My First Apartment http://www.myfirstapartment.com Sat, 23 Jul 2016 14:00:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 5 Ways to De-Stress in Your Apartment http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/5-ways-to-destress-in-your-crib/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/5-ways-to-destress-in-your-crib/#respond Sat, 23 Jul 2016 14:00:09 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20643 You get home from work after a long commute or a chaotic day at work, and the last thing you want to do is wash that pile of dishes in the sink. Or maybe it was a stressful day of work with not even a minute to breathe. The burden of a day’s work can…

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You get home from work after a long commute or a chaotic day at work, and the last thing you want to do is wash that pile of dishes in the sink. Or maybe it was a stressful day of work with not even a minute to breathe. The burden of a day’s work can take toll on a person. Once you step foot into your apartment, it’s where you find solace. It is your area. There are very simple ways of creating a relaxing environment to de-stress within your own space, whether you live alone, or if you have a roommate or two. Everyone has their own methods of relaxing and rediscovering balance in their life.  Here are a few of my favorite ways:

1. Take a soothing shower or bath

Woman in bathtub full of foamOne of the best places to think is in the shower. This is the best time to breathe and just focus on what you need to do. Take time to light candles if you decide on a bubble bath or choose bubble bath soap with fragrances such as lavender, eucalyptus, or a floral scent. There is a wide array of products from stores such as Lush or Bath and Body Works, that are affordable and have the perfect scent you are looking for. Aromatherapy is an easy way to stimulate mental activity and blood flow to the brain and body.  This can lead to brainstorming creative ideas or quiet time to focus on you. Not only is it a step towards relaxation, but you will be squeaky clean, refreshed, and ready for whatever obstacle comes your way.

2. Music Heals the Soul (and so does dancing)

Time to relax.Honestly, there is nothing music cannot cure. Depending on your personal music taste, turning up the volume on your favorite tune can really aid in drowning out the stress. It can also aid in the reduction of anxiety. We all know the feeling. Lean more towards songs that have a uplifting or light lyrics or upbeat sounds. It is known that music has a link to our emotions depending on what we choose to listen to. Music serves as a distraction since our focus is drawn to the various beats and fascination with lyrics.

Also, there is no harm in busting out a dance move or two. Dancing is a form on exercise and can improve your aerobic fitness, as well as increased endurance and heart condition. The list of benefits is endless, but while you tune out the rest of the world, don’t be afraid to break a sweat and have your own personal jam session.

3. Meditation

Life can be so fast-paced that we often forget that we need time to reboot. Simply take a deep breath and relax. Whether you have a meditation corner with incense and crystals or if it is you sitting on your couch in silence, that is all you need. Some people choose to use mantras such as repeating the word “om” for as short as 15 minutes. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Focusing on your breathing and finding a relaxed pose can do wonders on your mental health and body. Meditation has multiple health benefits including lower blood pressure, calmness,  anti-inflammatory effect since stress causes inflammation, boost in immunity, and emotional balance.

4. Exercise

Active sporty woman running in parkThere is no better way to get the blood flowing than to exercise. For some, this is a better alternative than meditation or dancing. Whether it’s running a few miles. focusing on strength training, or attending a Zumba class, you do what is best for you. Exercise acts as a beneficial distraction. If you sit at a desk all day and stare at a computer, taking a walk outside can improve your mood and help you burn some calories along the way. If you just moved into a new apartment, find a trail or park where you can walk. Or if you are in a more urban area, use a running app to map your route. This could also be an interesting way to learn about the area that you live in. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but the tension from daily living will be reduced.

5. Stop, rest, AND sleep

Let me repeat myself. Get some sleep. Simple as that. It is more important than we think. Put aside that work assignment and lay down. Sleep is the time when our bodies reset and without those extra hours of rest, we put our bodies at a disadvantage. Insufficient sleep can lead to an increase in sickness, so get that immunity up! Your co-workers or family will thank you when a well-rested you has a better mood. Less cranky, more happy. If anything, your productivity will increase since you will be able to think more clearly and make better decisions.

