How Much It Actually Costs To Move Out for the First Time

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When you get your first full-time job and paycheck, you may be excited to use some of that money to rent an apartment and move out on your own. But rent is only one of the many new expenses you’ll encounter when you live on your own for the first time — and it’s easy to get in over your head (or land in expensive debt that can last for years) if you aren’t prepared for all of the costs. Here’s more information about the expenses to expect when you rent your first apartment — and some strategies that can help you minimize the costs.

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Calculate How Much Rent You Can Afford

The average apartment costs more than $1,000 per month, but the rent can vary a lot depending on your location and the size of the apartment (and whether you have roommates). “According to the U.S. census, the median gross rent for a housing unit in the United States is $1,097 a month, but depending on how many bedrooms are located in that unit, the figure could fluctuate between $934 and $1,586 a month,” said Jacob Channel, LendingTree senior economic analyst.

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Research the costs specifically in the area where you want to live — and consider some other neighborhoods nearby that may cost less. “Look at Craigslist, Facebook groups or larger websites like Apartments.com or HotPads for the specific area you want to live in. There can be large price differences between neighborhoods,” said Kristen Griffith, a counselor with the Pittsburgh Financial Empowerment Center, who has helped many young adults create a budget for moving out on their own. (Financial Empowerment Centers, which are offered in partnership with local governments in many cities, provide free one-on-one financial counseling to people of all ages and income levels. See this map for links.)

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Do some calculations to figure out how much rent you can afford. Anne Marie Ferdinando, member outreach manager from Navy Federal Credit Union, recommends using a rent calculator, such as this one available from Zillow, to decide what works best for you and your budget. “Experts suggest 30-40% of your monthly income should go towards rent,” she said.

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Landlords often use the “40 times rent rule” when vetting renters, Channel said. “Under the rule, a renter should aim to have an annual (pre-tax) salary that is equivalent to at least 40 times their monthly rent. In other words, if a person makes $40,000 a year, they should look for an apartment that costs no more than $1,000 a month,” he said. “By following this rule, renters can help ensure that they have enough left over for other expenses. In some areas, like New York City, many landlords won’t rent to tenants who don’t make at least 40x rent.”

Keep in mind the difference between your pretax and take-home pay when assessing how much you can afford. “Make sure you understand what your take-home pay will be before you commit to an apartment or rental,” said Mari Adam, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Florida. “There are several deductions from your pay – payroll taxes, federal and state taxes, health insurance, for example – and what you actually net after all those deductions may be less than you think. So don’t sign a lease until you make sure you can fit the payment into your budget.”

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Prepare For Extra Moving-In Fees

Your monthly rent is only one of many expenses you may have to pay when you sign an apartment lease. “Upfront costs are likely to be an even bigger obstacle for young renters to overcome,” Channel said. “This is because most landlords require tenants to pay the first month’s rent as well as a security deposit at the signing of their lease. Some tenants may also have to fork over extra cash for things like an application fee, their last month’s rent, a broker’s fee, and new furniture or moving costs (like renting a van or hiring movers) before they can move in. With all of these upfront costs in mind, prospective renters should plan on spending at least two or three times the cost of a single month’s rent in order to move into their new home.” The security deposit is typically at least one month’s rent, and application fees may be $20 to $50.

Griffith recommends documenting the condition of the apartment before you move in so you’ll be more likely to get your security deposit back when you move out. “Always read your leases and your contracts,” she said. “Take pictures and get a move in/out checklist. Take note of any damages and let the landlord know before you move in. Time stamp it if possible, and keep good documentation.”

Read: The Pros and Cons of Living at Home vs. Moving Out

Find Out About Utility Costs Before Choosing an Apartment

Before you sign a lease, find out whether you’ll be responsible for paying the utility bills, such as electricity or gas, water and trash, or whether they’re included in the rent. If you’re on the hook for these bills, do some research ahead of time to find out what to expect.

“Depending on where they live and their consumption habits, these costs could amount to more than $100 a month, though the exact amount will vary from person to person,” Channel said. Also recognize how much these bills can vary by season — don’t be caught off guard by a larger-than-usual electric bill during the coldest winter months and the hottest summer months.

“If you know people in the area, ask what their bills are like,” Griffith said. “You can also call utility companies if you find a specific place and give the address to see what previous bills have run.” You may also be required to put down a deposit with utility companies if you don’t have a credit history, she said.

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If you’re responsible for the bills, think about what you can do to reduce the costs — such as keeping your thermostat at a manageable temperature. “Even just a few degrees will save you lots of money,” Ferdinando said. Or look at apartments where trash and utilities are included in the rental price.

Also be prepared to pay for internet and your cellphone bill, and you may also want to get cable TV or sign up for streaming services. Find out which companies serve the area, and talk with neighbors about their service. You may be able to save money with a package deal.

