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For those who live on a budget, Austin's growth can be a source of stress. It's hard to imagine living on $1,000 a month, but if I can do it, then anyone can.
While in college at Texas State University in San Marcos, I held a few jobs, ranging from unpaid intern to retail cashier to newspaper editor, none of which paid more than peanuts. From 2017-2019, I had a $9 an hour retail job, and I raked in a little less than $1,000 per month.
With a little bit of creativity and budgeting talent, here's how I would make $1,000 per month work in Austin:
When you're only working with $1,000 per month, most likely you will end up spending close to 70% of your income on rent and the rest on other necessities, with little leftover.
While I lived in San Marcos, I was able to split a two-bedroom apartment with just one other person, slashing the $850/month rent and roughly $100 utilities in half. Rent at $850 for a two-bedroom might be hard to find in Austin, so consider moving outside the Austin metro area if you have reliable transportation to the city (I'll address transportation further down). Otherwise, a breakdown of cheaper neighborhoods to apartment shop at in Austin can be found here.
Tips for low-cost living:
- Find a roommate—or two or three—to cut the cost of rent.
- Avoid rent-by-the-room leases as they tend to favor the landlord. Instead, you'll want to sign a joint-lease agreement, so rent is split 50/50.
- Try not to sign a lease during the summer—that's the busiest moving season and you're more likely to get a better deal in fall or winter.
- Don't use electricity if you're not in the room and try to keep your water usage down.
If you conserve, you preserve valuable cash. A breakdown of essential costs: water at an average of $35 per month, electricity averaging at $65-100 depending on the season, internet can be found for as cheap as $30 per month and cell phone service as cheap as $15. If you can find a living situation that will pay one or more of your utilities, like I did, it will put that much more money back in your pocket.
A car payment is simply not doable under this budget. So you'll need to make do with the car that was gifted to you or you paid off in full, especially if you're planning on living just outside the city. If you're a biker, that's also a cost-efficent way to get around—especially with Austin being a bike-friendly city. Otherwise, there's always public transportation to get you around.
I paid off my 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt when I bought it and tried to drive as little as possible to avoid having to pay for yet another tank of gas. If you choose to drive, insurance can be as low as $65 per month and a single tank of gas costs around $25.
Austin's Capital Metro offers bus and rail services from Downtown to Leander with various routes and stops. A 31-day bus pass will cost $41.25 at the most reduced rate, which equates to how much one might spend on car fuel.
With only between $35-105 left for food, you will need to maximize how you shop. Buy what is on sale and try to limit your perishables to what you can consume before they spoil. It seems self-explanatory but 30-40% of food is wasted in the U.S., which equates to about a pound per person, per day.
I buy foods I know I like so that money doesn't go to waste. I'm a firm believer in eating breakfast every day, so my mornings usually started with some tea and something light. I'm not much of a cook so quick and easy food is my go-to. I buy food that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways so I never have to get tired of them—if you keep anything in stock, make sure it is spices and sauces.
Rice is incredibly cheap, versatile, can be eaten for every meal and it isn't uncommon for me to do so. And for protein, a bag of frozen chicken thighs can be found at your local grocery store for less than $5, and it'll last you days with various ways to cook it.
Unfortunately, eating out isn't something that can be done often so when I do, I enjoy it!
Buying other essentials: clothes, furniture and more
Don't buy anything new. And that means anything. From clothes to furniture to cars to moving boxes, you can get nearly everything pre-loved. However, just because it is used doesn't mean it has to look cheap or junky; the goal is to appear as if your items are brand new without having to spend huge sums of cash.
Consignment stores, Facebook Marketplace and Goodwill are excellent locations to find discounted or sometimes even free goods. Amazon Warehouse has a section on its website that sells open-box items, though most often they are still brand new. There is simply no reason to pay full price for anything, plus it's better for the planet!
The hard reality is that when you're working with a tight budget, spending money is usually the first to go. Set up a rainy day fund for a splurge and enjoy all the free (or close to free) activities Austin has to offer. Become a Zilker Park explorer extraordinaire or tour some of the many museums around the city like The Blanton, which is free on the first Thursday of every month, or the Mexic-Arte museum, which is free on Sundays. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden is only $5 per person and never ceases to delight with its uniquely structured art. Don't neglect your wants but don't let them be the source of your monetary stress.
Now go get that coin!
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Everyone wants to be in Austin—tech, celebs and now sports. At least that's what it looks like.
In the midst of a first season for Austin FC, the city's first major league professional sports team, the Buffalo Bills are reportedly looking at a possible move to Austin.
The news comes from ESPN's Seth Wickersham, who reports the NFL team is saying it is considering a move from New York to Austin, possibly to push public funding of its new $1.5 million stadium.
An ownership source tells me that Austin is a possible destination—or threat—as one of the “other cities elsewhere that desire an NFL franchise and would pay handsomely for it." https://t.co/zMf1oChO8K
— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) August 1, 2021
Austin was without a major pro team until Austin FC came to town. While all eyes have been on Austin's "boomtown" status, the city isn't exactly expected to get an NFL team with two other major teams in the state—the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans.
Nevertheless, the governor and mayor responded to the rumor.
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Editor's note: Addie Broyles is a longtime food writer, who wrote for the Austin American-Statesman for 13 years. This piece was published in her weekly newsletter, "The Feminist Kitchen," where she shares stories about parenthood, grief, ancestry, self healing and creativity. Check it out here.
You know Bruce McCandless' most famous moment, but you probably don't know his name.