 

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4 Strategies to Making a Winning Rental Application http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/three-tips-for-making-your-housing-application-stand-out-in-a-competitive-market/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/three-tips-for-making-your-housing-application-stand-out-in-a-competitive-market/#respond Wed, 20 Jul 2016 14:05:08 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20891 If you’re ready to submit applications for your first apartment, congratulations! You have searched rentals, scheduled showings, and you have finally narrowed it down to a few “ideal” apartments you’d love to live in! The hard part comes now, where your potential landlord needs to make a decision to pick the best possible tenant for…

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Studio Shot Of Young Man Holding Keys To First HomeIf you’re ready to submit applications for your first apartment, congratulations! You have searched rentals, scheduled showings, and you have finally narrowed it down to a few “ideal” apartments you’d love to live in! The hard part comes now, where your potential landlord needs to make a decision to pick the best possible tenant for the apartment. Unfortunately, if you’re in a competitive market, that decision can be between at least 10 different people or groups competing for one apartment, all well qualified to rent it. How do you make yourself stand out from everyone else and hand in that winning rental application? It can really be frustrating if you keep losing apartments to other applicants, but here are a few proven tips to try if nothing seems to be working out!

1. Turn in a pre-assembled application immediately after the showing.

Credit report with scoreWe have already discussed in detail here what documents are needed to apply for an apartment, but having these documents ready to go saves time processing your application. It also shows your potential landlord that you are prepared and ready to rent this apartment right now. For the past several weeks on my hunt, I brought with me an application including: rental references and contact information, proof of income (pay stubs, checks, etc.), a copy of my credit score (I provide a screenshot of it from my free Mint account), employment information, and personal references. I keep this packet with me and if I end up wanting to apply to the apartment, I have the information ready to go. If the apartment is less than ideal, no harm done keeping these papers for the next one! If an apartment has their own application, then I have all the information to transfer over right there. The point is that being quick in turning over required application materials can help you tremendously in a fast paced market.

2. Offer to pay a little extra on rent per month or cover certain utilities in an “all inclusive” rental.

Unfortunately, in some competitive markets and cities, some home owners/landlords allow money to influence their decisions on who receives an offer on an apartment. If you are financially able to do so, offering to pay an extra $50 -$100 per month on rent could make you stand out from everyone else. The homeowner or landlord could politely decline your offer, but the gesture itself signals to them that 1.) this apartment really means a lot to you and 2.) that you were willing to do a little extra effort to ensure the apartment is yours. Of course if you cannot make this work financially, then obviously it’s ok to apply for the rental price advertised! But if the apartment is below the top of your budget, it could be worth the extra money to get the apartment you want.

3. Be prompt, be polite, and be patient.

Sometimes, you may be in a situation where the current tenants make it difficult for the landlord to schedule a showing at an ideal time for you (i.e. Monday, 2 pm sharp since that’s when they’ll be around). The landlord may also take 3-5 days to respond back to your follow-up email.  Then, you may need to make a decision in half a day to take an apartment and sign a lease. Throughout all of this, it’s important to keep the three “P”s in mind. Promptly respond to emails and follow up phone calls. Make sure to be polite, even if the landlord/lady is being rude and treating you like another “number” in the sea of housing applicants (but double check if you really want this person as your landlord in this case!) And of course, practicing patience can reduce the overall stress of house hunting. On the bright side, this attitude shows a potential landlord that you’re cool, responsible and collected enough to manage the apartment. Something will work out with enough determination and patience so don’t give up!

Ed. Comment: Here at My First Apartment we want to add #4.

4. Mind your personal presentation

First, use a neutral or professional email address when you communicate with the landlord. This seems like a no-brainer but when we run giveaways or our  readers comment to posts, we see email addresses (other readers don’t see them) that make us wonder. If your email address is serialkiller123@anysite.com and you are disappointed  because landlords never reply to you, perhaps you should set up a different address for apartment (and job!) hunting purposes. Second, when you go to open houses and showings, don’t wear that ripped “I shoot to kill” t-shirt, even if it’s your lucky one. Clean, neat and inoffensive is the order for the day.

Check here for more tips on how make the landlord pick you.

 

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Quick Ways to Make Extra Cash…With NO Work! http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/quick-ways-to-make-extra-cash-with-no-work/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/quick-ways-to-make-extra-cash-with-no-work/#respond Sun, 17 Jul 2016 14:00:49 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20778 Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself strapped for extra cash during the summer time. Whether it’s more time for activities or planning vacations, money doesn’t seem to last as long as it does in the colder months! However, I am NOT complaining, because I found a few ways to save a little extra…

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Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself strapped for extra cash during the summer time. Whether it’s more time for activities or planning vacations, money doesn’t seem to last as long as it does in the colder months!

However, I am NOT complaining, because I found a few ways to save a little extra this summer. A penny saved is a penny earned…right? The best part? No extra work is required!

1. Cancel extra subscriptions

Internet television conceptWe all have them…subscriptions you pay for each month that you don’t really take advantage of. Whether it’s Netflix, Hulu, or HBO, a membership to the yoga studio you hated, a clothing / food / beauty box mail service,  take the chance to CANCEL if you haven’t used it in the last two weeks. If you find yourself missing the service in the next few months, re-instate it. But, I’ll bet you that you don’t miss them much! This is a GREAT way to make back some money you already have.

