The Apartment Starter Kit #1: Introduction and Deciding If It’s Time to Move Out
As we mentioned earlier on the blog, both myself and Meg A. moved into a new apartment together recently! As such we figured it was a great opportunity to share our experience and turn it into some classic, thrifty knowledge on how to go about life while living on the cheap. Consider this first post an introductory to our newest column: The Apartment Starter Kit! We’ll take you through the initial decision-making process and some big things you need to consider before you start looking on Zillow!
So let’s say you’ve been living with other people long enough, and you’re ready to do it: you want to move out and start living on your own. That’s the first step toward big-boy grown-up land, right? It’s an exciting adventure that gives you that ultimate independence you’ve been craving. An impromptu music jam in your living room? Cool. Wanna eat lunch in your underwear? Go for it! Wanna do everything in your underwear? Hell, that’s the best part about moving out.
But I digress, nobody needs convincing that living on your own is awesome. We all know that. But rather, lemme take this in another direction. Before you start packing, you need to consider a very, very heavy question: are you legit, seriously ready to move out, and more importantly, should you? Most people will probably say ‘yes’ to that, without a second thought, but let’s stop and think about this for a little bit because moving out isn’t always the maximum fun overdrive experience you think it is.
The Downsides of Living On Your Own
Money, Money, Money
First and foremost, the big and obvious factor here is money. Money makes the world go round, and as everyone knows, rent isn’t always cheap (especially if you live in bullshittily expensive places like New York or California). It’s easy to think you can afford to move out before you actually start crunching numbers and looking at what it really takes to do so. Before you even bother looking at apartments, we strongly recommend that you have a legitimate savings account that you’re actively putting money into. The actual process of moving costs a chunk of money itself, and you’re gonna want some savings to fall back on.
Before we even move forward though, here’s a very important question you need to ask before moving out. The apartments you’re looking at… how much is their rent? Well, take that number, and ask “Do you have double that figure saved up? If the answer isn’t an absolute, concrete “Yes”, then unfortunately, no you cannot afford to move out, sadly.
The reason I bring that up is because the one big cost of initial move-ins that everyone forgets about is the security deposit that 99% of landlords/managers require upon signing a lease. In our experience, this is almost always equal to at least one month’s rent, and in some ridiculous cases even two month’s rent! So in other words, in order to move into a potential new apartment, you’re going to need to pay TWICE what the rent is, that first month. It’s gonna be a huge chunk out of your personal finances, but them’s the breaks.
If you’re financially well-off with a steady job and a good amount of savings, then you shouldn’t have anything to fear. That said, before you declare you’re good to go, you absolutely need to draw up a budget for yourself and figure out how much money you make VS how much money you spend.
How To Make a Budget
This isn’t rocket science, but it’s easy to forget stuff. For starters, consider the following checklist of expenses you’ll most likely have:
- Climate (Heat/AC)*
- Groceries (food)*
- Non-food groceries*
- TV/Entertainment services
- Car and car related expenses (Payments, gas, etc)
- Insurance (Health, car, etc)
- Student loans or other loan types
- Pet supplies
Mind you, everybody is different, but those are all common enough that most of them will probably apply to you. But as you can see, this shit piles up real fast, which sadly is part of the requirements for being a grown-up. Fortunately, you can keep most of them pretty low if you’re thrifty and good at decision-making. The only real question marks are the four marked with asterisks, since those are all variable, and can change month to month or week to week. We’ll help you out with those in a future post though!
What you’re gonna do now is grab a piece of paper, and start writing these all up. Use your best estimate, especially for the asterisks. If you want some placeholders, try these out.
- Electricity– $25-$75 per month, depending on how energy efficient you are.
- Climate– $25-$50 per month; This one’s tricky since sometimes it’s part of your electricity, and sometimes it’s provided by your building manager.
- Groceries– $20-$50 per week , usually on the higher end if you’re a couple or if you don’t take advantage of sales/coupons/inexpensive stores.
- Non-Food Groceries – $10-$20 per week This one is the toughest since things like toothpaste, medicine, home supplies, and others all seem to run out at random times.
