When University of Texas student Ben Patterson graduates this spring, he'll join the large group of Austinites who make $15 an hour at their main place of work.
Once the "livable" salary that thousands across the country fought to make the national minimum wage, living on $15/hour is now a near-insurmountable task in many urban metros, including the booming tech hub of Austin, where the median home price pushed past $600,000 in March.
Charles Mitchell, who owns Capital Budgeting Strategies, knows the perils of recent college graduates all too well. He's worked with clients with as little as $67 to their name and says living on your own is doable—if you're willing to sacrifice some luxuries or time.
Here's the key to budgeting that $15/hour income in Austin, according to Mitchell:
Find your hidden housing gem
This depresses me so much. I love this city, I grew up here. It means everything to me. But I’m watching it lose its identity more and more every day.— Chris Welhausen (@chriswelhausen) April 14, 2022
I’m really starting to wonder how much longer I can afford to live here. https://t.co/OSZELTrnPC
Aside from paying off debts early, avoiding high-interest loans like payday loans and sacrificing some luxuries in life, Mitchell told Austonia the key comes down to finding cheap housing.
Affordable housing may seem like an element of old Austin legend, and it would be hard to find a place to stay within Mitchell's ideal range—housing that costs within 28% of your monthly budget. For a full-time employee making $15 an hour, that income amounts to $2,217 per month.
That allots $620 per month for rent. Pickings may be slim—just two complexes offer four-bedroom apartments for that range in Austin on ApartmentFinder.com—but with enough roommates, certain specials and the help of apartment locators, it's still very narrowly possible within the city.
The more likely scenario, like Patterson's, may be finding other budgeting areas to cut. Mitchell recommends skimping on luxuries, like payments for nicer cars, and cutting out on savings if needed.
"I'll more or less be able to prioritize paying "X" amount for rent each month," Patterson said. "Trying to be mindful of not just exuberantly spending or being impulsive with buying habits... just knowing that in the next few months, I need to start being able to hand out an additional $1,000 bucks each month just to live."
But $15 an hour may no longer cut it even for Austin homeowners. Fae, an Amazon and Whole Foods employee who is using an alias since she is going against the company media policy, has owned a house in Pflugerville for 20 years, when it was worth half of its current value.
But like virtually every other coworker she knows, Fae has picked up multiple supplemental jobs in order to eke out a living in her city.
Get a side hustle
Welcome to Austin, Tx, where wages are 97% of nat’l avg, rent is 103% of nat’l avg, and education level is 20-25% above national avg. A real slice of heaven we’ve got here🙄 pic.twitter.com/AqQUUtSFKL— Tracey Suits (@SuitsTracey) April 28, 2021
Fae recently had a bittersweet celebration as her hourly wage increased to $15.25—a 25-cent increase after three years with the company. Wages like hers put Amazon workers' median salary at just over $31,000 in Austin—less than half of the median pay at Google, Meta and Apple.
"Even full-time (employees), it doesn't matter, they cannot rely on Amazon as a living job," Fae told Austonia. "Everybody I know has a side job."
Before he even goes out on his own, Patterson is preparing to work extra for a second flow of income that works with his hours at his current job at Austin FC's Q2 Stadium without running his energy into the ground.
A side hustle may be essential to paying off loans early and beginning to save for retirement (Mitchell recommends a high-interest IRA), but it doesn't have to be too taxing: Mitchell said anything from picking up food delivery shifts to having a garage sale could revitalize your budget.
Find a sustainable employer
BREAKING: David beats Goliath! In a historic victory, Amazon workers in Staten Island win the first U.S. Amazon union.@AmazonLabor and workers at the JFK8 warehouse overcame extreme union-busting to make history.— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) April 1, 2022
Patterson didn't take his current job for the money—instead, he's hoping his current gig at the stadium could lead to his breakthrough in the sports industry.
Taking a job with clear upward mobility is key, Mitchell says, and bonuses like matching 401(k) plans or other benefits are a huge plus. If your job offers neither and still pays too little, however, it might be time to consider switching to a more sustainable job.
Mitchell said many people aren't taught the financial literacy tools needed to afford a living in Austin, and many others are never made aware of the employment options that are available. While Austin hasn't had much praise for its affordability in recent months, it does boast a swelling job market, with over 58,000 more jobs created from February 2020 to February 2022.
If your debt is low and you've got extra time, investing in a marketable skill online or at a local community college is always advisable. And while it may not be as desirable, some restaurants and entry-level positions, including McDonald's, have raised starting pay for some positions to over $15 per hour.
To stay or to leave?
Even with these tips in place, both Fae and Patterson agree that their current wage is hardly doable in Austin.
"The way that rent and real estate just continue to become more and more expensive... I don't think it's in a sustainable spot," Patterson said. "Even today, it's kind of on the fringe with people who still make ends meet."Patterson says he wonders if he made the right decision to stay in the capital city in what is looking like its most expensive era yet.
"There's probably not a week that goes by where I don't second guess if I'm making the right call," Patterson said. "But I'm also pretty confident, just knowing me as a person, that I'll be able to... grind it out and find a way to make things work."
Fae plans to stay too, even as other Austinites she knows could get pushed out, as she collects workplace horror stories—and unlivable wages—at Amazon before her homemade skincare product line takes off.
"Everybody who's originally from Austin can't even afford to live in Austin (anymore) and they're just moving out," Fae said. "My question is, how do they get away with this?"
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Live Music Capital of the World. Mecca of all things "weird." City of hippies, slackers and honky tonks—Austin's reputation was once synonymous with all things "cool."
But after three years as the top city to live in the U.S., Austin fell to No. 13 in the U.S. News & World Report's ranking this year.
