. That’s the fee that gives you the option to purchase the house later. On top of that, your rent will likely be higher because some of it may go toward your future purchase as part of a built-in down payment.

You can start to see why this is a ridiculous deal. Why fork over a nonrefundable fee and set up a forced down payment savings agreement instead of saving the money by yourself? What if you decide you don’t want to buy that particular house after the rental period is over? All the extra money you paid for the rent-to-own agreement would go bye-bye. Bad idea!

Instead, stick to a traditional rental agreement, skip rent-to-own fees, and save up your down payment using the other eight tips. You’ll be glad you did.

How Big of a Down Payment Do You Need?

You should aim to put down at least 20% of the home price to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), a fee you pay that protects your lender (not you) if you stop making mortgage payments. For a $300,000 house, a 20% down payment is $60,000 ($300,000 x 0.20).

For first-time home buyers, a smaller down payment like 5–10% is okay too. But then you will have to pay PMI. Whatever you do, never buy a house with a monthly payment that’s more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. And stay away from risky, more expensive types of mortgages like FHA, VA and USDA loans.

Use our free mortgage calculator to get an idea of what your monthly payment could look like by adjusting the home price, down payment, interest rate and more so you can find out which combinations best fit your budget.

Work With a Mortgage Expert You Can Trust

To learn more about how your down payment will impact your mortgage, talk to a home loan expert you can trust. Our friends at Churchill Mortgage have earned the right to be called RamseyTrusted because they have the heart of a teacher. They actually care about helping you stick to your budget and getting you a mortgage you can pay off fast.

Connect with a trusted mortgage provider!

Find a Hard-Working Real Estate Agent

So, what happens if you finish saving your down payment, but can’t find a house that fits your budget? That’s when you want to work with an experienced real estate agent. The agents in our RamseyTrusted program take the time to understand your list of must-haves and your financial situation. They’re workhorses who will hunt high and low to find the right house for you.

Find a RamseyTrusted agent near you!

 

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