You’re hoping to save for a big goal—but your rent is too damn high. Don’t panic! Our financial advisors have savings tips, even for those on a tight budget.
I’d like to save for a big goal…but rent takes a huge chunk of my income. How can I get started?
At Society of Grownups, we hear this question a lot—and especially here in Boston, where housing costs are among the highest in the country. Whether or not you’re based in a city, you may find that your rent is taking a big bite out of your monthly budget, and holding you back from saving for big goals.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. I sat down with our financial planning team to get their advice on how to start saving—even if you’re paying a significant amount in rent.
Know Where to Cut Back
First and foremost, ask yourself whether you’re paying too much for housing: A good rule of thumb is about 28 percent of your overall income should cover rent or a mortgage. What’s your current percentage?
Once you know how much of your take-home pay is going toward housing, ask yourself some hard questions: If you’re hardly ever home, should you downsize to a smaller (more affordable) place? Look at the particulars of your living situation: Can you take in a roommate to help defray costs? For those able to do so (and willing—let’s be truthful here), adding another tenant is a significant way to cut a rent bill (and utilities, too).
Speaking of utilities, how much are you spending on them? asks Rachel Rabinovich, CFP®. “Are you using energy efficiently? Wasting electricity by leaving on lights and appliances? Taking long showers and using too much hot water?” Note your behaviors and how they impact your utility bills to find additional ways to cut expenses.
Cable and cell phone plans are also easy targets to cut back. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of going over your bill with your cable or cell phone company and they can help you find a plan that’s more cost effective,” says Rabinovich. Pick up the phone and call—it may pay off!
If that doesn’t cut it (pun intended), reach out to your landlord, says Tyler Dolan, CFP®. You may be able to negotiate a way to offset some of your rent. Would your landlord cut your rent if you painted some of the walls, shoveled some snow, or cut the grass?
Get Creative with Your Budget
Now that you’ve looked at your housing, it’s time to tackle your lifestyle to see where there are opportunities for saving. Where can you tighten up your spending?
“Little expenses that seem tiny can really add up,” says Rabinovich. “Are you swiping your debit card every day for coffee or taking money out of the ATM to buy lunch at work? That’s a place where you can make changes: Invest in a coffee maker—even a fancy one—or pack most days, and maybe splurge once or twice a week on lunch.”
“Mint.com is a great tool you can use to analyze your spending habits,” says Dolan. “There are other budgeting tools out there that may work for you, too. Once you find one that feels comfortable, take a really close look every few weeks to see where the fat is—those mindless purchases that didn’t bring long-term happiness. Then you can work on trimming those expenses that don’t align with your values.”
Kick Off Your Savings
“Once you’ve tightened up the spending and are seeing where you can find savings, designate a certain amount that you know you can live without, and then set up an automatic payment that will go directly to your savings account,” says Rabinovich. “Set up a savings account in a high-yield savings account program and have them automatically draw from your checking account. Pay yourself first: After the rent, before you play, put that set amount right into your savings.”
It doesn’t have to be a lot—$25 or $50 out of each paycheck to start—but make it automatic, and it builds a lot more quickly than you realize. Additionally, plan to put away any windfalls, tax refunds, and bonuses: If you’re paid biweekly (e.g., a 26-pay-period cycle), budget for a 24-pay-period cycle and put those extra checks directly into your savings. If you’re renting and you move, put your security deposit into savings. Same goes for a tax refund.
Save for pop-up bills—say for home or auto repairs, yearly auto insurance renewals, or an upcoming vacation—like a regular monthly expense. “Automating monthly savings for these irregular expenses can keep you from getting derailed from whatever your budgeting plan is,” says Dolan.
A lifelong traveler and bookworm, Sarah spends her days thinking of new ways to explore and tell stories.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.