How Much Should You Plan for Utilities?

Our readers often ask how much they should budget for utilities, so we thought we’d give a brief refresher course. We’ve listed some usual utility categories and some thoughts/pricing for each. At the end, you’ll find the estimated total cost per month. (The cost estimates are for a typical one to two BR-sized first apartment.)

Heat

The cost of heating can vary wildly, and can make-or-break the cost of an apartment. So let me break it down by types:

Radiator-Based Heat in Multi-Unit Building: if you are in a multi-unit, radiator-based building, there will almost certainly be no extra charge for heat. This is because there is no way for the landlord to determine which unit used how much heat, and therefore, the landlord will pay the building’s heating bill in total. In this situation, the cost of heating is built into the rent.

Radiator-Based Heat in a House: if you and some friends decided to team up and rent out an entire home, you may then be on the hook for the radiator-based heat. Heating a whole house could cost over $300 a month, though this would likely be split three or four ways.

Gas or Forced-Air Heating: In the winter months, this can be quite expensive. Budget at least $100 a month in the deep winter, though the cost can vary based on the size of the apartment, the quality of insulation, and the efficiency of the heating mechanism. One good way to find out is simply to ask the landlord or previous tenant, since each building will be different in its heat costs.

Summary: Heating can be a bug-a-boo, and can effectively raise your rent by $100 or more a month in the winter. Make sure you know how much you will have to pay before you sign the lease.

Electricity

Before we consider the cost of air conditioning (which is usually included in the cost of electricity), let’s just focus on the electric bill without A/C.

During winter months, or if you don’t use air conditioning, it is reasonable to pay between $30-50 a month in electricity. There are ways to lower this bill, such as turning off lights, fully powering down appliances, and using compact fluorescent light-bulbs. However, a lot of your bill will simply depend on how much you’re home, how much you watch television (tube TVs are big electric drains), how efficient your refrigerator is, and how careful you are about turning off lights.

Summary: Electricity is necessary, and it will cost you about $40 a month, if you’re an average user with an average unit.

Air-Conditioning

This expense can be a real wild card – and it all depends how much you use. Unlike with heat, in most places in the country, you don’t need air conditioning, though it’s nice to have, especially when a heat wave hits.

According to the website CarbonRally, the average American’s AC system costs about $280 a year to run, though the website notes that many systems cost much more. This seems about right to me, when you factor in a few things: first, most people only use their A/C about three to five months a year. And, in some places, like Minnesota or Maine, you may only use it a few times a summer, which averages out with the southern US, where you’d use it much more. So, for people who live in places with average weather, you’ll really only be using it May-September, which means about $56 a month extra on your electric bill. This seems about right – I’ve had my total electric go up to $100 dollars on particularly hot months.

Summary: A/C isn’t strictly necessary, but if you want it, plan on spending up to $60-70 extra a month during especially hot months.

Cooking Gas

In a lot of buildings, if you have a range stovetop, you’ll have to pay for the natural gas that you use during cooking. (And in some buildings, the natural gas will also provide your heat.) As regards cooking, the cost is very minimal – $20 a month at most, usually quite a lot less. It really all just depends how much you cook at home – and, even if you’re spending a little extra to use your gas at home, you’re almost certainly saving money by not eating out.

Summary: Gas is a negligible expense when used for cooking – it’s usually around $10 a month, and by cooking at home, you’re saving money anyway.

Internet

Forty-five dollars a month is roughly average. Keep in mind that you can split the cost with as many other people as are using your connection. For example, when I lived in Minneapolis, my next-door-neighbor and I set up the wireless router so that she could get a signal, too, and then me, my roommate, and her were all using one forty-five-dollar signal.

The other thing to consider is bundling your internet with your cable. You can often get a deal that way …. See below for my thoughts on cable.

Summary: These days, internet is a necessity. It’ll run you about $45 a month, but that will provide a signal for everyone in the apartment, and perhaps some friends nearby.

Cable

I personally don’t have cable, and don’t really miss it. This is an optional expense. Especially with the new high-definition televisions, and their digital antennae, it’s easy to get great reception on network TV, and then you can use Roku or Netflix streaming (or HBO On-Demand, or whatever) for the rest of your needs, though this will cost you about $20 a month, if you subscribe to two services.