For over a hundred years, Austinites have lamented that their city's charm is gone, and some continue to worry that the city has swapped too many of its grittier live music venues for gleaming corporate towers.
Has Austin's coolness taken a fall from grace? Here's a look at what could be affecting Austin's reputation.
Migration and affordability—not so cool
3. The median priced home costs $635K, while the median Austin resident can only afford a $438K home.— Nik Shah 🏡 (@NikhaarShah) June 16, 2022
This affordability gap of $187K is 3x higher than at the national level! pic.twitter.com/CH036nj8Nn
There can always be too much of a good thing–including dating profiles bragging about packing up and moving to Austin.
Austin saw a higher growth rate than any other U.S. city from 2010-2020 as the metro attracted 171,465 newcomers in a decade.
With highly publicized move-ins including billionaire Elon Musk, podcaster Joe Rogan and tech HQs, came a gaggle of Californians eager to eke out a living in the burgeoning "boomtown" paradise.
An affordability crisis ensued.
Young people, who often serve as the drumbeat of a city's "coolness," are quickly being priced out amid skyrocketing rent. While a Rent.com study ranked Austin as one of the best cities for young professionals in 2022, the city's share of 20-24-year-old residents was 7.5% of the population in 2019—down from 8.6% in 2010.
And the so-called "slackers" that helped make Austin famous are now struggling to survive in a city where the median price for a home is now $550,000, especially as many in the city's creative class make well below a living wage.
Live music and things to do—still cool
The outside, Zilker, Towne Lake, Barton Springs, dozens of decent hiking within the area. This is the advantage, do the free outside stuff (Austin has wonderful patio restaurants, etc but then the 💵 goes) More time inside less advantage to living here.— Trust_w/o_Journey_Is_Compliance (@runningman902) June 7, 2022
Austin was famously dubbed the "Live Music Capital of the World" in 1991 when officials discovered that the city had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. And with 46.4 venues per 100,000 residents in 2018, that mantra remained largely true for years.
After the worst of the COVID pandemic, which was estimated to shutter up to 70% of music venues in the Red River Cultural District alone, the city's live music scene has worked hard to bounce back. The city now has the fifth-highest number of small music venues per capita in the nation and comes in at No. 4 among the best live music cities in the U.S., per a 2022 Clever.com study.
And many of Austin's unique attractions remain timeless. While paddle boarding on Town Lake has become overcrowded and even caused swimmer's itch for some, outdoor attractions like Barton Springs Pool, the Barton Creek Greenbelt and other Hill Country swimming holes remain a popular pastime.
And while the coolness of Sixth Street has become riddled with violence and safety concerns, the city still boasts plenty of nightlife districts.
Instead of the Armadillo Den of Austin yore, the new Austin boasts bachelorette party entertainment on West Sixth Street, intimate concerts in East Austin and a refuge for tech professionals on booming Rainey Street.
Keeping Austin Weird—barely hanging on
If you know...you know pic.twitter.com/auDQyVurUy— Evil MoPac (@EvilMopacATX) September 3, 2021
Leslie Cochran, the high-heel-wearing homeless man who personified the "Keep Austin Weird" movement, is long gone. In his place are controversial attempts at keeping that mindset alive, including an Instagrammable sculpture of the mantra approved by the city's Historic Landmark Commission in February.
But pockets of that signature Austin feel still exist. It's not uncommon to see Sam Greyhorse riding on his horse on South Congress.
And while South Congress is losing longtime businesses and gaining luxury retailers in its new Music Lane development, other areas—like Barton Springs—still retain their carefree, old Austin feel.
New "weird" strongholds have cropped up as well, like Austin FC's Q2 Stadium, where 20,500 soccer fans gather to chant Austin's mantras, lift up inflatable chickens and celebrate their community.
"Cooler" alternatives emerge
Moving out of Austin is so good for your mental health.— 𝒟𝑜𝓁𝓁𝓎 𝒷𝒶𝒷𝓎 🥂 (@adeeoxox) July 30, 2021
Still, Austin's residents are facing the second-most overvalued housing market in the nation, and many are looking for greener—and cooler—pastures.
Instead of cross-continent moves, some new move-ins are now relocating to nearby cities, according to a Placer.ai study. The study found that Austin's "boomtown" status could already be overshadowed by new tech markets like Philadelphia, Phoenix and Raleigh, North Carolina.
And even within the state, Austin fell behind Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as Texas' most sought-after city.
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University of Texas athletes cashed in on over $2 million in the year since collegiate athletes have been cleared to make name, image and likeness deals, according to UT records.
Records obtained by the Austin American-Statesman show that 154 Longhorns sealed 418 NIL deals for a total of $2,039,180 from August 1, 2021 to April 30, 2022.
Here's how each sport stacked up:
- 94 football athletes racked up nearly $900k in NIL deals, including one contract worth $60k and three deals worth $50k apiece. While UT is not allowed to disclose names associated with compensation, UT star running back Bijan Robinson made waves with six major NIL deals, including a recent contract with Lamborghini Austin.
- Softball earned its fair share as well with the second-highest NIL value of $295,790 spread among 64 deals.
- Men's and women's swimming and diving programs each earned around $250k each.
- Men's basketball athletes inked 71 deals for a grand total of $158,585.
- And volleyball was the final sport to crack $100k with 26 contracts and over $105k in cash.
And while some worry that the new NIL territory could become a hotbed for new recruiting strategies, using deals to entice new athletes is still illegal per NCAA rules.
“Everything that we’ve done, we’ve run by the NCAA to let them know what’s taken place," Texas Athletic Director Chris Del Conte told the Statesman.
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