MFA IRL: How Should Sheamus Budget for Rent and Living Expenses on His Fixed Income?

Sheamus asks:

“Hello I am autistic and I am looking to get a place of my own. I am on a fixed income and I was wondering how I can budget that?”

Hi Sheamus,

We are excited to hear that you are about to move to your own place. It’s a big step for all young adults and even bigger for someone with autism or other special needs.

We don’t know how much monthly income you receive, but here are the typical expenses you need to be able to cover when you are living on your own:

Essential Expenses:

1.) Housing. This includes your rent and your basic utilities.

Rent. Try not spend more than a third of your allowance on rent.
Electric. Typically, you pay your own electric bill. In a small apartment that may run about $60 a month. The landlord should be able to give you an estimate. It could easily run twice that in the summer, if you must use air conditioning.
Water, heat, garbage service. These are often included in your rent, especially in an apartment building. Be careful if you have to pay for these separately, because heating can get expensive in the North and water could be costly in the South.

Here at MFA, based on our surveys, we use 20% of rent as a rough estimate for all utilities, so if your rent is $500, your utilities would average $100, for a total housing cost of $600.

2.) Groceries and food.

Laundry & cleaning supplies: detergents, toilet paper, paper towel, etc.
Basic pantry items: coffee, tea, sugar, salt, a few spices, flour, cooking oil, canned foods (soup, beans, etc.). Most of these are not monthly expenses but last longer.
Fresh foods: dairy (milk, eggs, butter, yogurt, etc.), vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.), fruit (bananas, apples, etc.), fresh meat and fish (hamburger meat, chicken, salmon, etc.)

We estimate that about $10 a day or $300 a month should be enough to keep you well-fed and your place clean, if you know some basic cooking.

3.) Transportation

Depending on the size of your community and if you go to work or activities, you need to budget for a way to get around. It may be a bike, a monthly transit pass, or a car, so the costs will vary.  Just remember to include transportation in your budget, unless you are entitled to a free car service.

4.) Discretionary spending

– This category will include clothing, entertainment (dinner out with friends, Netflix, etc.)
Phone/Internet – It’s debatable if this expense should be part of your housing or discretionary. We keep it here because you may have places (libraries or street internet boxes) for free internet and could use Skype and WhatsApp to make calls.

Typically, we like to see at least $300 a month left to this category after housing, groceries/food and transportation, but depending on how much outside activities you have, you may need less.

5.) Savings

We recommend that you should have 3 times your initial rent in savings before you move, to cover first month’s rent, security deposit, moving expenses and basic furniture (bed, chair, table). Because of your special needs you may be entitled to extra housing assistance for these expenses, so find out from your social services contact person.

It would also be nice if you would be able to save a little money on an ongoing basis for special treats. It could be as simple as to put all your change into a jar every time you come home from being out and about.

We are really excited for you as you plan this big move. Good luck!

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