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Tips on Stretching a $50K Salary in Houston

Locals know a thing or two about saving money in Houston: According to the Council for Economic Research, we have the second-lowest average cost of living among major U.S. metro areas. This, plus no state income taxes, helps our average household income of more than $44,000 (per the 2010 U.S. Census) go a lot further.

Basic living expenses can add up fast, but the local resources below can help you cut back while living on about $50,000 per year.

Budgeting

A Houston worker earning $50K per year will take home approximately $3,500 per month, according to take-home pay calculators, such as the one at paycheckcity.com. (Plug in your numbers to figure your precise take-home salary.)

Financial experts such as Dave Ramsey recommend budgeting guidelines that can help you estimate major monthly expense categories. To save the minimum 10 percent of income that is recommended, you’ll need to cut $350 from your current expenses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Southwest Information Office reports housing, food and transportation are the largest expenditures in U.S. and Houston households. We’ve examined these areas for potential ways to save in Houston.

Transportation

Houston is a city in love with cars and freeways. A study by Texas A&M University notes we have the sixth-longest commute time in the nation. Still, our public transportation system is a viable option for those looking to cut costs. The city’s METRO system offers a nifty commute calculator that helps estimate how much you’d save by taking the bus or light rail to work.

Using the calculator’s estimate, a Houston worker commuting 20 miles roundtrip, five days a week, could save about $186 a month. By utilizing public transit, you’re also reducing daily vehicle wear and tear that can lead to maintenance and repair costs.

Food

Spending less on food seems to be an easier feat for Houstonians; the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes we spend a smaller percentage of our income on food than most cities. The recommended maximum food budget in Houston is about $525 per month.

While $525 may seem ample for a single individual, it can prove challenging for a family of four (who’d have trouble meeting even the USDA’s “thrifty” food plan at this budget). Check out these ideas for savings:

  • Shop discount supermarkets, such as Houston newcomer ALDI, where foods can be purchased in bulk. An even cheaper alternative is an ultra-low-cost “salvage” supermarket, such as Houston Discount Sales, where you’ll find everything from lightly bruised veggies to surplus meats at basement prices.
  • Make use of our ethnic diversity: Vietnamese town Pho shops and ethnic grocery  stores – such as Supermercado El Ahorro – can help you both save money and try new flavors.

Housing

The Houston Association of Realtors notes that while we’ve historically benefitted from one of the most affordable housing markets in the nation, rapid growth has sent new home prices upward recently. According to the data, the median price of a single family home is now about $172,000, making it harder to stay under the 30 percent of income housing budget. Consider these options for cutting costs:

  • Local property listing sites, such as HAR.com will often highlight foreclosed and other deeply discounted properties for sale.
  • Renting at off-peak seasons can significantly reduce rent. Avoid signing a lease in the summer or early fall, when most people choose to move, suggests Houston-based Apartmentwiz.com.
  • Take advantage of historically low mortgage rates to refinance or purchase a home at lower monthly payments. Local credit unions often offer better rates than large banks.
  • If you qualify, The City of Houston’s Homebuyer Assistance Program can make home ownership more accessible.

While cutting costs may not be easy, households bringing in about $50K per year in Houston can have some peace of mind by finding creative ways to put money aside to save.

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