How I’m Making a 45 Percent Increase in Rent Work For Me

published Aug 15, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

My husband and I can’t buy a home in L.A. because we’re spending too much money on avocado toast. Just kidding—fancy brunch isn’t the problem. The problem is that houses, even “starter” homes in decent neighborhoods, are too expensive. If we wanted to purchase a home in Highland Park, it would likely cost around $737,700 (the median home value for that neighborhood, according to Zillow). That would mean forking up close to $150,000 as a downpayment. Other desirable neighborhoods, such as Echo Park and Silver Lake are even more expensive (each have median values of $868,600 and $1,133,400, respectively).

So, starting September 1st, my husband and I will be doing the closest thing we can to buying a dream home: moving into our third rental in our four years living in Los Angeles. It’s a two-bedroom, two-bath house with its own private porch, basement, and driveway in Highland Park for $3,500. The thing is, the house is $1,100 more than we’re currently paying for our two-bedroom, one-bath townhouse. After entering our salaries into a rent calculator we found on the internet, we reasoned that we can technically do it—but it will be tight.

Yes, we know paying more in rent will endanger our ability to squirrel money away into our Let’s Finally Buy A House fund and also mean losing the opportunity to invest in property that could yield in a high ROI when we choose to sell and retire. But guess what: We’ve decided it’s the best thing for us right now in our lives (a.k.a. all that matters). Here’s how we’re planning on making it work and contribute to savings without feeling too stressed about money left over after our rent gets taken out.

But before I get into my savings plan, I do want to note that while my financial situation may be different from yours, the idea that we may have to re-forecast our budgets in order to afford higher rent (or whatever it is in your life that you’re trying to upgrade) is something that I think many can resonate with. And of course it’s true that budgets are subjective—while $3,500 rent might sound insane to many (I totally get it, welcome to Los Angeles!), to some, it might be considered a steal. Some of the ways I plan on saving money each month you might be doing already—and if that’s the case, I applaud you. You’re already ahead of the game. Every person’s budgets, needs, and sacrifices are different. I hope that mine offer insight into how one woman is able to manage her money in a way that makes sense for her.

1. We’re canceling subscriptions and services we don’t really need.

Do we need to be paying $170 each month for Internet and cable? Probably not. We mostly use Netflix and Hulu, and even though we feel like we can’t part ways with HBO (“Game of Thrones!” “Big Little Lies!” Bingeing all of “Silicon Valley”!), we know we could just pay for HBO Go separately (or along with our Amazon Prime account).

Other small subscriptions like Dollar Shave and Ipsy can go, too. By shaving off $106 for cable, and approximately $20 on other small services, we’ll be able to allocate a good chunk of cash toward rent.

Savings: $126

2. Decide whether a gym membership is worth it or not.

I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t used the gym in months, so this is a no-brainer. No gym memberships for neither me, nor my husband. We’ll be taking walks and doing yoga in the living room, thankyouverymuch.

Savings: $140

3. Consolidate credit cards and loans.

Credit cards with a high APR can usually be transferred over to a new account with 0% APR (usually for the first six months to a year) for those who can tack on another credit card.

Savings: Up to $100

4. Be more mindful of how many times a month we order takeout or go out to eat.

Nothing is more luxurious than ordering Thai takeout in pajamas. But while one order seems innocuous, they do start to add up. We generally order takeout on Fridays and go out to eat somewhere with two or three money signs on Yelp on Saturdays, so that ends up running around $120 each week. We’ll have to pare down to either ordering out or going out to eat once a week instead of twice.

Doing away with takeout lunch at work will be easy—I am so incredibly lucky that my job offers a free, catered lunch. The most L.A.-thing I do is skip it once a week to get sushi down the street. In all honesty, it’s just smart to take the free lunch my company generously offers whenever it’s available.

Savings: $108

5. Keep the clothing and makeup purchases to a minimum.

I’ve been spending around $300 each month (sometimes more) on clothes and makeup, but my “treat yourself” budget will have to be slashed in half. I hear the vintage thrift stores in Highland Park are phenomenal, though.

Savings: $150

6. I keep up my Poshmark closet.

In the last six months, I’ve made a few hundred dollars by selling old clothes and shoes I don’t want anymore (I totally understand the irony of spending a substantial amount of money each month on clothes only to regularly sell them online—we can talk about retail therapy another time, though). If I keep going through my wardrobe every month and am able to put aside items that I no longer wear, then I could turn this closet detox into a small side hustle.

Extra earnings: $40

7. Cancel Instacart.

Oh, Instacart. You are so convenient. But Instacart is a luxury, and even with free deliveries (it does costs $150 a year for a subscription, though), shopping trips end up being around $8-10 more expensive per trip.

Savings: $40

8. Stop using the Metro Express lane.

The Metro Express toll lanes for the I-10 and I-110 were designed to help decongest traffic. My husband and I bought transponders and set up accounts, telling ourselves we’d only use the lanes if we were late to work or if traffic was totally insufferable. Turns out we’re always late and traffic is always insufferable—my husband uses it every day, and I’ll always use it whenever I need to use the I-110. With better planning and arming ourselves with podcasts, we can avoid paying the steep price of this travel expense.

Savings: $150

9. If all else fails: We have savings

I dumb-lucked myself into getting a job at a company that was acquired a year later—and I had equity in the company. So when we were bought by a media giant, I made out with a year’s worth of salary. Some of it I took and used to pay off my car and credit card debt. Some I used to invest in stocks. The rest, not a huge amount, but an amount that could help us out in a bind, I keep in my savings account. This is for emergencies only—if my husband or I unexpectedly get sick, or one of us loses our jobs and need a buffer while looking for other opportunities.

Grand total of savings and earnings per month: $854

If my husband and I are able to save $854 a month by parting ways with a handful of subscription services and being more frugal with our paychecks (nothing crazy, even!), then that would be a major help. We won’t be as financially cozy as we are now in our $2,410 townhouse, but at the end of the day, we think a house with a porch is totally worth it.