Moving into your own apartment is an exciting time. Whether you’re looking to upgrade your current space or finally move out of your parents’ house, having your own space gives you more independence and responsibility. Everything is on your terms — you can choose your own furniture and décor and keep your own schedule. But an apartment is also a huge expense, one that you will have to budget for, to make sure you can comfortably afford your new home. Managing finances on your own can be challenging at first, but if you plan ahead and manage your money wisely, you’ll be in the apartment you want in no time.
How Much Does an Apartment Cost?
Of course, apartment rental costs can vary wildly depending on the location, size and style of the apartment. However, whatever your budget may be, there are some important considerations in determining the true cost of each apartment. Factoring in all of these other costs will ensure you are getting into an apartment you can truly afford. Here’s how to add up those costs and know what kind of apartment you can afford.
Beyond the advertised price of the apartment, leave enough room in your budget for utility costs. In most apartments, the renter is responsible for paying their own electricity bill. The landlord may pay gas, water and trash but each rental is different, so be sure to ask which utility costs you’d be responsible for in each apartment that you look at. Internet and cable TV services are usually up to the renter as well. Renter’s insurance is a good idea to protect your belongings, and some rental communities require it, so be sure to factor this cost into your budget too.
When you’re considering different apartments in different areas, take into account the various costs of parking and transportation. Will you have to pay more for a parking space or a city street permit by your apartment? Will you use public transportation or commute by car? If your apartment is farther away from work and you plan on driving, you’ll pay more in gas and car maintenance overall. Remember to weigh these costs for each apartment too.
The various upfront costs of moving should also factor into your plan, so you’re sure to save up enough for the big move. Apartments generally will need a security deposit equal to about a month’s worth of rent. As long as you keep the place in good condition, you’ll get most, if not all, of this back when you move out, but it’s a big expense right at the start. There is also usually an application fee or other administrative fees to cover background and credit checks. If you plan on moving in with a pet, most apartments that allow this will require an extra pet deposit or a monthly pet fee.
Financial experts recommend that you spend no more than 30 percent of your gross income on housing costs, and some even put this lower, at 25 percent. Multiply your monthly gross income by 30% to find the maximum you should be paying for housing. This amount should leave room for all of the costs listed above.
Tips for Saving Money for an Apartment
If all of the costs of renting an apartment have you feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. There are lots of ways renters save money to afford the apartment they want. Follow these budgeting tips and trick to reduce your expenses and save up for an apartment:
1. Find a Roommate
One of the best ways to cut overall costs is to share your apartment with a roommate. You’ll generally be looking for a slightly larger apartment when you search with a roommate, but the cost will be cut in half. You’ll also share utility costs and other fees and can possibly share other items like furniture and groceries. You could even find several roommates and then search for an even larger unit together.
Start by asking your friends or use an online service that pairs roommates together. Make sure that you are compatible before moving in together, because if you don’t get along, you may get stuck with a larger apartment than you want by yourself if things don’t work out.
2. Search for Smaller Units
If living with roommates isn’t for you, try looking at smaller apartments. You may dream of a huge urban loft downtown with great views but be realistic with your budget. Apartments farther away from the city center tend to be less expensive but may come with higher commuting costs. This can be mitigated if the apartment is near a public transportation hub. Especially for a first apartment, a small studio may be all that you need. You can always upgrade later as your income increases. Consider how much space you need vs. how much you want.
3. Prepare Meals at Home
If you eat out a lot or bring home takeout often, you can save big by cooking more of your meals in your new home. Groceries tend to be far less expensive than restaurant food and are usually healthier too. Cutting back even a little on the takeout will save you lots in the long run. Check out some cookbooks from the library or read food blogs online if you’re feeling uninspired. Try brewing your own coffee at home too so you won’t be as tempted to purchase from coffee shops as often.
4. Cut Cable and Other Subscriptions
Cable TV can get quite expensive, so if you don’t use it often, consider cutting this extra cost. If you also have multiple video and music streaming services, you could cut these back or use them as a more affordable option to cable. Libraries are full of books, movies and music that you can borrow for free, and the internet is full of ways to access your favorite music and movies. Take a look at any other subscriptions and membership fees that you could do without — gyms and clubs, magazines and subscription boxes and any other automatic subscriptions charges.
5. Renter’s Insurance
This one might seem like more of an expense, instead of a way to save money, but stick with us. Renter’s insurance can save you tons in the event of a disaster. Your landlord has insurance to protect the building, but that doesn’t cover your personal belongings. In the case of theft or natural disaster, renter’s insurance gives you coverage to replace any lost items. Without this insurance, you’d be scrambling to pay for replacement items yourself.
