How Much Should You Budget for Utilities?

Today, we have a question from our MyFirstApartment mail bag.

“How much should you budget for utilities?
Thanks!

Lacey”


The short answer is — anywhere from $75 – $200+ per month. What’s the long answer?
In terms of possible utilities, here’s a comprehensible checklist: electric, water, heat, trash pickup, gas(**HEAT), cable, internet, and telephone. Off the bat, water and trash-pick up should be included in your rent; if it’s not, you very well may have a landlord who’s not abiding by the letter of the law — so definitely check into that. Now, let’s break down the remaining list.

Gas: Usually ranges from $15-30, depending on how much you cook.
The more you use your burners/oven, the higher the cost. Also, know that gas includes costs for HEAT, which can go as high as a few hundred dollars in the winter if you like to stay super toasty! If possible, I’d recommend trying to find an apartment with radiator heating, as these kind of apartments usually include free heat!

 
Electric: Usually around $30 — but can get much higher in the summer with AC’s running. So, do consider adjusting your budget to around $50-$70 in the summertime.

 

 

Cable/Internet/Phone: Approximately $100. Be sure to call up your cable company and ask if they have any specials — they usually do and you’ll get the best new customer deal by calling up and sweet talking the sales associate at the other end. If you’re looking to go bare bones, ONLY internet usually runs about $30-$50.

The hidden expense in living on your own is being responsible for all the utility costs; if you’re worried about costs, I’d seriously consider finding a roommate to help share the load! In other words, $200/3 people = pretty sweet 3-bedroom.

Also, so you know, the exact amount of utilities is impossible to pinpoint as it really depends on your energy usage. The U.S. Department of Education has a decent budget calculator, and they recommend putting aside 2-10% of your net income for utilities. However, they also ask you to seriously consider cost of long distance phone calls(hello, cellphone!) so. . .it kinda sounds like they’re living in 1973. That said, cellphone bills can be a doozy.

Good luck!

P.S. If any of you fellow readers have any questions you’d like answered specifically, please feel free to send me a note at editor [at] myfirstapartment.com

“Dear My First Apartment,
How much do you pay for utilities in an apartment? There are so many factors to consider. Would you be kind enough as to give me some pointers as what to look for or avoid? A little advice would go a long way right now.

Author My First Apartment
Alissa

Posted by

I've lived in apartments in 6 cities (including 2 foreign countries). Does that make me an expert? As of now, my ceiling isn't leaking and I don't have rodents (knock on wood) -- so I'm going to say yes . . . but ask me again tomorrow:) These days, I'm enjoying life Chicago style, but my years in Brooklyn are never far from my mind. P.S. By day I work at GolinHarris, but these opinions are totally, 100% my own.

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Comments (32)

  1. Lori

    Hi I just received a letter in the mail today from my rental office informing me that if I decide to renew my lease, in lieu of a rent increase I will be responsible for paying for my water usage which is included right now. Even though my lease isn’t up until 3/1/14 I need to let them know by 12/1/13 if I want to renew under those terms or terminate my lease. Does any of this sound strange to anyone? Also how much could I expect to pay for water in a 1 br apt. with a w/d and dishwasher? Would my rental office have an estimate for what I might pay a month for water?

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Lori,

      This does indeed sound strange. I would talk with them. First, ask they why they’re making this change. Also ask how they intend to measure what water you’re using vs. what other apartment units are using. (Usually, to my understanding, there’s not a gauge on each unit.) Also ask who’s responsible if there’s an exterior leak to the building, who detects it and how it’s dealt with — certainly you don’t want to be on the hook if some utility sink in the communal basement is dripping, for example, or if the grounds keeper forgets to turn off the hose. Finally, ask what they estimate the water bill would be per month. If you want to stay, and if the amount extra is reasonable, volunteer to pay instead the flat fee per month added onto your rent. If this doesn’t work, or if their answers are fishy, I would seriously consider moving. It seems something is up.

