There Are Actually Two Problems With Rent
Nicole Dieker

I calculated what my husband and I are paying rent after reading this post (and that Zillow page). We’re taking home $5,870 a month *after* taxes and contributions to our retirement plans, a flexible spending account, and a small premiums for (great) employer-provided health insurance. Our rent represents 19.8% of our take home income.

I know that’s reasonable-ish, according to the all of those numbers and charts on the Zillow page. But it still feels like a LOT. We’re trying to put away 50% of our income into savings every month to, you know, build a future for ourselves. As you can imagine, we’re really limping towards the finish line some months.

I think part of the reason that 19.8% feels like such a huge percentage of our take home pay is that for the first year of our marriage (we’ve only been married 20 months), we payed $390 in rent. Our income was lower, but I think our rent represented only approximately 7% of our take home pay.

Our rent was low because we lived in a group house with a bunch of other late 20somethings and early 30somethings… and that house was neglected by our landlord. There were mice and cockroaches, the basement flooded whenever it rained, and one person lived in the attic — which kept the overall rent down for everyone.

In some ways, it was a tough way to spend our first year of marriage, but looking back, I wouldn’t trade it. It meant we were able to pay off my husband’s graduate school loans just 12 months after he got his degree.

Now that we’re in a new town where we don’t have the kind of community to lean on and find a group house like we did before, we’re living in our own apartment for the first time. It’s beautiful — lots of windows and tall ceilings and hardwood floors. It ain’t perfect, but it’s quiet and lovely and we’re delighted to call it home. But damn, 19.8% every month.

I’m getting ready to go to graduate school (part-time while continuing to work full-time and with tuition assistance from my employer), but the idea of taking out loans *and* continuing to pay this much in rent has my stomach doing flip flops.

I’m happily married, but crunching these numbers helped me realize that if I wasn’t married to a spouse whose work effectively doubles our income, there is no way I could afford the apartment we live in. Looking at Craigslist, I think both of us would have a really hard time finding a place in our current town that didn’t claim a *much* larger percentage of our take home pay.

I’m filled with worry for all of us out there trying to do this whole pay the rent and save thing. My husband used to work with a rapid re-housing program for adults experiencing homelessness and I had a peripheral volunteer role with the same shelter for 10 months. It really drove home for both of us how precarious housing is. I don’t have a clever way to end this post, so I’ll just stop there.

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