Buying your first home is like swimming the English Channel!

Imagine you wake up one morning and decide you're going to swim the English Channel. To make it to the other side, you'll need to swim 34 kilometres and withstand the freezing water temperature. Do you just jump in the water and start paddling?

Without your full commitment and careful planning, how far do you think you'd get before you started to sink?

In 2007, I traveled to the Caribbean to watch Australia play in the Cricket World Cup. Joining me on this trip was Dougal, a good friend from university who I hadn't seen for at least a year as he'd been living and working in Ireland.

We spent the first night catching up on the latest news while sampling the local beer and devouring plates of jerk chicken. Later in the evening, Dougal took me by surprise when he declared he was going to swim the English Channel. By this stage we'd had a couple of beers, so I couldn't tell if he was serious.

Dougal had never struck me as being an elite athlete. While at university, he had acquired the nickname "Double Barrel", because he was often seen around campus with two beer cans!

The next day, as I lay on a banana lounge nursing a decent hangover, Dougal jumped into the ocean and proceeded to do laps up and down the shore. It seemed he was serious after all!

When he finally got out of the water, I wanted to learn more. "Why would you want to swim the English Channel," I said. He told me he'd been looking to take on a significant challenge while living abroad and had recently seen an English comedian complete the swim in just under 11 hours. "If he can do it, why can't I".

Dougal also told me his little brother had recently been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He wanted to use the swim as an opportunity to raise money for cancer research.

He was undoubtedly motivated, but I still had my doubts. "I hope you have a good plan," I told him. Dougal began to run me through the logistics of how he was going to swim the English Channel.

He had already made a financial commitment paying a $1,000 deposit for the boat that would escort him during the swim. He had also mapped out an intense training schedule that required he keep training while on holiday, to maintain his fitness.

Most importantly, Dougal had learnt hypothermia was one of the biggest threats to failure, so he had a plan for dealing with the freezing water temperature. By training in Ireland, where the water temperature was colder than the channel, he would quickly become acclimatised to the conditions. He would gradually build up his weekly mileage, tolerating what he could in the ocean, then make up the rest of the distance in the pool.

It was clear Dougal had done his research, but I was still . "Surely it can't be that easy", I asked. He told me on his first trip to the Irish ocean, he could barely dip his feet in the water as it was so cold. More recently, he had started riding his bike to the sea each day to train, and on these trips, he regularly saw cars covered in snow!

Even though it was painfully cold, he continued to go back day after day and dip his toes in the water. His could see his plan was working, and he was starting to make some progress.

When we weren't watching the Aussies attempting to win the World Cup, we were at the beach. I would be lying on a banana lounge napping or drinking the local rum, and Dougal would be training. The holiday wasn't all hard work for Dougal. He was still able to remind us why he had earnt the nickname "Double Barrel!"

So, what does buying your first home have to do with swimming the English Channel? The decision to buy your first home should not be made on a whim. It takes your full commitment, and it takes careful planning. Just like swimming the channel.

Buying your first home will be the biggest financial decision you'll ever make. A poor decision could take you years to recover from. If you ever do!

Saving a deposit to buy your first home will require sacrifice. Instead of lying on a beach drinking cocktails, you may need to forgo some of life's luxuries for a while. You might have to move back home with your parents to save on rent or skip holidays for a while. Maybe you can't eat out as much, or perhaps you'll need to cut back in other areas of your life.

Focusing on saving your hard-earned money is essential, but it should not be your only focus. You could also sacrifice your free time working a second job to earn a few extra dollars or creating a side hustle.

Trust me, the more you put towards your deposit now, the less financial stress you'll fell later in life.

In August of 2007, Dougal swam the English Channel in just over thirteen and a half hours. A very respectable time. Just as impressive was the amount of money he was able to raise for cancer research. More than $60,000!

When we caught up a few months later, I was keen to hear all about the swim. I could tell by the way he talked that all the hard work he had put into achieving his goal had been worth it.

The most incredible part of his story occurred partway through Dougal's swim when the tide turned against him. It was so strong and pushing in the opposite direction that he effectively went nowhere for nearly two hours. I wondered how Dougal was able to mentally get through that. He told me that he was prepared for it and that he just needed to keep turning his arms over at a fast enough rate that kept hypothermia at bay. He knew that eventually, the tide would turn, and he would be able to start moving forward again.

When you start on your first home buyer journey, you need to be motivated and fully committed. At some stage, the tide will turn against you.

The most common hurdle I see first home buyers stumble over is being completely overwhelmed by the process. They might start by going to a few open for inspections, or chat to a mortgage broker about how much they can borrow. However, they don't know what to do next, so they give up.

My advice to you is, take a moment to think about why you want to buy your first home. You need a clear picture of your end goal to help keep you motivated.

Can you picture your first home? How many bedrooms does it have? Do you picture a house or an apartment? Is your home in the 'burbs' or close to the city? Can you imagine yourself cooking in the kitchen or your kids running around in the backyard? The more specific your picture, the better.

Remember, if you start feeling overwhelmed, stop and picture your first home, and imagine how good it will feel living there. It will remind you why you took on this challenge in the first place.

I believe there are a few reasons Dougal was successful. First, he had done his research. He knew he would have to cope with freezing water temperature, and at some stage, the tide would turn against him. This knowledge enabled him to create a plan to overcome it.

Second, he was also to execute his plan, putting in the long hours of training even when it was freezing cold. When the tide turned against him, he was able to handle it because he had done the hard yards.

Third, he was so motivated to raise money for his brother that when things got tough, he had no option but to keep going.

If you're motivated to buy your first home, make sure to check out my next post, How much do I need to save for my first home? Subscribe today and you'll automatically go into the draw to win a copy of my new eBook, How To Buy Your First Home.

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Hi, I'm Tim Stafford

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About Tim

Tim is a​ property valuer with more than 15 years' experience in the property and construction industry, having completed more than 15,000 valuations. 

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