      Reply
      • Mj

        More and more landlords are actually taking this approach to pass water bills onto tenants by installing separate meters, so that they don’t have to pay the expense of a tenant who takes 3 showers a day for example. While asking how they’ll meter the apartment is good advice, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker unless you can find nearby apartments whose Net rent is far less when taking the total cost of rent and water together. It could actually be a good thing since you’ll be able to control the amount of water (and therefore $) that you use, especially if rents around you are rising. I’d ask that they install more efficient low-flow faucets and toilets before making any change if you can get them to.

        Reply
        • Alex Alex

          Hi MJ,

          Thanks for the tip and keeping us updated. We agree that if done properly and fairly, charging for metered water can be completely legitimate if still unusual in the U.S. If change is coming (certainly charging for water is common in Europe, so it can be done), it’s something our readers should keep their eyes out for.

  2. Krystal z

    Hi I’m going to be renting a guest house with my boyfriend and I’m happy but also nervous. He isn’t worrying about expenses too much but I am. So far I estimated we would be spending about $890. Probably tmi but I generated a list
    Expenses
    Rent: 400
    Utilities:200 max
    Groceries:150
    Personals: 80
    Dog: food15,shampoo10, flea medicine25
    Average total 890
    If u can help with some advice or give me any tips would be really great. I just don’t want to move and then be stuck moving back home because I could pay my bills. I also would want to get wifi and possibly cable is that a bad choice or is that okay cuz on average we would both have over $2000 to apply to the house and every day living

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Krystal,

      It’s a good sign that you’re thinking of these things. As for your expenses, I think you’ll find that groceries will probably be more per month, and that utilities (if you don’t include cable or internet) will be less. That said, if I understand correctly, both your boyfriend and you have around $2000 per/month/per person in take-home income. With that amount of income, you should be fine. As for cable, we recently posted an article on the subject: http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2013/09/should-you-get-cable-tv/

      Reply
    • Lindsey

      Hi Krystal,
      I have been living in a one bedroom (in MA) with my boyfriend for over 4 years. Here is a breakdown of the average monthly expenses (this is total not per person)
      rent: 1,000
      electric: varies from 25$ (in winter) to 90$ in summer with AC going
      Internet: started at 37$ per month, but now is up to 78$ I can’t afford cable, but when I used to have it the bill for tv and internet was about 160$ Keep in mind if you have HD and DVR’s with multiple boxes you’re bill will be way higher. If you’re on a budget Netflix will become your best friend!
      food: easily $250 sometimes closer to $300
      personals: $50-60
      Heat (gas): it’s included in my rent now but my old apartment went anywhere from $30- $150 in the winter (that was the highest it went)

      Some other things to think of when your budgeting:
      Credit card bills
      Gas for the car- I always figure out the millage from home to work and try to average what I’m spending a month on gas. If your moving further away from work this will add up!
      Cell phone
      Laundry- if you’re going to the laundromat or have coin-op add that to your monthly expenses. I spend about $40-60 a month on coin-op laundry for the 2 of us.

      Good luck!! Moving in with the boyfriend is a big step! He’s gonna drive you crazy at times, but it’s still awesome living with the one you love. If you and your boyfriend each have 2000 per month (making 4000 total) you should be fine!

      Reply
  3. mercedes

    Hi I live with my mother I have a 3year old son im 21 I think its time for me to move I will be moving in 15 days im renting a 1bedroom nice small apartment it’s a duplex on the second floor I was just wonder how much will my gas in electric be? Thanks

    Reply
  4. rusty

    Do you have to have the water and lights switched over into your name? And if so how much does that cost?

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Rusty,

      First off, water should be taken care of by your landlord. (If it’s not, be suspicious.) You shouldn’t need to worry about that. As for electricity, yes, you need to have it in your name, unless it’s included in the rent. (If it’s included in the rent, your landlord will be paying for it.) Switching it to your name should be easy. Just call up the electric company and explain that you’re moving in, and that you need to make a switch. You may have to furnish some sort of proof that you live in the new place (a bill or your lease would work) and then it’s done. There shouldn’t be a fee, provided the electricity was in use when you moved in. If the place had no electricity when you moved in, there might be an activation fee. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  5. gettingreadytomoveout

    Good evening I first want to say thank you for all of this advice! I am looking to move out of my parents house within the next 6 months: I am NOT a tv-watcher so will not need cable. I am curious if I will have to pay for cable no matter what? For example what if my apartment comes with a TV yet I won’t use it, is this something that could happen?
    Can someone help me with this? Thank you for your time

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Getting Ready to Move Out,

      It’s very rare for an apartment to require a cable subscription. On occasion, fancy buildings will have it included in the monthly rent as an amenity, but this is for *very* high-end buildings. You should have no trouble finding a place where you won’t have to subscribe to cable — in fact that’s the norm in the vast majority of apartments. So, no worries there.

