How to Live in Denver on $50,000 a Year

Austin Richard
Austin Richard Courtesy of Austin Richard
Editor's note: How do people survive in Denver, where the cost of living is rising, with no end in sight? We spoke with a few people who make different income amounts about how they make it in the Mile High.

Austin Richard, 28
Job: applications software support specialist
Salary: $50,000 a year

What brought you to Denver, and what makes you want to stay? I came to Denver by simple personal choice. I ultimately chose Denver because it offered anything one could want in a city, but perhaps more importantly, everything you do not want in a city, within easy reach. The only bummer is there’s no ocean. The mix of city life, sports, events and the outdoors are what have kept me in Colorado. It remains to be seen if the draw of the beach ever pulls me away.

Which neighborhood do you live in? Rent or own? I currently reside in the West Colfax area of Denver, not far from Sloan’s Lake or Sports Authority Field. I am currently renting, with no plans to purchase in the immediate future.

What are you saving for right now? At the moment I would say nothing in particular, besides the ever ambiguous “future.” It isn’t easy to save between normal expenses and working on paying down student loan debt etc., but I try to set aside some extra cash when I am able, if for nothing more than a “rainy day fund” for emergencies.

When you're not working, what takes up most of your time? Given that I work in an office, with lots of computers and screens, I try to spend as much of my free time outdoors as possible. Whether that is hiking or camping in the summer months, or snowboarding in the winter, I try to get out as much as possible. If I don’t have the time for all that, I really enjoy biking around the city or spending an afternoon with friends in one of the many parks.

What is the biggest financial stress in your life? Being a young professional, I think the biggest financial stress at this point in my life is balancing paying down debt and trying to save as much as possible to mitigate future debt. It can be quite frustrating to look at student loan or credit card balances, create a plan to pay those down, but not have anything left over to actually save for a future house or car down payment. It’s no wonder young people these days don’t buy a house immediately out of college, even after getting their first job. It creates a feeling of never being able to get ahead, because you are constantly feeling like you are still catching up. There are certainly worse problems to have, but the “life delay” of crippling student loan debt that so many young people are saddled with is not without merit.

Do you think you make enough money? Does anyone? In all seriousness, though, I feel like my compensation is fair for this stage in my career. As with any employer, there are weeks where it never seems like enough, and weeks where the pay outweighs the work being done. This of, course, varies drastically by industry. I would go on to say that, while fair, my current situation is not one in which I plan to stay forever, and I am fortunate to be at a point where I can grow my skills and achieve that.

Do you think Denver is an expensive city? Having been to several other areas of the country, I personally feel like Denver falls somewhere in the upper third of the range. It certainly is no New York or San Francisco when it comes to housing costs, and general cost of living in Denver is not so bad as other places. It certainly is not the most affordable place I have lived either, though. This is somewhat of a loaded question, in that it completely depends on your level of income, ability to commute, etc. I am fortunate that I am able to get where I need to go and am qualified for the job I work. All this in turn makes Denver much more livable than, say, if I had no car and was only able to get a minimum wage-type job.

You just got paid and you're hitting the town for a night. What's your first stop? That depends. Most of my nights out involve music shows, so in town that may be the Fillmore or Ogden, among others. Red Rocks is always a good time, but it is not really part of “the town” in the usual sense. Otherwise, an evening at Coors Field followed by barhopping in LoDo is always a good time. If I want to start out with something less commercial, Star Bar is always a nice divey spot to get the night going. This would be for truly going downtown, but a great night out can be had in many of the smaller neighborhood areas' bar/restaurant districts.

What's something you wish you had more money to spend on? I would be spending more money on debt and saving more for the future. I am fairly comfortable in my everyday life, and while I buy consumer junk just like the rest of us, I don’t really have many “needs." At this transitional time of my life I would love to be able to rid myself of student loan debt, while at the same time actively saving for the future house/wife/kids scenario.

What's something you consistently spend money on even though you know you shouldn't? I would say that I consistently spend money on going out for food or drinks even when I know I should be more responsible and sit that gathering out. I’ve never gone so far as to not be able to take care of my responsibilities, but looking back at a $40+ restaurant tab, knowing I could have been okay for $10 to $15 always gives me pause. While in general I never regret my choices and have great times to show for it, it's definitely something that I think I could cut back on. If nothing else, it's a source of expendable income, and I could divert those funds into other things.

What's something you hate spending money on? I would have to say bills in general, but the most specific one would be car insurance. While I recently actually needed my insurance, it always seems like something that is so expensive with very little benefit. Even with the recent use of my insurance, it is still the most painful bill to pay. Other than that, I would say things that are unnecessary, like parking tickets, replacing something carelessly lost or broken, etc. Sometimes there is nothing more aggravating or ill-timed than something like this, and I don’t think anyone likes throwing more of their money away than they feel like they already do.
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