Now add these all up, and especially include any other expenses we forgot to mention that applies to you. This will show you what you’re going to have to pay each month to mathematically live on your own, in the crudest base form. Bear in mind, if you don’t make a lot of money don’t think just because you make more than this total of expenses it means that you’ll be good to go. As I said, this is from a pure mathematical standpoint and kind of disregards any quality of life, so… yeah.
Once you’ve got your total expenses figured out, see what you have leftover. From this remainder, take into account you still should be putting money back into your savings account, especially since you might end up spending a bunch of it during the move-in process. Determine a number you’re comfortable with putting away, and then whatever you have leftover is free, just-for-fun money that you can devote to hobbies, leisure, presents, etc… If that number is really small, like less than $100, well then sadly, you miiiight not be making enough to live on your own… If it’s plenty, then congrats! You’ve got a budget in place and you’re ready to take on the world!
Keep in mind though, if you’re not putting much into your own savings each month, you’ll only really just be staying afloat, which isn’t a great idea. Remember, living at home sucks, but it’s also A LOT cheaper, and allows you to save money like a madman. If you’re not making a lot of money, sometimes the sad truth is that it makes more sense to just keep living with the parentals since you’ll at least be putting away a lot of money into savings (which is AWESOME down the line).
If you’re gonna be living with your spouse, we also STRONGLY urge that on top of your own personal savings, or at very least in place of your own personal savings, the two of you should absolutely have a joint savings account that you’re both putting money into (preferably equal amounts from each of you). This is kind of like training for being married someday, and honestly, two people can save way faster than just one person. We’ll go more into this later on.
Free Time Is Both A Blessing AND A Curse
This one seems like an exaggeration to most people whom haven’t experienced it, but trust me, free time becomes a really weird commodity when you’ve moved out and gotten your own apartment. On one hand, to be making a big-boy, real salary that lets you afford to live on your own, you (and your spouse) have gotta be working at least 25+ hours per week, and for a lot of people even over 40 hours per week. So in one sense, you’re going to have very little free time on your hands. And even if you’ve been working that job for a while, you’ll still have less free time due to the demanding nature of maintaining apartment life. For example, your “free time” you have off form work isn’t actually free, since now you’ll be responsible for:
- Household maintenance
- Other grown-up responsibilities
Okay, so not everyone is gonna go all out with TONS of decorating, and some of us are more on top of keeping a tidy home than others. But at very least you’re going to be doing at least some of those, which will eat into what used to be totally free time that you could normally spend playing video games, reading, watching TV, or just vegging out on the interwebs. You can still do that stuff in your truly free time, but sometimes that’s actually harder than you think…
So I said its a blessing AND a curse, right? Doesn’t make sense since I just went on a big tirade about how you’ll likely have less free time. But one of the other weird side-effects of being moved out is that unless you possess Top Tier self-control, it becomes surprisingly tricky to actually make good use of your free time. And actually, ironically, the more free time you end up with, the trickier it can be sometimes. When you’re done with work and finish all the demands of adult life, it’s oh-so easy to just go “Screw it.” and do absolutely nothing for the rest of the night. It’s good to laze around once in a while (especially on Saturdays), but this’ll probably land you in a rut pretty quickly. I dunno if it’s the weight of having bills to manage or the satisfaction of knowing you don’t have anything to do, but you’d be surprised how easily all your hobbies and crafts and other constructive activities go out the window, no matter how much free time you have. Sometimes you just need to actively keep track of what you’re doing each day, as OCD and compartmentalized as it seems. But hey, whatever it takes to prevent you from turning into a “lol, netflix and chill #itsallgood” douchebag, go for it.
So Many Frigging RULES
Unless you’ve saved up enough for a house, generally speaking, most of us will end up in an apartment. If you’re that fortunate, well, ignore this section I guess. But I mean, if you’re getting a house, maaaybe don’t read a column named “The Apartment Starter Kit”? Regardless, one of the biggest pains in the ass of apartment life that most people don’t take into consideration is that you’ll now be living in a complete stranger’s property. So in other words, you’ve gotta follow their rules and outside of especially egregious situations, their word is basically law. And no, these aren’t petty cliches like having your parents telling you to not come home so late or to wipe your feet. No, these are situations like “We don’t have recycling bins anymore.” or “Sorry, smoking cancer-causing cigarettes is fine, but no dogs allowed.” or “You can’t install a new stove to replace the borderline-unusable piece of shit you were provided, even if you have the money to buy one yourself.”
