What Can You Afford?
updated December 27, 2023

Your housing expenses can include rent, electricity, gas, heating oil, insurance, and anything else directly related to the place where you live. Together, these can add up to a lot of money each month, which is why you need to figure out how much you can afford to spend and if there are ways you can cut how much you’re spending on housing.

At the same time, you have to make sure you live in a place that is decent. That means it should meet all safety and health standards, so that you and your family can have quality lives. If you end up getting help from a public program to pay for your housing, that program may help inspect your apartment or home to make sure it is decent and meets that program’s standards.

Figure Out What You Can Afford

Your goal should be to have decent housing that costs around 30% of your family’s total income or less. Remember, housing expenses aren’t just your rent or mortgage payment — they include all of the other expenses mentioned above and, if you own your home, also any repairs you need to do on your home.

Thirty percent of your income is not an exact figure for what you should spend on housing. What you can afford also depends on the size of your family, other expenses you may have, like education or health-related expenses, whether you are in debt, or whether you have money in the bank. Treat the 30% as a goal or guideline to keep in mind when you think about how much you can afford to spend on housing.

Cut Your Housing Expenses

If you are spending more than you can afford on your housing, you can try different ways to change that:

  • Find housing programs that can help you. Many different public programs may help you pay your rent. Some will let you stay in the place where you live now, while others require you to live in specific apartments that the program manages.
  • Share a place with others. If you live with another person or people, you can have your own bedroom, but save money on rent, since you’ll be sharing the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and any other common spaces. There are also formal shared living settings, like Adult Foster Care (AFC), where the housing includes services that everyone can benefit from.
  • Do work around the house in exchange for lower rent. In some cases, you may be able to get a lower rent from your landlord if you take care of some of the upkeep around your place, like doing the gardening or repairs. If you share a place with others, you may be able to arrange a deal with your roommates where you do some of the extra chores or cleaning in exchange for a lower share of the rent.
  • If you rent, claim the Renter’s Property Tax Refund. This state tax refund is for people who rent a place and have annual household income below $73,270. With the Renter’s Property Tax Refund, you can get up to $2,570 back on your state taxes. It is also called the “Renter’s Credit.”
  • If you own your home, check out programs that can make your mortgage more affordable. If you are unable to make your monthly mortgage payment, there are programs that can help. Several other programs can also help homeowners, including tax credits, savings programs, and loan programs.
  • Check out programs that help make your home energy efficient and weatherproof. The state of Minnesota has a program that may help you with your utility bills, like electricity and gas. If you own your home, there’s another program that may help you make your home more energy efficient.

These are just some examples of how you can save money and live better. There are many strategies for doing this and you may have to use more than one to find an affordable place for yourself.

Get Help

If you are experiencing homelessness or need immediate help to be able to stay in your current place, get in touch with somebody who can help you. Use HB101's Homeless Services Map to find a resource in your area.