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How much house can you afford?

Americans relocate to new homes approximately once every seven years. That means there is a wealth of information out there about the home-buying process, and you can compare notes with a bunch of people you already know. Ask about neighborhoods, schools, real estate companies and how to deal with a mortgage.

Once you've made the big decision that you're going to buy a house, you have to figure out how much money you want -- and can afford -- to spend on your new home. First, you should create a budget that details how much money you spend on everyday things on a regular basis. If you're organized and you already have a budget like that, you're ahead of the game. You need to compare your budget to your income and to the debts you already owe. Often, when you go to the bank to talk about mortgages, the banker will calculate how much you can afford to spend based on your income and debt, but he won't take into account all of your other "little" expenses, like child care costs, your tendency to travel and the fact that your car is on its last legs. When you buy a new house, you don't want to have to change your whole style of living in order to afford it.

Compare your numbers with the bank's numbers so that you can figure out what kind of mortgage payments you can afford without turning your life upside down. Don't forget that aside from mortgage payments, buying a house entails a number of one-time expenses, like closing costs and lawyer's fees. Plus, you'll have a monthly property tax to pay and insurance fees. Figure all of these numbers into your house-buying budget.