If you simply must have cable, look for a deal. They come along frequently, and can save you some money. But be careful – often they’ll have add-ons like free HBO for three months, which will then become charged to your account if you don’t cancel it when the preliminary deal expires. So make sure to read the fine print, and to keep active on your account, so you know what you’re being charged for.

Summary: While it’s not a necessity, it is nice to have cable, and you can usually find introductory deals that include cable and internet for about $90 a month, or you can use a streaming service or two for about $20 a month.

Renter’s Insurance

As Alissa touched on, renter’s insurance is worthwhile. Think of it as protecting your stuff, come what may. It’s also affordable, at only about $150 a year, or less, depending upon where you live.

Other Add-Ons

Some things you’ll only need if you live in certain areas of the country, but it’s worth touching on them here:

Parking

In some neighborhoods (namely, in big cities, where parking is hard to find), parking will cost extra. In my neighborhood (Lakeview, Chicago), it’s about $150 a month for a parking spot, though there’s enough street parking that it’s not a necessity. In other places, such as Brooklyn Heights, NYC, or Lincoln Park, Chicago, it may very well be necessary, unless you want to spend an hour a day driving around, looking for parking (I’m serious). So know whether you’ll need this before you get a place.

Doormen

If you’re lucky enough to have a doorman, you’ll have to tip him during the holiday season. Usually, it’s about $50-100 per doorman, so if the building had three doormen, it’ll be $150-300. It’s expensive, but it’s also important you do it – you want to be on the good side of the doormen, since they watch your packages, greet your guests, and keep a set of your keys.

Air-Conditioning in Sweltering Locations

I know I touched on it already, but if you live in a really hot place, like Phoenix or Dallas, you’re going to be paying a lot more per month, for more months. Say, $80-90 a month (plus regular electricity costs), for eight months a year. So keep that in mind.  Your silver lining is that you don’t have much heating costs.

Adding It All Up

The good thing is you use your A/C in the summer and the heating in the winter, so the overall cost on that evens out some, though heat is generally more expensive. If you get what I mention above, and go with Roku over cable, and don’t have any add-ons, your total utilities cost comes to roughly $200 a month. Keep in mind, though, that this is for the apartment as a whole – so if you have roommates, divide by the number of people living in the unit, though, of course, if you have a very large unit (say for four people, or more), the heat, electricity and A/C will be a touch higher, so add 20% to my estimate, and then divide.

If you want a rough rule of thumb, expect to spend on utilities an amount equal to about 20% of your monthly rent if you live alone, or about 10% of your monthly rent if your live with roommates.

Author My First Apartment
Alex

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Alex has rented in Minneapolis, Queens, Brooklyn, and now Chicago. He can kill rodents and roaches when required, and loves picture-hanging projects. If you're ever in town, give him a shout.

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Comments (39)

  1. Lena

    Hi, I’m looking for apartments now and I’m not sure exactly what ballpark I should be looking at for price. I currently bring home 1500 a month. What should I be looking for in terms of a monthly rent? thanks!

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Lena,
      Your rent should not be more than 1/3 of your monthly take-home, so aim to spend max. $500. But before you sign a lease, add up all your other fixed expenses to make sure that you have enough money left over for basic living expenses (food, clothing, etc.) $500 rent budget will probably mean a roommate share to start with, unless you live in a very low cost area.
      Good luck from The My First Apartment Team!

      Reply
  2. Christopher Lewis

    Hi,
    My name is Chris and I live in southwest Missouri. I’m recently been trying to do some research on how much I should expect to pay for utilities so I have a better guess as to where I would land on how much rent I would be able to pay. I will be living on my own and it’s going to my first time. I’ve seen that a lot of the place I can rent would be about $700 or less which I’m pretty sure I could afford but as everyone knows this kind of thing can raise anxiety. I plan on getting internet but not cable. if you can help me out a little it would be appreciated.
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Christopher Lewis

      Also, if I estimated right I should be making about 1,900 a month. At current though, I will be only paying $50 a month for my phone but depending on how far I would have to travel for work depends on how much I would have to pay for gas for my truck which only gets about 10-15 mpg.