Quite frankly, living on your own will absolutely bring out the most rebellious side of you, if you possess one. You can get away with bending some of the rules of your building manager, but you run the risk of getting caught, which can be both annoying and even financially costly. I mean, let’s be real, nobody cool follows ALL the rules, but when your new home is at risk, you’re gonna be pretty darn conflicted in some situations.
Oh and while we’re at it, let’s not forget the concept of neighbors.
Remember when you lived at home and there was that one asshole that lived on your block who nobody liked? Well just imagine that instead of like a yard’s space over, that guy was literally a room over. Yeah. We’ve all heard plenty of horror stories. That’s not to say having awful neighbors is common, but it’s absolutely a possibility, and sadly it’s almost always out of your control.
The Couple Quandry
So obviously this website is Poor Couple’s Food Guide. As such, we’ll be writing these posts from the point of view of people going through apartment life while in a relationship. So it stands to reason that this series might not be as helpful for the lone wolves out there. Although if you’re planning on getting a platonic room-mate, it should at least provide some insight on sharing you apartment.
The reason I bring this up in our initial post however is because, while it’s not always up to you, getting an apartment with a significant other is way better of an idea than trying to do it on your own. Consider this: we’ve established that living on your own is costly. However, what if all those expenses you just wrote down were divided in half? That’s the added benefit of getting an apartment with your s.o.! (Well, that and, you know, the sex.) Having that second person to split the bills is a tremendous help, especially since it lends you greater wiggle room to save money. That said, let us offer this important adage: if you’re getting an apartment with your partner, try as HARD as you can to split expenses 50/50.
“But Erik! We get along fine, and I make more money than they do! We’ll be fiiiiine!”
No. Don’t fall into this trap. Most good couples on the planet are convinced that they’re perfect and nothing can come between them, but believe me; money is a necessary evil that can very easily come between even the best of friends or lovers. How? Well, let’s make up a scenario.
You pay for most of the expenses, but your spouse helps out a little bit with a few fun things, but nothing substantial. Now on any normal day, that doesn’t bother you, because you looooove them! But say you have a bad day and you’re already grouchy. You asked your spouse to take out some frozen chicken for dinner and they forgot to while they were binging Ru Paul. So now there’s no dinner you can cook, and you’re hungry and grumpy and it’s not a good time. Because of this, you snap and say something you regret, like “Well maybe if you weren’t on Hulu all afternoon you might’ve remembered!” They get annoyed. Now you’re both grouchy. Sure, you love each other but now you’re tight on money and don’t have a yummy chicken dinner and oh God the electric bill is way higher this month for some reason and it’s all their fault and they don’t even pay for it!
Okay so maybe I’m being melodramatic here. But when you’re dealing with finances and budgeting, it’s easy to get possessive of things, because in an apartment, things cost money and money causes stress. If your partner likes the apartment really cool in the Summer and the electric bill you’re paying for skyrockets, not even Ghandi himself could resist the urge to hold that against the other person. That is why it’s important to split your expenses as close to evenly as possible. When you’re both putting in close to the same amount of work to keeping your budget, there’s no way to point fingers at one another. Besides it being good for preventing arguments, let’s be real here, it’s just more fair that way. Nobody likes a mooch, and if you’re gonna be living together it’s only fair for both of you to be putting in equal amounts of effort to keeping that apartment.
So Are You Ready?
If you kept on reading and said “Yes yes yes!” then most likely, yes, you are. If you’re making enough money, put together a solid budget that lets you have a good amount of leftover money afterwards, have come to grips with the fact you’ll have less money and free time, and acknowledge you’ll now basically have a SUPER-parent in the form of a landlord, and you think that’s all worth the awesomeness of doing everything in your underwear… then by all means, go for it! Don’t get me wrong, this first edition of the Apartment Starter Kit is a bit negative in tone, but moving out is a total adventure worth taking, especially if it’s the first step you and your partner take towards getting married someday. Best of luck, and see you in our next entry, the much more positive-themed “Apartment Hunting! Let the Fun Begin!”