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Natasha Frost: Stalled career, student debt — can't afford a house? Here's a recovery plan

Natasha Frost, on

Published in Home and Consumer News

You're young, well-educated and capable. And in most economies, your salvation would be moving through a series of increasingly responsible -- and well-paying -- jobs. Your rising income would allow you to whittle down student loans, save up for a down payment and even contemplate having children with that special someone.

But the coronavirus economy is stifling you and millions of others, and the paucity of opportunity could go on for some time. So, to help keep you from sliding backward financially, here's a rough guide to transitioning to a sustainable lifestyle. By all means, keep seeking a better next job. But in the meantime, I suggest you follow these four steps. Soon, you'll be worrying about money a lot less.

A test case

Let's assume you're a Philadelphia-based household of two 28-year-olds. Between the two of you, you earn $72,000 (you've combined your finances). You have an emergency fund of about $1,000 -- but not much else saved. Meanwhile, as a couple, you're working through $60,000 of student debt and $5,000 in credit card debt.

You'd like to get that debt in check, amass a down payment for a home and be positioned to consider having children in three years. You estimate you might need $3,000 to $10,000 toward the cost of having a child, and $20,000 for your down payment. But where to start, when you already feel constrained by the high cost of living?

--Pick a lifestyle you can afford


Housing is your biggest cost. With a budget of $1,100, you can live somewhere perfectly nice, with a few compromises. The average one-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia costs $1,591 a month -- about $500 more than your budget can stretch to. You have three options: downsize, share with other people or move somewhere cheaper (though calculate the cost of increasing your commute before you sign the dotted line).

If you're set on staying in the city, a studio or smaller one-bedroom may be the right compromise: A 600-square-foot apartment in Fishtown might set you back about $1,000. Looking further afield gives you more options: A 900-square-foot two-bedroom apartment in Drexel Hill, eight miles out of town, currently goes for around $1,050.

Your next biggest cost is a car. Choose something used, pass on the fancy features, and pay off your loan quickly. A 2015 Toyota Camry, bought through the used car sales app Carvana, is about $16,000. Over three years, that's about $450 a month. But consider whether you need a car at all, especially in a well-connected city like Philadelphia.

--Deal with your debt


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