McCandless is the astronaut who, in 1984, became the first untethered astronaut in space. He's the guy on those posters, mugs, shirts and everything else NASA could sell with the image of his "leisurely waltz with eternity," as his son calls it in his new book, "Wonders All Around: The Incredible True Story of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II and the First Untethered Flight in Space."
'Wonders All Around' is a new book by Austinite Bruce McCandless III about his dad, the astronaut Bruce McCandless II. (Bruce McCandless III)
I met McCandless III, who lives in Austin with his wife Pati, for a coffee a few months ago, thanks to the introduction from a mutual friend. As we talked about losing our dads, being writers and parents and living in Austin while still dealing with COVID, his dad's famous flight didn't come up, but the process of writing such an epic biography of a complex, only recently passed man was something worth unpacking over coffee.
I hadn't read the book yet, but over the next few weeks, I got to know the McCandless family in such a sweet way that I wanted to write a little about the book here to perhaps inspire you to seek out a copy of "Wonders All Around."
As much as this is a book about space, it's also a book about grief. And persistence. And stoicism. And masculinity and maternality.
The elder McCandless died in 2017, just a few years after losing his wife, Bernice, to cancer.
This passing of the torch from father to son left the younger McCandless inspired to take on this decades-long narrative. McCandless III sets the tone for the book with a memory of the family sitting around the dinner table at their home outside Johnson Space Center near Houston in the mid 1970s, when his dad, who joined NASA in 1966 at the age of 28, wasn't sure he'd ever actually make it to space.
"Our dinners were somber affairs. We ate around a rectangular Formica table in the breakfast nook. Tracy and I sat on benches padded with orange vinyl cushions. Mom and Dad occupied faux-Spanish style chairs with green felt upholstery. Despite the informal, Howard Johnson's-at-the-airport feel of the furnishings, there was a tension in the air that set in right around the time the frozen string beans started steaming. I had the feeling that my sister and I had forgotten to do something important, though I couldn't figure out what it was, or that judgment had been rendered on us and we'd been found guilty of … something — again, it was unclear what. Horseplay was prohibited. The TV and all sources of music or other frivolity were turned off, and singing was strictly forbidden. The only sound came from the aquarium pump. My father had a 100-gallon tank along the wall behind his chair. Sometimes the big plecostomus would attach itself by its mouth to the glass facing us, and I imagined it sucking all the oxygen out of the room."
Imagining what it must have been like to require oxygen to survive, not in outer space but in the living room with your family, sets up the story of the McCandless ancestors, including a guy who was killed by Wild Bill Hickok and the author's grandfather, who was an admiral in the U.S. Navy.
No pressure, Bruce.
It was fascinating to read about the 18 years that Bruce McCandless II worked for NASA before he finally had his first flight, which debuted the Manned Maneuvering Unit, a jet-fueled backpack that he and Ed Whitsett Jr. spent so many years developing. (That's the joystick-controlled machine he's wearing in that mind-bending poster that hung on millions of Americans' walls over the following decade.)
The author McCandless has the unenviable task of trying to put into words what that flight must have felt like. His dad flew 150 feet away from the shuttle Challenger, which would, of course, break into a million little pieces just a few years later.
When President Reagan called the shuttle to congratulate the astronauts that day in 1984, the command center set up a demonstration space walk to give the president a live view of McCandless through the shuttle window.
Bruce McCandless II, trains with Kathy Sullivan, right, in preparation to launch the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA)
The only problem was, there wasn't much fuel left. McCandless went out anyway, trying to stay within 10-15 feet of the spacecraft. He got into position and turned off the unit to preserve propellant. After the president said a few words and the video switched off, McCandless turned on the unit and "looked for the closest piece of the orbiter, pointed at it, put the hand controller in +X (and) got a sort of sighing noise as it accelerated in that direction." He ran out of fuel just as he grabbed onto a rail on the orbiter. Hand over hand, he brought himself back to the donning station.
It's that kind of suspense that made this book so thrilling to read.
There's space tension like when McCandless is operating as CAPCOM, the only person talking to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin while they are walking on the surface of the moon, and his commander wants him to break protocol and call them back early, even though there are no signs of distress.
The book is also so touching. I cried while reading about the declining health of Bernice, who survived so many astronaut wife struggles over the years and at the end of her life remained a loving partner and mother.
Bruce McCandless was a Navy pilot who was picked to join NASA in 1966. His first space flight wasn't until 1984. (NASA)
It's easy to forget that McCandless II had an entirely other memorable historic moment—launching the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990—and this one seems to have struck an even deeper chord with McCandless III.
The Hubble launch was McCandless' second and final flight. He was 52 and had worked at NASA for 24 years.
McCandless II spends the last chapters of the book making a compelling case that his dad's work to fix and update the Hubble are among the greatest achievements to science. He continued to work on Hubble for another two decades after retiring from NASA through his work at Lockheed Martin.
Bruce McCandless, left, and the flight crew that launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. He was 52 years old. (NASA)
He was the "nuts, bolts, screws, and wires guy," the auto mechanic rather than the scientist, who kept the telescope going 340 miles above Earth for more than twice its life expectancy. The Hubble has been cited in more than 18,000 scientific papers and has revealed countless secrets and unsolved mysteries from around the universe and beyond.
"The size, shape, and sheer spectral weirdness of the images boggle the imagination and make prophets and dreamers of us all," McCandless writes toward the end of "Wonders All Around. "Some of us pay therapists to tell us we're important and unique. Then we check in with Hubble so the satellite can inform us just how galactically marginal we all are. The truth is somewhere in the middle."
What a beautiful reminder.