2. Check bank statements for hidden fees

Hopefully this isn’t your situation, but I recently found that I’ve been charged a monthly fee for not meeting certain requirements on my checking account. My bad, I know, for not reading the fine print earlier. But the good news? By talking with my bank, I can change account plans and eliminate the fees! Extra money in my pocket each month!

3. Warm up the air

This one is less fun, but in the summertime, one of my largest bill fluctuations is in electricity of my apartment. For best savings, keep your A/C on only when you are home to enjoy it and don’t lower it below 72 degrees (often). This one takes a little extra work (adjusting the thermostat up to 80 or higher when you leave and adjusting it back down to 72 when you get home), but it will bring in major savings. Note: If you have pets in the apartment, make sure to keep the temperature bearable for them, even while you’re away.

4. Find free activities

Best friends at beach partyThis summer, instead of blowing money on movie tickets, expensive dinners out, or extravagant vacations, try exploring your local community or spending time outdoors. Hiking, tubing on your local river or lake, or hitting your apartment’s pool with friends are all great activities that won’t cost extra cash. Consider hosting your first dinner party or movie night to offset expensive outings as well.

5. Cook more often

I’m feeling like a broken record on this one (see tips here, here, and here), but cooking is a FUN way to save extra money while brushing up on “adulting” skills. Choose easy, simple recipes and start small! Trust me, few things feel better than completing your first home-cooked meal.

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Tips for Cleaning the Dreaded Closet http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/tips-for-cleaning-the-dreaded-closet/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/tips-for-cleaning-the-dreaded-closet/#respond Sat, 16 Jul 2016 14:00:02 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20462 I often find myself saying how much I LOVE having extra closet space in my new place. After moving into a bigger apartment, it was something I was most excited about. But, six months in, I’m realizing something awful. I love my closets because I can shove extra JUNK inside, close the door, and forget…

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I often find myself saying how much I LOVE having extra closet space in my new place. After moving into a bigger apartment, it was something I was most excited about. But, six months in, I’m realizing something awful.

I love my closets because I can shove extra JUNK inside, close the door, and forget all about it!

This realization came when we had my roommate/boyfriend Matt’s parents in town to stay with us for a couple of days. We have a guest room and closet, so I figured they would be just fine. While doing prep for them, I opened “their” closet, only to realize that I couldn’t even walk inside because it was so filled. From the 2 boxes we have yet to unpack to suitcases and a filing cabinet I don’t know why we have…it was a MESS!

That made me realize that it was time to revisit all of our closets and do a bit of (very late) Spring Cleaning! Follow these tips (in all of your closets… bedroom, coat closet, guest room, laundry room, etc.) to freshen up your apartment while making the best use of your closet space!

1. Start by emptying the contents of one closet at a time

Disorder and mess at home. Cheerful young girl.The only way to know what is in a packed messy closet is to dump everything on the bed or the floor. Then you’ll be able to start sorting the contents into three piles: one for the things you’ll keep, one to donate to Salvation Army or another charity, and the third to throw out.

2. Get rid of what you don’t use or need

Whether it’s old clothes and jackets or files from years ago…if you don’t need it or haven’t used it, get rid of it! Be honest with yourself and toss anything that you don’t LOVE. And trust me, once you start, it’s much easier to do a big overhaul (aka get rid of a LOT) so you won’t be doing this whole process again next month.

3. Make use of available shelving

If your closets have shelving, make sure you use it to its full potential. Hang up anything that you can, and use any other shelves to neatly stack other items.

4. Invest in organization

If you’re not one to stay organized by yourself, invest in cute bins or smaller, stackable shelving to help you further. Instead of making stacks of items on closet shelves or tossing your shoes on the closet floor, fill bins! Instead of tossing clothes in piles on the floor, invest in hangers and use them! The new skinny velvet hangers are perfect for tight closets and great for slippery fabrics, like silk.

5. Clean while you’re in there

If your closet floor hasn’t seen daylight in who-knows-how-long (no judgement…mine were the same way), use this opportunity to vacuum or sweep the floor, wipe down the walls, and dust the shelves.

6. Make a plan (and stick to it!)

Once you’re done cleaning out closets, make a mental plan of how you’ll handle them in the future. Perhaps you’ll vow to always neatly stack board games in the closet after game night, set out your paired shoes after work every day instead of flinging them inside, or folding throw blankets before putting them away instead of balling them up.

