First Apartment Budgeting Basics: Your Monthly Expenses Checklist

You’ve signed the lease and you have a move-in date. You know how much rent you can afford. But what are your expenses once you move in? Let’s break it down.

First, there’s the moving. This is a one-time expense, but it can be a big one. You need to decide whether you’re using movers or friends.  Movers can be expensive, but they’ll also likely do a better and quicker job. Friends, on the other hand, are cheaper and may be happy to help. Either way, as you move in you’ll also need to buy some basics like toilet paper, hand soap, cleaning supplies, etc.

monthly expensesOnce you get that out of the way, what are the monthly expenses you can expect:

Rent. This is your primary monthly expense – and the largest. Pay on time to stay in your landlord’s good graces – and to avoid any late fees.

Heat/Gas. If your unit has a thermostat, expect to pay for heating. (If you have a gas range, you’ll also likely pay for the gas you use in cooking.) This expense will be fairly high in the winter … and almost non-existent in the summer. … However, not all apartments charge for heat. If your building uses radiators, don’t expect a heating bill, but do expect a slightly larger monthly rent.

Electricity. Expect to pay for electricity, no matter what type of unit you live in. Your landlord can give you information about your electric provider – contact the company and put the bill in your name. That way, there will be no confusion and no accidentally unpaid bills.

Air Conditioning. You’ll pay for A/C through your electric bill. But because it’s a summertime only expense, and optional in some parts of the country, we thought we’d have a separate line for it. Depending on how often you use your A/C, it can really balloon your electric bill – think two or three times as much as you pay in the winter. Conserve and use fans to pay a little less.

Cable/Internet. In this day and age, internet is an necessity. If you want cable as well, use the same company to get a bundled deal. Or, consider subscribing to a streaming service or two instead of cable. You’ll save some money and still have plenty of shows to watch.

Renter’s Insurance. Renter’s insurance protects your things, in case of damage from theft, fire, flood or other disaster. While it may seem far-fetched, a catastrophe could strike you. So take out a policy – they’re usually very inexpensive.

Groceries. While you’ll never get a bill in the mail for groceries, this is an expense you’ll absolutely need to cover. If you’re a bit tight on money, one of the best ways to save money is to eat-in regularly. Learn to cook – and bring bagged lunches to work and watch your savings grow.

The expenses above, you should expect no matter where you live. Here are some additional expense to consider:

Car. Depending on where in the country you live, a car may be a necessity. When considering how much apartment you can afford, remember to factor in your car expenses. This includes car payments, insurance, gas and maintenance.

Parking. While parking is often a luxury, in certain situations you’ll need parking unless you want to circle the block for half an hour every time you come home. That said, if you’re stretching your budget to get a parking space, you probably could do without one.

Furniture. If you’re moving into your first place, you may not have much in the way of furniture. Furniture can be expensive or cheap – and much of it you won’t need to buy right away. Consider browsing thrift shops or shopping online.

Gym Membership. If you just graduated from college, you’re probably used to having gym access included in your tuition. Now that you’re out in the real world, a gym is going to cost money – that said, regular exercise is good for you, it’s a way to beat the winter blues, and it can be a way to meet people. So if you’d use a gym, seriously consider becoming a member.

Going Out. Going out is a lot of fun, but it can get expensive very quickly. Keep track of how much you spend each month going out and decide if you can afford it. If you need to cut back, there are plenty of ways to hang out with friends on the cheap.

While it may seem nerve-wracking at first, you’ll get a hang of what you can afford and what you can’t. Once you do, you’ll be able to spend (and save) with confidence.

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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 (9)

  1. Avatar Ben H

    I was planning on moving out at the end of summer, I make approx $43,100 a year but rent is rather expensive where I live (around $1300 a month) I was wondering if I could get a budget plan

    Reply
  2. Avatar Sheamus J

    Hello I am autistic and I am looking to get a place of my own I am on a fixed income and I was wondering how I can budget that

    Reply
    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Hi Sheamus,
      We are excited to hear that you are to move to your own place. It’s a big step for all young adults and even bigger for someone with autism.

