First-time homebuyers embody the excitement of achieving the ultimate American dream: home ownership. Today, with so much uncertainty in the current market and a strict lending climate, first-time buyers have shifted their focus from dream to deal.

But no matter where you live, “if you’re in the right financial and lifestyle situation, now is the right time to buy,” she says. “If you’re not in a rush, it’s also a good time to wait.”

Once you decide it is the right time to buy your first home, here are five things you must do:

Accurately track your expenses

“Don’t guess. “Oftentimes, we underestimate how much we spend.” To really understand the financial impact of owning a home, start by tracking exactly how much you spend each month on everything from groceries to entertainment. Write the numbers down in a journal or a spreadsheet.

Save Up for a Down Payment

Saving up for a down payment can help you prove to yourself that you are ready to purchase a home. It will also likely be a must for qualifying for a mortgage.

Remember, the larger your down payment, the more you will be able to spend on a home. A large down payment can make homes that may seem out of reach affordable since you are putting so much down when you make the purchase.

Pay Attention to the Market

Over the next year as you get ready to buy a home, pay attention to the market in the area in which you want to buy. This can help you understand what homes are selling for and what to expect when you start shopping.

You should also research schools’ districts and other factors in certain areas. While you may not have children now, you may in the future (especially if you stay in the home for at least five years), so things like school districts and playgrounds might matter more than you initially think.

Set a New Budget

The final thing you can do is to set up a new budget and practice living on it. Work in the additional costs of owning a home like additional utility bills, repair, and maintenance costs, and any extra that you would pay for the mortgage. (The extra money can be set aside for your down payment.)

This will give you a good idea of how much you can afford for a monthly mortgage payment and help you be ready when it is time to purchase your home.