The majority of Americans—79 percent recently surveyed—still believe that owning a home is a vital component of achieving the American dream, according to a Bankrate.com survey of more than 2,000 consumers. Americans placed achieving homeownership ahead of retirement (68 percent), having a successful career (63 percent), and owning an automobile (58 percent), according to the survey.

While the majority of respondents rated ownership high, they do see several challenges to overcome to achieve it. About half of the survey’s respondents say they don’t own a home because they can’t afford it on their income. Four in 10 Americans say they don’t own because they can’t afford a down payment and closing costs, while one-third cite high home prices as the major obstacle.

But a rigid savings plan could put more consumers into homeownership. “Put yourself on financial lockdown for at least six months before purchasing a home,” says Dana Scanlon, a real estate pro with Keller Williams Capital Properties in Bethesda, Md. “Don’t buy new furniture, keep your old car running, and check your spending habits.”

Luis Rosa, a financial planner in Henderson, Nev., suggests a two-year plan to save up for closing costs and a down payment and to boost credit scores.

For average-sized homes, buying a home is usually a better deal than renting, says a new study by LendingTree, an online lending resource, which compared monthly rental and mortgage payments for homes in the 50 largest U.S. metros.

“Renting can be the best option if a person is not planning on staying in one area for a very long time or does not have enough cash for a down payment,” LendingTree notes in its study. “But buying a home can be a good long-term investment.”

Researchers found most large metros where rent payments are the most expensive when compared to mortgage payments. Median mortgage payments are, on average, $215 cheaper than median rent payments in these metros.

As we’ve said before, simply put, homeownership is a form of ‘forced savings.’ Every time you pay your mortgage, you are contributing to your net worth by increasing the equity in your home.

That is why Gallup reported that Americans picked real estate as the best long-term investment for the fifth year in a row. According to this year’s results, 34% of Americans chose real estate. Stocks followed at 26%, and then gold, savings accounts/CDs, or bonds.

Bottom Line

If you want to find out how you can use your monthly housing cost to increase your family’s wealth, let’s get together to guide you through the process.