The Crazy Things I Did to Save for a Down Payment (and How They Worked)

garage sale

garage sale  (©2013 Pamela Albin Moore/fstop123)

About a year ago I decided I wanted to buy a house. I got seriously excited about it. I even picked out a custom refrigerator and looked into getting a Lowe's credit card to cover all of my remodeling needs.

I thought of everything -- except for how I was going to, you know, pay for it.

After a few quick calculations, I figured I'd need about $50,000 to get to 20% down.

And then I started to panic. I didn't even know what $50,000 looked like. I'm not independently wealthy. My chosen occupation as a writer doesn't exactly bring in those dolla, dolla, bills. If I suddenly had $50,000 in my savings account, my bank would probably do a double take just to make sure I hadn't embezzled it. Maybe they'd call the Feds to make sure I wasn't running a money laundering business on the side.

But I really wanted that house -- and I knew I was going to have to get creative. Over the past 12 months, I feel like I've read every "saving for a down payment" article in existence and tried just about every trick in the book this side of legal. Here's what's worked (and what hasn't).

Throwing a garage sale

If you have a lot of unwanted stuff and tons of patience, a garage sale can be a good way to make extra cash. One blogger said she made more than $1,000 at a garage sale. She apparently had some very nice stuff.

I didn't fare quite as well for two reasons:

  1. You need to sell a lot of things to make good money. Quantity matters more than big-ticket items.
  2. It's a lot of work. You have to get up crazy early. You have to deal with people all day. You have to sit in the sun. Both days I called it quits early just to get back inside.


Total saved: $225

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Selling Funko Pop Vinyls

Funko Pop Vinyls are small, vinyl figures (think Beanie Babies for millennials) people are auctioning off for big bucks. I happened to pick one up at a convention a few years ago. One day I read it was worth $260. Sold it!

For a hot minute I thought maybe I could sell other Funko figures. For about a week I was a collectibles sleuth, looking up prices and hunting for pieces. I bought six more for $10 each, sold two at $40 each, and then quickly realized this was not worth all of my spare time. I ended up with a teeny profit and four unsold figures that now live on my desk.

Total saved: $280

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Quitting Jamba Juice

I have a serious smoothie addiction. If I pass a Jamba Juice, I'm going in -- typically three times a week. (Seriously, they know my name.) At roughly $4.50 a pop for the megasize smoothie I always think I need, I spend about $54 a month in the store. So I stopped. Using all of my willpower, I've been passing Jamba Juices by for 10 months now.

Total saved: $540

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Lowering my car insurance

If you want to live on the wild side or your car, like mine, is worth barely anything, you may not need full coverage. I decided to drop my insurance to the state minimum last year -- going from $268 to $117. (And then I immediately had a close call when I backed into my neighbor's parked car. Thankfully, I somehow wasn't at fault.) I've saved a ton, but I can't honestly say if the mini-panic attack every time I get behind the wheel is worth it.

Total saved: $1,812

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Selling my book collection

I have a lot of books. Quite possibly too many books. My local bookstore will buy used books for cash or credit. So I packed up five boxes and hauled them to the store. I was offered $1 a book or $3 store credit. Since I need more house and less books, I opted for the $1. I'd like to think it's nice that someone else is enjoying my collection, but my back still hasn't forgiven me.

Total saved: $60

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Borrowing from Mom and Dad

OK, this one is a little cheeky since I didn't actually have to work for it. But asking the folks to fork over a big load of cash because you miss Jamba Juice and your back hurts and you're too scared to drive your car over 30 mph isn't the easiest thing to do. They said yes (hooray), but they're holding out on handing over any cash until I'm about to close on a home.

Total saved: $30,000 -- eventually

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All told, I have an extra $2,917 in my dream house account (even if some of that is theoretical). Was it worth all the sacrifices and backbreaking labor? I'll let you know when I'm in my new house. Someday.

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Video: 3 of the Dumbest Home Loan Mistakes You Can Make