In 2016, Austin, Texas, registered the ninth largest metro-area growth in the United States, according to the United States Census Bureau. An average of 159 people moved to the city each day. High-paying tech jobs have been plentiful — Apple, Google, Dell, and IBM all have bases in Austin.
With housing, food, and transportation costs rising, there has been plenty of talk of an affordability crisis. Longtime residents are being forced out of their homes due to gentrification.
Can someone live frugally in a booming city? I’m dedicated to saving as much money as possible, even in a place where prices always seem to be going up. Here’s how I combat the high cost of living in Austin, Texas:
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1. Save on Housing
I’ve lived in Austin for five years now and have never paid more than $620 a month in rent. In a city where a loft apartment can easily cost you at least $900 a month, I’ve done well.
To keep my rent low, I move frequently, chasing deals across the city. I’ve lived in four homes in my time here. Moving can be a pain in the butt, but it also saves me hundreds in rent each month. I relocated most recently because my rent was about to go up by $300 a month. In fact, I not only avoided that rent raise, but I was also able to land an apartment that was $50 cheaper!
The other way I save big is by negotiating with my landlords. I’ve done this with the past three landlords I’ve had, saving anywhere from $50 to $120 a month on rent.
Negotiating is always worth trying. You never know what a landlord might compromise on, and you can save yourself a lot of money in the process. Start by asking your landlord if she's open to trading something for a lower rent. For instance, you can offer to do handyman or landscaping work for a discount. I’ve personally done social media promotions for landlords in exchange for a break on rent. I’ve also lived in housing with design flaws — think bumpy floors — in exchange for a monthly discount.
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2. Save on Transportation
Austin has one of the poorest public transportation systems. It doesn’t have a subway, the light rail only makes a few central stops, and the buses get stuck in traffic jams.
Walking and biking to work are great alternatives, but it gets hot in Austin. There can be weeklong stretches of 100-degree weather. I don’t want to show up at professional meetings soaked in sweat after a bike ride!
The best way to save money on transportation is to combine a number of options.
Here’s how I do it:
First, I live centrally, so my commute is short. But for the short commute I do have, I bike almost exclusively from November through April, when the weather is cooler. I also carpool to my side hustle with my coworkers. I check in with my car insurance company once a year to see if I’m eligible for any discounts.
Plus, I minimize my need for transportation as often as possible. For instance, I host dinner parties and movie nights at home and find activities that are within walking distance of where I live.
3. Save Money on Your Lifestyle
Austin is often praised for being weird. And it’s thinking weirdly that can save you big money in this city. Here are some tips to keep more cash in your pockets:
Buffalo Exchange, Pluto’s Closet, and Uptown Cheapskate are all local favorites for secondhand clothes. Buffalo Exchange just a few blocks from the University of Texas, so there are lots of clothes from college-age people in the store. Uptown Cheapskate has a fantastic array of items, and it offers sales on the already discounted prices.
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No other city does live music like Austin. There are free shows every night, which you can find listed on sites like Do512. Shady Grove is a popular restaurant and music venue where a long-running series called Unplugged at the Grove also offers music at no charge. And if you enjoy paintings, prints, and drawings, the Blanton Museum of Art has extended hours and special programming with free admission every third Thursday of each month.
You can find free exercise classes throughout the city. Cherrywood Coffeehouse offers free yoga Monday through Friday mornings, and Whole Foods (the original one!) also holds sunset yoga sessions once a month.
4. Adopt a Frugal Mindset and Play to Your Strengths
When everything around you is getting more expensive, frugality becomes more of a way of thinking than a to-do list. Frugal living is endlessly flexible, which means that anyone can adopt ways to save more money, even when faced with an increasing cost of living — whether in Austin or elsewhere.
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Maybe you hate negotiating, so you don’t want to do it with your landlord. Instead you save money by deciding to avoid eating out. You get to make your budget work for you, so play to your strengths.