There’s no sugar coating it: a house is a big purchase. And, to make a good dent in it, you want to start off with a solid down payment. (Although, there are other options that don’t require as large of a down payment, so don’t think a large down payment is the only option.) So how do you figure out how much to put down?

Start here. This whole process begins with figuring out what you can afford. Your down payment is based on the mortgage type you choose and the monthly payments you’ll be signing on for. First, identify what kind of mortgage you’re looking for. There are plenty of free, online calculators that can help give you an idea of what you’ll pay month-to-month.

Start packing it away. Most lenders require a certain level of down payment to qualify for a mortgage. This can range from five to 25 percent. The larger the down payment, the more comfortable they will be giving you a mortgage. That being said, think about the future…and all the things you’ll want for the house once you move in! You might want to paint, buy new furniture or update the carpeting. Don’t stretch yourself too thin.

So, how do you do it all? Here are a few ways to prepare for that down payment:

  • Save. Duh, but it’s worth pointing out. Many people start saving for a down payment a couple years before being ready to actually buy a house. That means working it into your budget. You can easily set up a percentage of your check that will get directly deposited into savings. That way, you don’t even have to think about it. You may even be able to use a money market account or CD to help you get a higher interest rate.
  • Borrow from your future. Many companies sponsor 401(k) programs that are more flexible and allow you to borrow from your retirement plan. That may not be an option for everyone, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Check with your human resources or payroll departments.
  • Move. Can you deal with something smaller for a year or two in order to get you closer to your dream home? It might make sense to downsize, and pay less in rent, while you save for a down payment.
  • Take a good look at your debt. Is there anything that can be consolidated? Are there any credit cards you can pay off quickly that will prevent you from paying more than you care to in interest? Any money you can free up with those efforts should be incorporated into your savings.
  • Analyze your spending. Every little bit helps, so revisit your budget often to see if there are places for you to trim.

Buying a home is a big decision, financially and emotionally. But, if you do the legwork to determine what mortgage option will work for you, and think through strategies to help save for a down payment, it’s a goal that’s within reach. Just take it one step at a time.