Homeword is committed to providing safe, healthy affordable homes using sustainable methods and promoting strong communities through housing counseling and education for those most in need.

The Cost of Living Challenge

  • posted by Jessica Burson
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The Cost of Living Challenge

With a minimum wage of $8.05 an hour and many jobs offering $10.00 an hour, it’s easy to see how Missoula’s mean wage is $9.65 an hour. What’s perhaps not as apparent is the challenge people living on $10.00 an hour face in an area with high housing and other living costs.

Did you know that HUD defines housing costs as affordable when you spend 30% or less of your income on housing? Yet 42% of Missoulians spend more than 30%. And 21% of them spend over 50% of their income on housing. How is this possible? Because at the mean wage of $9.65 (which we’ve rounded to $10.00 on the worksheet), housing costs would have to be $502.00 per month to be “affordable”. Yet the average 2 bedroom apartment in Missoula is $905.00. And even studios and 1 bedrooms average $700.00-$800.00 per month – much more than affordable for someone earning $10.00 an hour.

Let’s take the Cost of Living Challenge, shall we? Someone making $10.00/hour brings home about $1,600.00 per month. Single parents. Retired veterans. Recent grads. Retail workers. This sheet shows estimates of the most common expenses. Ideally, people would be able to afford all of these items, or at least most of them. Yet, many people in our community have to balance low incomes with high cost of living expenses.

Can you do it? Can you balance your budget using this worksheet? There’s an amount already set aside for basic food and shelter, leaving you with just $350.00 to use for other things. You can decide if you’ll have a child or a pet, a car or a gym membership. But you must balance your budget. Take a moment to do so now.

As you can see, there is a significant income gap that forces people to make very difficult decisions and to sacrifice things that often we look at as necessities just to get by. Now, imagine if your rent was about $400 less per month. What other things would you be able to afford? What difference would that make in your daily decisions and overall quality of life?

This exercise uses realistic situations our friends, co-workers and neighbors might face. It shows the reality of tough choices that must be made. You may have felt despair in the pit of your stomach, realizing the challenges low incomes and high living costs present. This is why we must do this work. To enable people to make good choices for themselves and their families. To provide them hope over despair. We do this by empowering people knowledge, giving them hope and providing them with dignified places to call home. Together we can create sustainable communities for all.