Living downtown is expensive.
How do you afford it?
Over the last few months, I’ve received a ton of messages about how we afford to live downtown. Life is expensive, and urban life is especially pricey. Restaurant bills and bar tabs can be ridiculous, and rent downtown can be absurd, especially for a two- or three-bedroom apartment. A few years ago, my husband and I paid $2,400 for a two-bedroom. And believe it or not, that was a deal. One-bedroom apartments were going for $2,000 (and higher!) in that neighborhood at the time. So we felt we got a bargain, especially for a brand new apartment. We ate a lot of ramen noodles that year, but we learned a valuable lesson.
Indianapolis is much more affordable, especially compared to Chicago or New York City, which can make downtown living attainable. Today, I’m sharing some tips and tricks on how our family has saved, and exploring how we manage to afford a downtown lifestyle. Because I can’t imagine living anywhere else other than downtown Indianapolis.
Make a budget.
What’s worked best for me is figuring out what I spend money on. I am the one that is constantly running to buy groceries or ordering toddler swim shoes on Amazon because last year’s are just too small. So I set aside a certain amount of money for groceries, household items, clothes, and D3 needs, while my husband sets aside money for our monthly bills, savings, and “fun money”. Fun money is for eating out, date nights, and vacations. This has worked out for us for the past few years. I will note that we have no student loans and very low credit card debt, which makes it possible for us to live the way we do. If you have that debt, you will have to work that into your budget and make cuts elsewhere. Also, if I want to purchase a big item like a new piece of furniture or saving up for a gift, I will sacrifice some of my clothes budget, etc. to make that work.
Walk. A lot.
Downtown has everything you need within walking distance. I walk to the grocery store, the hardware store, dry cleaners, coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters, museums, parks, and dozens of other stores and attractions. Our family currently has one vehicle. One car means one car payment, one car insurance payment, and only one vehicle to maintain and fuel. This saves us money every month. It can be difficult on occasion, but the savings are absolutely worth it, if you can manage with one vehicle. We are lucky in that my husband’s office is downstairs from our condo. Without a doubt, living downtown is doable with one vehicle.
Parking is something else you need to consider when choosing to live in a downtown setting. Some apartments and other residences downtown provide only one parking spot. When you have more that one vehicle in your household, this can be difficult. Do your research when considering your new downtown home to ensure it meets your parking needs.
Plan your grocery shopping.
We live in an Amazon world, so we do get a few packages on our planned Amazon delivery day. When I cannot locate an item, particularly a grocery item, in a nearby store, we often rely on Amazon to fill that need. However, we have three different groceries stores downtown (Kroger, Needlers, Whole Foods) and a few specialty food stores, such as Wildwood Market. Kroger is usually our go-to for regular everyday items, whereas we go to Whole Foods for the more unique specialty items. I also make the trip to Costco once a month for bulk items that we use a lot. Store coupon apps can help you save even more, if you have the time to plan your shopping.
Frequent the free activities.
We spend a great deal of time walking around the city. It helps us get out, get exercise, meet new people, and get to know our city better. Walking doesn’t cost anything, and it gives us time to really talk. Some of our best conversations have occurred during our strolls around the city! We love to recap our day, the silly things D3 did during that day or just talk about the future. We love talking about our BIG future plans. We also keep a list of our favorite free activities and stay on top of upcoming free events. It is nice to find free or low-cost activities to do with D3 during the week. We love the Indy Libraries and Indy Parks and all the wonderful activities they provide for the community. We’ve found that when we often have a calendar full of free or low-cost activities.
Some of my favorite—and cheapest—experiences in Indianapolis have been sitting on blankets in the grass or setting up a “camp out” on our patio, and taking it all in. My favorite spots to picnic in Indianapolis are White River State Park, Canal Walk, Monument Circle, and the Indianapolis Zoo. Almost every week in the summer somewhere downtown, there is a food truck festival, farmers market, or an event happening at Indianapolis City Market. All these options have great food at reasonable prices.