      Reply
      • Admin

        Hi Chris,
        It is not clear if your $1,900 a month is pre-tax or after tax. If it is pre-tax, then you should be looking to spend no more than $600/mo. in rent. (The target rent is your annual salary divided by 40 or $1,900*12/40=$570.) Even if it is your take-home amount, try to keep your rent under $700.
        Regarding utilities, the big money items are what size apartment and how you’ll get your heat. Does it come from a radiator and is included in your rent or do you have an individual unit for heat and a/c. If the latter is the case, it could run you as much as $200 a month in the coldest and hottest months. You need to ask your future landlord how much heat and a/c runs typically in that size unit.
        Other than heat, your electric should be in the $50-60/mo on a studio or 1BR unit, plus $50 for internet. Other possible add-ons are water, if it is separately metered and trash collection. Again, your landlord could estimate typical usage.
        Net/net, you should budget about $150-200 for utilities and add $100 to the amount if you have to pay for heat separately. Let us know how it goes and good luck!

        Reply
        • Christopher Lewis

          Thank you. I was wanting to confirm what I thought. The info wad very helpful. This site will definitely be a big resource for me on taking a good amount of anxiety out of the picture.

  3. Sammy Rae

    Hello(: my name is sammy. My best friend and I are getting ready to head off to college. We live in Montana. And of course coming out of high school it’s all kinda frightening to us. I’ve been doing a lot of research trying to figure out how much our heat, electricity, and water bill. We are looking at an apartment that is around 700 w/out utilities. I’m just hoping that it would be afforadable for the two of us in the end. Please help. We really need all the help we can get (:

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Sammy,
      The best way to find out how much the utilities might be is to ask the previous tenant. If that’s not possible ask the landlord. If the apartment is recommended by the college, their housing office should be able to help. Living in Montana, I’d guess the heating bill is the biggie. Electric (other than for heat) is typically not be much more than $50-$60/month for a small apartment plus another $50 for internet. As far as water and heating, you need to get an estimate locally. Good luck!

      Reply
  4. Ally

    Hi so I’m about to graduate college and I got a job offer to start at $47,000 a year. What do you suggest on how much I should spend in rent and you said before utilities should cost around 250 but I also have my car payment which is around 218. I also pay insurance which is 145. And of corse student loans as well. I was just wondering what you think I would need to budget exactly and what would be a good rent payment for my salary.

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Ally,

      Congratulations on your job offer. Here are a couple of links that will help you figure out how much rent you could afford comfortable.The basic rule is your monthly rent should not be more than your annual salary /40, or in your case 47,000/40=1,175. Your utilities will depend on what size place you get and what part of the country you live, but use $50-$100 for electric and $100 for cell phone/internet bundle as a rough estimate. You may also have to pay for water in some areas. Check out this MFA post for some estimates of various expenses. Also check this ADP calculator for a rough estimate of what your take-home may be. Remember to add health insurance premiums to expenses.
      Good luck! (With $47K salary you can get a nice first apartment, unless you are heading to SF or NYC where you’ll be talking a roommate share.)

      Reply
  5. Kaydee

    Hi, I’m looking for a place in NYC. I’ve never paid utilities before and I just want to know on average how much it would cost for electricity per month. I’m the only person who will be occupying the apartment. I work during the day and would be using AC during hot months. Would my electricity bill be really out of hand every month? More than $100?

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Kaydee,
      We asked two New York apartment dwellers what they actually pay for electricity. One lives in a LES studio and pays about $60/mo, the other splits an UWS 2br brownstone apartment and pays about $40/mo. So, estimate that yours will be in the $50-60 range, up to double that for hottest summer months.

      Reply
  6. Michael

    Hi, I’m looking on renting my first apartment, one bedroom. I make roughly $525 every week and have $1,000 in my savings. Rent is $825 a month. Would I be able to afford it?

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Michael,
      If you get the apartment you’ll be spending close to 40% of your monthly take-home on rent. A safer rent on your income would be in the $700/mo range or about a a third of your take-home. It’s great that you have some savings, but those will be gone when you pay your security deposit and moving costs. How about money for the first month’s rent? That’s also payable before you move in. You’ll need to have close to $2,000 available to cover all your upfront expenses.

