How far does your dollar stretch these days when it comes to housing? Experts suggest spending 30% of your income on your monthly rent—but depending on where you live and how much you earn, that might be aspirational. A Harvard study found a full 25% of renters spend half their income or more on housing. Millennials make up 38% of home buyers, and a third of homeowners ages 22-19 had a ramping-up period to stash away money for a down payment by living with their parents, relatives, or friends, the National Association of Realtors reports.
Decide on renting vs. owning
You first need to decide what works best for you— renting or owning your home. Owning a house has its positives, including tax advantages and investing in full ownership with each monthly payment. However, even if you have a down payment, good credit, and enough income to cover the mortgage, you’ll still need to consider all the expected and unexpected costs that go along with homeownership.
With renting, leases give you more mobility, and you don’t have to cover repair and maintenance costs as you would if you were a homeowner. The downside is that you lack control if your landlord decides to hike up your rent or sell the property. Additionally, your rent payments go straight to your landlord’s pocket, rather than investing in your long-term wealth.
Share your space
You can cover a big chunk of your costs living with a roommate, moving in with family, or renting out space in your home. When you own a home, these decisions are usually unilateral and you don’t have to consult with anyone except perhaps a homeowner’s association if you have one.
When you rent, there may be extra layers of permission required from the landlord. Regardless, this means you’ll have to carefully vet applicants to ensure they’ll be able to pay their rent on time and carry out household responsibilities.
Downsize or move out of the city
Smaller spaces require less heating, cooling, and cleaning. While downsizing offers lower monthly payments, you may have to make sacrifices to save money. That might mean children share a bedroom or adults surrender office space for the kitchen table.
Try considering moving to a less expensive city or neighborhood. Perhaps it’s worth it to give up living in the hottest neighborhood or a densely populated city in order to get more space for less money.
It’s also a good idea to consider your needs when working. Do you need to work in the city or are can you work remotely? If you’re working from home indefinitely, it may be a good idea to consider moving out of certain cities to save money.
If you’re a homeowner, you’ll want to pounce on lower interest rates by refinancing your mortgage. If you can save 2% or more and plan to stay in the home, it might be worth the effort. The best refinancing candidates have a steady cash flow, accumulated equity in their property, and a good credit score. If that doesn’t sound at all like you, you can also ask your lender for a loan modification or turn to a government program for help.
Do an energy audit
You could be wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars a year in excess heating and cooling costs. Weigh your costs with an audit from your utility company or local energy professional. Check for any holes, worn insulation, or leaks that will make your utilities work harder, which means more spent energy and money. Some utilities offer cash for old, inefficient appliances to get them off the grid, and there are also national and regional incentives for saving energy.
Negotiate with your landlord
Some landlords raise the rent a certain percentage every year, and some may be open to negotiating an outright temporary reduction in rent. Either way, it never hurts to ask for a discount—especially now. This might work better if you’re dealing with an individual rather than a large property management firm and if you’re about to sign a new lease.
If you have the time and the skills, you can also come up with a contract to pay part of your rent in work and maintenance. The smart folks at Zumper, a rental-finding platform, also point out that you could surrender some amenities, such as your highly-coveted parking space.
Clean up your credit
A good credit score can get you a lower mortgage and put you higher on the list of rental applicants. When you have better credit, you’ll see more doors open and you’ll have a better chance of getting that place you just love. There are lots of ways to pay down debt; you’ll also consider automatic minimum payments to make sure your record doesn’t get dinged with late fees.
Regardless of your financial situation, there are viable options to stretch your housing dollar. While some of these fixes may only be temporary (like sharing tiny spaces), others you’ll want to stick with for good (like lower electric bills). The money you’ll save with a few smart strategies can allow you to not only survive tough times but also save money and reach your long-term financial goals.