6. Watch Your Energy Use
If you’re responsible for your electricity bill, be careful about your energy usage. Make use of a programmable thermostat if you have one, or use passive heating and cooling techniques like blocking out the sun on hot days. Change all lightbulbs to more efficient LED bulbs and always turn off lights and appliances when they’re not being used, to save on energy costs. As a bonus, you’ll be helping the environment too when you save on energy.
7. Consider Side Hustles or Part-Time Jobs
If you’ve tried cutting back spending in other areas and still want more room in the budget, consider taking on a part-time job or “side hustle.” Maybe you have some weekend hours you can use to pick up a retail or serving job to earn some extra cash. You can also try occasional babysitting or pet-sitting, driving for Uber or Lyft or delivering takeout and groceries. Use your talents for blogging or selling stock photos or open an Etsy shop for your handcrafted objects. There are tons of ways to make a little extra money — get creative!
8. Move During the Off-Season
This tip is a bit unconventional but could reduce your initial moving costs. It’s far more popular to move in the spring and summer, but if you’re able to move during the more unpopular times of the fall and winter, you may score some better deals. Apartment communities may offer lower prices in the off-season to fill open units. Moving trucks and moving services are more readily available during off times as well and may offer deals too.
9. Look for Multitasking Apartment Items
To make better use of a smaller space — and save money — buy furniture and items for your apartment that pull double duty. A sofa sleeper works extremely well in a studio apartment or as an extra space for guests. Ottomans and benches that open up for storage are also great in a small space. Look for classic kitchen tools and appliances that can do many things, rather than a bunch of specific kitchen gadgets that only do one thing, like juicers or rice cookers.
Organization is key to making the best of a small apartment, so look for anything that will keep your stuff stashed and organized well, without excess clutter. On that note, getting rid of clutter and simply buying less stuff will not only help your apartment, but you’ll save money too!
10. Live Closer to Public Transportation
If you’re in a bigger city, it’s often more economical to use public transportation than your own car. If you get rid of your car, you won’t have the costs of gas, parking, insurance and maintenance. Look for apartments near bus or train stops to make things ultra-convenient.
Tips for Budgeting and Keeping Track of Your Spending Habits
With all of the previous money-saving tips in mind, it’s also important to track your spending and keep up with an organized budget. This will help keep you accountable to yourself for your spending and help you see exactly where your money is going. Here’s how to keep track of your spending habits:
The first step is to create a budget for yourself. If you’ll be living with a partner, involve them in the budgeting process as well. Whether you choose to use spreadsheets, a phone app or old-fashioned pencil and paper, create a budget that you can work from. Start with all sources of income and account for any automatic deductions like taxes, healthcare costs or retirement funds. Next, add up all living expenses, including rent payments and all utilities and other monthly bills. Provide an estimate for other regular expenditures like groceries, clothing, entertainment and whatever else you regularly spend money on. Remember to allow room in your budget for savings contributions too.
Check your income vs. expenditures on your budget and make sure that you don’t have more expenses than income — they should balance out. If you do, you’ll have to do some work to reduce expenses or increase your income. Organize your budget so it’s easy to read, and keep it in an accessible location, so it’s easy to revisit and check up on yourself.
Creating a budget is a great way to see your finances at a glance, but on its own, it’s not enough to keep you on track. You must track your expenditures every day to see if your budget is working. A budget is often an idealized version of what we think we spend, but smaller expenses quickly add up, and we often spend more than we think we do on variable expenses like groceries or eating out.
Take the time to write down — or record on a spreadsheet or app — everything you spend money on. It can seem monotonous at first but stay with it. Over time, you can keep watch of your spending and note if your original budget was accurate. If you notice major patterns in spending that are different from what you’ve budgeted, you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly or find ways to curb your spending. Set a schedule to revisit your budget every so often to see how your actual spending compares.
Everyone has their favorite way of keeping track of their budget, so play around and find what works best for you. Tracking your budget on paper is a tried-and-tested classic but can be tedious to keep up with. In this age of smartphones and tech gadgets, a phone app for tracking your budget may be the best way to go. There are many programs out there to try, many of which can connect to bank accounts and track some spending automatically.
Try to keep your housing costs around 30 percent of your total budget, checking in periodically to ensure you’re maintaining this percentage. Keep your personal savings goals in mind too when you check in on your budget. Keeping a close eye on your budget and tracking your spending will ensure that you’ve allotted enough money for your housing costs and can afford your apartment.
Affordable Apartments in the Bay Area
When you’re ready to find the perfect apartment for you in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the gorgeous apartment communities at Marcotte Properties. Our affordable apartments are in great locations and are easy for commuters to get in and out of quickly. All of our properties feature amazing on-site service and amenities designed to enhance your life. Call us at 800-538-1724 to learn more about our affordable apartments or request a tour online of any of our locations.