Homeowners reveal how they saved to build

Homeownership remains a dream for most. PHOTO | TONY MUSHOBOROZI

What you need to know:

  • There are diverse ways to homeownership; you can get a mortgage, buy or construct one. As much as there is no one-size fits all path to homeownership, financial discipline is crosscutting factor for most homeowners.

Building a home is more than just putting up mortar and brick walls. It is an emotional and financial investment of substantial social and cultural significance. In Ugandan traditions, moving into your own home is a significant rite of passage; it is a sign that one is now a mature adult deserving of community respect and recognition. 

Socially, many dream of the day they will wake up and taste the freedom of not having to worry about the landlord’s phone call or knock on the door at the end of every month.

However, only few are able to realise that dream. How different are the people who manage to build and move into their own homes from those who try and fail or those who never even bother to try?  

Planning ahead

For 30-year-old Joel Kibira, a homeowner in Kanyanya, Kampala, the journey to building his dream home began with setting clear financial goals in 2017. He knew that achieving this goal would require careful planning and disciplined financial management. Determined to succeed, he started planning two years before embarking on the journey in December 2019. 

“I first established a specific savings target for my dream home, then calculated the amount I needed for the down payment, construction costs and other expenses associated with homeownership. By setting a concrete savings goal, I had a clear target to work towards. Once I started and noticed my savings growing, I got motivation stay focused on my objective,” Kibira says.

To track his progress, Kibira implemented a budgeting system that allowed him to monitor his income and expenses closely. He categorised his spending, identified areas where he could cut back, and allocated a portion of his income specifically towards his home fund each month.

He also avoided unnecessary expenses. His family cooked meals at home, utilised public transportation, and found creative ways to entertain each other without overspending. By prioritising his financial goals over short-term gratification, Kibira was able to allocate more resources towards building his dream home.

“I mapped out a realistic timeline and budget, taking into account my income, expenses, and savings potential,”  he explains. 

He also reduced his monthly expenses by downsizing his lifestyle and resisting the urge to splurge on unnecessary luxuries. 

“For example, when I started building, my family and I got a cheaper house for rent whose rent would enable us to save. This reduced the financial burden I would have otherwise experienced living in our former home and still trying to save to build our own,” says Kibira.

Furthermore, Kibira sought out additional sources of income to accelerate his savings. He took on side gigs, freelancing opportunities and invested in stocks and mutual funds to grow his wealth over time. By diversifying his income streams, he minimised his reliance on a single source of earnings and maximised his potential for savings.

After years seven years of diligent saving and careful planning, in January 2024, Kibira achieved his goal of moving into his dream home. 

 Combined efforts
John Balyejusa and Sarah Birungi, attribute their successful journey to homeownership to having a similar dream. Building a home is an already difficult process without having to deal with an unsupportive spouse. 

But, fortunate for this young couple, they had an aligned vision of building and living in their own home, which made all the sacrifices and difficult decisions easier to bear. They reveal that although their funds were limited, they had abundant creativity. 

“We made sacrifices where necessary, cutting back on unnecessary expenses and finding creative ways to save,” Balyejusa shares. From cooking meals at home to limiting optional spending, they prioritised their home-building goal above all else.

Their first challenge arose when they struggled to find affordable land in the area they desired. However, after months of searching, they stumbled on a strategically located beautiful plot in Kamuli District. Despite being overgrown and neglected, they saw its potential and decided to make it their own.

Next came the task of designing their home. With no background in architecture, the couple turned to books and online resources to educate themselves. They sketched countless floor plans and consulted with local experts to ensure their design was both functional and structurally viable.

As they began construction, they encountered setbacks ranging from unexpected expenses to adverse weather conditions. At times, they couple says it seemed as if their dream would never materialise. Yet, they persevered, relying on their determination and resourcefulness to overcome each obstacle.

“One particularly challenging hurdle was sourcing sustainable materials within our budget. We carefully searched through places where old materials are collected and repurposed the materials from demolished buildings, giving new life to old wood and bricks. While it required extra time and effort, we took pride in knowing that our home was built with minimal environmental impact,” Balyejusa explains.

