Ballooning expenses in cities across the country are making headlines, causing many people to wonder how to cope with the high cost of living in their areas.
In some cases the high cost of living is due to economic growth. In others, it’s due more specifically to an increase in home prices. Take Nashville, Tennessee, for example.
According to a study by GOBankingRates, from 2016 to 2017, the Music City experienced a “live comfortably amount increase” of $9,135 per household, topping the list of cities with cost of living increases for this time period. In 2017 it took a salary of $70,150 per household to live comfortably in Nashville.
“Although our unemployment rate was below 4 percent in 2017, our wage increases haven’t kept up with our cost of living increases,” says Kate Dore about Tennessee’s capital. Dore is the founder of personal finance blog Cashville Skyline and a Nashville resident who moved to the area in 2006.
Dore has seen firsthand how the high cost of living has affected people in her city.
“To make matters worse, home values increased by almost 40 percent” from 2013 to 2017, she says. “This means higher property tax bills, and consequently, an increase in rent.” Many of Dore’s friends who were renters have actually left Nashville because they didn’t know how to cope with the high cost of living.
Nashville isn’t the only city feeling the squeeze. Cities like New Orleans; Jacksonville, Florida; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Louisville, Kentucky also saw a significant increase in cost of living from 2016 to 2017.
So how do you save money when your cost of living is high, especially if you have debt or haven’t seen a raise in ages? Consider the following tips for dealing with the high cost of living in your area:
Look for personal finance education
Kimberly Studdard, founder of The Entrepremomer—where she works as a blogger, consultant and virtual assistant—is dealing with the high cost of living in Overland Park, located in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Studdard, a mother of one, had been struggling to cover basic expenses while working full time as an accounting assistant for a plumbing company. Together, she and her husband brought in $2,800 a month. They realized they needed help dealing with the high cost of living and managing their money.
“We started really cracking down on our finances and started focusing on personal finance blogs that would help us,” she says.
One strategy she learned from her personal finance research, and continued for several months, was to raise the temperature of her air conditioning by a degree or two every few days. Because her family was using less and less AC, without sacrificing comfort, their monthly energy bill started to decrease. After two months of implementing cost-cutting measures learned from her research—the air conditioning hack included—she was averaging savings of $100 per month.
“It may not sound like much, but I was making minimum wage, so a $100 difference was a huge deal. That was food on the table for two weeks,” she says.
Learn to cut back
If you are trying to save money when your cost of living is high, spending less can be one of the fastest ways to make a difference.
When Studdard was determining how to cope with the high cost of living and how to cut back in her own life, she got creative. She lowered her utility bills by showering at her job and scheduling regular maintenance on her air conditioning and furnace to keep them running efficiently. Eventually she was able to save between $150 to $250 each month on utilities.
Implementing such cost-saving measures, and sticking to them, can be a challenge for many people. Dore, the personal finance blogger from Nashville, says budgeting and cutting back often fail because people return to bad habits. If you’re not sure how to stay on track, or the thought of trimming your spending makes you queasy, Dore suggests starting with what she calls ‘mindful budgeting.’
She recommends creating a mindful spending journal by logging how and, crucially, why you spend money for at least 30 days. Note in particular if you overspent in the company of certain family or friends or if feeling stressed prompted your overspending. Monitoring which purchases make you feel fulfilled, versus those that trigger guilt, can also be valuable. Tracking your behavior can clarify how much money you are spending on things that aren’t necessarily important to you, which can then help you figure out where to trim. Once you know what you can cut from your budget, the answer to how to cope with the high cost of living becomes clearer.
Since monitoring your spending can also reveal what you value most, it can help you start funneling money toward your financial goals. In Dore’s case, she found that purchases like clothing and food delivery weren’t that important to her. What she truly craved was the feeling of security that came from increased savings.
“When experimenting with my mindful spending journal, I uncovered a lot of frivolous spending on food and drinks—especially delivery apps like Postmates and Uber Eats,” she says. “The pattern was pretty obvious because I rarely shop or buy anything else I don’t need.”
After uncovering where her money was going, Dore was able to cut back by better planning her groceries. “By setting a couple of hours aside for weekly Trader Joe’s or Aldi hauls, I’m more likely to have food around. This means fewer impulsive food purchases,” she says.
By spending her money more consciously, dealing with the high cost of living became easier.
Tracking your behavior can clarify how much money you are spending on things that aren’t necessarily important to you, which can then help you figure out where to trim.
Find ways to earn more money
If you’re wondering how to cope with the high cost of living, and cutting back isn’t enough, you could find ways to increase your earning potential. Consider negotiating a raise or looking for a new job with more opportunity and better pay.
Dore and Studdard advocate having a side hustle, which is a gig outside of your day job. Both have side hustles of their own, and they recommend side hustles as a way to save money when your cost of living is high.
“I started with freelance writing, social media consulting and event planning,” Dore says. She recommends focusing on projects you enjoy to ease the sting of working extra hours in addition to your regular job.
Studdard started as a freelance writer on top of her primary career, then transitioned to working as a virtual assistant. In September 2016, she shifted her side hustle to full-time employment and now earns triple what she and her husband used to bring in together. Her husband is now able to stay home with their daughter, and their family is more easily dealing with the high cost of living.
Dealing with the high cost of living
From one year to the next, increases in the cost of living around the country are common and often inevitable. If how to cope with the high cost of living is top-of-mind, considering your options to cut back and earn more can make your finances more manageable. It may take extra work, extra patience and some careful thought, but it can be done.