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It’s tough to save when you have a high cost of living, whether it’s driven by the fact that you’re pulling in a small entry-level paycheck, laying down roots in a pricey city — or both.
But you don’t have to budget so strictly that you sacrifice all that you enjoy to save money — provided you’re willing to balance your high cost of living with a little financial discipline.
Here are some ideas to ensure you don’t spend every penny in your paycheck when you have a high cost of living.
Choose Housing Based on Needs Instead of Wants
When monthly rent and utility payments are more than 30% of your monthly gross income (that’s before taxes) you’re considered “rent burdened,” reports The New York Times, and if the costs are more than half of your monthly gross income, you’re “extremely rent burdened.” That could put you at risk of not being able to afford life’s other necessities, which could lead to unmanageable debt. It also makes it unlikely that you’ll have enough cash left over at the end of the month to save.
Can’t manage your housing costs to make those numbers work based on the high cost of living in your city? Be open-minded about your living arrangements. Apartments that are a few miles outside of the trendiest areas, for example, may be several hundred dollars less each month.
If you have additional room in your abode or are rarely home, consider getting a roommate (or two). You’ll instantly slash your monthly rent and utility bills by at least half, and free up some room in your budget that allows you to save each month for emergencies. (Plus, you can slowly save enough cash to upgrade into a living situation you can truly afford in the future.)
Identify Your Biggest Expense — and Spend a Little Less on It
What is the biggest expense in your budget? What if you had to (not just wanted to) slash it by 20% per month? If you’re willing to make some small shifts in your spending habits you’ll have extra cash to put into a savings account each month, without having to adjust your lifestyle dramatically.
If you spend a considerable amount of cash on happy hours with your coworkers, for example, host a BYOB game night instead. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals that prices for alcohol bought at bars and restaurants have increased by nearly 50% since 2003; prices for alcohol purchased at a store and consumed at home have gone up just 20% over the same time period. Perhaps your credit cards or loans are taking up too much of your available income, you may be able to benefit from debt consolidation strategies.
Schedule Quarterly Negotiations
Do you know you’re getting the best possible rate on your cell phone plan? Consumer Reports recently examined several major cell phone provider plans to identify low cost options. What about the rates you pay for car insurance, your gym membership, or your internet or cable service?
Not all providers will be willing to negotiate their rates, but if you’ve received a better offer from a competitor, and have been a loyal customer, they may be willing to consider matching another provider’s price to keep your business. Direct any amount you’re able to negotiate into a savings account so you’re not tempted to spend more freely once your bills are slightly lower.
Plan Free Weekends
You’re paying a premium to live in a high cost area. Why not be a tourist in it?
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Living in a high cost of living area often means easy access to free events offered in the local arts, culture, music, wellness, fitness and culinary communities.
Whether you’re drawn to community yoga in the park, an afternoon at a local museum or a weekend morning spent browsing the local farmer’s market, you can schedule an action-packed weekend while engaging with parts of your city you might otherwise miss. Try dedicating yourself a free weekend once a month. You’ll save money and become rich in experiences in the process.