      Here are the types of expenses you need to be able to pay when you are living on your own.
      Monthly Expenses:
      1.) Housing. This includes your rent and your basic utilities.
      Rent. Try not to spend more than a third of your allowance on rent.
      Electric. Typically, you pay your own electric bill. In a small apartment that may run about $60 a month. The landlord should be able to give you an estimate. It would easily run twice that in the summer, if you must run air conditioning.
      Water, heat, garbage service. These are often included in your rent, especially in an apartment building. Be careful if you have to pay for these separately, because heating can get expensive in the North and water could be costly in the South.
      – We use 20% of rent as a rough estimate for all utilities, so if your rent is $500, your utilities would average $100, for a total housing cost of $600.
      2.) Groceries and food.
      Laundry & cleaning supplies: detergents, toilet paper, paper towel, etc.
      Basic pantry items: coffee, tea, sugar, salt, a few spices, flour, cooking oil, canned foods (soup, beans, etc.) Most of these are not monthly expenses but last longer.
      Fresh foods: dairy (milk, eggs, butter, yogurt, etc.), vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.), fruit (bananas, apples, etc.), meats (hamburger meat, chicken, etc.)
      – We estimate that $300 a month should be enough to keep you well-fed and your place clean, if you learn some basic cooking.
      3.) Transportation
      – Local public transit pass or car expenses or maybe a bike. Depending on your community and if you go to work or activities, you need to have a way to get around, unless you are entitled to a free car service.
      4.) Discretionary spending
      – This category will include clothing, entertainment (dinner out with friends, Netflix, etc.)
      Phone/Internet – It’s debatable if these should be part of your housing or discretionary. We keep it here because you can always find places, such as libraries, for free internet and use Skype and WhatsApp as phone also.
      – We like to see about $75-100 a week left to this category after housing, groceries/food and transportation.
      5.) Savings
      – We recommend that you should have 3 times your initial rent in savings before you move, to cover first month’s rent, security deposit, moving expenses and basic furniture (bed, chair, table).
      – It would be nice if you would be able to save a little money on an ongoing basis for special treats. It could be as simple as to put all your change into a jar every time you come home from being out and about.

      We are really excited for you as you plan this big move. Let us know how it goes.

      Reply
  3. Avatar Capri Dalmas

    I’m about to move out once I graduate, my place will cost 490 a month and all other bills will round my living expenses at the end of each month at 845 I was wondering when I get a job when I move out how much I need to be making per hour and how many hours I need to work a week to stay financially stable?

    Reply
    • Avatar Alice

      Hi, Capri! You should aim to make your rent a third of what you make in a month or less. So with a rent of 490 a month, you should be aiming to be making 1470 a month to cover all of you other expenses, unexpected bills, time spent out with friends, and to have a solid emergency fun. The amount of hours you need to work completely depends on how much your wages are, but if you aren’t attending school, I would recommend getting a full-time or two part-time jobs. This is all totally doable with a solid budgeting system!

      Reply
    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Hi Capri,
      You did not explain what is in that $845. Does it include groceries?gas?phone?. We tried to reverse-engineer back to needed salary, assuming two scenarios: 1.) Everything except rent and utilities in that $845 or 2.) All monthly bills are included, but not utilities, groceries and gas. We also like to see somewhere around $400 a month left after all your non-discretionary expenses are paid, to cover clothing, entertaining, meals out, savings, etc.
      With these assumptions, working full time = 40 hours a week, you need to make $14.50/hr. if all your expenses were in that $845, or $17/hr. if your groceries and gas were not included. Use this worksheet https://www.myfirstapartment.com/2017/08/budgeting-bootcamp-budgeting-worksheet-single/ to make a more accurate estimates. Good luck!

      First Apartment Budgeting Worksheet @$14.50/hr. 40 hrs

      Annual Salary (see below 1.) $29,000
      Less: Estimated taxes 25% (see below 2.) -$7,250
      Less: Other deductions (health insurance, 401K, etc.)
      Estimated annual take-home pay $21,750
      Monthly take-home pay (above /12) $1,813

      Monthly Essential Living Expenses
      Maximum Rent -$490
      Utilities 20% of rent (electric, water, trash, internet) -$98
      Car loan or lease payment
      Car Insurance 
      Gas
      Public transportation monthly pass (est. $125)
      Groceries/Food
      Laundry/Dry Cleaning
      Health Insurance (See below 3.)
      Cell Phone
      Student Loans
      Credit Cards
      Child care
      Other fixed bills -$845
      Total Monthly Essential Expenses -$1,433

      Cash left for Savings and Discretionary Spending 4.) $380

      First Apartment Budgeting Worksheet @$17/hr. 40 hrs

      Annual Salary (see below 1.) $34,000
      Less: Estimated taxes 25% (see below 2.) -$8,500
      Less: Other deductions (health insurance, 401K, etc.)
      Estimated annual take-home pay $25,500
      Monthly take-home pay (above /12) $2,125

      Monthly Essential Living Expenses
      Maximum Rent-$490
      Utilities 20% of rent (electric, water, trash, internet) -$98
      Car loan or lease payment
      Car Insurance 
      Gas -$50
      Public transportation monthly pass (est. $125)
      Groceries/Food -$300
      Laundry/Dry Cleaning
      Health Insurance (See below 3.)
      Cell Phone
      Student Loans
      Credit Cards
      Child care
      Other fixed bills -$845
      Total Monthly Essential Expenses -$1,783

      Cash left for Savings and Discretionary Spending 4.) $342

      Reply
  4. Avatar FactorLoads

    Yes, I strongly agree with what you said. I believe that it is very important that we know how to do budgeting. I also believe that we can hang out and have fun with our friends without spending a lot of money. Thanks for sharing this article.

    Reply