In any case, enjoy your fresh, cleaned closets…and try to keep them that way! When you feel the urge again, work through this list to make your organization even better!

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Ask Yourself These 6 Questions When You Are Budgeting for First Apartment Expenses http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/6-budget-questions-first-apartment/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/6-budget-questions-first-apartment/#respond Thu, 14 Jul 2016 14:00:59 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20656 The amount of rent is obviously the most important consideration in your first apartment search, but there are several other factors that can make or break your first apartment budget. Before you fall in love with an apartment, ask  yourself these six questions and factor your answers in when you are budgeting for apartment expenses.…

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Modern young man with mobile phone in the street.The amount of rent is obviously the most important consideration in your first apartment search, but there are several other factors that can make or break your first apartment budget. Before you fall in love with an apartment, ask  yourself these six questions and factor your answers in when you are budgeting for apartment expenses. Knowing how much living in that apartment will cost you on a day-to-day basis will ensure you can live within your means and not get into trouble.

For each rental you look, answer these questions before you put in a deposit:

  1. How much is the rent?

    If the rent is high and uses too much of your budget, you may not be able to afford other things you need to pay like your student loan, a car payment, gas or groceries. Even if you love a certain apartment, you may have to find one you love a little less but is one you can afford. (Use this calculator to estimate what is the maximum rent you should pay on your salary.)

  1. How much will your utility bill be?

    You will not know exactly how much your utility bill will be since this bill changes from month to month, but you do need to have an estimate. Talk with the landlord and other tenants to see how much the utility bill averages for the area and check out the results of My First Apartment’s Utility Cost Surveys. (Our rule-of-thumb is to budget utilities at 20% of rent in most housing markets, and 10% in high rent cities, such as NYC and SF.)

  1. How far from work is the apartment?

    Stressed woman driverNot only will the distance from work determine how long your commute will be, but the distance will also factor into your travel costs. If you live 30 miles from work and drive your own vehicle, you will have to factor in the cost of gas and vehicle maintenance. If you live two miles from work, you may be able to walk or ride a bicycle to work and reduce your cost of gas and vehicle maintenance. And if you pick an area with good public transportation you won’t even need a car.

  1. How far from town is the apartment?

    Before you choose an apartment, figure out how far it is from basic services, such as a grocery store, gas station, your doctor’s office, a hospital, etc. These are places you may need to get to quickly or frequently. If you live far from town, the distance will cost you time and money in gas.

  1. How far is the apartment from activities and places where you like to hang out?

    Friends looking at smart phone while sitting in cafeIf you go to a gym every day, hang out in a certain coffee bar, or if you walk your dog in the park often, you may want to find an apartment close to these activities. Like the distance from work and town, living far from activities you participate in a lot will cost you money every time you travel to and from your apartment.

  1. How far is the apartment from your friends’ places?

    If your apartment is far from all your friends’ places, nobody will want to come to your neighborhood and you’ll be the one always spending money traveling to meet them. (You’ll also likely incur high taxi/Uber costs after late nights out!)

 

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International Student’s Guide to Finding Housing in the U. S. http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/international-students-guide-finding-housing-u-s/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/international-students-guide-finding-housing-u-s/#respond Tue, 12 Jul 2016 07:00:21 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20794 While this student’s guide to finding housing, originally published in May 2015, is directed at international students, it offers good tips for anyone looking for off-campus housing long distance. You have just received your acceptance letter from your dream university in the United States and as you are celebrating with family and friends, someone asks…

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While this student’s guide to finding housing, originally published in May 2015, is directed at international students, it offers good tips for anyone looking for off-campus housing long distance.

You have just received your acceptance letter from your dream university in the United States and as you are celebrating with family and friends, someone asks you, “Where will you live?” You hadn’t thought about that. You go through the acceptance package, find the section about housing and realize that you have to find a place on your own. Thousands of miles away! In a city you have never even visited!

Before you panic, follow these guidelines and you’ll see that you have many options even in the toughest rental markets.

NYC subway map1. GATHER INFORMATION

Before you start looking, find out as much as you can about the city where you are heading to and its housing market.

Your school probably has a website with all kinds of pertinent information. (As an example, see Brandeis University’s excellent Graduate Student Guide to Off‐Campus Housing.) Use it! Look at maps online, so you know the location of the various neighborhoods and – most importantly – how close they are to your school. Study the city’s public transportation network and use Google Maps to find best routes and estimated travel times. Also, check out neighborhood crime statistics.