      Reply
  6. SMT

    Im tring to move into an apartment. My spending limit is very short I can only afford a 1 bedroom but I need a roommate. If I get one I still cant afford the 2 bedroom. What do I do?

    Reply
  7. Shelley Crocker

    Hi,
    Does anyone pay for gas heat and dryer(hot water,cooking and washer is electric) in the NE (PA ? it is an upstairs apt. and has new windows.Is not an end unit. Our Apt complex just informed us that we are having a meter installed and will now have to apy for gas which was previously included, when our new lease begins in a month. We’re living on a pretty tight budget, so I was curious how much it might run. Does $70-$100 sound reasonably close in winter months? Our heat hardly never runs, only at night when it is very cold out.It must be a really well insulated apt. though almost 30 years old.

    Thanks for any input anyone has, be glad to get it!
    Shelley

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Shelley,

      Based on what you describe, $70-$100 sounds reasonable for the winter. If you’re upstairs and surrounded by other heated apartments, it’s quite likely that your place won’t need much heat, particularly if your place is well-insulated.

      Reply
  8. LALA

    HEY!!ill beh qettinq my place next month and i waas wonderinq… if any one noes about haff pricinq with a roommate.. see, tha thinq is
    im havinq a 5 bedroom apartment, if not more!!!!
    how do i split the payment.. holla bac!!!!
    thank you!!!!! bye
    ~ranqer qanq~

    Reply
  9. Samantha

    This is really helpful. I’m moving out of my parent’s house in the next year or so, I know that’s not very soon, but I was just wondering about how people go about finding a roommate? A friend was asking about my plans and he said I will for sure need a roommate, but somebody I can trust and deal with and that sounds hard to find in a new city. I’m thinking about maybe moving to Philadelphia.

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Samantha,

      This a great question. And it’s true — you save significantly by having a roommate. How to find one? We may have a full article on it next month, it’s such an compelling topic. The short answer is, there’s no easy way. Talking and networking via email, friends, and colleagues is one way. Really working your connections can be surprisingly effective. Or, if you’re a college grad, you may also consider reaching out to the alumni association in the city you’re planning on living in. Often they’ll have message boards and other ways to contact alums in the area who may be looking for a roommate, or who have suggestions. Craigslist is another route — if you search for “shares” on Craigslist, you can move into an already-occupied place as the new roommate. This can be stressful (and you should do your homework on the people/place you’re considering moving into) but it’s very common in big cities, where many renters need roommates. I’ve used craigslist for this, both as a new roommate, and as the guy searching for a new roommate, and have been very successful. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  10. Randell

    Hi,
    My question is about the electric deposit that Columbus OH electric charges? How much is this deposit? and is there a way around this? Also when should I expect my first electric bill to arrive after I move in?
    I am not sure why you feel the cellphone is exorbitant, unless you use AT&T, as Virgin Mobil has a good 3g (now 4g) which I bought for $150 2 years ago and I am paying $40 month for unlimited everything. Its crazy to get a phone on contract and then pay out the yazoo as AT&T and some other cell companies charge. VM has been great for me and I also tether to my home PC with my cell phone so I have no internet bill. Unless you watch online movies and have to buffer the tethering actually plays the nfl games on my PC at a decent rate.
    Also I am seeing that Time Warner has basic Cable/Internet for $20 per mo. No premium channels of course but 20 bucks is sweet.
    Thanks for the article, very good subject as Electric rates are such a variable, and never seem right for the amount of electric used by a single person. I went from 3 apartments from $35 to $65 to $120! Single with same everything except different apartment buildings. The first apt. used steam heat and as you stated was very cheap and good.