Manage the Costs To Furnish Your Apartment

It can cost a lot to furnish and outfit your new home. Not only do you need to buy furniture, but you may want to get a TV, computer and other electronics, and you’ll also need kitchenware, sheets, towels and a variety of other items. If you’re starting a new job, you may need to pay for work clothes at the same time. Some people end up landing in high-interest credit card debt when they go out and buy a full apartment’s worth of furniture. Create a budget for furniture costs before you move, and start saving ahead of time or pace yourself with the purchases. You could start out with just the basics — such as a desk, mattress and chest of drawers — or make the most of hand-me-downs from family and gradually add more when you can afford it.

“Keep furniture expenses low,” Adam said. “You may move to a new place or new city before you know it, and that expensive sofa might not fit your new lifestyle or apartment dimensions.” Also, the more furniture you have, the more you’ll have to pay to move it.

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Renter’s Insurance Is Valuable Even If Not Required

Many landlords require tenants to get renter’s insurance, and it’s a smart move even if it isn’t required. It tends to be inexpensive — the average renter’s insurance policy costs $179 per year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The coverage can help you replace the possessions you just spent all that money to buy — if they’re stolen or damaged in a fire or natural disaster, for example — and provides liability coverage, too. The value of your possessions can quickly add up when you have a TV, computer system, furniture, clothes and other items.

“Always get renter’s insurance,” Griffith said. “Landlords are required to get insurance for the building, but you are responsible for insuring your belongings.” For more information about renter’s insurance, see the Insurance Information Institute’s Renter’s Insurance Guide. You may get a discount for buying car insurance and renter’s insurance from the same company.

In-Depth: What Is Renter’s Insurance and What Does It Cover?

Car and Commuting Costs

If you live in the city, you may have to pay extra for parking — in addition to your monthly rent. And if you commute to work, you may need to pay parking fees there, too. If you have a long commute to your job, the cost of gas can add up, and you may also have tolls or other commuting expenses. Don’t forget to factor commuting costs into your decision when choosing where to live — an apartment farther away from your work may have less-expensive rent, but it might not be as good a deal when you add up the extra commuting costs (in addition to the extra time you need to spend on the road).

Ferdinando recommends asking your employer about any commuter benefits — for example, some employers offer pretax benefits for parking or discounted transit passes. Compare the cost of your commuting options. “Map out the difference between public transportation, walking, and purchasing a car or bike,” she said. If you can carpool or work remotely for at least a few days per week, you may cut down on commuting costs substantially.

Another car-related moving cost: “You may also need to re-register your car in a new state and adjust your insurance to reflect your new surroundings,” Adam said.

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Strategies for Managing the Costs

Start planning for the extra costs long before you get your own apartment. “Ultimately, renting can be expensive, especially for young renters who don’t have a lot of cash at their disposal,” Channel said. “As a result, the more you can save up before you decide to move, the better.”

Budget carefully — not just when deciding how much rent you can afford, but also when monitoring your expenses related to apartment living. “Keep track of your bills,” Griffith said. “Log in to your bank account daily, use an app or a spreadsheet, keep receipts or write down expenses in a notebook, create a bill calendar. Don’t be afraid of your money. It’s all your responsibility now, so you want to know exactly where it’s going.”

Groceries, meals out and the cost of entertainment can add up, but you have a lot of flexibility with those expenses. “Create sample budgets for yourself based on your income,” Griffith said. “You may have to sacrifice some things now that you are responsible for more bills.”

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Also, it’s important to have an emergency fund to help you avoid financial trouble if you do have unexpected expenses — such as a broken TV or computer, car repairs or a month with an unusually high electric bill. “Open a new savings account designated as an emergency fund,” Ferdinando said. “It will be separate, so you don’t have to think about touching it unless absolutely necessary. Part of your budget should include setting money aside into that emergency fund. As little as $10 per month could be helpful as you look to plan for the future.”

One way to reduce expenses significantly — roommates. “If it’s your first time out on your own, think of sharing a place with a roommate to cut costs and score some company,” Adam said. “Rents have ballooned in most urban areas so it could be too big a stretch to afford a place on your own right away. With a roommate, not only do you split the rent, but you can share utility and other costs as well.”

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Last updated: Sept. 29, 2021

About the Author

Kimberly Lankford has been a financial journalist for more than 20 years. As the “Ask Kim” columnist at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, she received hundreds of reader questions every month about insurance, taxes, retirement planning and other personal finance issues. Her financial articles have also appeared in the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, AARP Magazine, Boston Globe, PBS Next Avenue, Bloomberg Wealth Manager and Military Officer Magazine, and her syndicated columns were published regularly in the Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Baltimore Sun and other papers.

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