Despite the hardships, Balyejusa and Birungi found joy in the process of creating their home together. They formed lasting friendships with fellow builders in the community and discovered a newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures of life.

Finally, after four years of hard work and dedication, their home was complete proving to them the power of commitment to living a life guided by simplicity and sustainability. 

Automating savings

Automation proved to be a game-changer for Mark Asiimwe, who as many others, had faced the challenge of saving enough money for building his home. He automated a portion of his income to be deposited directly into a separate savings account earmarked for his home project. 

Asiimwe began by setting up automatic transfers from his paycheck into a dedicated savings account. Every month, a portion of his earnings would be automatically deposited into this account before he had the chance to spend it elsewhere. This ensured that he consistently set aside money for his home-building fund without the temptation to overspend.

To further boost his savings, he employed various strategies such as setting specific savings goals, tracking his expenses diligently, and cutting back on unnecessary expenses. He also looked for ways to increase his income, taking on freelance projects in his spare time and investing in opportunities that offered a good return.

As time passed, Asiimwe’s savings grew steadily, and he watched with satisfaction as his dream home fund reached new milestones. Along the way, he faced occasional setbacks and unexpected expenses, but his commitment to automating his savings remained unwavering.

With each passing year, his determination and discipline paid off. When he had saved enough money to purchase a piece of land and begin construction on his dream home, he was sure the construction process would not get interrupted and he was able complete and move into his home in three and a half years.

“Thanks to my foresight and dedication to automating my savings, I was able to achieve my goal and build a beautiful home,” Asiimwe shares.

Staying flexible

Flexibility was key for 65-year-old Michael Mutabazi, a retired teacher and homeowner in Wakiso District. The homeowner says his was not a smooth experience as he encountered unexpected expenses during the home-building process. 

In January 2021, Mutabazi embarked on the journey of building his dream home. Excited and determined, he precisely planned every detail, from the layout to the colour scheme. However, as construction began, unforeseen circumstances arose.

Firstly, the initial budget estimation was way off target due to fluctuating material costs and unexpected permit fees. Instead of becoming discouraged, Mutabazi remained flexible. He adjusted his plans, opting for more cost-effective materials without compromising quality.

Then, a change in local building codes required alterations to his architectural designs. Rather than resisting, Mutabazi embraced the challenge, working closely with his architect to ensure compliance while still maintaining the essence of his vision.

Just when everything seemed to be back on track, a sudden shortage of skilled labourers in the area slowed down the construction progress. Mutabazi could have despaired, but instead, he adapted. He hired additional workers and provided them with the necessary training to ensure the project continued moving forward. Thanks to the savings he had made from farming and rearing animals after his retirement.

Despite the setbacks and challenges, Mutabazi’s flexibility and resilience paid off. His home, though slightly different from the original plans, turned out to be even more beautiful and functional than he had imagined. And through it all, Mutabazi learnt the invaluable lesson that flexibility is the key to overcoming obstacles and achieving success in any endeavor.

“I learnt to adapt my budget and priorities as circumstances changed,”  he notes. By remaining flexible and resourceful, Mutabazi was able to overcome challenges and ultimately achieve his goal of homeownership.

Expert opinion

Joseph Musoke, a financial expert says the road to homeownership often requires diligent saving and careful budgeting. The first crucial step is creating a detailed budget and breaking down expenses and income to create a realistic budget tailored to your home-building goals. 

“Monitor your expenses closely to identify areas where you can cut back and redirect funds towards your savings. Research different financing options, such as mortgages and construction loans, to determine the best fit for your financial situation,” Musoke advises.

Musoke adds; “Set aside funds for unexpected expenses that may arise during the home-building process to avoid derailing your progress. As you do this, stay committed to your savings plan and resist the temptation to deviate from your budget unnecessarily.”

Musoke emphasises the importance of seeking professional guidance when saving for a home.

“A financial advisor can provide personalised strategies and insights tailored to your specific financial situation,”  he tips. From optimising savings accounts to exploring investment opportunities, expert advice can help maximise savings potential.