Live below your means.
Lesson learned. Just because you can swing that nice, new apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood doesn’t necessarily mean you should. I don’t recommend living in a dangerous area or in a complete hole to save money. But going a couple of hundred dollars below your budget can really pad your savings account. That savings can help save for your forever downtown home. We moved from our $2300/month apartment to a $1650/month apartment that was in the center of downtown. We learned the hard way about compromise. We compromised on our new corner apartment, with a giant patio and windows galore to a tiny two bedroom apartment with one window looking out at a side of a building. We went from a brand new apartment to a 100-year-old building that was converted into apartments 17 years ago. We also learned that living anywhere in the heart of downtown will be noisy. All. The. Time. Having motorcycles rev engines at 1 a.m. with a 4-month-old is not the most ideal situation. But, if we didn’t live in that apartment, we couldn’t have saved for our current home. Now, we are just so grateful for all the wonderful things our condo has like, a huge patio, giant windows, a bathroom the size of our old bedroom. (Insert praise hands)
Live in a place you can afford.
All of that said, my best advice is to consider your priorities when deciding on an apartment, single-family home, or condo downtown. What’s most important to you? Is it the commute time? The square-footage? The neighborhood? Are you ok with living in a building with HOA? Do you need amenities? Do you want to take care of a yard? The most important question of all is do you want to rent or own? For us, it was always owning a home in a perfect neighborhood. Our condo building is in a great neighborhood, and the sense of community within our condo building is amazing. We are also so very lucky that my in-laws live in the same condo building too. You are ultimately going to get what you pay for living in an urban area. The first apartment my husband and I had together was inexpensive. We thought we were cool kids until the neighbors started partying every weekend and the amenities of the building were overrun by all the “frat bros” as we like to call them. You know the loud, obnoxious drunk guys that just graduated and are still in the party mindset every weekend. So cheap apartment, cheap experience.
Be prepared to move often until you settle down.
It sucks, but most landlords will hike up the rent as much as they’re legally allowed to every year. Of course, it’s important to take into account how much time a move requires, and how emotionally taxing it can be. Also, I would like to add that moving with a 4-month old is not recommended. Moving with a toddler is definitely not recommended, but we survived. My husband and I lived in 5 different places in 5 years before finally deciding where we wanted and needed to be. Five years of different buildings, different areas of downtown Indianapolis, and different prices for rent. And it’s crucial to weigh moving costs against the yearly increase. A $50 rent increase probably doesn’t necessitate a move, for example, as your move will likely cost more than $300. But a $300 hike means $3,600 more per year. Holy moly! Do you move to a different place because it will save you $50 a month in rent? Probably not worth it. Or, will the move save you $600 a month? Worth it! Decisions, decisions…
Rent before you buy.
From our personal experience, I will always tell newcomers to the city to rent one year before buying. Why? Uprooting your life and your family and bringing them to a new city can be stressful, and you will always want the best for your family. Working with a realtor can be wonderful, but they are going to recommend what other people are saying is the best place for a family or for a new grad or whatever your situation currently may be. Renting in a popular area of downtown for a year gives you the opportunity to go out and explore the different neighborhoods and see who lives there, how they live, and what the neighborhood has to offer.
Yes, it is cheaper and you get a better “bang for your buck” if you buy rather than rent in downtown Indianapolis. The average purchase price for a downtown Indianapolis home is $307,700, and it’s going up every year. The mortgage payment for that price would be roughly $1455. Of course, there is the down payment, closing costs, etc. that go along with the home buying process. However, the median rent is $1500 for an average of 886 square feet, which usually is a one bedroom and one bathroom. Owning can be beneficial, but renting first makes sure you make the right investment.*
*Referenced from zillow.com and rentcafe.com
I would love to continue this conversation. Would you ever consider raising a family downtown? What are your questions and concerns with raising a family in downtown Indianapolis? Please comment below!