Use your social media network to find friends and friends-of-friends who are attending/have attended your school, or at least have lived in the same city. And don’t forget about the network of contacts your parents and other family members have. Get recommendations and referrals. Get the word out about when you’ll arrive, where you’d like to live, and what’s your budget.

2. GET YOUR DOCUMENTS IN ORDER

U.S. landlord would typically want to see a credit score report, two years of tax returns, 3 months of bank statements and 2-3 months of paycheck stubs verifying that the prospective renter has an annual income of 35-40 times the monthly rent. Most likely you do not have those documents, so you’ll need to show your future landlord an official identity document (=passport), your acceptance letter from the school and proof that you have the funds to cover your rent. Make copies of these documents and have them with you if you are looking for a place in person.

3. EXPLORE YOUR HOUSING OPTIONS

You have five basic options to get housing: buy, rent, sublet, find a roommate share or a dorm room. Your financial situation will most likely determine which option you’ll pursue.

Buy:
This is your most expensive option. You would probably look for a condominium, and even a small studio condo in a major city can cost hundreds of thousand dollars. You need to be prepared to pay the full price in cash and perhaps also fund an escrow account for couple of years of maintenance expenses, because you will not be able to qualify for a mortgage without U.S. credit history and bank relationships. Check out this site for basic information about buying a condo.

Finding HousingRent:
The second most expensive option is your own rental apartment. Because you do not have U.S. income or credit history, the landlord may require you to pay a full year of rent in advance, plus one month security deposit, for a total cash outlay on signing of the lease equal to 13 months of rent. And, if you used a broker, a fee equal to 1 to 1 1/2 months of rent. Make sure you avoid these 5 first-time renter mistakes.

Sublet:
Subletting an apartment can cost same on the monthly basis as renting, but requires lower initial cash outlay. Subletting an apartment means that you will be taking over someone’s rental for the remainder of their lease. Typically, you’ll pay first month’s rent and one month security deposit on moving in. The downside of subletting is that it is often short-term, so you’ll be facing another apartment hunt before the year is up. The upside is that sublet may come furnished, eliminating the need to buy furniture. Check out here how to find and negotiate for a sublet.

Roommate Share:
Roommate share is usually the least expensive housing option. Roommate share is a room, or a part of a room, in an apartment that one or more people will be sharing with you. The best roommate share situation is if you find a place with other students in your school. Living with random roommates found online who may have very different schedules could be distracting for your studies. Here’s how to look for a roommate share.

Dorm Room:
If you are an undergraduate student, you may also have a dorm room housing option, but it is often not available for graduate students. Dorm room costs range widely, with dorms in major cities sometimes costing as much as rental apartments. Here are some pros and cons of dorms.

Utilities:
Don’t forget to include electric, internet and other utility costs in your housing budget. As a very rough rule of thumb, estimate that they will run about 20% of your monthly rent if you live alone and 10% if you live with roommates.

4. START YOUR LONG DISTANCE APARTMENT HUNT ONLINE

International students typically have visas that allow them to arrive in the U.S. no more than 30 days before the school starts. Because of this, you need to start your housing search online before you can personally visit the places.

First, learn apartment ad terminology. This adspeak translator explains most common apartment ad abbreviations.

hotpads 3Use online tools. Search using apartment apartment hunting websites and rental search apps.

Consider using a broker. If you are looking to buy, you will definitely need to use a buyer’s broker who will protect your rights and shepherd the deal through the many hoops that buying real estate in the U.S. entails. If you are looking for a rental or sublet, using a broker will give you’re a larger pool of apartment to choose from, because some landlords only rent through brokers. Your best bet for finding a reliable broker is your school housing department staff. If they do not make recommendations, contact several large real estate firms and ask for brokers who specialize in finding student apartments in your target area. Beware of independent brokers without any large firm affiliation.

The broker’s fee can be as much as 12.5% of the annual rent in some markets, payable by the renter. However, in other markets the fee is paid by the landlord. Before you retain a broker, make sure you know who’ll pay the fee.

Contact large multi-unit landlords directly. If your school has list of recommended landlords, it means they are already used to dealing with international students and may even offer a small rent discount to you. If there is no such list, you can find the largest rental landlords online. For example, here is a listing of largest rental landlords in New York City. Going the direct-to-landlord route saves you the broker’s fee, but you may have to choose from a more expensive selection of apartments.

5. ARRIVE EARLY TO SEARCH IN PERSON

If you have a place to stay or can afford to stay in a hotel/hostel /Airbnb, and can arrive at least two weeks before school starts, you can search for a perfect place in person. Keep in mind that most apartments change hands at the beginning of the month, so depending on when you find a place, you may not be able to move in immediately.