      It’s hard to answer if you can afford $825 rent without knowing what other expenses you have. Student loans? Car payments? Commuting? Credit card bills? If you don’t have any other major expenses, you could probably do it. Check by adding up all your fixed monthly bills plus the rent plus utilities and see what’s left for your all other living costs (food, clothing, entertainment). Only you can judge if that’s enough. Good luck!

      P.S. In high-rent markets, such as NYC and SF, young people sometimes have no choice but pay up to 50% of their income for rent, knowing that it severely limits their lifestyle.

      Reply
  7. Alex

    I make $325 every week, Rent is $725 (bills not included). I don’t watch cable I only use Internet as entertainment and truck paid off could I make it need a second opinion.

    Reply
  8. Cody

    I am looking into moving into a house completely on my own where I do not have to pay any sort of rent but I will have to pay for utilities. The house is a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom and not very big. My only expense is gas for my car. I do not pay insurance or my phone bill, it all gets payed. My problem is that I am attending college which is all payed for by financial aid for now, but I only get paid $250 every 2 weeks. From what I found I should be okay but just wanted a second opinion.

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Cody,
      If you only need to pay for electric and internet (maybe $100/mo combined) you should be OK. If you also have to pay for heating and you are in the Polar Vortex country, that could be another $100++/month. However, you have the second bedroom you could rent out if things get tight, so it looks like you’ll be OK in either case.
      Good luck!

      Reply
  9. Jon

    Im just a nervous wreck when it comes to renting an apartment with a room mate but im going for it anyway! My question is, if me and my room make make about 2700 a month combined and rent is 760 a month but we have to pay water and electricity do you think we would be in a comfortable spot?

    Reply
    • Admin

      The basic recommendation for maximum rent you should pay is your annual salary divided by 40. You and your roomie make $32,400/year between the two of you. $32,400 / 40 = $810, so your rent of $760 should be very doable, even with having to pay for utilities. However, you should consider all your other expenses also. Do you have student loan payments? Car payments? Big credit card bills? You need to look at your total financial picture, not just rent. Good luck!

      Reply
  10. Fernando

    Moving out to Fresno with two roommates, first time renting a house so I would appreciate some advice. We were planning on renting a house for around $1250. Which means around $450 each , I was wondering if anyone could help me out on an estimate to see how much all other utilities and things around the house would average out to. That way I can estimate how much we would all be paying a month and how much spending money we’d have left. Help would be much appreciated. Thanks !

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Fernando,
      Because you’ll be renting a house there could be more expenses you and your roomies have to cover than in renting an apartment. Are there outside plantings, for example, you’ll need to maintain? The best place to get a good estimate of all the utilities and other costs you need to pay is the previous tenant or the owner of the house. You’ll need to plan at least for seasonal heating/cooling, electricity, internet, water, garbage collection. Meanwhile, assume at least $100 a month per roommate, until you get a better estimate from someone in similar situation. Good luck.
      PS. You had a typo in the rent amount that we fixed. (Changed $12500 to $1250.)

      Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Crystal,
      Having to pay for water separately depends on the region where you rent. For example, in New York City water is included in your rent.
      If you are looking on the West Coast or in the South you may get a separate water bill. Your best bet is to ask the previous tenant or the landlord. Good Luck!

      Reply
  11. Kahlil Garcua

    So theres a place I’m looking at and I’m just talking it up with a friend and said we should look into it. He’s having a kid and I’m about to get a job that pays about $600-$700 every two weeks. The place costs $785 and 3 different people will be tending to the bill so around $261.66 per person in a perfect world. The apartment is 1000 sq. ft. 2 bed 2 bath and plenty of living room space and room for his kid, his lady, and himself. It seems like a decent deal and I would think we can do it. Not only that would it be a good idea to even move in with them if a baby was involved, I’m not bothered by that fact at all, but just in general? I don’t have many other things I HAVE to pay for but I think it would be good for all of us.

    Reply
    • Admin

      Hi Kahlil,
      It sounds like a good deal for you, moneywise. Just realize that little babies are noisy, so consider how close your bedroom will be to theirs. When it’s you baby waking you up at 3am, you can handle it, when it’s someone else’s it could become a source of conflict. On the bright side, it will give you a lot of insight into what it is to be a parent! Good luck to all you you!

      Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi John,

      This is a fairly broad question. My advice is to take it piece by piece. First, determine which utilities you’ll be expected to pay for and how much each one costs. Add up the total cost. Divide by the number of people living in the place and, voila, you have a rough estimate. If you’re asking how to get started moving out, use the same technique, but with more steps. Figure out how much you can afford to pay for living expenses each month. Then figure out what neighborhoods you can afford and so on… Piece by piece you’ll get there. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  12. Denise

    Hello! I live in an efficiency (I like to call it a matchbox) and my gas bill at minimum is around 25-27 a month. This is when I don’t use the stove AT ALL. There is a base charge of 12 but if I don’t use the range at all, shouldn’t it be less than 15? If I turn on the stove even once, during the whole month, I end up paying anywhere from 40-90 dollars. I’m calling the gas company today because I got an extremely high bill in the mail recently and it’s pissing me off. I have used my stove once for about 5 minutes (that’s a stretch) and the oven once for about 10 minutes between April 2012 and now (I either use my crockpot or an electric burner that I have). The range is the only gas thing I have since the property manager pays for heat and water. I know I can’t be crazy right?!

    Denise

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Denise,

      I sounds like there is possibly a leak or malfunction, especially if gas doesn’t include your heat, as you indicate. It should not be that expensive; you’re right to call the company and have them take a look.

      Reply
  13. Jessica

    Question I’ve never received any bill regrading what I had to pay the Frits time I paid I call to verify the amount it was 670 all together so that’s what I’ve been payin been there 6 months I just went to pay my bill online and it went up 300 and I’m not understanding? Help

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Jessica,

      It sounds like this is a problem that needs to be resolved directly with your utility company. I would recommend calling them and staying on the line until you get all your questions answered.

      Alex

      Reply
  14. christa

    I’d like to comment on what you said about Dallas residents not needing heat. On the contrary, while air conditioning is a must here, so is heat, although granted, the length of time is not great. In January and February (and sometimes December) the daytime temps can routinely be just above freezing when a storm passes through. And who can forget the freak ice storm last year during the super bowl (’11)? Under 20 degrees for 4 days straight with ice on the ground.

    Heat, as well as air conditioning is a must.

    Also, in your addressing of heat above, you did not include electric furnaces as a heat source. Electricity does not just power A/C.

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Christa,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment — we always love to hear what readers have to say on the ground. And we agree, Dallas residents need heat (according to weather.com the average low in January is 37 degrees) — our larger point is it’s a relatively small portion of your overall annual utilities, whereas in a place like Wisconsin, it could be the largest single expense. As for electric heaters, they are generally quite a bit more expensive (70% or so) than gas-run heaters — unless you’re using space heaters, which are still more expensive, but can be used in targeted areas, making them a possible (if inconvenient) economic solution.

      Reply
  15. Liz

    Great article! What about water? A place I’m considering does not include water in their rent even though most others do.

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Liz. This is a great question — it’s rare an American renter is asked to pay for water, and, also, the rate can vary significantly by city. You could be charged anywhere from $25 a month to in excess of $100 a month, depending where you live and your usage. I would ask what the previous renters have been charged … and I would also go to your city’s Department of Water website, which should publish the rates. If you’re still not getting a solid answer, call up the Department of Water and speak with someone — they will be in a position to give you an accurate estimate. Finally, I would be skeptical if a landlord is attempting to pass that cost along to you — it is usually built into the price of rent. So be sure to ask your potential landlord why he or she is charging for water — and make sure that you get a good answer.

      Reply
  16. megan

    When I first moved into my new apartment I set a budget I wanted to spend for my electricity bill and with the increase in prices due to oil I’m paying close to $350 a month just on that. With your budget you have to be flexible as there could be a rise in costs.

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Megan! Thanks for your comment; we thought we’d respond directly. While you’re right that utility prices can fluctuate, $350 for electricity raises a red flag. In talking to several of my colleagues, we agree that your bill is so high that there is likely an error. I would recommend calling your management company and your oil and electricity suppliers, and asking them about it. Have them double check that the meters are reading properly, that their computer system isn’t counting you twice, etc … unless you have a mansion to heat and cool, your bill simply should not be that high. And, also, let this be a lesson to our readers: if something seems seriously off with your bill, have it checked out. Don’t just assume that the bill is correct — it might not be.

      Reply