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Why People Struggle To Pay Rent In America

Why People Struggle To Pay Rent In America

All across the nation, rent is increasing to the point of being unaffordable. This problem is particularly acute in cities, where more and more people are being burdened by their rent. This is widespread, despite the rapid economic growth after the recession. Worst of all, there’s no easy solution.

How is it that all salaries and employment levels can improve so much yet more people are struggling to pay their rent than ever before? Although incomes have increased about 4.5 percent since 2011, rent is up a massive 18.5 percent thanks to a perfect storm of factors, according to this report.

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Rising Prices

Prices have been rising since the lows of the recession. These high property prices mean that property owners will charge more for rent and that people will be more inclined to rent instead of paying for a home of their own.

Another contributing factor is the sheer growth in the popularity of renting. The Nation’s Housing 2015 report from The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University’s State found that this decade is shaping up to be the biggest decade for renter growth ever. Younger people have always been more likely to rent than own, and now older households are renting more than ever with a drop in home ownership levels.

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There’s more construction of new apartments and multi-family housing than in recent years, but that’s not really addressing the problem. Demand is far outpacing the supply and most of these new units are for people earning more than the national average. The general rule of thumb is that renters should only spend 30 percent of their income on housing, but the State of the Nation’s Housing Report shows that two-thirds of households couldn’t afford the median rent of this newly-constructed housing.

Just Move?

With no real solution in sight, it’s easy for someone to just tell renters to move somewhere that’s cheaper. At best, this is bad advice. At worst, it’s insensitive to the real problems faced by renters without thinking of other factors.

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I witnessed the effects of high rent during my first job, where I worked in an extremely wealthy suburb outside of New York City. I had no chance of affording an apartment within five miles of the town, but that’s to be expected because it was an entry-level job. However, veteran police officers, firefighters and other important government employees were also unable to afford living in town. Some of them would come in from almost an hour away just because raising a family anywhere near that town would have been impossible on a modest salary. Having emergency responders so far away was a detriment to the town, especially when they were needed. Local politicians would pay lip service to this problem, but little was done to address it.

The “just move” argument also means less diversity. The U.S. has always been a melting pot of different ethnicities and backgrounds, and letting people get priced out affects that blend. An extreme case of this is San Francisco, where a lack of construction and sky-high prices has made it the only country in the region that’s becoming less diverse over time. Susan Fainstein, an expert on city planning who’s penned several books on the subject, writes that, “Diversity underlies the appeal of the urban, it fosters creativity, it can encourage tolerance, and it leads city officials to see the value in previously underappreciated lifestyles.”

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Telling people to simply move from an unaffordable place is easy, but moving is difficult. Although an apartment might be expensive, in a way, it might be more expensive for someone to move to a cheaper apartment. A fair amount of cash is required to take on a new apartment thanks to deposits, so people living paycheck to paycheck are unable to come up with enough money to move. Alternatively, their high rents are eating away at any potential savings. Moving outside the city also means fewer opportunities, as the busier urban centers are where most of the jobs are.

No Easy Solution

It’s unknown if the apartment supply will rise to meet the levels of demand, but it could happen since renting out housing has become an increasingly steady form of income to landlords. As current trends show, most new housing ignores the needs of median wage earners.

What could really make a difference would be people’s attitudes changing. Instead of forcing people to be move, the root issues of a lack of diversity in housing options and insufficient salaries should be looked at.

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Anum Yoon

Writer & Journalist

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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