We are first-time buyers and saved £7,200 deposit in nine months with six tricks to buy £144,000 first home


PAUL Lawlor and Dorrena Canavan had just months to save for a family home after discovering they were expecting a baby boy.

With the clock ticking, the couple did a “no-spend” challenge and raided their bills to scrabble together £7,200 for a deposit for their three-bedroom home in time.

Paul Lawlor and Dorrena Canavan had just months to buy their first home

They bought a three-bed house in Carlisle

Their house cost £143,995

The couple, who are both 29, had been renting in Carlisle for seven years, but they decided they want to buy their own home to raise baby Rossa.

Paul, who works at the University of Carlisle, and primary school teacher Dorrena, used a money saving app called MoneyBox to help them save.

It rounds up your spare change when spending, which means you can save cash automatically and it saved the pair thousands of pounds.

The couple also sacrificed meals out, takeaways and trips to the cinema.

Paul and Dorrena, who are originally from Ireland, also missed out on a few trips back home to visit family – saving them around £600.

They bought their property using the government’s Help to Buy Scheme.

The government scheme gives budding buyers an equity loan and allows them to put down a deposit of just 5%.

You can get up to 20% of the value of your property – or 40% if you live in London – under the scheme.

The loan is interest-free for the first five years – but bad news for any budding buyers, the scheme has now closed.

But there are other schemes available that will give you a helping hand up the property ladder.

The Help to Build scheme offers an equity loan to help you build a home or convert a previously commercial building.

Through the scheme, the government offers you a loan based on the estimated costs to buy a plot of land and build a home or buy a building to convert into a home.

The Right to Buy scheme is aimed at council house or housing association tenants in England or Northern Ireland and allows them to buy their home at a discount.

The First Homes scheme was launched last year and means prospective first-time buyers in England can get homes at a 30% to 50% discounted rate compared to market price.

But, if the homeowner decides to sell the property down the line, the discount on the new value will be made available to any future buyer too

Paul and Dorrena got the keys to their first home on June 27 – the same day that Rossa was born.

We sat down with Paul and Dorrena to discuss how they went from being savers to homeowners for HOAR’s My First Home series.

Tell me about your home

It’s a three-bedroom semi-dethatched house in Carlisle.

The property is a new-build with an open-plan kitchen and dining room leading to the back garden.

Upstairs, we have a family bathroom, a master bedroom and two further rooms.

One of the rooms is currently being used as a study, but will eventually become Rossa’s nursery.

We also have a front garden and a driveway.

How did you decide on location?

We looked at a few houses before finding out we were expecting Rossa, and once we knew we were pregnant, this spurred us on to look more seriously.

After seven years of renting, we didn’t want to start a family while living in a rented flat.

We had always planned to move back to Ireland after studying at University in Carlisle, but we found jobs and got a good group of friends, so we decided to stay in the area.

The area that we live in now is a lot more peaceful, and Rossa loves looking at the sheep in the field we can see from our house.

How much was it?

Our house cost £143,995 and we put down a 5% deposit of around £7,200.

We took out a mortgage of £115,000 for 30 years with a fixed rate of 1.69% over five years.

We also applied for a Help to Buy equity loan.

It’s a scheme that helps first-time buyers get on the property ladder with just a 5% deposit, even if they borrow enough for a mortgage.

The government will loan up to 40% of the value of the property if you live in London, or 20% outside of the capital.

Our mortgage payments are £350 a month – £200 cheaper than the rent we were paying at our previous property.

We received a £28,799 loan from the government as part of the scheme.

How did you save for it?

We started really ramping up our savings as soon as we found out that we were pregnant with Rossa.

It means cutting back and sacrificing luxuries that we had taken for granted – it was like an extreme savings challenge.

To save up enough for a deposit, we basically went on a “no spend” challenge for six months.

We didn’t go out for drinks, food or buy takeaways, saving us a couple of hundred pounds a month.

Going to the cinema twice a month was also one of our favourite things to do, but we stopped doing this to save money.

This probably saved us around £40 a month – including the price of the cinema tickets and snacks.

We also cancelled our Netflix and Disney+ subscriptions for six months – saving us just under £200,

I also stopped buying clothes completely – I used to order items quite regularly and was spending around £100 a month on new things to wear.

One of the main ways we saved though was by swapping where we did our weekly shop.

The apartment we lived in previously was right next to a Sainsbury’s, so we would often just go there for our shop.

But we decided to switch our weekly food shop to Aldi.

By doing this, we managed to save between £40 and £50 a week.

We also started writing lists before we went shopping, to make sure we only got what we needed.

Changing the time when we shopped was also a big help.

We used to go shopping after work, when we were really hungry, so we’d end up buying things for the sake of it.

But making sure we ate before popping to the shop helped us to stay focused on just getting what we wanted.

A nifty money-saving app helped us to bag £4,000 between us towards the deposit.

The MoneyBox app rounds up all the purchases you make to the nearest pound, and puts this extra money into your savings account.

So if we bought something that was £2.55, 45p would be put into my savings.

It was a useful app as we found we were saving without realising – it didn’t feel like I was ever short of money but I raised thousands of pounds.

Dorrena and I are both from Ireland, and we used to regularly go back during the school holidays to visit our family.

But we sacrificed two trips back to Ireland to save towards the house – saving us a total of around £600.

We were also very lucky that we didn’t have to pay anything for the cost of removals.

A friend of ours helped us out with a van, and family helped us with loading and unloading.

We had set £500 aside to cover this cost, but in the end, we didn’t have to use it.

The developer Gleeson also gave us £2,000 worth of freebies to help us deck out our home.

We put this towards getting turf and fencing for the garden, lino flooring and tiles for our kitchen.

How did you afford to furnish it?

We have been buying things in stages to spread out the cost.

We were lucky that we have a few pieces from our rental property, such as our living room furniture and our beds.

After we moved out of our rented apartment, we got our £550 deposit back from our landlord.

This was put towards buying things like a washing machine, a fridge and blinds.

What advice would you give to other first-time buyers?

Don’t feel like anything is a silly question and don’t feel like you can’t afford it.

Our only regret is that we didn’t buy sooner, so I’d urge anyone to go for it.

You will have to sacrifice things, but in the grand scheme of things, these are pretty small and it’s so worth it.

We’re so happy that we are in our own home now we have Rossa – it’s like the perfect start to the next chapter.

Another family used the snowball method to clear £26,000 worth of debt and buy their first home.

One savvy saver managed to put half of his wages away while still renting to buy his first home.