The 3 Secrets to Creating (and Sticking to) a New Apartment Budget

apartment budgetUnlike riding a bicycle, going to the mall alone, or receiving your first college acceptance, no one informs you when you’re ready to move out. Wouldn’t that be so much easier though?

A major decider (besides your parent’s not so subtle hints) is when you’re are able to afford paying your own rent, utilities, groceries and all other no fun adult costs.

Before flying the coup, make sure your saving account is up to par, create a new, realistic budget and get used to your new finances without constantly feeling broke.

1.) Amp Up Your Savings

Before you move out into the big, bad world, you’ll want to have a solid amount of cash in your savings.  The minimum you’ll need to have saved up is an amount equal to about three* months of your projected rent to cover:

  • your first month’s rent
  • one month’s security deposit 
  • money for moving costs and basic furniture and household items

Ideally, you’ll also have enough money left over for emergencies (i.e. when someone decides to side swipe you on your drive home from work or your company has a reorganization that eliminates your job). Let’s hope you don’t have to touch the money, but it’s better safe than sorry.

Also, keep in mind that after you move out, it will be a bit more difficult to dump money into your savings since more will be going to your rent and other adult things. Continue saving (even if it’s smaller amounts) by enrolling in your bank’s Way2Save program that adds a dollar to each debit card transaction then stashes those dollars into a savings account. Also, check out your company’s 401k plan to make sure you’re adding sufficient funds or use apps like Digit to mindlessly save money.

*Make that four months in some hot areas of NYC, where the landlord wants up front first month’s rent, last month’s rent plus one month security deposit!

2.) Create a New Budget

Spreadsheets will be your best friend. Prior to signing a lease, you should crunch the numbers to make sure you can feasibly afford living on your own (or with roommates). First step, create a new budget estimating all your expenses.

How to Create a New Budget

  • First, list all expenses you currently pay on your own (i.e. car payment, phone bill, student loans, etc.).
  • Then list your total monthly income and subtract the total amount of your current expenses to see how much money you will have leftover for rent.
  • Next, list all apartment related expenses you will have to pay on a monthly basis (i.e. rent, water and electric bill, groceries, etc.).
  • After, list the leftover income after apartment related expenses. This will show the amount of money left to pay credit card bills, entertainment or to put into savings.
  • Finally, list all one time or yearly fees associated with moving into a new place (i.e. renter’s insurance, security deposit, moving van, etc.).

How to Estimate Costs

  • Rent
    • The rent estimate will be the absolute maximum you can spend on rent a month. No cheating, stick to that number when looking at places and you won’t risk living beyond your means. Use our affordable rent calculator or check out average apartment costs to get an idea of what pricing might look like.
  • Electric
    • The utility bill can be a huge questions mark strictly because it fluctuates each month. I hate numbers that fluctuate. For this, over-estimating is probably a good idea. After some research and speaking with multiple leasing offices, there was a consensus for $80-$130/month in my area. However, to find out averages by your region, check out average utility bills.
  • Water
    • Is this included? Is it separate? Is there a flat fee? These are all good questions to ask when checking out new digs.
  • Groceries
    • Food is a basic (and expensive) necessity. Overestimate this dollar amount a bit since your kitchen will start from scratch and you’ll have to get a lot of pantry staple items (spices, canned goods, etc.). Also, if you have roommates, figure out how you’ll handle food. I split the cost with my boyfriend and we love the app Our Groceries. The app will store your shopping list, recipes and let’s multiple parties add/edit.
  • Cable + Internet (optional)
    • Personally, I could go without a TV. However, my boyfriend/roommate could not (how  else would he watch the Eagles game after all?). If you’re budget-conscious, start with a small package and shop around. For internet, cable (HBO included, obviously) and phone (in case anyone has a need for a house phone), I pay roughly $100/month. However, I fully plan on calling the company in a few months to renegotiate the pricing.
  • Move-In Expenses/Furniture
    • Take inventory of what you have vs. what you need. Do you have a bed? TV? Microwave? Do you need a moving van or can you enlist your friends for the low cost of pizza and beer? Resist the urge for a HomeGoods shopping spree and figure out what you absolutely need. Then ask relatives or friends if they have spare furniture. It’s crazy what a coat of paint can do for that old desk in your grandmother’s basement.

3.) Control Spending While You Get Used to Your New Budget

After you move out, it will be an entirely different financial lifestyle. At least for the first month, you shouldn’t count on eating out every night or daily happy hour with your coworkers. Lay low in the splurge department and give yourself time to adjust to the new set of budget standards. Now’s a perfect time to Pinterest like you’ve never Pinterested before and pick out your favorite budget friendly DIY projects (ahem, that’s how I’m getting my rustic, barn wood headboard).

That being said, if you’re staying true to your new budget, you deserve that weekly pumpkin-spiced splurge.


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Author My First Apartment

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Jackie Thomas graduated Rutgers in 2014 and currently works at an internship, turned big girl job (yes, that really happens!) at the Wall Street Journal. The Springsteen loving Jersey girl loves to run, write and find new DIY projects for her apartment!

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Comments (1)

  1. Avatar Maricel

    Creating a plan on how to spend your money ensures that you will always have enough funds for the things that are essential to you. Budgeting requires you to be responsible, independent and be good at balancing your expenses considering your income. You must also remember to save some for emergencies. Moving to a new apartment on your own is indeed a tough thing to do. You have to be ready for anything that may come along the way. Thanks for sharing these informative details. It is very helpful to people who are planning to move to an apartment or currently living in one.