Oh, the house buying...
Well, you'll want to have 20% down when you purchase a home. Otherwise you'll pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) until you have 20% equity (Unless you do an FHA loan and then it's at least 5 years and you may NEVER be able to eliminate PMI without refinancing.)
The first step is to go to a banking institution, mortgage broker, or online bank and get preapproved. Your mortgage payment should be no more than 25% of your take-home pay. Look at online calculators and see what a mortgage payment would be for a house in your area that's in your optimal price range. Remember to add as much as 40% to that number if
you'll escrow your taxes and insurance into your mortgage payment. **We do this so we're
not hit with a big tax or insurance bill. But some people choose to pay it separately.
**Be careful because often times (even still with the mortgage "crisis"), the banks will offer to loan you way
more than you can afford. Avoid this, avoid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), and stick with a 15-year (ideally) or 30-year FIXED rate.
Then, once you figure out what kind of price range you're
looking at, ask friends and family for a referral to a real estate agent. We made the wrong choice of choosing our first realtor because she seemed nice. She was a lunatic! We switched so someone through our church (she advertised in the bulletin and we'd heard good things about her) and we've bought two houses and are selling one with her now. So word of mouth definitely helps.
He/She will guide you through the process of booking showings in homes you like and will help you when you want to make an offer.
Once you make an offer, you'll have to cover the expense of any and all inspections as well as closing costs (though most buyers will work with you to help with those costs if
you write it in your offer). Now
you have debt to pay off and you can find a suitable apartment/townhome with reasonable rent that will free up some cash in your budget to pay down debt, Dave Ramsey would suggest that as a short-term answer. But it's not a good goal for long-term financial freedom.
Whew--that was long-winded. I'd be happy to give you call sometime and help you get started with your budget if
you need help. I have Excel spreadsheets and other things that I can help you with if
you need assistance. Usually the hardest part about budgeting is getting started!