For the most efficient search, make a detailed plan of action and arrange to see several apartments that you have found online as soon as you arrive. Even if none of them work for you, you have learned what is available in your price range and what the neighborhoods are like. You can then adjust your search criteria to the market. Read this post by Ben on how to find an apartment in the tough New York City market in 8 days, after much preparation.

The in-person search is very important if you are looking for a roommate share. Even with all the Skyping and G-chatting, it is hard to get the vibe of the place without actually seeing it and your future roomies in person. That said, a roommate share is the most flexible arrangement, so if things don’t work out you can always find something else.

rental scams6. BEWARE OF RENTAL SCAMMERS

Hunting for a place long distance is an invitation to scammers to try to take your money.

Craigslist, especially, is a jungle that you have to approach carefully. They even warn you about suspicious activities to keep an eye out for.

Scammers are known to go to extreme lengths, including setting up phony social media accounts to establish their fake identity. Read how our blogger Alexandra was almost taken by a clever scam.

To avoid scams, in the minimum:

• Google the address, to make sure it exists
• Make sure the apartment exists
• Make sure the person offering the apartment is authorized to do so
• Check the apartment on Airbnb to avoid the latest scam  from people who rent an Airbnb apartment, then advertise it for sublet, collect deposits and disappear.

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How to Save Money on Food http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/12-ways-save-money-food/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/12-ways-save-money-food/#respond Mon, 11 Jul 2016 14:00:11 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20486 Food can get expensive, especially if you add eating out at restaurants to your cost. Redesigning how you buy and cook can save you a lot of money on food. Whether your budget needs organization, you need to clip coupons, or you need to learn better meal prep, saving money on food is definitely doable.…

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Food can get expensive, especially if you add eating out at restaurants to your cost. Redesigning how you buy and cook can save you a lot of money on food. Whether your budget needs organization, you need to clip coupons, or you need to learn better meal prep, saving money on food is definitely doable.

Here are 12 ways to help you save money on food:

Fake CouponsAt the grocery store:

  • Look at grocery store flyers, and plan meals around the sale items. Get a loyalty card for each store you frequent to get store discounts automatically, then use flyer coupons for additional discounts.
  • Make a shopping list and stick to it.
  • Don’t shop hungry. Always hit the grocery store after you have eaten a snack or meal so your urge to buy food won’t be as strong.
  • Buy food in bulk. Instead of buying enough potatoes for one meal, buy a large bag and plan other meals that use potatoes. This also goes for food such as oatmeal, rice, apples, and beans.
  • Use your freezer. Buy a lot of meat when it’s on sale, and freeze what you don’t cook.
  • Choose cheaper cuts of meat. For example, you can buy chicken thighs cheaper than chicken breasts.
  • Buy snack items from the grocery store instead of a convenience store or vending machine. If you eat yogurt or a candy bar every afternoon, buy a big pack from the grocery store. This also applies to coffee, soft drinks, gum, etc.
  • Don’t overbuy perishables. Some foods, like fruits and vegetables, go bad quickly. Pay attention to what you have to throw away at the end of the week. If you throw certain foods away often, buy less of these so you don’t waste money.

Handsome young man cooking at home cutting vegetablesAt home:

  • Meal prep by cooking a large amount of food once or twice a week and dividing it into equal portions to store in a refrigerator and freezer. When your meals are prepared and ready to eat, it is less tempting to eat out or order take out.
  • Try new recipes. This will help curb the urge to eat out since you’re cooking new recipes instead of the same old ones all of the time. (Check out some of these cookbooks and websites for new recipe ideas.)
  • Grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Plants such as strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuce are easy to grow in small pots on your deck or patio.  Herbs can be grown in small pots on windowsill year round.
  • Drink more water and less juices, milk, and soft drinks.

 

 

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10 Easy Ways To Decorate & Organize (With NO Nail Holes) http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/20762/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/20762/#respond Sat, 09 Jul 2016 14:00:39 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20762 This post by our organizing expert, Monica Ricci, had been a reader favorite since 2014. As a certified professional organizer, I’ve been in thousands of homes and apartments helping my clients take back control of their lives. One theme that always shows up in my work is my advice to look for as many ways…

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This post by our organizing expert, Monica Ricci, had been a reader favorite since 2014.

As a certified professional organizer, I’ve been in thousands of homes and apartments helping my clients take back control of their lives. One theme that always shows up in my work is my advice to look for as many ways as possible to use wall and door space. Your walls and doors can help you get organized, and also make any room cozier and more personalized. Trouble is, when you live in an apartment, you want to avoid putting holes in the walls, moldings and doors. Here are ten ways to use your vertical spaces for storage and decor with nary a hammer or nail in the mix.

