Rental Poverty 

How much of your monthly income should go to rent?

In the days when I lived and worked in the LA area, I lived in ‘The Valley’ (San Fernando Valley) and commuted into the ‘city’ to attend meetings, hearings, speak with people, so on. Part of my beat was Beverly Hills, Century City, Belair, West Hollywood, etc. All the very exclusive areas. I mostly used the 405 freeway, sometimes the 101 and some side streets. The commute to the city would start before 8 am and the commute back from the city began at about 2 pm. In all this stop and go traffic, I began to observe certain things.

What I began to see (when I paid attention) was the large number of pickup trucks, driven by men, with various tool boxes and gear in the back. I would see the trucks going south in the am and see the same type of vehicles going back north in the pm. Back ‘north’ was the Valley and then further north, Santa Carita, Canyon Country and further north, Victorville. I began to realize that the middle class folks, to include the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, could not afford the ‘city’ and were migrating north to affordable housing. In that commute, they were taking their skills with them.

It appeared that the 45 minute to 2 hour drive (depending on the time of day) was adequately offset by their work compensation so, they kept doing it. I began to realize something else. In Beverly Hills and neighborhoods of the like kind, the people who could afford to live there were the rich, the people who cleaned their toilets and washed their cars. No one else.

What happens when the housing is so expensive that no amount of commuting will offset the cost? There are areas in California now like Oakland, Santa Cruz, places in the Silicon Valley, where the cost of living is so great, they cannot attract workers. I was at the swimming pool recently and a young man shared that he had just taken an engineering job in that area. I know that he must be making pretty good money, however, he indicated the price of rent was ‘eating his lunch.’ I wonder how long he will last?

Three and a half years ago I left California, my home state, to come to Arizona. It had become  impossible to live on retired pay plus part-time jobs with the cost of living. When I came here my rent was a comfortable 26% of my salary. Now in just 3.5 yrs, it has jumped to an uncomfortable 34% of my salary. During the same time period, my salary cola increases have been 3%. That plus the rising cost of gas, I am having to check the fridge to see if I have enough food.

Who does this benefit? Well, the landlords of course. But what happens when the cost of living drives out your middle class and you don’t have anyone to fix your expensive houses, expensive cars and teach your children. Who wins? Try no one.

Greed has its price. One that I don’t think our society has even begun to calculate.

Article: Chase Bank

Ideally, your monthly rent payments should leave you with enough money left over for bills, groceries, a bit of non-essential spending, and even savings. Here’s how you can figure out how much of your income should go towards your monthly rent.

What percentage of income should go to rent?

The 30% rule

A popular standard for budgeting rent is to follow is the 30% rule, where you spend a maximum of 30% of your monthly income before taxes (your gross income) on your rent. This has been a rule of thumb since 1981, when the government found that people who spent over 30% of their income on housing were “cost-burdened.

Under 30%

The 30% rule is a general guideline that renters can follow, but they should also take into account other expenses and factors. For instance, if you have credit card debt or student loans to pay off, consider finding an apartment with rent below 30% of your monthly income, so you can put more of your budget toward reducing your debt.

Why you shouldn’t spend over 30% of your income on rent

If you have to spend over 30% per month on rent, you’ll have less money left over for bills and important purchases, making it more difficult to build savings. Make sure that your monthly rent payments don’t prevent you from paying off credit card debt or loans: your rent shouldn’t cause you to fall deeper in debt.

If 30% doesn’t work for you

The 30% rule does not always perfectly align with your budget. When determining how much you can reasonably pay in rent per month, there are some other things to consider before you say no.

Try the 50/30/20 rule

The 50/30/20 rule is a popular method to follow when determining your expenses in your monthly budget. The rule entails spending 50% of your monthly income on essential expenses such as rent, monthly bills, and groceries, spending 30% on non-essential purchases such as going out to eat, and putting 20% into your savings account. If your rent pushes above 30% of your gross income, by limiting your monthly bills, you may be able to keep rent + bills less than 50%.

Work down loans and debt

When you have considerable debt to pay each month, putting 30% of your income towards rent may still be too much. While finding a cheaper place to live can help you afford all of your essentials, consider working through debt reduction programs to shrink your monthly debt payments so you can put more money towards where you live.

Tidy up your spending habits

If you frequently eat out at restaurants, spend money on entertainment, or travel, consider how these expenses affect your monthly budget. If you would rather live in a more spacious apartment or more appealing neighborhood, cutting back on these extras can help you afford your new space.

Think about where you live

If you live in an expensive area, you may have to spend more than 30% of your monthly income on rent. To maintain a balance in your monthly budget, find ways to decrease your spending in other areas to live comfortably or find other areas to live in for less.

How to calculate 30% of your available income for rent

To find your gross monthly income, take a look at your most recent paycheck and find the line calling out “Gross Pay” (what you’re paid before taxes, health insurance, 401k, and any other benefits are removed from your pay).

Calculate your monthly Gross Pay

If you receive a paycheck every two weeks: Multiply your Gross Pay by 26 (to see your 52-week Gross Pay) then divide that number by 12 (to see your monthly Gross Pay).

If you receive a paycheck twice a month: Multiply your Gross Pay by 2 (to see your monthly Gross Pay).

Does 30% work for you?

If 30% of your Gross Pay is more than you’re currently paying each month in rent, then you’re at a safe level for housing. If 30% of your Gross Pay is less than your monthly rent, many financial professionals would suggest that you find a more affordable home

How to reduce your rent to 30% or less of your income

Split the rent with roommates

Sharing an apartment with roommates can help bring down the monthly rent costs per person. If you can find one or more roommates to comfortably share an apartment with, you immediately save a bit on your rent.

6/17/22 Courtney Webb