First-Home Savers: Penny lived on cheese and salami sandwiches to buy a home

Our new series, First-Home Savers, shares real life stories of how first-home buyers managed to get on the property ladder.

We’ll share tips, tricks and strategies that work from first-home buyers who have been there, done that, through all types of challenges.

If you have a savings technique, and want to share it to help others achieve their dream of home ownership, email

This week’s column is from Penny Vandenhurk, now a property buyers’ agent, who lived on cheese and salami sandwiches for 18 months to squirrel away a deposit for her first apartment.

Penny explains…

I met my now husband when we were 28 and while we both had some savings, we’d also both spent a number of years living overseas and travelling.

After six months, we both moved out of our respective share houses and rented an apartment together in Surry Hills, Sydney. 

super saver and buyers' agent Penny Vandenhurk
First-home buyer, super saver and buyers’ agent Penny Vandenhurk says think ahead to what your second property purchase could be. (Supplied)

We quickly realised that if we could get together $50,000 we could leverage Lenders Mortgage Insurance and government first-home buyer schemes and buy an apartment similar size to what we were renting, with the key goal being our mortgage repayments needed to be less than our current rent, so we could keep saving to buy something bigger a few years later. 

We lived on cheese and salami sandwiches for about 18 months, and I had a rule to only buy lunch once a week at work and it couldn’t cost more than $10!

We also leveraged the abundance of discount offers that you get from the food delivery boxes – such as Hello Fresh – and used these to keep our grocery bills down. If you aren’t in the supermarket, then you’re also not buying stuff you don’t need, and save money.

We managed to buy a poorly-presented, but with good-bones, one-bedroom apartment in Redfern in 2016 and spent three years living there while improving the property. 

First-Home Savers Penny
Penny leveraged $50,000 in savings, plus grants, into her first home – a one-bedroom apartment in Sydney. (Domain)

We did our own new kitchen from IKEA, updated blinds, and put in air con and heating.

We continued to save like mad so we could keep this apartment and turn it into an investment. We rented it out on Airbnb every time we went away to recoup the cost of our trip away, I walked to and from work to save the $8 a day in Opal fares, and we continued with the toasted cheese sandwiches!

In 2019 our longer term goal was achieved. We managed to use our extra savings, plus the equity in our apartment from our renovations, to purchase a bigger property and turn our apartment into an investment, which will hopefully one day be paid off and provide an income stream in retirement.

I now work as a buyer’s agent and the most common challenge I see for first-home buyers is they know they will live in their first property for less than five years, however, they are not taking a long-term view to ensure that what they are buying now sets them up for success on that next purchase.

It is critical to get the first purchase right, to ensure the second purchase is achievable. 

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