1. We Montage
I’m listing this resource first because it’s my new favorite thing! Forget about nail holes, you don’t even need framed or actual photos to turn an entire wall into a gallery! Just upload your high quality digital photos to We Montage and they’ll make you a gorgeous self-adhesive collage that won’t damage walls and can be removed and re-used when you find a new place to live!
no nail holes
2. Brick Clips
If you live in one of those cool old loft spaces with exposed brick good for you! Such character! Don’t let your brick walls go unused though just because your landlord says “No holes!” Try a few brick clips to hang your favorite piece of art right on the face of the brick without drilling into it.

3. 3M Command Hooks
These handy dandy hooks are available in clear or white plastic as well as metal finishes and are one of my go-to products to use with clients. You can use them to hang towels, fashion accessories, dog leashes, baseball hats, mops, brooms and nearly anything else without a single nail hole. When it’s time to move out, the 3M adhesive removes cleanly from most surfaces, including drywall.

4. Poster Putty
Used to be poster putty was just for sticking your favorite teen heartthrob posters to your bedroom walls. These days, it’s a different story. Poster putty has come a long way baby and you can use it to display lightweight picture frames or small canvas artwork on your walls. Just pull a few pieces off the block, stick it to a clean surface on the back of your artwork, then press it onto the wall. It’s not designed to hold much weight, so use it only to hang lightweight items. It’s also handy for tacking up temporary items such as party decorations.

5. Picture Molding Hangers
If you’re lucky enough to live in an old converted house like I and many of my friends did in our Philadelphia years, you may be lucky enough to have picture molding running around the top edge of your walls. Nab yourself some picture wire andpretty molding hooks, snap them onto the top of your picture molding and you’re all set to hang (and change) art to your heart’s content.

6. Shoe Bags
Make the most of the vertical spaces we often ignore — the back of a door. A hanging vinyl or fabric shoe bag will store and organize everything from shoes to crafting items, hair doodads, small hand tools, individually packaged snacks, baby items, makeup, and toiletries. If you don’t have a door, try hanging the bag on a section of wall. If it won’t fit, just slice it vertically or horizontally and hang it that way.

7. Straight Pins
Straight pins? Yep. Believe it or not, a simple stainless steel straight pin will hold wall art. Push one into your drywall at a 45-degree angle, leaving as little of the pin sticking out as possible and you can hang framed items as heavy as a few pounds. When you move out, just remove the art, pull the pin out of the wall and the hole that’s left is so small nobody will ever know it’s there.

8. Display Easels
Who says the wall is the only way to display your favorite painting, drawing or lithograph? Why not use the floor instead with a lovely display easel in a corner? The upside (besides the lack of nail holes to repair) is that you can move your art to a new spot any time you feel the urge, or swap out the item you’re displaying in a heartbeat. It offers so much flexibility and when it’s time to move, you’re sure to get your deposit back!

9. 3M Command Sticky Nail Wireback Hangers
If you like 3M Command Hooks, you’ll love the Command Sticky Nail Wireback Hangers too! Specially designed to hang frames with stretched wire across the back, these hangers attach to the wall with the patented 3M Command adhesive to hold strong and remove cleanly. In fact, they’re rated to hold up to eight pounds!

10. ELFA Shelving
Talk about a tried-and-true “go-to” product, the ELFA line has been one of my favorites since I started my business. The Container Store launched a new line of ELFA shelving that stands alone without being attached the a wall, which is perfect for apartment living! Another cool ELFA product line are their door racks. You attach a single standard to your door then snap on various size baskets and you’re golden. ELFA door racks are perfect for storing pantry food, sodas, bottled water, art and craft supplies and much more. Design your own using their online design tool and have it shipped right to your door!

Monica Ricci is an organization expert and founder of Catalyst Organizing Solutions and has been helping people change their lives since 1998. She is the author of Organize Your Office In No Time and was named one of the nation’s “Organizing Elite” by Forbes Magazine. Monica is a Certified Professional Organizer and she sits on the committee that created her industry’s only professional certification program. She is a winner of her industry’s highest honor, the National Association of Professional Organizers Founders Award. You can also follow Monica on Twitter.

