MILWAUKEE, Wis., March 8, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Traditionally, spring marks a busy period of time for housing market activity in Wisconsin. M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group, offers first-time homebuyers strategies for finding their ideal home while keeping financial priorities in check. Buying a home can be the largest and most important financial decision one can make, so it is important to be aware of all the factors that go into making a responsible purchasing decision. "The first step is figuring out how much you can afford to spend on homeownership, which means an honest assessment of the household balance sheet," said Dave Sheedy, Mortgage Market Manager, M&I, a part of BMO Financial Group. "Once you have a clear idea of where you stand financially, you can then make a responsible decision of what you can afford, including your down payment, monthly mortgage costs and other expenses like utility costs and property taxes." M&I offers the following tips for people looking to buy a home. Making an affordability assessmentSheedy noted that there are two rules of thumb first time homebuyers can use to determine what they can afford. "First of all, housing costs, including mortgage payments, property insurance and taxes, should not take up more than one-third of your income. In addition to this, servicing your overall debt, including loans, credit card payments and lines of credit, should not account for more than 40 percent. If you can land safely within these parameters, than homeownership is an affordable and realistic option." Many banks offer free on-line tools to help you wade through the home buying process. For example, Mibank.com/mortgages provides useful information for the potential homebuyer including: affordability calculators, term options, and mortgage qualification estimates.