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Randell,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. In answer to your question, it appears that the deposit is 1.3 times the average monthly bill for your property, and you’ll need to provide it if you’re new to the area, or have had some outstanding or late utility bills in your past. You can get it waved with a letter of credit from a previous utility company. That said, if you go a year without any late payments, the security deposit will be automatically credited to your account, and so you’ll end up just having a free month of utilities a year down the line. As for when to expect your bill, usually you’ll get a notice that you’ve signed up shortly after you’ve arranged for the service, and then a bill approximately a month after the service begins.

      More information is available here: https://www.aepohio.com/service/SecurityDeposits.aspx

      Reply
  11. Keyarra

    Hey , my parents have been driving me insane. and I’m ready to move out I just was wondering if I don’t make a certain income would a apartment complex not consider letting me lease an apartment?

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Keyarra,

      Thanks for question. The answer: it depends. Some management companies are more flexible than others. After I graduated college, I moved into a place without any job at all and it wasn’t a problem because I had good credit. That said, not all companies are so forgiving. A good workaround is to have your parents agree to be co-signers … or, if you know you need a roommate, make sure your roommate has a steady income above the required threshold. Often, if you ask management companies directly, they’ll tell you their policy, and let you know what solutions are available to you.

      Reply
  12. Terrance

    Im a 19 year old TRYING to get outta my aunts house. Im also planing to collect money so I can rent out an apartment and get out by june.
    SO….im trying to figure out what is required for wannabe first time renters like me. Do I have to pay taxes as well along with my rent too? thats a good question and do I have to have credit in order to rent out an appartment? Im pretty serious about getting an appartment.

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Terrance,

      Thanks for your question. First, you should not have to pay taxes on your rent — in fact, if you live in some states (such as Minnesota), you’ll get a tax rebate for having paid rent, if you make under a certain threshold per year. However, that can be figured out once you’ve scored a place.

      As for what you need to get your first apartment, good credit certainly helps, but it’s not totally necessary. If you don’t have any, you may have to have a relative co-sign for you, or you may have to pay more up-front to give the landlord piece of mind. Check out our tips for first time renters as well as our article on renting and credit scores and our article on how to impress a landlord. We have many other articles on related subjects, so please feel free to use our search functionality to find all the information you need.

      Reply
  13. Katelynn

    Thank you! My parents are gettinig divorced and I’m losing my house :/ so I had to find a place, fast. I don’t really have much help, but this was SUCH a relief. I was scared I wouldnt be able to do it, or I would call the wrong people and get ripped off or something, but this helped! I am now on my way into a very nice apartment, knowing exactly what I’m getting into. THANK YOU!!! :)

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Katelynn,

      You’re welcome; it’s great to hear from our readers, and thanks for the kind comment. We’re happy to help.:-)

      Reply
  14. chelsea

    hi i am looking at 2 diferent 2 bedroom apartments one includes water,trash,internet and cable its $600 a month and the other is also $600 a month includes heat,water and trash i was wondering which is better and which would save me more money the one that pays heat,water and trash or the one who pays water,trash,cable and internet???

    Reply
    • Sisko

      Hi Chelsea,
      Since water and trash are included in both, all you need to price out is the difference between internet/cable vs. heat. You can probably get a basic internet/cable package for $60-75 a month, without HBO or other pay channels. If you live in a cold climate, heat can get pretty pricy. If it is natural gas or electric heat, you need to get an estimate from the gas or electric company. Also, you can call your local cable company for an estimate. But remember, if money gets tight, you can cut off cable, but you cannot do without heat. Take the heat option, pay for the internet yourself, but skip the cable. For $50 you can buy Roku or another device that let’s you stream TV programs free to your TV via the internet. Let us know what you picked. And good luck!

      Reply
  15. Anonymous

    This is a great article and I would have been useful two years ago when I first moved. My suggestion for your electic bill is to try level billing. In NY we have Con Edison and they can evenly split your payments up into 12 equal payments and can be adjusted for large spikes and decreases. It takes the guess work out of figuring out how much you're going to have to pay. I got sick of the shock and awe of waiting for and opening my electric bill. Hope this was helpful.

    Reply