Rent or Food? No one should have to choose

May 2, 2022

An economic storm is brewing. The cost of housing, cars, fuel and groceries is swirling out of control, with no end on the horizon. Donate now.  

In the Twin Cities alone:  

  • Used cars cost 32 percent more than they did a year ago. Example: A vehicle that sold for $15,000 last year now goes for about $20,000. 
  • Gas is hovering at $4 per gallon, an increase of around $1.50 per gallon compared to pre-pandemic levels. A 15-gallon tank now costs about $60 to fill, compared to less than $40 in 2019.  
  • Food inflation has shot up 8 percent. A year ago, a four-person family spent an average of $1,100 per month on groceries; today, they must spend about $100 more for the same amount of food. 

At the same that these expenses have risen and overall inflation has catapulted to 7.9 percent, median income has fallen 3 percent during the past two years.  

“Families are paying hundreds more just to cover the basics, while having less money to spend,” said Lt. Col. Dan Jennings, leader of The Salvation Army Northern Division. “This is not sustainable for families on the bubble.”

Rent or Food?

For many families, the bubble has already burst. They are being forced to make harrowing choices: Pay for rent, or food? Medications, or utility bills? Car payment, or car repairs?

Matthew, 61, is familiar with these kinds of choices. He lives in a mobile home in the southern Twin Cities metro area, where he cares for his two adult sons who struggle with mental disabilities. His only income is disability benefits. 

“It’s not enough to afford food,” admitted Matthew, a lifelong mechanic who was forced to stop working after undergoing five spinal surgeries. 

Oftentimes, Matthew must choose between paying for rent or food. He chooses rent, knowing he can rely on The Salvation Army for groceries. He visits our food pantry in Burnsville as often as needed.   

“We take everything they give – the meat, the produce, the bread,” Matthew said. “Every time we visit, it stocks our fridge for two weeks.” (Watch a video of Matthew.)

Middle-class on the brink

Many middle-class families are teetering on the brink of financial disaster as well. 

Example: The average household income in Minnesota is about $74,000, based on U.S. Census data. That breaks down to about $4,000 net monthly income after taxes and health insurance.

After paying for housing, cars, gas, utilities, and other expenses, the average household has about $200 worth of disposable income leftover, compared to more than $500 just two years ago. (A complete breakdown of these expenses is at bottom.)

“These numbers show that many families are one paycheck away from disaster,” Jennings said. “All it takes is one car repair, or medical bill, or other unexpected expense to send them over the edge.”

These numbers also help to confirm why an estimated 64 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, and why credit card debt is on the rise.

Now is the time to give

The Salvation Army is on high alert as financial conditions worsen, the economy shrinks, and families everywhere worry about the future.   

With your donations, The Salvation Army can provide relief. We are the largest nongovernmental provider of social services in Minnesota and North Dakota, offering assistance with groceries, rent, utilities, minor car repairs, prescription medications, and other financial emergencies.

Your gifts have allowed The Salvation Army Northern Division to provide these and other critical services at unprecedented levels ever since the pandemic began.  Last year, our operation centers in Minnesota and North Dakota served about 735,000 men, women and children.

“We expect that even more families will need our help as the threat of recession looms,” Jennings said. “With the support of our donors, The Salvation Army can show families in need that they are loved, cared for, and not alone. We stand vigilant, ready to serve all who come to us in need.”

Breakdown of expenses

The numbers below illustrate the financial crunch that families are feeling. The numbers are based on typical monthly expenses in their amounts in 2020 vs. today, for a four-person family renting a house or apartment.

  • Groceries: $1,100 in 2020 vs. $1,200 in 2022 ($100 difference)
  • Used car payment: $332 vs. $438 ($106 difference, based on 32 percent increase)
  • Car insurance: $130 vs. $138 ($8 difference)
  • Gas: $160 vs. $240, based on one weekly fill-up of a 15-gallon tank ($80 difference)
  • Natural gas: $55 vs. $100 ($45 difference due to rising energy costs)
  • Water and electricity: $100 vs. $120 ($20 difference due to rising energy costs)
  • Rent: $1,600 vs. $1,620 ($20 difference; although housing prices have skyrocketed in recent years, rent prices have not) 

After subtracting these expenses from $4,000 net monthly income – which is the average net income for Minnesota households after taxes and health insurance – the numbers show that the average four-person family in 2020 had about $525 in monthly disposable income, compared to less than $200 today. 

Are you Down for the Challenge? You can support The Salvation Army’s efforts to fight homelessness by donating to or participating in our Down for the Challenge urban rappelling event with the Minnesota Vikings. This once-in-a-lifetime event takes place July 29–30 at the Omni Viking Lakes Hotel during Vikings training camp.

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