 

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3 Simple Rules for BF/GF Visits When You Have a Roommate http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/3-simple-rules-for-visit-from-bfgf-when-you-have-roommates/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/3-simple-rules-for-visit-from-bfgf-when-you-have-roommates/#respond Thu, 07 Jul 2016 14:00:55 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20743 This post by Katherine, originally published in May 2012, has saved many roommate relationships from turning into ugly war zones because of BF/GF visits — like the ones described in the comments to “How to Tell Your Roommate His Girlfriend Is a Problem”! There are three issues that can turn a roommate relationship ugly:  splitting…

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This post by Katherine, originally published in May 2012, has saved many roommate relationships from turning into ugly war zones because of BF/GF visits — like the ones described in the comments to “How to Tell Your Roommate His Girlfriend Is a Problem”!

There are three issues that can turn a roommate relationship ugly:  splitting expenses, housekeeping chores and roommate’s BF/GB overstaying their welcome.  I have already covered how to handle splitting expenses and housekeeping,  it’s now time to tackle the biggie that has brought an end to many a beautiful roommate relationship -how to hang out with the BF/GF without breaking up with your roommate.

roommates

Image from Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Okay, we’ve all been there. You’re at the end of a date (or a raging party) and you’d like to say “Wanna come up?” Or you’ve gone over to your boyfriend’s house so many time this past week they’re gonna start charging you rent. But before you invite your significant other over (potentially for hours and days) you just have to check with the roommate first.

And how long is too long to have them over? Like, can you watch the entire first season of Breaking Bad? Or do you have to keep it to one episode of New Girl? Does that candlelit home-cooked dinner for two have to be at 4:30p.m, so as to not disturb your fellow apartment dweller.

Here are my 3 simple rules for bf/gf visits:

1. Plan Plan Plan

If you want your boyfriend to come over on Saturday so you two can be super cute and cook dinner and then watch Julie & Julia, be polite and ask your roommate a week in advance. Yep, a week. Sorry, there’s no real spontaneity when you share a house. (Really the amount of notice you give your roommate depends on what you talked about when you made a roommate agreement. You did make one of those, didn’t you?)

2. It’s okay to say no

Let me repeat that: It’s okay to say NO. When your ladyfriend assumes that she can lounge on your couch and watch reruns of The Bachelor while painting her toenails, you can gently let her know that’s not cool with your roommate. This is great because you have someone to blame it on and you can just shrug your shoulder and give her sad eyes and then she will just have to forgive you. And um, while she’s at it, can she just get all her hair removal devices out of the bathroom? Just remember, it is NOT okay for your SO to take over your space. Unless he or she is paying rent, you must constantly remind yourself, she doesn’t live there. Therefore, she may not, ever, use the space as her own.

3. Use your head

I know you’ve got one, so use it. Put yourself in your roommate’s position before asking him or her something silly, like “Can my boyfriend and his friends do their annual PONG tournament here next Saturday?” That’s just silly. Come on people, have a little decency. Plus your roommate probably does not want hang out with your boyfriend. So don’t invite him on all your outings. That’s weird. I can’t repeat this enough: RESPECT YOUR ROOMMATE. If you don’t, you can bet your ass when they get a boyfriend or girlfriend, they won’t respect your privacy either.

Anybody have any stories of roommate/significant other screws ups? Please share!

Photo credit:Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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How Much Should You Budget for Apartment Utilities? http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/how-much-should-you-budget-for-utilities-2/ http://www.myfirstapartment.com/2016/07/how-much-should-you-budget-for-utilities-2/#respond Tue, 05 Jul 2016 10:30:19 +0000 http://www.myfirstapartment.com/?p=20735 This post was originally published in August 2012 and has been a reader favorite since. It has been updated with our 2015 and 2016 utility cost survey results. To find out what our readers actually paid for utilities in July 2015, check out these results of our online survey.  Our January 2016 utility survey results…

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This post was originally published in August 2012 and has been a reader favorite since. It has been updated with our 2015 and 2016 utility cost survey results.

To find out what our readers actually paid for utilities in July 2015, check out these results of our online survey.  Our January 2016 utility survey results are here

Our readers often ask how much they should budget for apartment , 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.

Reality Check: Per our January 2016 utility survey, heating averaged $53 for a studio or 1RB apartment, if it was billed separately.

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.

Reality Check: Per our January 2016 utility survey, electricity averaged $55 for a studio or 1RB apartment vs. $60 in July 2015 survey.

Air-Conditioning

heat waveThis 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

utility cablesI 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.

Reality Check: Per our January 2016 utility survey, cable/internet averaged $57 for a studio or 1RB apartment vs. $68 in July 2015 survey.

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, slightly less if your live with roommates. However, if you are looking for an apartment in a high-rent city (NYC, Chicago, Boston, etc.) your utility cost will be in closer to 10% of your rent.

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