How To Create a Future of Prosperity When Forced To Choose Between Basic Living Expenses


If you read the news these days, the stories seem to all center around one thing: the cost of living in America. Student loans are crushing college graduates and well-seasoned professionals alike. The job market is still lagging. The cost of rentals in big cities, where people flock for more opportunity, are skyrocketing. And home ownership is all but a lost dream for many.

It’s enough to make you want to turn off your computer and pretend none of this is happening. Unfortunately, there are many people who can’t.

NPR recently explored the high cost of rentals in big cities to examine the tough decisions people sometimes have to make: pay rent or buy food. Given the challenge many cities face of making rent affordable when demand is outpacing supply, the only quick way to solve the problem is by taking matters into our own hands. So if you’ve ever found yourself struggling with the question of making rent or paying your bills, here’s what you should do.

The Conundrum: Rent or Food

Since I’ve moved away from home to pursue opportunities in multiple cities, there have been a few American dreams that I gave up on (or simply assumed I’d never achieve). The main dream was home ownership (or in my case, apartment ownership). Then, as I realized the struggle to maintain rent in expensive cities on a tight budget, I gave up on another dream: renting my own apartment.

Luckily, I grew up an only child, so I had my fill of living alone throughout my entire upbringing. I’m one of those rare people that genuinely loves having roommates. And, now that I’m married, I have a roommate for life. But what about people who – understandably – want a place to call their own, even if it’s a rental? Or families who don’t have the luxury of taking on roommates to mitigate the high cost of rent? They often have a tough choice to make, as highlighted in NPR:

“Across the country, rental prices have risen as wages have stagnated.

Chris Herbert is the director of research at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Just last December they released a report on rental housing in the country. He says the situation is bad everywhere, and it’s just a question of how bad.

‘About 50 percent of renters are paying more than 30 percent of their income for monthly housing costs,’ Herbert says. ‘At last count, more than a quarter of households were spending more than 50 percent of their income for housing.’…

‘The trade-offs people are making are not trade-offs between going to the movies or going out to eat, but basically … nutrition, basic health care and saving for their future,’ he says. ‘Those are really important trade-offs people are making in trying to find affordable housing.’”

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Solving the Core Problem: Finding Ways to Lower Your Rent

The core of the problem – the high cost of rent – is something you have some control over. If you’re single, the quickest and easiest way to cut your rent in half (or more) is to take on a roommate. While society leads many to believe that living on your own is a sign of having “made it”, the reality is that many people have roommates well into middle age. While it’s hard to focus on your needs versus how it may look to others, creating financial solvency is far more important than what anyone else has to say about your situation.

If you need to save money on rent but hate the idea of having a roommate, remember that this is a solution that doesn’t have to last forever. As you save money on rent from month to month, this will free up your ability to make your bills and hopefully also save a little. Then, as you build your career and income, you may reach a point at which you can stay in your apartment roommate-free.

Of course, the roommates solution isn’t usually realistic for families. Trulia wrote an article in Forbes this week explaining other ways to save on rent, including:

  • Asking for a discount if you pay up front
  • Asking for a discount if you sign a longer lease
  • (Getting a roommate)
  • Saving on utilities through energy-efficiency
  • Choosing to live in an area in which you won’t need a car
  • Living near public spaces for free workouts and entertainment

While all of these tips can certainly help you save on rent, if you’re a family that’s truly struggling each month, you might need a bit more assistance. Many large cities offer housing assistance that can either help you find lower rent or organizations that can help you meet your bills. If you google your city’s name plus “rental assistance”, here are some examples of what you may find:

This is just the tip of the iceberg. While you’ll find many results when searching your city name plus “rental assistance”, starting with the city website is the best way to see what’s officially available to you.

Creating a Future of Prosperity

It’s not easy to ask for help – even when you really need it. The main thing to remember about these assistance programs is that they are temporary solutions. But if you combine assistance with this advice on saving money on rent, you’ll walk away with help and money saving principles you can use for life.

Image Credit: Andrew Seaman

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